The S – Word

Brown, Benali and years of geekdom…

There was once a time when I knew everything about football. When I was in my early teens I started going to games on my own and I started to develop an encyclopedic knowledge of Manchester United and the Premier League. It bordered on the obsessive, to tell you the truth. I could have told you in great detail about any player at Old Trafford; their career statistics, which was their best foot, what were their strengths, weaknesses and a minutae of detail about various stadiums around Europe where they played. Hell, I could have even reeled off players’ middles names, ages of their children and their favourite foods without too much thought. Not many people were beating down my door to hear this information, I hasten to add, but to me it mattered.

I collected match programmes, read every report and filed away almost every back page from The Manchester Evening News with great diligence. I must have contributed a pretty big large share of my pocket money to buy various pieces of memorabilia and merchandise too.

It was out with the pony stories and Enid Blyton books and in with the football reading material. It wasn’t just Manchester United though, it was everyone, every team, every player,  I collected Manchester United magazine and Glory Glory Man United and would read them over and again until I knew every fact but I soon started collecting others; GOAL, Shoot, Match, Total Football, Total Sport, FourFourTwo, Premier League sticker books. My addiction was growing…

Also (I don’t know if I should admit to this) when I was younger I used to watch Match of the Day and take notes. I was determined to become the show’s first female presenter and I thought it best to chronicle the information. I kid you not. I used to write down the goalscorers, the names of the referees, bookings and more. Then I would file them in my MOTD box.  Ha! I was a geek, through and through. And my poor dad, I used to ask him (or is that make him I wonder?) quiz me on the previous night’s programme. Any car journey, long or short, was an opportunity to be challenged. Ask me about football dad, ask me, ask me, ask me. Or, Dad!! Peter Schmeichel is going to be opening a menswear shop in Deansgate on Tuesday. I HAVE to be there. How I knew these things I have no idea, but I’d always be there – nervous, sweaty-palmed, probably blushing, standing in various Manchester menswear shops, clutching my autograph book and waiting for one of my heroes, positioned awkwardly somewhere between the briefs and man bags.

My mum suffered the same treatment. She was frequently met with requests to drive me to watch reserve matches at Gigg Lane in Bury or to the Cliff – Manchester United’s old training ground. At the Cliff you could hang around in the car park, meet the players and they’d happily sign autographs for you. Back then players drove Renaults and Volkswagens. Now, at Carrington, you’d be lucky if you got a glimpe of one of them behind the tinted windows of their Bentley and extremely lucky if they stopped to autograph something.

I wonder how many other 13 year-old girls there were in Cheshire at that time who thought they should know what Southampton’s Francis Benali looked like or what Ruel Fox’s goal to game ratio was? Lessons in school became opportunities to talk football with the boys in my class. Hey – where do Galatasaray play their home games? I’d ask. This was far more interesting than physics. (it’s the Ali Sami Yen by the way…)

Francis Benali

There's only one Benali. Erm...

Throughout my teenage years and into my twenties this fanaticism grew and my love for football continued. Admittedly, it dipped a bit as I started university, did my fair share of partying  and developed a love for travel but it was always there. My capacity for remembering small details about players and their teams probably diminished a bit around this time and I refrained from keeping notes about Match of the Day, But I never fell out of love with the game.

These feelings never changed and that’s what led to my career in football journalism. Thank God all that information was actually used for something! Those hours spent poring over books and magazines were not in vain. Hurrah! Football journalism was heaven on earth for me and not just because I got to work with some of the best fellow geeks around. All day was spent either watching games, talking about them, writing about them – or being out and about interviewing players and managers and negotiating the slippery world of football agents. Morning duties included reading every back page and soccer supplement and Sky Sports News became a permanent fixture in my life. It was on in the background for up to 9 hours a day, we really had to know everything as soon as it happened.

And this is precisely what motivated me to write this entry. Back then I had to know everything and now, well… my knowledge is diminishing. I don’t know how many people in the world were affected by Phil Brown’s recent sacking at Hull City. Not many, I’d wager. For those of you not in the know, the perma-tanned and aptly named Brown was relieved of his managerial duties on March 15 and promptly made his exit from the KC Stadium and into gardening leave. Now, it’s not the sacking that bothers me. Sure, Brown seems like a nice enough guy and it’s not nice to see anyone get fired but what really gets me is that I DIDN’T KNOW!!!!

Former Hull boss Phil Brown

Former Hull boss Phil Brown

This must be how Samson felt after Delilah’s betrayal – his locks were shorn and his superhuman strength left him. The muscle-bound Isarelite was a changed man and that’s how I feel. Ahem, apart from the fact I am not superhuman, I’m not a man and I wasn’t deceived by a woman called Delilah, but you get my drift.

I moved to Hawaii. Quite possibly the best decision I will ever make. My days are spent on a beautiful island, in the sun, surfing and canoe paddling, life is truly perfect. I have to pinch myself regularly to make sure this is real. But it is a life with little football. I try hard to monitor all my favourite news sources and my friend, former editor and ex- Arsenal player Adrian Clarke has a great podcast that keeps me informed but many, many stories just pass me by. 

It made me chuckle, when I was thinking about this situation, that I was so affected by Phil Brown. I mean, really, of all people! But it wasn’t Brown, he is merely the poster boy who represents the growing gap in the knowledge I once had. A brown, slightly leathery, northern poster boy, with a penchant for odd half-time ‘motivational’ team talks, but a poster boy nonetheless.

So, I am not as up to date with English football as I once was – I don’t watch Sky Sports, I rarely see games and, with a tear in my eye, I gave away my  magazine collection when I left the UK. But life here is good, no – life here is fantastic and I still get to write about the sport I love. What could be better than that? Maybe I should start paying more attention to the smaller stories in English football, maybe I should write more. But as soon as Phil Brown gets a new job, I’ll be damned if I am not the first to know.

Thanks for reading my ramblings! Aloha, until next time…


The Rebel Who Would Be King. Falling for Eric all over again…
February 23, 2010, 7:32 pm
Filed under: Biographies, Eric Cantona, Premier League | Tags: , ,

“Football, even at its most enthrallingly beautiful, or, if you prefer, ‘artistic’, is nothing but pure manifestation; it is not a response to anything other than itself; it is an unfolding. The flow of the ball is self-contained, self-referential – and unrepeatable. A perfectly executed free kick might require just as much time on the training field as a bassonist, say, will spend rehearsing the first bars of The Rite of Spring in the concert hall. But, wheras the bassoonist will be able to play the same line after time, finding new shades of tone and refining new articulations, even the greatest footballer we could dream of would fail to repeat a single one of his masterful creations. A football team is not an orchestra. You do not pit two ensembles against each other, playing two scores which are not just incompatible in terms of meter and key, but also try to nullify each other, despite the wildest experiments of avant-garde composers. The greatest of managers is not a conductor, and the footballer is not a soloist: you do not write footballs on a stave. But Eric was driven by the belief that somehow, some were given the ability to do so – Cruyff, Maradona, himself. On that evening in Wimbledon, he wasn’t very far from convincing the rest of the world he was right.”

Extract taken from Cantona – The Rebel Who Would Be King by Philippe Auclair.

Normally speaking, football biographies leave a lot to be desired. Who could forget ‘My Story so Far’ by the (then) 20 year-old Wayne Rooney, inside which the Manchester United striker revealed gems such as “I can’t get to sleep without the hoover on.” and “I usually turn up to training wearing slippers.” Hmmm. Enough said. And if only I could forget ‘My Defence’ by Ashley Cole. 246 pages of drivel in which Cole earnt himself legions of enemies. For those of you who aren’t familiar with Cole’s book. Here’s a taster…

Let me first set the scene. It’s 2005, Cole plays for Arsenal and a new contract is in the offing. The 24 year-old is driving home from training (I am hazarding a guess here but probably in a Baby Bentley or an Aston Martin Vanquish) somewhere in North London, when his agent Jonathan Barnett calls. Barnett has news from David Dein, the Arsenal vice-chairman. Cole will not be receiving his demands of 60,000 a week, no, he’ll have to settle for a measly 55,000 instead. Fifty. Thousand. Pounds. A. Week. I’ll let Ashley take it from here:

“When I heard Jonathan repeat the figure of £55,000, I nearly swerved off the road. ‘He is taking the piss Jonathan!’ I yelled down the phone. I was so incensed. I was trembling with anger. I couldn’t believe what I’d heard.”

And that snippet just about sums up the attitudes on display in most football biographies these days. But Eric’s biography is so very different. Call me biased, as my adoration for Cantona knows no bounds but seriously, SERIOUSLY this is a beautifully written book.

Cantona was a truly unique player and Cantona – The Rebel Who Would Be King is a truly unique read. Auclair writes with an elegance that I am equally envious and in awe of – his poetic prose tells the story of Eric’s career – from his early life in Marseille to ending his career at Manchester United. Eric’s involvement was zero, but this does not detract from Auclair’s meticulously researched and wonderfully crafted read. The French journalist interviewed 200 key figures from Eric’s career and must have watched hours upon hours of footage in the three years he spent writing the book.

The result is incredible and quite unlike any sports book I have come across in the past. I mean, really, name another football biography in which the writer makes reference to Velazquez, post-structuralist historians, the shirt of Nessus, Jacques Derrida and more? And also, as in the above quote, not many football biographies manage to draw parallels between the masterful creations of a footballer and the articulations of a bassoonist.

It’s just a shame that it had to end. Eric Cantona has always been my favourite player and in all probability he always will be. He was an enigma, a breath of fresh air and a huge catalyst in changing the fortunes of Manchester United. I think it’s the same for all United fans – we know that wonderful, talented players will come and go at Old Trafford, games will be won and lost, goals will be scored and they will be missed but one certainty stands head and shoulders above the rest. There will never, ever be another Eric.

“An artist, in my eyes, is someone who can lighten up a dark room. I have never and will never find difference between the pass from Pele to Carlos Alberto in the final of the World Cup in 1970, and the poetry of the young Rimbaud.”  Eric Cantona 

And, readers from the USA, if you’d like to see a bit more of Le King. Watch this:

Thanks for reading!

Riddled with debt – United and the Glazers
January 29, 2010, 5:43 pm
Filed under: Premier League | Tags: , , , ,

I’m thrilled to say that I’ll be able to watch Manchester United as they take on Arsenal at the Emirates Stadium this Sunday. It won’t be live but it will be shown over here, so I will be careful to dodge the result before the game is replayed at 6pm Maui time.

Alex Ferguson is touting the fixture as ‘the biggest game of the season’. Normally he says these things when he is trying to psyche-out the opposition, with his well-known and effective penchant for mind games. But in this case he has got a point.

At the time of writing, Chelsea – who have a game in hand – are topping the Premier League by one point, Arsenal trail United by the same margin. The Gunners, as it happens, are unbeaten in 10 whereas United have had a pretty shoddy start to 2010.  We were knocked out of the FA Cup by Leeds United, experienced a worrying injury crisis and registered the worst run of January results we’ve had in a long time.

But far more troubling news came to light earlier this month when United, the ‘most popular club in the world’ was revealed to be unbelievably, unquestionably, unequivocally RIDDLED with debt.

Love United Hate Glazer

My sentiments exactly

Figures released a fortnight ago  illustrate the extent of it. United’s parent company, Red Football Joint Venture Ltd, are reported to be £716.5m in the red, how is this possible? The American owners had to borrow over £500m to even buy the club in the first place! Sky-high interest, mystery payments to ‘family members’ and fees that paid for ‘management and administration matters’ seem to have deepened the fault lines that began to show when the Glazers bought the club in 2005.

David Conn explains the situation well in The Guardian online 

It’s a worrying situation, and one that leaves a bitter taste in the mouth. Especially when you contrast the financial situation with that of Arsenal, or (and I say this through gritted teeth) Manchester City – who are both in rude health when compared with goings on at Old Trafford. Oh well, at least Liverpool are in dire straits with their finances too…

Hopefully, in matters on the pitch, United will have the upper hand against Arsene Wenger’s team, who failed to break the deadlock in a 0-0 draw with Aston Villa earlier this week. The home side are the division’s leading scorers and they have taken 24 points from 10 unbeaten games. Er… crap! Well, we did beat them at Old Trafford in August. Back then Arsene Wenger accused United of playing ‘anti-football’ it ain’t pretty but if that’s what it takes to win again then I’d happily accept.

Okay – it’s nearly time for the sun to go down on another gorgeous day on Maui. Time to get a glass of wine and wander down to the beach I think.

Until next time…