Thursday, November 27, 2008

Knuckleheads on football forums

The most worthy of international tournaments is almost upon us. Sunday night is draw night for the homeless world cup. The route to the final which takes places the following Sunday (that'll be the 7th) will be announced. It’s exciting. Heidi Klum won't be pulling the balls out of her bag, but it is exciting nonetheless. As an added bonus wee sleekit Sepp isn't there either.

The teams have been arriving all week. The team from Scotland came out of the gloomy rain to the warm shine of the Melbourne sun with big smiles on their faces. If you were ever looking for an example of how far the tournament has come and how far it’s brought the people it has embraced, they'd be one of many.

Nelson Mandela famously said, “Sport has the power to change the world.” The ripple effect of the homeless world cup which runs from the 1st to the 7th of December will be felt long afterwards. Within twelve months of 2005 Homeless World Cup in Edinburgh, 77% of players had changed their lives. They moved into education, homes, jobs, come off drugs and alcohol and improved and developed stronger social and family relationships. 12 players even got work in football as semi or professional coaches or players.

That makes the HWC a powerful thing. With 56 countries competing in men’s and women’s tournaments, this year’s HWC is the biggest yet. SBS's World Game will televise the final. Channel 10 in Oz are currently making a doco about the Street Socceroos. You know something’s working when the event is getting that kind of attention. People are really taking notice. And they should its really making a difference.

I’ve spent close to 20 hours in the last week or so trying to get it talked about, spruiked and promoted across a number of different online forums and blogs including the old facebook. I got into trouble there for sending lots of people the same message. Spam, apparently. Pish, if you ask me.

It’s fair to say I met with some success in some places and little or none in others.

A true believer in karma and justice of the poetic nature, I’ll not mention names. A couple of knuckleheads on the World Game’s forum for example will hopefully be shitting hedgehogs next time they sit down to squeeze their heads. I have to add here that I think the World Game's site is a solid one with great coverage of the beautiful game. They can't be held responsible for a few broadbanded lolly boilers.

There are some very decent peeps out there. This clip is well worth a look and it was posted by one of the many posters on the same forum... lovely music, lovely idea

Dougie Brimson, author and long term friend of this blog, has vowed to give the tournament a shout on his site. Jack Bell, soccer blogger extraordinaire at the New York Times blog Goal, is a gentleman lending his support and his blog - the US team Coach will post from the tournament. And Fiona Crawford, a foxy blogger putting the boot in for the girls at 442, is a gentle lady with plans for HWC coverage.

I hit up some more blogs to a range of responses, including ignored, and worse, removed.

I’ll be providing some scribbles and some updates here, but I’d ask you to look at the Homeless World Cup yourself, n maybe give somebody who needs it a hand up while you're there.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

A Hand Up Not a Hand Out

I love the Big Issue's slogan. It’s smart, simple and it means a great deal to the people who’ve sold the big issue in all the countries it’s now sold in. It says it all. Its not just a magazine, it’s about giving people a means to regain something, rebuild a bit, a means to get by or enough cash for a decent feed. Its a way to help the vendors sort out whatever it is they need to sort out whether it’s a job, a home or themselves.

To me it’s even more than that but. What about the stick they have to take? People taking the piss or worse. It takes bollix to stand on a street corner, to be ignored by hundreds of passing people. It takes bollix to stand there and say, “Hey I know I made mistakes, I wouldn’t be standing here if I didn’t, but I’m trying to fix them now and you, yes you, can help me.” It takes bollix to stand there whether the weather’s shite or not, because well because there’s a millions reasons int there? I don’t know if its something I could do. They’re the ones making an effort. All we need to do is stop for a minute, put our and in our pocket. When a nod and a smile are a comfort and someone actually buying the paper is a bonus, it’s a hard road, could you do it?

Quiet, smiling Tom, the guy who sells it on QUT campus is a gem. If it’s the second week, he even tells me, he’s like, “You sure you’ve not got this already?” and I’m like “I’m sure Tom just give us the magazine, will ye?” I’d get it off him every week. Because he’s honest, because its a good read (interesting, topical, funny and definitely worth 5 bucks) and because he’s making an effort.

Now when Mel Young and Harold Schmied banged their heads together and the homeless world cup fell out, it took the issue to a new place. They weren’t talking about giving somebody a wee job for a spell, they weren’t talking about helping somebody or giving them a hand. This was something new, something much bigger. They set out to give people a once in a lifetime experience. Along with their respective organisations they've said ‘Here, start again’ or ‘Life doesnae always need to be a struggle’.

Hey, it’s no a holiday by any means. Try 15 minutes of street soccer. Its hard work. The team players don’t just show up on a Saturday to find their boots polished and the strips ironed, they have to put in a tremendous effort off the park as well as on it. Just getting to practice every week is a steep hurdle over the water.

I don’t just think the Homeless World Cup is important, I love it. And not just because Scotland are the current world champs either. The HWC is about football. Football that actually changes people’s lives. Really changes them. Physically, emotionally, mentally. Scotland’s coach, is just one of many shining examples of what I’m talking about.

You don't have to imagine it, football is the Anthony Robbins here, and it’s not charging some mug a small fortune to walk over hot coals.

So make an effort, it doesn’t even have to be a big one, just show them some support. Buy an issue, donate some cash, take the vendor a cup of coffee. Go and see the documentary.
Keep an eye on the results at this year’s tournament in Melbourne - December 1st to December 7th – if your in Melbourne Federation Square is just one of the venues.

There’s 56 countries competing this year, so there’s every chance your country could be could be a world champion football side and you wouldn’t even know it.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

For Whom The Ball Rolls

Following on beautifully from last week’s less than stable football supporter, I give you Alf Wangerman.
An ostensible fan of Welfare club football, he happens to be one of my favourite characters in football fiction. A solid, hob-nail booted, cigarette-rolling, donkey jacket-wearing abuser of referees.

The mission he chose to accept in Ian Plenderleith’s short story, Furlington Welfare’s Last Great Orator is to keep out of order Ref’s in order. The ordinary ones too when it comes to it. That’s all he does. He’s no interest in the football, the people around him or the result. His scorn, a singular, unrepeated, often unrepeatable, unrepentant stream of vitriolic verbosity, is plentifully poured all over the men in black. He attends games just to carry out these incessant attacks and gains some minor celebrity until… well, you can read it for yourself.

Scottish football refs have been joined by Irish Rugby Union refs in their acceptance of a Specsavers sponsorship. It’s a mark of their sense of humour and how they’ve taken the stick from the terraces in good grace. Under Alf’s avalanche they all crumble. Like some great Lincolnshire Viking, he sets the boat on fire before he pushes it out. It’s calamitous. Messy even. And brilliantly funny. But there’s a touch of sadness in it too. Sadness for the loss of what going to the game was like before corporatised, channel-hopping mercernary conglomerate football overwhelmed us. It reminded me of Pointless Jeff Connor’s spectacular non-fiction season with the completely unspectacular East Stirlingshire, the worst team in Scotland.

Another quality story in Plenderleith’s collection is The Man in the Mascot. A washed up alcy actor spends his Saturday afternoons inside the bird suit mascot of his local team and his Saturday nights willing his doomed relationship to change or fall apart. The girl, a slick marketing exec looking for a bit of rough or at least handing out a sympathy shag, seems just as ambivalent. A study of the morose, the bleak and the darkly (like night time in the middle of a Norwegian winter) funny, it’s another standout.

I’m also not the first to use Plenderleth’s work in the academic arena. A German Masters student used it in her thesis and translated the chapter about this story - have a look.

In For Whom the Ball Rolls there are many other stories which catch the eye. We almost tenderly take in the wife of an ex-player who cannot move past his miss in the cup final. Save of the Day (in a Small Scottish Village in 1974) feels like a tale from Plenderleith’s childhood. Importantly, it could so easily have been from my own. The Right Result and The Day FIFA came to Lincolnshire have a don’t-let-the-bastards-grind-you-down ebullience which makes them hard to forget. They’re classic boy’s own (and just a bit more grown up) football stories. Like many of the stories in the collection, they woo the pants off the ghost of football past.

Unlike Greg Furt-Trevis, the ex-player in the story the book takes its title from, we are not doomed to watch the same thing over and over. Nick Hornby’s wrong when he says all the drama we need is contained in the actual game. These stories, the ones we read in novels and collections as opposed to the ones we read in autobiographies and newspapers are worthy of our attention. For Whom the Ball Rolls proves it. It could be argued that the inclusion of non-football short stories shows these works can stand alongside their more generic counterparts.

It’s a great collection, it might be a few years old now, but it’s still relevant, it’s still fresh and most important, it’s very entertaining. Are you looking for anything else in your football fiction?

You can buy the book on Plenderleith's site.

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Elements of style

The elements of style in football fiction have very little to do with fashionable strips, cutting edge hairdoo’s, trendy cars and flashier bars. It’s about the words and how they’re placed on the page. The order of things. In football it’s the stuff the manager thinks about mostly. Smart players do it too. Well… I’ll leave that where it is.
Smart fans know it’s all about the football. Smart fans don’t worry about style or image, unless it’s to take in the latest version of the club’s away game alternative training kit.

Now, take Robbie Williams, Port Vale’s ‘biggest’ fan. Obviously when we say ‘biggest’ we’re not talking pie-eating, legging stretching or Texas rancher euphemising here. We’re talking celebrity LARGesse. Yesterday, pop’s largest celebrity football fan, ignored his famously favoured team to watch what he described in an impromptu game-side Sky Sports interview as his ‘secret Vale’ in action at the Emirates stadium.

Standing alongside his old Take That chum, the Barlow boy - he is after all unofficial leader of the manboy ‘band’ (he’s the only one who can actually play an instrument), Williams blaw-blaw-blawed a profession for football love at its vainest. He unwittingly revealed something most people probably would have guessed. He suggested following Port Vale can be difficult sometimes and that he enjoys watching a team who win a game once in a while. I know. Wanker! Football fans stick with their teams through thick n thin. Or thin n thin if you’re a Vale fan, but that’s besides the point.

It turns out Williams thick, like many of football’s shallower, shiny trophy, gold diggers, is a clandestine dirty love for Man. Ewe, Alex Ferguson’s pedantically preened multi-millionaire European champers who strut, stroll and, with the ball at their feet, victoriously sweep all-comers aside. Except, they got done, didn’t they?

In the classic writer’s text, Elements of Style, by Strunk, White and Kalman, now in its fourth edition, it says write about what you know about, write about what you feel most comfortable with.

Clearly most weeks Robbie words would have wrung truer than the electronically controlled giant bell hanging above the Thames near the houses of Paharliament. Except he chose to say what he did during an interview in the stadium on a day when his sentiment was hopelessly inaccurate. Clearly as a singer of over prescribed love songs this is not new to him, but in the world of football, fictive or otherwise, these are the things that count. Like a flat cap, a black pudding under the arm, a losing racing card and a pair of steel toe-capped boots, your words are the stable, solid ground you stand on and if you get it wrong, you’re in the mire. I don’t think football fiction writers are any different.

Port Vale’s 2nd round FA cup spectacular 4-3 comeback (from 3-1 down) was the stuff of legend, a genuine football story of the day. Or would have been if it hadn’t been overshadowed by the Red Devils (has there ever been more appropriate name?) getting their bums felt by the Gooners. While the result will make the likes of Nick Hornby, Karren Brady and, allegedly, Osama Binboy Laden happy, it only leaves Robbie wishing he’d been in Huddersfield.

On a side note, I was wondering if the destruction of the part of the Emirates stadium by Osama’s mob in Chris Cleave’s novel Incendiary would count as a football fiction moment? Mind you, it’s probably just a happy coincidence that my thinking of these things has converged in this week’s post.