Monday, December 29, 2008

Irn Bru and Boys in Dresses

I was going to leave this till the new year but I figured it’s a good place to close one year and enter into the spirit of the next where discussions about what isn’t and what is football fiction should continue unabated. Ferociously even, if I can manage it.

David Walliams has written a book about a boy who plays football. A boy who plays football and likes wearing dresses. In the interests of additions to the shelf, thesimplestgame thought we’d better take a look at it.

David Walliams is the tall one from Little Britain . While that should tell you about the level and style of humour in the book, for the sake of context, had you not seen the very popular BBC (now stateside) series, he’s a straight man more comfortable wearing dresses than talking about football. Still he’s had a crack (oh dear, apologies).

The Boy In The Dress has done well as far as bookshops are concerned and it should. It’s funny, touching, heart-warming, sweetly delivered to its intended audience and, possibly best of all, has potential for controversy.

I lost the very stiff woman I was trying to sell it to at ‘…and he likes wearing dresses’. Odd in itself because I imagined Australians more tolerant of cross-dressing than they are of football. That’s if it is cross dressing, for kids this age it probably still qualifies as dressing up, doesn’t it?

Back to the book…Its a delight to read. And not, as your brain leaps into panic at my flagrant use of the term ‘cross-dressing’, about a boy with a sexual identity crises. He just likes wearing dresses. Make up, eyelashes, tights, heels and dresses. He likes playing football too. Almost as much as he likes wearing dresses, which is just as well, because it’s his football prowess that wins his detractors over in the end. That would be a spoiler to some, but only a few, discerning readers.

See his Mum’s gone, his Dad, a fairly hefty cardboard cut-out of an earnest and fairly typical embodiment of overtly masculine fatherliness – he likes football a lot too, but he doesn’t do boys in dresses – (apologies again for inappropriate word choice) is left to look after the boy in the dress and his rough ’n ready big brother.

When he’s sent to detention the boy meets a girl. She’s only the school’s coolest, most beautiful girl. The girl he’s had crush on since like forever. They make friends and she seduces him out of his clothes and into her best frocks with a pile of Italian Vogues and a nice shade of lippy. Before anyone realises what’s going on, he’s become The Boy in the Dress in class, at his own school, where he poses as a female French exchange student until he falls over and shakes his wig loose.

Importantly, he’s also the school’s star footballer. His skills allow him some Shane Warnesque leeway when his couturian adventures are unveiled. Before the stumble, he plays a few games and even scores a couple of goals, which help get his teammates to the grand final. With his teammates needing him and the headmaster having banned him for all their blushes, Williams promises and delivers an excellent resolution opportunity for the whole will-he/won’t-he-play, will-they/won’t-they-win scenario.

Walliams’ description of the football can be painful and may even be excused when the narrator openly announces early doors (page 28) that he knows nothing about the game. Its an effective way to reduce audience expectations – this is not a sports novel. In fingering the flaw Williams essentially highlights the football as the vehicle that gains the protagonist understanding (from his family), ‘forgiveness’ (the awful general societal kind) and acceptance in his local community. It also lets Walliams make one of those oft used, parochially English, self-deprecatory joking truths designed to smooth the sharp edges off a blatant lack of competence.

That’s not to say that Walliams is lacking in competence. He’s a funny man and he writes well. It’s just his football knowledge that’s tosh. I would imagine in terms of a football fiction perspective his efforts have, at the very least, taken the game to new audiences. That has to be commended and as a result we’d have to say The Boy In The Dress has found a home on the shelf.

Be safe in your bringing the year in. Nurse your hangovers with Irn Bru if you can and if you can’t, we hope you don’t suffer too badly. All the best from thesimplestgame.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

popular pictures and women's football

Whether its prawns and bottled beer by the pool or a couple of pints and a whisky round the fire in the pub, it seems to be the time of year for reflection and family and watching loads of telly and eating too much and drinking more than is considered reasonable. It’s the holidays though and you should be good to yourself.

I gave a passing thought to joining the fray and posting one of those ‘the year that was’ posts, ye know, where we all cast an eye over my motley assemblage of entires into cyberspace, the football fiction, the events or the authors I’ve encountered, but you know what? You can read through those posts yourself. Have a wee look at the archive thing, past the posts, on the side there. >>>>>>

One thing that has been very curious though is the popularity of this picture of a woman holding her ball. I used it to discuss women’s football, and maybe highlight the attractiveness of their more graceful game, but for some reason this photo keeps pulling visitors into my wee football fictive world. Now I’ve put pictures of Hiedi Klum, David Beckham, Jessica Alba, Robbie Williams, Jessica Biel, George Clooney, Angelina Jolie, the girl from Sex in the City, a women’s beach volleyball team and Danny Glover in my posts and yet the picture of the woman holding the ball has been the most requested, looked at, linked to article on my humble pages. Obviously I would love the main attractions to be my dazzling wit, rapacious insight, content, football fiction celebrities or even my sense of humour, but if it means people are reading it, it can’t be a bad thing. Can it? As unfortunate or desperate or debauched as detractors find it, sex really does sell.

And that leads me nicely to my next point.

I can only sit back and wonder why the W-League is not picking up even bigger audiences, it’s being marketed well, Australia’s ABC have been televising weekend games and the football’s good - if you needed any more convincing that it was worth watching Tameka Butt’s absolutely delicious goal against Melbourne Victory, a perfectly weighted curler into the postage stamp, is an excellent example. I can assure you it’s a belter but have a look anyway .

Our local team, the Women’s Queenland Roar, have just won the minor premiership and are odds on favourites to win the grand final in mid January too. The peeps at thesimplestgame would like to take this opportunity to congratulate the girls. They have our full support and ask that they would have yours too dear reader.

I know there isn’t much football fiction in this post, but there will be loads in the new year including a look at David Williams (Little Britain) foray into the young adult fiction market.

Before I finish I would quickly like to point to the close, and obviously unrelated, timing of the Australian Government's announcement of a $6.1bn effort to tackle homelessness and the success of the homeless world cup which finished on December 7th (that's another two fingers to you, Andrew Bolt).

To everyone else thesimplestgame says, enjoy your holidays, enjoy your pressies (if you’re lucky enough to get any), enjoy yourself (I don’t mean it like that... but if that’s what it takes, knock yourself out – just wash your hands afterwards). Go merrily onwards and Slainte!

Saturday, December 13, 2008

they may take our homes

The 2008 homeless world cup was an amazing experience. It’s only now with distance I realise how connected I was to it. I followed the progress of a number of teams, managed to sneak into places I wasn’t supposed to be, won a few friends and witnessed some cracking football. But it had more of a grip on me than that. I could wax lyrically about the melodrama and emotional rollercoasters, but I’m not sure I could do it justice. Much of the time I was balanced somewhere between pragmatic joy and brimming over with heart strung happiness. Lumped throat, watery eyes and everything. Even when we were wandering round the Victorian State Library or eating Gelati on Lygon Street, my mind was in Fed Square.

To those not lucky enough to have been near it, that may sound over the top. Even writing it does, but I’m at a loss as to how to convey exactly how I felt, except maybe that I was content while the tournament was being played out and more than a wee bit sad when it finished.

So if it had that effect on me, how can it not have had an impact on the participants? My fear for those who played would be in having to return to face their own realities. I struggled a little with my own, so I don’t blame those who’ve sought refugee status for doing so – we, I should say Australians, keeping telling everyone what a great place this is, it surprises me that some still have the audacity to be stern and, worse still, abhorred when other people from somewhere much worse actually decide it is better than where they’ve come from and want to stay. Andrew Bolt, you are a dick. (I considered posting a link to his latest right wing diatribal drivel, so you could decide (see) for yourself, but elected against wasting time, yours or mine, on it.)

Afghanistan won. They beat Russia in the final. Aye, see now there’s something in itself. The fairy tale ending. People travelled the length and breadth of the country to witness it too. Melbourne’s Fed. Square resounded with their clamour. And to defeat the Russians, well, it’s like getting yer own back on the back in the day school bully for all the chewing gum/toilet water/spit/ (please insert your own personally suitable alternative) in your hair.

More important than all of that, Scotland’s quarterfinal penalty shoot out defeat of England. That’s what I said. We beat the Auld Enemy. It’s the first time in the tournament’s history that the two nation teams have met. We done them. The rivalry was energetic, fierce and very humorous. It provided a great advertisement for what the tournament’s about and a great argument against the nonsense of a GB team for the 2012 Olympics.

Fear not, I’m not going to turn this into one of those things where we say… ‘Och well, we got beat in the semis by the Russians and then lost to Ghana, a team we beat comfortably in the second stage, in the third place play off, but none of that matters, because the game against England was the team’s real triumph.’ That would be puerile. Churlish even. But we did beat them. We done them and the roar across Fed Square when we did made my heart sing, but I’d leave it there.

Like I said the tournament was an amazing experience, it has the power to change things for people, like really truly madly change things. In Milan 2009, I expect it’ll be even bigger, attract even more attention – good and bad - and be an even bigger success. I'd happily get involved again.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008


Things that have impressed me most about the homeless world cup…individual player’s stories, the how they got here and the difference it makes would break your heart a hundred times. That teams like Zimbabwe, Afghanistan and Rwanda, countries literally torn apart in recent years, are here at all. And the embracing warming sense of community, people are happy to be here, to help one another out, to get along. I know, I could be falling over clichés. But it is incredible.

I met one of the Scottish players on his way to play in goal for the Canadians. I stayed and watched the game. He had a good game, they needed his help. I also met the Argentinian goalkeeper. He can’t speak English and I can’t speak Spanish, despite rumours to the contrary. Mumbling common and sometimes lucky words and phrases, offering hand signals, the strangest expressions, we found a way to converse. I then watched their game against the Ukraine where he let in at least 9. He passed me on the way out after the game. He looked so gutted I didn’t have the heart to say anything – in Spanish or English.

The other thing... some of the football has been absolutely stunning.

Monday, December 1, 2008

Moments from a tournament

The Homeless World Cup is an awesome tournament. The street soccer is fast, sharp and entertaining. Goals everywhere. Better still, the people are spectacular. I have a number of moments of magic which I will maybe share at length in later blogs but I’ve not the time… in the tradition of tv football commentary here are some highlights.

Meeting the Scottish team. Great lads, resplendent in our national strip and out done by a classy Afghani side. The boys battled well to come back from a two-goal deficit. The game finished 5 each and the Afghani boy slid the ball around our keeper. He’d had a great game as well. I don’t think it was a bad start, in fact I think it’ll work in their favour. I believe they’ll win the rest of their games now. I think it was a result of too much pressure – when was the last time Scotland were the world’s footballing number one?
I’m pretty sure the playing of Scotland the Brave as our anthem, instead of Flower of Scotland may well have had an impact. It upset me. If nothing else, I was looking forward to singing it.

I met The Age’s Martin Flanagan, a man of great stories. Easy to see why I like reading his work, right enough.

I met Lawrence Cann whose blogging about the tournament for the NY Times. He’s also President of Street Soccer USA which I think is most impressive.

Chibbing Craig Foster about his dislike of Scottish football and quietly reminding him that we won this tournament last year was a touch of gold to an already bejewelled day.

But watching the opening matches from the touchline among the photographers was something special. Me n the wee yin, she was on my shoulders, were moved on a number of times, but a kindly soul, a lovely lady, let me stay for the duration of the Scotland game at least.

If the rest of the week is even half the adventure of these few wee hours, I'll be a very happy man.