Are you listening, politicians?

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Joe Flacco (pic courtesy of Keith Allison)

What a refreshing change from that tired old cop-out beloved of politicians beating a tactical retreat before the brown stuff hits the fan.

“…is leaving politics to spend more time with his family…”

Yeah, right.

Good on Baltimore Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco, then, for keeping it real when explaining why he looks forward to the widely-perceived chore of the NFL’s de-camping to Wembley Stadium next year, as part of an expanded International Series.

It mightn’t do much for his New Man credentials, but you can’t fault his honesty.

“I have four kids now. That’s probably why I’m looking at it a bit more optimistically. It’ll be good to get away from them.”

Golf-haters need to spit it out

We are all this guy. Except me, because I’m not dumb enough to go golfing atop a frozen pond, and I’m not self-loathing enough to enjoy golf in the first place.”

Even if you held a gun to his head, I’m not sure Barry Petchesky could even begin to explain this bizarre comment that he penned for Deadspin this week.

Self-loathing?

Reach for some dental equipment à la the interrogation scene in Marathon Man, however, and I have every confidence that between sobs, he would quickly blurt out the sad truth. It was the first derogatory label he could think of and it seemed as good an insult as any.

Self-loathing.

I played golf for 15 years, have enjoyed it and the company of golfers for all my adult life, and am yet to encounter anyone with even good reason to self-loathe, let alone a proclivity for it.

Had Petchesky attacked us for snootiness or bad-taste clothing, he would have shown himself to be somewhat behind the times in attacking a sport about which he clearly knows nothing, but historically at least, he could have mustered a little context for his contention.

“Self-loathing”, however, is such a random, out-of-thin-air criticism that it deserves to be met with another one. That resentment born of a possibly-subconscious jealousy means that Barry Petchesky hates middle-class people at play so much that any old slur will do in his desperation to make a point.

Not knowing the first thing about him, I have no evidence with which to back up my claim, but at least that makes two of us.

Chivalry? Just leave it, footballers…

 

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“Oh no…I think it’s his groin.” [pic by Cathy Baird]
I would never subscribe to the popular theory that all professional footballers are a bit dense. I have known some and seen plenty more who make a mockery of that claim. They mightn’t have letters after their name but their heads have undoubtedly been properly screwed on.

A significant proportion of professional footballers, on the other hand? Intellectually underwhelming?

Absolutely beyond argument.

Sadly, some of the latter were in evidence at the weekend. Just as you don’t let kids near a box of fireworks, so I believe professional footballers should be kept well away from social niceties, at least until they realise that ‘nuance’ isn’t just the name of a nightclub.

If you came ‘cold’ to Sunday’s Manchester City/Arsenal game, you could be forgiven  for thinking that City’s German international midfielder Ilkay Gundogan was dead at the age of 26. There were his team-mates, after all, lined up in the tunnel, all pointedly wearing shirts that bore Gundogan’s squad number.

A touching tribute to a player so cruelly snatched away from us, for, er, six months… Herr Gundogan, you see, suffered a knee injury midweek that will keep him off the field for the rest of the season.

Now this is undoubtedly sad, frustrating and regrettable. Unless you’re a 26-year-old with a terminal illness somewhere, in which case it is nothing more than a modest bump in life’s road. A sense of perspective they could have done with at Eastlands on Sunday.

In their defence, the City players are young men living in a slavishly touchy-feely world, thanks largely to many people of their generation who think that hugs and emoting are everything and that if you’ve gone 24 hours without changing your Facebook profile picture to a social justice slogan, why, you’re just not livin’ right.

But where was the voice of reason, even so? The voice reminding them that they’d all been to see their injured team-mate and had all resolved to keep him as involved as they could for the rest of the campaign. And that it was now time to go to work?

Unfortunately, however, this is a profession that has form when it comes to cack-handed etiquette: witness the knots they occasionally tie themselves into when working out to which team they should throw the ball after an injury; or the fact that any old injury now seems enough for everyone to stop playing, even if the stricken player is clutching his big toe rather than his head. That’s on them, that one – the workforce that can’t draw a distinction between gallantry and overkill.

Thankfully, the backlash for yesterday’s mawkishness has been profound, the ultimate condemnation inadvertently coming from Gundogan himself, his Tweet thanking his teammates for their gesture ending with the postscript, “Don’t worry – I’m still alive”. On the terraces, if not in the dressing room, it would seem the reality check is alive and well.

Whether the mockery will be enough to save footballers from themselves in future, we will have to wait and see. I still think clubs could take a lead here by removing whatever motivational message is painted over the players’ tunnel – This is Anfield etc – and replacing it with a four-word plaque; standard issue throughout the professional game.

Shut Up and Play.

‘Tis the season that makes football

 

11043538415_6ab3729c17_z-1Call it traitorous if you want: this is one Brit for whom mists, Hallowe’en and Guy Fawkes night do not define autumn.

While I’m no longer as mesmerised by America as I was as a child, this may be the last context in which I stand wholly with Uncle Sam. Autumn is football.

Their football, that is, with its helmets and acts of seismic violence that somehow fall within the parameters of the rules. If there is one consolation for shortening days and disintegrating weather each year, it is for me the militaristic mayhem of the gridiron and the accompanying facets of a dying year. The brilliant sunshine and bright uniforms of September, easing into the russet colours of autumn, onwards to the early Christmas of Thanksgiving and, for those of us Over Here, the unique thrill of NFL action at tea time on a Thursday.

After this comes December and a non-stop pageant of bowl games with which the college football season takes its leave. There are so many of these showcase climaxes now that all but a handful of them seem meaningless, yet at a time of year when people play party games and drink drinks that they normally wouldn’t look at twice,  bowl games fit perfectly.

And then, because God saw that the weeks immediately after Christmas could be the most awful anti-climax, he bestowed one of his greatest blessings upon humanity – the NFL play-offs and the Superbowl. Any sport that makes even a foreigner go from loathing January to loving it has performed a great service.

And yet as I contemplate this glorious five-month parade, I realise that the experience is underpinned by a certain humility. American football knows its place – September to January – and in the main it sticks to it. Between each season, there is ample time to draw breath, savour what just happened and – most importantly of all – renew your hunger for the season to come.

Remind you of our football, over here? No, of course it doesn’t. British soccer doesn’t have seasons, it has years, all 12 months and 365 days of them. The NFL champions get six months to relish their achievement. The Premier League winners get six weeks.

With no other sport capable of picking up the slack in the interim, of course, a six month hiatus is out of the question over here but the other extreme is no less unsatisfying. Every time I watch them hoist that Premier League trophy aloft, the ageing cynic in me wonders what the big fuss can be, given such a whistle-stop timescale. So you or won or lost a title: big deal, there’ll be another one along in a minute.

The moment one of his cars won a Formula One Grand Prix, team owner Frank Williams once confided, all he cared about was the next race. I would never want to be that man – savouring triumph is part of living – and I resent the way soccer imposes that mentality upon me.

We are never free of it. One way or another, whether June has an international tournament going on or not, the game dogs us all year. For all that Sky Sports and its pet pastime have devoured the American way of packaging and presenting ‘the product’, the idea that the word ‘season’ needs to mean something seems doomed to be the one lesson they will never grasp.

And so two sports with the same name remind me of the Prodigal Son parable. There’s one son who’s out in the world for much of the year, making his way in life. When he shows up for family occasions, there’s a spring in the step of his parents as they rush to greet him.

The other son, meanwhile, is under their feet all day. Nice lad, not short of talent but just seems to drift a bit, you know?

As any parent will tell you, both sons are equally loved, but one of them arouses the emotion a little more readily than the other.

[Pic courtesy of Erik Drost]