Sunday, June 25, 2006


Looks like England's World Cup referee, Graham Poll, will be coming home before the team. After what can only be described as a shocker, Poll will most likely be told that he is surplus to requirements.

What is interesting in this fiasco are the reactions of FIFA President, Sepp Blatter and Sunday Times stand-in columnist, Rod Liddle. Neither one is even close to the mark.

"Silly Sepp", quoted in the EDP, thinks that referees are human and will always make mistakes, but Poll's errors were inexcusable. For those who may have missed the match, "Our Graham", who throughout the World Cup (in an astonishing act of parochialism) has been touted by the English press as "The best referee in the World" and a shoo-in to referee the final if England are not in it; gave three yellow cards to one Croatian, missed an Australian player being rugby tackled in the penalty area and a more than a few obvious handballs. Not a good day at the office.

What is more interesting than Poll's shortcomings as a match official is Blatter's comments regarding what Graham should have done. He said, "We have had four officials and what is not understandable is that nobody intervened." He is referring to the referee's assistants and the fourth official in the stands. He goes on, "I can't understand it. There are people there and one of them should have intervened and run on to the field and said, STOP, STOP!"

Right. Now this is exactly what is so exasperating about football and Mr Blatter. He is the world football chief and he is echoing what I've been saying for years and years. I blogged about this only a few days ago! Perhaps Sepp has been reading my blog. Stop the game, run on to the field and tell the referee that he has made a mistake and get it right. That's what Sepp is saying. Are you listening all you who masquerade as football purists?

Just for icing on the cake, FIFA communications director Marcus Siegler admitted that had Australia lost they would have had grounds to request a replay! Fantastic! This is the premier football tournament in the world?

In the Sunday Times, Ron Liddle is standing in for Hugh McIlvanney. Shame really - I like Hugh's style and wonder what take he would have on this woeful situation. Ron tried the humorous/exasperated/bemused and befuddled approach. Conveniently forgetting how the media have shamelessly built up Poll, he blames most of this fiasco on FIFA's instructions to referees. Ron thinks that FIFA are trying to take the physical aspects out of the game. Was he watching the same game? It was precisely because both sets of players were playing a version of a well-known computer game, Street Violence, instead of football that the problems occurred! Graham's problem was that the players were not playing the game. He could have easily sent off six or seven. He would have been crucified. This was a no-win situation if ever there was one.

Just to confirm that Ron is out of touch he then goes on to echo my sentiments regarding club v. country. Stopping short of advocating central contracts (the only sensible conclusion) he does, at least, acknowledge that players who are picked for England should be taken completely out of the club's control. His adjunct that if you don't want your players injured or unavailable for club selection because of national commitments you should stop signing international players is likely to be met with a shrug of the shoulders by managers who realise that the fans wouldn't permit it. That's how thick they are. The fans - not necessarily the club officials, I mean.

Monday, June 19, 2006

Crazy, Crazy

Stercus accidit, indentidem

Some misguided souls still wonder why not everyone gets excited by the World Cup. The France versus South Korea match was an excellent example.

After running themselves to death in the stifling heat and getting nowhere, much less threatening the French goal, the causal observer could be forgiven for thinking that the Koreans were just making up the numbers in their recent match against the Gallic former World Cup winners.

That is until the idiotic way in which the game is played conspired to rob the French of a victory. In the most prestigious tournament in the football world, something as simple as making sure that when a goal is scored the referee and his assistants are informed (if, for some reason they should happen to miss it?) would seem fairly elementary. Not so in the crazy world of FIFA (Famously Idiotic Fatuous Ass*****). There was, apparently, a move to micro-chip the ball to alert the referee when it crossed the line, but FIFA decided that it was too complicated/sensible/fair.

So, whilst the rest of the world are able to watch the video replay - which clearly shows the ball well over the line before the Korean goalkeeper pushes it out - the referee and his assistants are blithely unaware of this important happening and simply carry on. This really was one of the most buttock-clenching moments in World Cup history. Rather like the cricketers who don't appeal because it is so obvious that the ball, which has flown to second slip, has come off the outside edge, only to be bemused and befuddled as the umpire calmly walks off to square leg; the sight of the French players wandering around thinking about appealing for the goal to be given is one not easily forgotten.

Just for good measure, some Sunday papers have been castigating Messrs Lineker, Wright, Hansen and the rest of the BBC World Cup broadcasting team for their inane comments and lacklustre performance. Think I'll join in. This was their golden chance. They could have taken on the establishment and made a real case for using technology, where appropriate, to make the game fairer. Instead, they reverted to type - concentrating on the pressure the French coach is now under (wow, I'd love to read his report on the referee and his assistants!) and the failure of the French team to win the game. Ironic. They did win the game! 200 million people saw it. Only the idiots who organise football could possibly overlook an important feature of the game, namely a goal.

Is it any wonder that some people, St. John-like crying in the wilderness, are questioning the very basis of the game? Football is inherently a silly game. It was designed to be played by 19th century British schoolboys and gob-smackingly stupid, fatuous amateurs. Yet, if you suggest that the rules of the game need to be brought up-to-date folk look at you as if you are Tim Nice but Dim's educational advisor. This is rather ironic considering the intellectual achievements of David (I can string a sentence together and I am a gay icon) Beckham and Wayne (I think Chav is a compliment and my girlfriend is only marginally fatter than I am) Rooney.

Technology should be used to ensure that when a goal is scored the referee is informed. It's not exactly rocket science! Remember the furore when technology was introduced to Wimbledon to adjudge line calls? Now it is not an issue. So should it be in football. Not an issue. But, let's not stop there.

Football could be a much better game. Let's make the 18 yard box only 15 yards. For heaven's sake, the sky will not fall down and the "additional" three yards will make for more goals and more excitement. While we're there, let's make the goals themselves 30 cm higher and one metre wider. Move with the times! They were designed for lads in long pants and leather boots that (when caked with the mud of the British winter) weighed five pounds a piece! The sky will not fall!

Problem is FIFA is even more bureaucratic than the UN or the IOC. There is more chance of the EU voting to become the 51st state than FIFA actually managing to manage the game. I'm just waiting for England to be knocked out by a "goal" that isn't, or by "scoring" a perfectly good one that escapes the notice of the referee.

Actually, now that I think about it, this wouldn't make much difference. If it was a French referee, the Sun would run a campaign to boycott French goods, under the headline, "Frogs Spawn Agincourt Revenge!" and then retreat to the usual pap they publish. The morons who inhabit the stadia would, of course, miss the point completely. It would be left to the England captain to hammer in the final nail and announce (in his best Estuary English), "We was robbed! Even though the lads done brilliant."

I'd laugh myself silly.

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

World Cup Woes

The World Cup is upon us and, lo and behold, it has already impinged on the cricket season. Writing in the EDP, the secretary of the Norfolk Cricket League bemoaned the fact that some players preferred to watch the England v Paraguay game rather than turn out for their club side. He is, of course, absolutely correct.

Now, I'm not a great football fan. Of course, were England to reach the latter stages of the competition some accommodation will have to be made to ensure that cricket matches are played. But, to sit at home and watch a fairly meaningless first round match whilst the rest of your cricket team attempt to make up for your absence is selfishness in the extreme. It's not even good for football. Those cricketers who feel let down are hardly likely to view an England win with the customary enthusiasm. Some might even be hoping for an early exit for the England team so that cricket can go ahead uninterrupted!

The World Cup only serves to highlight the impingement of the football season into every other sporting event in the country. In this World Cup year, you can count on the fingers of both hands the number of weeks in the year when football is not being played. Norwich City FC, I believe, begin their pre-season training on Aug 13! That's about 10 days after the World Cup ends. Nonsense.

It's not even good for the players who are currently sweltering in the blazing sunshine of a German heat wave and trying to play a game that is designed for the cooler months. Praise be to FIFA who have decreed that the referees must allow players to take fluid on board during a match. God help them when our TV screens are awash with pictures of a stricken player being removed from the pitch by ambulance and gruesome photos his subsequent death from heat exhaustion and dehydration.

Why is this so? Football has long since passed the baton of healthy competition to the bean counters. Maximising the income is now the holy grail - not looking after the welfare of the players. The result? Local papers are awash with summer five-a-side tournaments for players as young as 10. Nonsense! Ten year olds have no business running themselves to death in the summer heat! The FA should ban football (including training) for U18's during the months of June, July and August. Matches and training in April and September should only go ahead when the temperature is under 20 degrees. So simple. Chances? None. The FA have become the bean counters.

Players at my club have already been told that if they cry off cricket to watch a "meaningless" football match - they will not play for the club again this season. At the same time, we will work closely with other clubs and the league to adjust start times or playing conditions to allow cricketers to watch important England matches and still participate in their chosen summer sport. With some modicum of common sense, this should ensure that everyone is kept happy. If "cricketers" would really rather sit in the pub, drink lots of beer and chant obscene slogans at hapless refugees from Buenos Aires, then they are probably involved in the wrong sport. We'd be well rid of them.

Monday, June 12, 2006


Recent loses of British troops in Helmand province, Afghanistan reminded me of a book by James Michener, Caravans (1963).

As a piece of literature, it is somewhat flawed. The characters are not entirely believable, and the situations they find themselves in are contrived to the point of incredulity. Only recently did I learn that it had been made into a movie, which suffered greatly at the box office due to the increasing strains developing between Iran and the U.S.A. at the time of its release. Not much of a surprise there.

Still, I thoroughly recommend it to Ol' Dubba and his mate Tone. Perhaps if they had read it - or learned a little about this troubled part of the world - we might not now be contemplating further troop losses in pursuit of what must be described as a failed policy.

No-one (including the Russians who had a go in the 80's) has ever successfully waged war against the Afghans. This includes the British - in the guise of The Bengal Lancers and Kim. The "Great Game" has been played out in Afghanistan for more that a few centuries - and the western powers have not yet come to terms with their inability to "persuade" the Pathans (or Pashtoons, if you prefer) to abandon their traditional war-like life and settle down and watch some TV. Not very likely.

Tradition has it that some of these folk may be part of the lost tribes of Israel - though supporters of the Taliban and Oozama Bin-Liner may be horrified to think of it. They could be the lost tribe! What is not in contention is that they view war as an on-going, fairly traditional occupation. In other words, they like it. They are unlikely to change their minds just because we would like them to.

Now, the Taliban have had a bad press. Though they were active in Pakistan, they are chiefly know as the crazy guys who ran Afghanistan for a while and were hostile to western way and western interests. Religious nuts. Problem is: when you look at the situation for a neutral point of view, the picture is somewhat different than the one the media paint. Mostly they came to power as a result of the corruption of the previous regime, and they enjoyed some measure of popular support. They were, from many accounts, a nationalistic organisation opposed to Western influence on the culture of Afghanistan. Perhaps, to you and me, their political programs may seem anti-progressive and anti-westerner. To the Afghan people it is likely that they seem the usual bunch of folks who have run Afghanistan for a very long time and are likely to do so for a very long time after we have left. You are not going to wear these people down. They are experts at guerilla warfare. It's part of their life style and culture.

What have we to oppose them. Modern weapons. We out-gun them. They, however, have the support of the people. Sound familiar? It ought to. It's what we call a no-win situation. The puppet regime in Kabul will fall (just like in Vietnam). The Taliban will return to power (just like the Viet Minh). In twenty years Afghanistan will be the British people's choice for a cheap holiday. Remember, you heard it here first.

Unfortunately, some American and British boys will not be there to enjoy the sunshine.

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

Closer Than Ever Before?

Even blogs can come back and bite you. On 19 May I wrote convincingly in response to Andrew Sullivan's article in the Sunday Times explaining how Britain and America are really quite close in many areas. If a week is a long time in politics, then two weeks in an eternity in blogging.

Recent changes in the law in the UK to allow same sex "marriage", or civil partnerships as they are better known, have passed without so much as a ripple in the fabric of society. In any local paper couples of the same sex happily share the wedding page with joyously heterosexual couples. Announcements of upcoming same-sex unions regularly appear in the press. When famous gay couples "unite" it is a photo opportunity for the popular media. This could not be further from the American experience - unless the U.S. should suddenly changes dramatically and swiftly into a left wing dictatorship of the proletariat. Not very likely.

What has changed the tenor of the debate about gay marriage in America is the intervention of that good old boy from Texas (home of queers and steers if you are to believe its many detractors!), G. Dubbya Bush.

What Dubbya said, "On a matter of such importance, the voice of the people must be heard. Activist courts have left the people with one recourse. If we are to prevent the meaning of marriage from being changed forever, our nation must enact a constitutional amendment to protect marriage in America. Decisive and democratic action is needed, because attempts to redefine marriage in a single state or city could have serious consequences throughout the country."

Whatever the merits of Dubbya's proposals, his insistence that a Constitutional Amendment is required serves to highlight a very basic difference in the political traditions of the two countries. Or, one country and one kingdom if you prefer. In America the Constitution takes its place at the head of the table reserved for the monarch in Britain. To change it is no light matter. No American politician will last long unless he or she adheres closely to its basic precepts. In over 200 years it has only been amended 27 times, 17 if you discount the first ten amendments, The Bill of Rights, which were "promised" by constitutional supporters in order to get it accepted in 1781. Other than these ten, few of amendments have been proposed and passed that work primarily on the citizen - instead of the structure of government institutions. The anti-slavery amendments, 13, 14, and 15; the 16th (Income Tax); and the19th (Votes for Women) are among the slender number which prescribe directly what the citizen can or cannot do. This is what the Founding Fathers wanted. They got it.

In Britain today, the political arrangements are essentially the same that were in place in the 1770's - when American Revolution severed the "ties that bind". What, in America, was seen then as the arbitrary rule of a tyrant king, George III (though the real argument was with Parliament) is essentially the same system the British are governed by today. Whereas in America sovereignty is vested in the people; in Britain the Queen in Parliament holds sovereignty for the people. Or, if you prefer, the cumbersome process required to amend the Constitution; a two-thirds majority in both the House of Representatives and the Senate; then three-fourths of the states ratifying is replaced by a simple majority of Parliament and the sovereign's assent. The Queen in Parliament is the highest authority in the land. There is no theoretical limit on what Parliament can do. Not many British people realise this.

So, were the next Parliament decide to outlaw same-sex unions, they could.

Likewise, Dubbya's grandstanding on this issue is more likely to be a sop to his conservative supporters than a real rallying call to the States for an amendment. There is little chance it could ever get the necessary majority. The Constitution remains the bulwark of American freedom and the guardian against arbitrary popular government. This is what the Founding Fathers so wisely chose. Long may it continue.