Thursday, December 28, 2006

Tipping Round 18

Silly season comes, silly season goes. Never did like silly season much but it has its joys. But now I'm behind again on this tipping bizzo.

The Points so far:
Tony: 28
Drsimmo: 26
Jacob: 26
Hamish: 25
John: 24
Dave: 22

Hamish's Tips:
Perth Glory FC vs Adelaide United FC
Draw 1:1

New Zealand Knights FC vs Queensland Roar FC
Queensland 1:2

Central Coast Mariners FC vs Melbourne Victory FC
Melbourne 1:2

Newcastle Jets FC vs Sydney FC
Newcastle 3:1

Jacob's tips:
Perth Glory FC vs Adelaide United FC
Adelaide 0:2

New Zealand Knights FC vs Queensland Roar FC
Queensland 0:2

Central Coast Mariners FC vs Melbourne Victory FC
Melbourne 0:2

Newcastle Jets FC vs Sydney FC
Draw 1:1


Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Despair and Repentance

First of all, have a look at this photo of Roar's new super-youngster Ben Griffin scoring one of the coolest goals, not to mention the Roar's first for a while. The image is from the A-League site, who I sincerely thank in advance for not suing me for breach of copyright.

I'm looking at the crowd behind Griffin. It's kind of nice that it's an apparently Roar supporting section of the stadium, evidenced by three Roar shirts and a cap. But then I note that of the ten faces I can see, only three of them actually saw the goal. The girl in green in the middle was lucky to do so because she appears to be watching the game despite her boyfriend trying to distract her attention. This crowd does not expect a goal, but is there in some sort of dutiful loyalty.

The bloke toward the left in a Roar shirt sums up something in his demeanour for me. Blank, unexcited face, arms crossed - a generally grim resignation in his face and body language. He sums up how I felt at that very moment, and although I was in front of a TV, like him I was at least watching the moment. I try to imagine that same bloke a half a second later when he saw the ball hit the back of the net, then half a second after that when he realised that he really did see the ball go into the back of the net and there was a whistle blowing and that there might even be a god after all.

From zero to 120 in less than a second. Pure orgasm. That's why we do this.

I feel for the other seven faces in the picture who missed the moment. But they would have almost instantly been caught up in euphoria anyway. And that's why we have replays.

There is a reason I didn't blog about that game afterward and it's not a flattering one. It was guilt. For weeks I had stuck to my Queensland loyalty and hope despite the mounting evidence that Queensland was slipping. I hung in there, and I believed. My son - my own flesh and blood - had abandoned hope long before and I was determined to show him what loyalty meant, and what hope-against-all-odds, Queensland-style, meant. But after that abysmal effort at Suncorp in Round 16 I snapped. I committed the sin of despair.

To the boys in Haz-Chem orange I submit my sincere apologies, and the following commitment. Through thick and thin I will never stop believing in you again. Yes, Frank, that even goes for you. You're a Brisbane boy after all, and I ought to have a little faith.

For the time being, you're still in this game Queensland. Go the bloody Roar!


Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Stuck in the Middle with Us

Book Review: Jimmy Greaves: This One's On Me, Coronet Books, 1979.

Back to the biography theme, and an odd one you might say. If I hadn't have happened upon this book in the bookshop I work in, and been obsessed enough at the time to read just about anything about football, there's no way I would have even heard of Jimmy Greaves, let alone read his book.

Jimmy Greaves scored hundreds of goals from 1957 through to the early seventies, including 44 for England. He was a larrikin, an individualist on and off the field, and an alcoholic. The book is about all that.

In a way this review rounds out the 'negative series' of reviews that I begun with Hooligans and Thugs (football crowd violence) and continued with The Rot at the Top (football corruption). This was my first real gritty insight into the pressures on star football players and how horribly the glory can unravel. For fans who are want to gleefully leap from idolisation to scorn and back again according to the tides of the fortunes of the team, it is worth a reminder about the mind-boggling pressures on these human beings - often kids - who provide us with so much pleasure.

For Greaves it began with a stint with AC Milan, where he was essentially owned and his every movement was controlled. Every time he managed to escape their clutches to go and kick up (he wasn't an alcoholic at this point; merely a cocky youngster who needed release) he was fined, so that he ended up earning less than had he have stayed with his club in England. I think some players must respond very well to discipline, some probably need it, but some people just don't.

How does the modern tight coaching regime deal with genius? It's an important problematic. We know that a modern university could never produce an Einstein and that a modern Conservatorium could never produce a Mozart. But an Einstein or a Mozart might still emerge because these engage in fundamentally individualistic pursuits. The only way a football genius can express themselves is through a team, and these days teams have million-dollar coaches, managers and team-mates, hounding media and fans and discipline brother. No answers forthcoming from me.

Without shirking on his descriptions of teams, players and games, Greaves' running theme is his downfall via alcohol and his subsequent attempts to recover, finally leading him to Alcoholics Anonymous. It's a dramatic and moving personal journey, but what it led me to think upon was not the evils of alcohol, but the pressures of the game on the mere humans involved. At the same time it raised some interesting issues about the very idea of coaching and team discipline, especially when dealing with what is essentially un-coached genius.
It has never been a secret that I am anti-coaching. I am firmly of the opinion that many coaches have done more harm than good to English football. They stifle the natural instincts of players and turn them into robots. Our football until recently had become so stereotyped that it was difficult to tell one team from another. Great individualists had almost disappeared from the game and for that I blame the coaches.
Food for thought whichever way you want to look at it. "The revolution" in football for Greaves had two facets. Firstly the breaking of the wage-barriers which saw top players' remuneration go through the roof, and secondly the end of the attacking formations which saw such high-scoring games. For Greaves these two things went together, and the simplest way to say how is just that the stakes got higher.

I know I'm dreaming, but I for one would love for two top teams (ok, even A-League teams) to get together and agree to both play 2-3-5 formations, just for the demonstration of it. Wouldn't we all? Wouldn't we voluntarilly pay twice as much for our ticket if the coaches and players agreed to do that for us? Just for the sheer fun of it? Dreaming...

This book would never win any literary prizes. It's not that well written frankly, especially considering Greaves had the help of one of his journalist mates. But it comes across as very sincere, very raw and very real, so was no trouble at all to read. Meanwhile I can't exactly recommend it as I'm sure it's out of print and only shows up in massive second-hand bookshops from time to time. Suffice to say that the issues it raises have not dated.

As a tribute to Greaves' career, his journey and his book, it would be wrong of me to not add a final note about the despair of alcoholism. For anyone who has an alcohol or drug habit that is effecting their lives, family and loved ones, check out AA. Why not? It worked for Jimmy Greaves.

Jimmy Greaves has a Website. I haven't really even looked at it yet, but here it is.

Jimmy Greaves more recently. Don't tell Adelaide he's available.


Tuesday, December 12, 2006

The Round 17 Melancholy Show

Scraping myself of the bottom of the morale tank after last weekend, this Roar supporter is back to tip again. I talked to Jacob before to get his tips and he groaned, "What's the point if the Roar can't win?" It's a good question and fair. I just don't know, but let's see eh? There must still be a point to it all somehow.

The scores stand:
Drsimmo: 24
Tony: 24
Jacob: 24
Hamish: 23
John: 22
Dave: 21

There is a new player! G'day Dave. I started you on the minimum score minus 1. This late in the season, it still really wouldn't be fair if you won, so don't ok?

Can I note, just for the ongoing melancholy of it, that not one person predicted that the Roar would be beaten. And they were beaten three bloody nil. How much lower than expectations can a team go? Oh to be able to mask that sour evening from my mind...

Ok, tips... Mine first:

Sydney FC vs Perth Glory FC
Perth 0:1
No justification for that prediction at all. I'm going for the underdog.

Adelaide United FC vs Newcastle Jets FC
Newcastle 1:2
If Newcastle can beat the Roar they can beat anyone, and if Adelaide can't beat New Zealand they can't beat anyone. Please don't laugh out loud. Yes, I am aware of the contradiction and it is torturous.

Central Coast Mariners FC vs Queensland Roar FC
Queensland 1:2
Yes, you read correctly. Fan optimism is not dead. Call me blind, call me beyond reason, but in the battle of toxins, Hazardous Chemical Orange can beat Camel Cigarette Yellow. That's as rational as I'm going to get tonight.

Melbourne Victory FC vs New Zealand Knights FC
Melbourne 2:0
Underdog or n0t, I'm not that stupid.

Jacob's Tips:
Sydney FC vs Perth Glory FC
Sydney 2:1

Adelaide United FC vs Newcastle Jets FC
Newcastle 1:2

Central Coast Mariners FC vs Queensland Roar FC
Central Coast 2:0

Melbourne Victory FC vs New Zealand Knights FC
Melbourne 3:0

Off to one side here, Jacob's indoor team The Terrorists got properly thrashed last week by the top team on the ladder, The Jeebus. I think it was 7:0 or something. But the boys were great and didn't give in. This made them number 7 on the ladder (of 12), and into the second top 4 (ie 5th to 8th), which has a sort of B-finals this weekend. I'll keep you posted.

May good sportsmanship prevail on and off the pitch this weekend. May the best teams win. And may there be no serious injuries.

Cheers everyone.


Thursday, December 07, 2006

Season Two Ends for the Roar

Well that game against Newcastle was the decisive do or die for the Roar, and the Roar died. My loyalty is tried, but will prove absolute I know. I will continue to watch every Roar game and cheer the boys. I even trust that they'll win a couple more before the end of the season. But they just haven't got the stuff to be in the top four this season. Tonight they crossed that psychic rubicon from 'we can do it; we have what it takes' to 'there's always next year'. It was in the air. It was in their faces and in the voices of the crowd. Truly the Roar may have dropped the ball weeks or months ago, but tonight the very ball of hope was dropped. Sad but true.

Excuses? Yeah, plenty. I would have loved to see them with even a well Matty. When I made my prediction I thought they'd have the beautiful Matty/Spase combination I saw last week. Despite the fact that he's made a few mistakes, we bloody missed Sasa Ognenovski in defence as well. As an aside here, as I don't want to make a primary point of it, is it good coaching for Farina to train the boys so hard that they lose two of their key guns in training? ("...All part and parcel of having intense training sessions.") Moot that. I dunno.

But hey, let's get really wild. We all know how the Roar kicked arse in the early season. Let's wonder for just one second how Newcastle would have buckled under a Roar with Massimo as well as Matty, Spase and Sasa. It's just dreaming of course, because it wasn't. Our engine room is gutted. Meanwhile Zhang and Reinaldo, our promised magic strikers, are apparently permanently off the squad. It's not easy to say how much our gutted midfield is to blame for the lameness of Mori and Lynch either, though tonight I'd have to say there was a few balls that Lynch in particular really could have had more of a go at. Mori just doesn't connect with this team it seems, and no wonder because he doesn't even train with them. Does he know them all by name? All just speculations now. All just those post-mortem 'what ifs'.

I got a yellow card tonight. My first, and hopefully last as a spectator. When Mat was substituted in the twentieth minute I was just shocked. The Roar were already playing terribly, and I would have been the first to say that Matty was being a bit slow, but he was hardly the only one and to me, after Spase not being available at the last minute, it seemed truly mad. I was ballistic. I screamed out, "What are you doing Frank?" Then I screamed, "You are a fucking madman, " or something to that effect. This would have been fine if I was with the Rejects or something, but I was very close to the front and Farina turned around, looked me straight in the eye and said, "He's sick." Various people from rows behind threw a bit of abuse upon me and I had to eat some humble pie. It all made sense. Matty was actually ill. Embarassment, and no less frustration. This was the end of the season.

A few minutes later a security man put his hand on my shoulder. He said someone had complained I'd used the 'F word' and that there were families about. I said I wouldn't do it again. John said I was lucky to not get a red. Whoops.

Not a good night for Football Down Under. Not a good night for the Roar. Poor Jacob was embarassed too with his frustrated father, foot firmly stuck half way down his throat.

We waited around at the end of the game so I could just feel the vibe and watch the Roar players - those still on the field and those like Zhang, Spase and Sasa in suits - and their grades of despondency. The vibe affirmed for me that tonight we did not just lose another game. Tonight we lost the season.

But there IS always next year.

PS, and it is firmly a PS, my hat is off to Dario, who brought renewed energy onto the field after Matty came off, and almost made us look good for a bit, and to Packer, who showed some great skill attempting to step into the gaping breach. Grossman also showed some real flair a few times.


Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Soothsaying Round 16

This really is a knock-up. I'm buggered, but realising that the first game between the Roar and Newcastle is in two nights, I thought I should put up something for people to post their tips onto. I'll fill in Jacob's as soon as I get them off him, probably tomorrow night. I'll probably add a little more editorial before Thursday night as well. Cheers.

6 December 2100 Update: I have added Jacob's tips.

The only extra editorial I have is two platitudes:

1) The Roar really have to win this baby;

2) Thursday night games are stupid. The ball boys (and Jacob) have school in the morning. Note to self: don't get too drunk.

The scores so far:
Drsimmo: 24
Tony: 23
Jacob: 22
John: 22
Hamish: 19

My predictions:
Queensland Roar FC vs Newcastle Jets FC
Queensland 2:1

Melbourne Victory FC vs Sydney FC
Draw 1:1

Central Coast Mariners FC vs Perth Glory FC
Central Coast 1:0

Adelaide United FC vsNew Zealand Knights FC
Adelaide 2:0

Jacob's predictions:
Queensland Roar FC vs Newcastle Jets FC
Draw 1:1

Melbourne Victory FC vs Sydney FC
Draw 1:1

Central Coast Mariners FC vs Perth Glory FC
Central Coast 2:0

Adelaide United FC vsNew Zealand Knights FC
Adelaide 2:0


Monday, December 04, 2006

Blogs, Terrorists, Roar, Storms and Sobriety

Fair warning to all: this is going to be a discursive blah, covering a few unrelated subjects.

Well the Roar is all the rage in blog land. With two new blogs by Roar fans, A Seat at the A-League and What in the Roar?, as well as two new southern blogs showing more than a fair share of obsession with the Roar, Girl's Guide to the A-League (a Melbourne based site) and The Fisherman's Friend (the first Mariner's site that I know of), the Roar are the talk of the blogosphere. Fine by me really.

Apologies for the good folk from Melbourne and Adelaide (yeah, yeah, well done Victory), but my football weekend really began on Saturday morning. With goals from Jiaan (3), Morgan (2) and Max (1), the West End Terrorists beat the Newfarm Jets 6:2 in indoor soccer. Really, this is by far the most entertaining football of the week for me. They were down one player so only had one reserve, and they had to work hard.

A couple of the opposition went off with limps, which was unfortunate, but I was proud when the second went off (Wayne, who would have to be the Jets man of the match), all of the Terrorists clapped, in genuine appreciation of his skill and speed. If John, their head coach (they sort of have two - I know a manager and two coaches seems over the top for a 12 and under team, but we love them), had not have had the insight of training with Wayne at school, and specifically instructed two Terrorists to shut Wayne down, the score may have been different.

So well done to all. There's only one game to go before the finals and it's just possible The Terrorists could get in the top four. For their first season, and starting before they even knew the rules, they have done extremely well, and parents and coaching staff are all proud as hell.

I'll be updating their progress.

Saturday night was... well it was Saturday night, and the night was balmy, the moon was high in the sky, and after a rather choppy start ("wierd" is not a term I use to describe a football spectacle usually but it somehow works for the first 15 minutes of that game) the Roar rocked. Yeah yeah, the Roar often rock, but after 81 minutes they remembered how to score, and it wasn't a lame-arse penalty or something but it was a bloody beauty. In that moment a young man called Matt McKay changed the timbre of my life and simultaneously became the first person ever to make it onto my Christmas card list. Thank you sir!

My excuse for not blogging over the weekend is that I got a bit drunk and the next day nursed a headache for most of the day. I'm not as young as I used to be.

Sunday afternoon however I went to the weekly kickabout. For any Brisbanites reading this, here is the blurb, and I do invite and encourage you to join us:
Time now half an hour later: 4.30 pm
Davies Park (that's Jane St, West End), on the rugby league pitch (there's grass!)

As always, all welcome: young, old and in-between, beginners and old hands, women, men, boys & girls—no need to be a club member or anything either, so tell friends, family, etc, if you think they'd like to play.
There was about 10 a side but we got drowned by a storm after about half an hour.

Meanwhile, as we swam about in our boots, Sydney and Central Coast were failing to score, just as earlier Newcastle had failed to beat New Zealand. As if the Roar hadn't had enough gratuitous good fortune, this kept us only a point from fourth place. To really stretch spin with statistics, Melbourne were the only ones to score more goals than the Roar on the weekend. Ha!

I came home utterly drenched, but it was a damn good football weekend nevertheless.

Goodnight. (I didn't say cheers because I'm having a second night without whiskey).


Friday, December 01, 2006

The Rot at the Top

Book Review:
Andrew Jennings, Foul! The Secret World of FIFA: Bribes, Vote Rigging and Ticket Scandals, HarperSport, 2006.

Well last week I reviewed the muck on the bottom of the Beautiful Game's shoe. The rot at the top, if Jenning's book is anything to go by, is not marginal, but dominant and perennial. We also don't get to see it on TV.

There is one very compelling argument to never read this book. For millions who love football week in week out, and find in it the joy, solace and sociality missing from the grind of life, work and failing to get laid, ignorance may well be bliss. If you don't want to be thoroughly, profoundly and forever disillusioned with the administration of international football, stop reading this review now and pretend that Jenning's book was never written. Easy.

This is FIFA's own official statement about the book:
Zurich, 28 April 2006 - FIFA is aware of the book, Foul, by Andrew Jennings that is set to be published. At first glance, FIFA has noted that the book basically reveals nothing new.

FIFA therefore rejects the allegations having already commented on them in writing to the author on several occasions.

As the book contains a number of false and libellous claims, FIFA applied for an injunction on the publication and distribution of the book as a precaution several months ago. The Zurich cantonal high court complied with this request by passing a provisional ruling on 26 April 2006.
If one was to read this statement before reading the book, it might be effective in diverting one from reading the book. Reading the statement after reading the book however, it served as a living example of a tactic the book describes over and over. Having read the book, I know perfectly well, for example, that FIFA has "commented on (the allegations) in writing to the author on several occasions" and also how diversionary and unconvincing those comments were. This dialogue between the author and various FIFA officials makes up a good deal of the book's content, after all. But let's take the last paragraph of this official statement for a bit of scrutiny...

The statement does not say what the "false and libelious claims" are, and nowhere on FIFA's website (please correct me here if you can but I have searched) are these identified. At the same time they are referred to as if they are established and unambiguous, not as if they are merely disputed. This is an old debating trick, and I should say a very clever one if the trickster can rely on a general willingness to believe. We're talking the World administrative body of the World' most popular sport here.

Everything else in the paragraph is clearly correct, though a "provisional ruling" is of course exactly that - a ruling made provisionally until the matter is actually looked at properly. It never has been still, and the reason for that is that FIFA withdrew their application for an injunction. So we have nothing - we have no specified allegations, and no request for an injunction. All we have is the legal fact that FIFA was granted a "provisional injunction" in between applying for one and withdrawing it.

Here is how FIFA puts the wash up now, in full ("Foul!" book: FIFA withdraws request for precautionary measures):
FIFA has withdrawn its request for an injunction to prohibit the publication and distribution in Switzerland of Andrew Jennings' book, 'Foul!'. FIFA had applied for the injunction as a precaution on account of advance notices from the publishers and the information available on the book and its contents. On 26 April 2006, the Zurich cantonal high court granted the request by passing a provisional ruling.

Since then, FIFA has had the opportunity to analyse and evaluate the book from a legal point of view. Although the book does contain various defamatory passages and many inaccurate statements and aspersions, this toned-down version of the book makes it unnecessary for FIFA to continue pursuing legal action.

On 23 September 2005, following the publisher's advance notice, FIFA and FIFA President Blatter applied to the district court of Meilen for an injunction on the distribution of the book as a precautionary measure on account of its untrue and libellous contents. However, as the author and the publishers argued that the book would not be released in the near future, on 3 March 2006 the single judge declined FIFA's request for an injunction. FIFA lodged an appeal against this decision. On 26 April 2006, after various newspapers and the publishers announced a fixed date for the release of the book, the Zurich cantonal high court granted FIFA's request for a temporary injunction.

Once again we are left completely unaware of which "various defamatory passages and many inaccurate statements and aspersions" are being referred to. You would think that it would be important - given the withdrawal of a legal challenge - for FIFA to make us all aware of which statements were inaccurate.

But what I want to draw attention to here is the final sentence of this last statement. "The Zurich cantonal high court granted FIFA's request for a temporary injunction." The real story here is that the request was withdrawn, but what they apparently want to emphasise is that the temporary injunction was granted, however momentarilly. It's all they've got. And it's supposed to be an answer to the book's claims.

FIFA has threatened to sue Jennings before, in 2003 (FIFA to sue Andrew Jennings and Daily Mail), and then failed to pursue the matter. The fact that he has been threatened is supposed to mean something I think. If there was substance one would think FIFA would either, a) not threaten - for whatever strategic reason - or, b) sue away.

I did email FIFA's media people asking if there were further statements about the book on FIFA's website that I'd missed. Firstly I got an automated reply which said that I may not get a reply but also that I should try searching the website for the information I sought. In all seriousness it was sensible advice, and I did so, finding the second statement above.

But the head of FIFA's media department, Andreas Herren, did kindly reply, linking the statement I'd found, as well as another statement, which I can only describe as arrogant, since we still have no indication as to what is incorrect in the book:

He's just re-heated old stories. The book ought to be called "revenge foul". He'd get a red card for that on the field of play.

Still with nothing specified, we just have an escalation of dismissiveness. The single strategy of FIFA is apparently to undermine and try to divert people from reading the book, without specifying anything or providing any substantive rebuttal.

Andreas also asked, "May I enquire what prompted you to contact us on this matter?" I replied that I was an amateur blogger reviewing the book and Andreas kindly rejoined with, "Thanks for your reply, appreciated. If you need more info - also on other matters, let me know."

So about half an hour ago, I emailed once again with, "If I was to ask one question, it would be one that Jennings claims in his book remains unanswered despite repeated asking. It is a painfully reasonable question but in fairness perhaps Jennings was deceiving us in leading us to believe FIFA refused to answer the question. What is the salary and full remuneration package of the President of FIFA?"

I'll keep you informed.

Now Jennings is a well known journalist and Foul! has been selling well and is in all the major bookshops. If it is full of libel and lies then there in no way in the world that FIFA would not be suing the pants off Jennings. If it is full of libel and lies I for one demand that FIFA sue the pants off the bastard because it would be an utterly reprehensible piece of slander, and if unwaranted it is utterly and horribly detrimental to our game. The single best argument for a layperson that all of Jennings' allegations, apparently carefully researched, sourced and cross-referenced, are correct, is that FIFA has failed to take legal action. On that basis I'm guessing they're true.

I am very worried for our sport internationally. Take nothing for granted. Nothing. You might note that like FIFA, I also have not specified any of Jennings' allegations. The difference is that I want you to read the book. Read the book, or not.

Jennings' website is Transparency in Sport.