Irony in the Time of the Olympics

It was a typically British farce that there was a lot of bother over whether drugs cheat Dwain Chambers should represent Britain at the Beijing Olympics. We are going to a country that has a human rights record that the Nazis would have been proud of and we are worried about a fellow who took drugs, served a ban and now would like to compete again?

Speaking of Nazi Germany, I wonder how the BBC would have represented the 1936 games if they were held today? Presumably, Monkey would have been replaced by a cartoon based on Adolf the Aryan and his adventures in prehistoric Germany.

Back to Beijing, however, and I am beginning to think that this should be called the Ironic Olympics. The Daily Telegraph reports that Beijing has been warned about the threat of new performance enhancing drugs, which could be more difficult than ever to detect. Given China’s previous record with drugs – see the scandals involving its swimmers in the 1990s – it is a good job that the threat from the drug is ‘minimal’ (although how does that square with the scientific warning that the drug is being used now?). But, no doubt, the swimmers were acting without the knowledge of the state. China has, after all, a good record of letting its citizens get on with their lives.

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6 And Out

Bobby Moore lifts the World Cup in 1966

Bobby Moore lifts the World Cup in 1966

Of all the major sports in the United Kingdom, association football is by far the most sentimental. Witness Frank Lampardturning his eyes to heaven to thank his late mother every time he manages to run onto the pitch without falling over, or the way in which it only takes the death of a blade of grass in the south-west corner of the Kidderminster Harriers’ stadium for every team in the country to don their well worn black armband. Black? More likely grey by now.

Quite why football should be so sentimental is a mystery although it no doubt has a lot to do with the fact that the game has become incredibly rich without really deserving the money; hence, for as much filthy lucre as there is swilling around, there is also a lot of guilt too. Sentimentality is football’s well of showing that it hasn’t lost its soul.

The most recent case of sentimentality comes to us courtesy of West Ham United which, on the 50th anniversary of the debut of Bobby Moore as a Hammers player, has decided to retire his shirt. Or rather, his number: 6.

It is very laudable that we remember the great men and women of old. In Moore’s case, however, his greatness does not come so much from the fact that he was a West Ham player than that for 120 minutes on 30  1966 he had rather a good game with the England side, a game which resulted in the national side winning the FIFA World Cup for the first (and so far only) time.

As a result of this unprecedented triumph, Moore – who died in 1993 – has had a stand named after him at Upton Park as well as two statues of himself erected outside the West Ham ground and Wembley Stadium. That, it seems to me, is a more than perfectly adequate return for being a member of the 11 man squad that brought the World Cup to England.

But West Ham United have now gone further. Indeed, too far. What will they do on the 75th or 100th anniversary of Moore’s debut for the club? Or on the anniversary of the first time he captained the England team? Or played his last game for the club or, most sadly, died? In time it would not r me to find the area around Upton Park, every last street, pub and park bench named after Moore as if he were a god of Rome: Moore the First Time as Captain, Moore the World Cup Victor, Moore Who Took A Fancy To This Oak Tree When It Was In Full Leaf.

The problem with football is that, much like the Senate in Imperial Rome, it just doesn’t know when to stop heaping honours upon a man. At least the Senate could claim necessity arising out of a fear of its members being butchered if it did not acclaim the Emperor so.

If West Ham United want to honour Bobby Moore they should get back to the sources – the games that he played. Removing his shirt number acts against that as it suggests something that is plainly untrue: that he was irreplaceable. As good a player as he was, he was not that. No player ever is. They are turning the man into a myth and, ultimately, removing from the sight of the people the real reason for his being a legend.

Cricket at the Crossroads

The Recusant Cricket Club would be remiss in its duty if it did not take heed of cricketing developments in India. The Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) has set up the Indian Premier League – a franchise league playing Twenty20 cricket. The full story is at BBC On-Line here.

Everyone will have their own opinion about Twenty20 cricket. Personally, I abhor it and make no effort to listen to any matches that turn up on the radio. Not that they do very often, except in one minute reports during football programmes. So, I ignore the reports instead. 

Cricket for me is about the four or five day game; county and Test level. The (international) one-day game is to be tolerated, but no more. It takes away the technique and makes the game a glorified slug-fest.

Thus, the idea of the county game being diminished by a franchise Twenty20 tournament is abhorrent to me. To make matters worse, it looks like the franchises would follow the awful practice of giving their teams names that have no relation to the area. In my own beloved rugby union, we have the Sale Sharks. I have heard that the north west is a hard area, but never of sharks prowling the area.  

So, goodbye Gloucestershire, hello Gloucestershire Grim Reapers. Maybe they will play with scythes and not bats. Goodbye Middlesex, hello Middlesex Marauders. Presuming, of course, that the county association is not ditched altogether.

If the IPL is taken up in England, it will be the next biggest sell-out after the sale of all cricketing TV rights to Sky TV. For the sake of all that is good and holy and five days long, I urge readers to reject the IPL and all its off shoots.

Who are the Hammers? Who are the Hammered?

The England that I, and I suspect, most Recusants, loved, died or, like King Arthur, went into hibernation five hundred years ago. Since then, the Dowry of Mary has drifted from Protestantism to Rationalism to secularism. From a mistake, to a denial to an incomprehension. And it is in this state of incomprehension over who and why we are that parasitical emotionalism has corrupted the country. To understand what I mean by emotionalism, just think back to the death of Diana, the Princess of Wales and the outpouring of vicarious grief by so many members of the public.

Which brings me to the case of West Ham United. Last September, West Ham surprised the footballing world by signing two highly rated Argentinian players – Carlos Tevez and Javier Mascherano – in the last minutes of the transfer window. But in so doing, the club deliberately broke Premier League rules and then lied about it when questioned over the matter during Mascherano’s subsequent move to Liverpool in January.

A subsequent investigative committee found the club guilty ‘acting improperly’ and lying and on 27th April, West Ham was fined £5.5 million – a record. This might have been the effective end of the matter except that as of this morning West Ham are in 18th place and the last relegation spot in the Premier League on 35 points, equal with 17th placed Wigan , a point behind 16th placed Fulham, and 3 points behind 15th place Sheffield United.

Why do I mention all these figures? Well, for such a serious breach of the rules, West Ham might easily have had points deducted from their current tally. Indeed, other clubs have had points deducted for lesser offences against league rules. For example, as BBC On Line reports, in 1997 Middlesborough were deducted 3 points for failing to fulfil a fixture – 16 players were too ill or injured to play. That deduction saw the club relegated to the old Division One.

Predictably, the chairmen of the other clubs immediately above and below West Ham (i.e. Charlton Athletic, 19th on 32 points) are not at all happy about West Ham only being fined and are threatening to take legal action against the Premier League. This would be a bitter year to be relegated as the Premier League television deal with Sky will see a rise in prize money for Premier League clubs next year.

I am not so much concerned with the rights and wrongs of the investigating committee’s judgement against West Ham United, as I am with the response of the chairmen of the other relegation threatened clubs. One can understand their distress, but they are quite wrong to think about taking their case to court. Ideally, football games should be settled on the pitch, or, at the most, at Premier League or F. A. Invoking the aid of the legal system creates only one winner – lawyers – and makes lots of losers. For example, the game itself. What use is it watching a game when you know that the result may be overturned in a court room?

The chairman of Charlton Athletic, Fulham, Sheffield United and Wigan need to trust the F. A. and let the matter drop. The only grounds they have to pursue it is if they suspect bad faith on the part of the investigating committee. In my opinion, West Ham should have been deducted points, but they weren’t, and can consider themselves most fortunate. For me or for anyone to continue bleating about the unfairness of it all is to buy into the shameful emotionalism (did you think I was not going to come back to the beginning!) that has so afflicted this country. Far nobler to take it on the chin and concentrate on one’s own club’s performance.

And if only Britons as a whole would learn to hold in their tears just a little bit and learn how to practise fortitude. We live in a sinful world. The surprise should not be that evil happens but that even from (the) evil good can come. I mean this as a general statement and in regards specific people because no one is beyond redemption. Having fortitude protects against wanton blubery and surely, insofar as it keeps one emotionally stable, allows for the cultivation of greater wisdom. And goodness knows, we could do with an increase of that in this day and age – not just in the Premier League, but in life in general.

Deep joy

…as the late Professor Stanley Unwin used to say. Watching England finally come good was  precisely that. Is it too much to expect that England may now  come good in the World Cup. I’m not going to put the mortgage on it.

The most significant thing was the reclamation of a degree of pride in the team. The Vaughan effect cannot be discounted:  Vaughan’s tactical nous in the matches he captained was evident. Australia it must be said were lacking the ominously impressive young Symonds. I wish him a speedy return from injury but hope he can find some way of staying out of commission. Like early retirment.

So I guess we must accentuate the positive: Liam Plunkett didn’t let his head drop after an appalling first over against NZ eventually taking 3 for 60. Panesar’s movement to maturity continues quietly – he will undoubtedly become an irreplacable part of the England setup. Collingwood put in masterful displays which, in truth, won the day(s). It is also clear that Andrew Flintoff finds the burden of captaincy too great – he is at his best giving all with bat and ball. I do wish he would find more, ahem, genteel ways  of celebrating a wicket. The hand of Vaughan was clearly behind much of what went on in the final matches.

The BBC television highlights were great (for those of us with digital TV) Watching the highlights  of the last 3 games on a loop was heartening indeed (though quite why Aussie commentary input was necessary is unclear).

Most importantly it was nice to see Glenn McGrath in his last Tests (if not his last ODI):  to paraphrase Cardinal Pell – he’s someone who needs kicking as he always looks like he’s about to get up. I daresay he will still cause trouble in the World Cup. I will not miss his mullet.

Will we win the World Cup? That seems unlikely – but it may be a time for the next generation of England cricketers to show their mettle.

Holy Words

This man became the leader of his country following a coup within his own party. He was a decent chap and wanted the country to be decent as well. His image of the ideal life was a certain game being played on village greens, church bells ringing and warm beer. He wanted to get back to basics but when he arrived there, he found only sleaze. Who am I talking about? The answer of course, is the Right Hon. John Major. The former Prime Minister is one of the candidates in a poll being run by the BBC website (here) to find out the nation’s favourite prime minister. I have no interest in the political side of the poll, although I may vote for Lady Thatcher just to annoy the Trots, but thought that this little ditty may be of interest to Club members. Major may have been an old fashioned, weak sap, but if so his heart was in the right place. On the subject of death, he wrote,

“Oh, Lord, if I must die today,
Please make it after Close of Play.
For this, I know, if nothing more,
I will not go, without the score.”

Amen.