Yesterday was International Men’s Day, and unwittingly I ‘celebrated’ it doing some stereotypically manly things. As usual, I woke early, and began with a few muscular exercises, toning my body into something that would be a good sexy shape: tight abdomen, firm thighs, and some ripples where muscles were well defined. If this were the ‘good old days’, I would have topped that off with a cigar and an early morning pint of beer.
But, first let’s be serious. The IMD theme for 2016 is Stop Male Suicide. I’m already focused on raising awareness about male mental health issues and one of the concerns that need to be addressed is whether ‘being a man’ is so stressful that many men are falling foul to a set of mental strains, which stereotypically they are not talking about. But, men don’t talk about emotional stuff, as everyone knows, except if it’s about sex and to use the words of the man just elected to lead the USA some ‘locker room’ stuff like grapping women by the young feline. What’s a man to do?
Actually, men (the ones I know from all my years) talk a lot about emotional stuff. It was a man who gave me advice about deciding if work was about my family or about satisfying some people who’d forget me in a second, once I was gone. I know plenty of men who cry when they are upset and excited–and not just when their sports team has won or lost. I know many men who hug their sons and kiss them and, hug each other and embrace each other freely, without thinking there’s anything wrong with that, other than what’s in YOUR mind. But, let the stereotypes have their day in the sun.
Let me get back to me and manly pursuits.
Funnily, I’d gone to bed the night before with more than a small smile on my face after reading about ‘10+ Handsome Guys Who’ll Redefine Your Concept Of Older Men‘. It featured some images of whawt ‘sexiness’ is for elderly. A few things struck me about this ‘concept’: it went for another set of firmly held stereotypes. Look at the hunk in the picture. Who’d not want a piece of that? But, hang on! All of the pictures were of white men.
Hello! Where are my guys? Where was uber-hunk, Idris Elba–Mr. James Bond-maybe?
If you want to argue that Idris is too young, at 44, then what about Denzil Washington (in his 60s) or your favourite US president, Barack ‘Mr. Smooth’ Obama?
Well, beards are in, and while I ponder the tattooing and how best to stck my thumbs into my unbuttoned jeans, I know I am on the way to sexiness. My Movember beard is well on its way.
But, back to celebrating manhood.
I watched some sport in the wee hours of the morning, with live golf from Abu Dhabi and taped tennis from London. Men were being men and showing that they can hit balls better than other species. Oh, the joy! Then, after a quick breakfast, which I made myself without waiting for any of the many women in my household to do it, I got into watching a mega-match between Manchester United and Arsenal–big boy football. It was good, strong stuff, with little love lost between the sides, whose managers, had shown before that even big boys get upset with each other about their toys. Who can forget last year’s lightweight bout? “Push me? I’ll push you, first!”
But, sadly, I had to drag myself away from another series of that boys’ games, and get ready to play in a golf tournament: more men, with men and boys, being men, at the weekend. Well, there was a smattering of women, but thankfully not enough to change things much. 🙂
The golf wasn’t my best, but after a lot of early morning rain near my house, though not at the course, my mind wasn’t really on the task. My good wife travels a lot and was home for another weekend, and I didn’t want to be out all day, ahead of another of her trips on Sunday. But, I couldn’t control my time, as I waited a lot during my round. After about 6 holes, I really felt time would be well spent just packing it in and heading home. My partner was of a similar mind, as we watched clouds roll in. But like good, strong men, we pressed on, and toughed it out. We got better on the back nine. We finsihed in just over four hours, which wasnt that bad, really.
I scooted off across town to meet a man, straight after my match. He had promised to fix the screen of my phone, which had dropped while I was carrying a prize for another golfer a few weeks ago. I got to his work place with plenty of time and sat, grabbing a typical Jamaican Saturday lunch of a hot patty and cocoa bread.
While I ate, we talked…about his job, and helping people. Funny that!
After he’d fixed my phone and I thanked him, I headed home. I saw group of mainly elderly men on the school field as I was leaving: they were playing frisbee (with a smattering of women). They were not of the sexy shapes to which I aspired, but they looked happy.
As I reached my house, my wife and daughter were headed out. Oh, well! So much for my thoughts. Anyway, the weekend is their time.
Plans for drinks with a friend got hastily cancelled, so I sat and caught up with the day. I joined a Twitter online chat about what it means to be a man, which used the #ManTalkJa hashtag. Some useful conversations were going on about what it means to be a man in Jamaica, a place where I think stereotypes and labels are the norm, and people don’t want to delve deeply into understanding social issues. Fittingly, this exercise was organized by one of our energetic youth movements.
I’m not going to try to define what it means to be a man; each person should do that for him or herself, and try to agree, especially if they are in a relationship. I do/have done lots of seemingly less-manly things:
- I parent (not babysit);
- I cook (not just egg and chips);
- I cry (just put on a soppy film and see);
- I wear pink a lot (it’s my wife’s favourite colour, she says);
- I have tried to braid my daughter’s hair (not one of my best efforts, but I tried);
- I try to look after my health (including going for my annual check up–and the prostate check is not fun, but important :();
- I am ‘the husband of’, which I dislike as much as my wife being ‘the wife of’, and it’s often women who refer to us so :(.
I fight stereotypes like they are my sworn enemies. Women who grumble about my not opening doors for them, or always taking out the garbage, need to reread that manifesto about ‘equality’. My wife has her own bank account, about which I know nearly nothing other than its number, in case of need for transfers. I own property jointly with my wife, who thinks that all of it is hers 🙂
I have no sons, and am extremely happy about that.
It’s hard for me to know now how much of my views on manliness are just what I grew up with: my parents were always equal parts of my upbringing, with my father often the one at home, when my mother worked at nights; my father’s a great cook (thanks to him mother); my mother taught me to sew and wash clothes to avoid marrying a woman for the ‘wrong’ reasons).
I’m also the product of many experiences. One of my favourite stories is about how I sat with a prime minister for a long meeting, and he held my hand on his sofa for most of the two or so hours we talked. It’s part of the custom in Guinea that men kiss on greeting (blame the French), and hug, and touch each other as signs of trust. If I had pulled away, I think our conversation would have been very short.
I don’t think you can ‘tell’ a homosexual by what he wears, or how he speaks, or what he carries. Effeminate men are not homosexuals, automatically; burly men are not rock-solid heterosexuals. If you care that much, better to get the story straight from the ‘horse’, rathe than making the sly and snide assumptions–women, again, are awfully bad at doing that 😦
One of the great things about European life is the need to carry documents, and with that has developed the need for ‘man bags’ or pouches. It’s OK, guys! I prefer small, leather, to large cloth bags. After a while, bulging pockets are limiting. When I used to tote my baby and toddler around on trips, my bag was an essential part of organizing our movements.
I’m not going to take on here Jamaican (or Caribbean) notions of maleness, much of which strikes me as ‘forced conformism’. Maybe, I’ll work my way towards doing that for this time in 2017.
The Jamaica office of UNICEF held its version of ‘Activate’ talks, last night, at the UWI Law Faculty. As the UNICEF website states, these talks ‘bring together innovators, experts and thought-leaders to showcase the latest innovations that can deliver progress on the major issues confronting the most vulnerable and marginalized children in each country’. The Jamaican offering was “Far from Chalk and Talk: Learning from Innovative Approaches in Education.” My fellow blogger, Emma Lewis, has written a very good piece on this already and I will not even attempt to do better, so read her post in the Gleaner’s Social Impact blog.
I ended up at the talk in interesting circumstances, as a special guest, having responding to a promotional challenge for ideas of innovate ways to educate. I offered them my ‘magical’ approach to teaching some very young children the rudiments of football.
Children learn readily through play. Games are often an easy way to try to give new information. A child’s imagination is usually fertile ground. Even when children cannot count, read or write, their ability to relate physically goes far.
For example, I was coaching 2-3 year olds soccer. They cannot understand the mechanics of kicking or throwing. Some can barely run without stumbling. They do not have good control over their legs and arms, or heads. But, they know stories.
So, to get them doing exercises, we ‘played in the woods’. We walked like bears: our arms bent high at our shoulders. We writhed like snakes, arms together, in front, making weaving motions. We froze: keeping our balance and being attentive to any noises in the woods. We picked up sticks, bending down to reach for imaginary pieces in front of each foot. Then we threw them to the sky, raising our arms high above our heads.
After 10 minutes, we are all loose, sweating, and laughing. We could now start to do some faster running, to the fairy house behind the bush.
I believe in fairies, so do children. Do you?
They believe in fairies!
After I coached this group of kids yesterday, several of them offered their principal a piece of ‘cake’ that we had baked with ‘raisins’ and ‘strawberries’, in an ‘oven’ under a noni tree. She graciously took ‘slices’ with her as she headed off to teach at another school. Some of the children could not contain themselves when their parents arrived for pick-up, and had to show off their best ‘lion’ roars, which I’d just asked them to do as it’s a good way to get them to take deep breaths. 🙂
As is very common in Jamaica, and many small countries, the audience was full of people already known, or with whom one is already connected.
Allison Hickling turns out to be a family friend whom I had never met before. Some UNICEF and UN staff I knew from my time as a resident representative in Guinea, and they had since been transferred to Jamaica.
I have had nice connections with Jason Henzell, Chair of the BREDS Treasure Beach Foundation, and work with one of his former football coaches, now that I am coaching at schools in Kingston. Interestingly, the video that Jason showed last night had ‘games’ that I have used a lot in the past, including ‘trust’ games (such as encouraging people to fall with their eyes closed, assured that they will be caught) for team-building. As you can see, above, I also like to let kids’ imagination do the work. Adults are often uptight about ‘feeling goofy’.
Deika Morrison and I had never met before, but we spend a lot of time having interchanges on Twitter, and I love what she’s doing with Crayons Count, the benefits of which I have also seen first hand at the school my daughter attends.
Dr. Renee Rattray and Marvin Hall are both people I want to meet again, not least because they have amazing energy and ideas for working with ‘less-advantaged’ children, which is an area to which I am drifting with some other activities.
I am almost in tears, after watching Jamaican Alia Atkinson coming in 3rd in the 100 meters breaststroke. She had the race. She has the time. But, in finals, you have to have the event under control. She swam as she always does, fast first 50, but near record pace. She looked great till 20 meters from home, then “felt the elephants on her back”, as the British commentator said. I know the feeling as limbs tighten with lactic acid buildup. But, no second guessing. How proud to be there looking at a potential champion in one of our less-favoured events.
The medals were presented by our own IOC representative, Mike Fennel. A nice twist. The Scottish crowd gave a rousing cheer. Go, Alia! Stay strong. The swimming family is loving what you do for the event.
Jamaica to the world. More action comes on the track later today, as our sprinters are all looking at finals this evening. Which doors will open?
The smell of heat, even at dawn.
The intoxicating smell of rotting mangoes.
Damp grass, mixed with dust, smelling like moss.
Sweat dripping from the head to the nose to the neck.
Water spraying for the grounds, whose spring lies ready to be tapped.
Heavy breathing coming from behind, the couple sprint the hill.
Huffing, puffing, weighty arms holding a bag full of mangoes.
1, 2, 3, 4,…14, 15. Switch hands.
Labrador barking at the stranger he sees every morning.
Alsatian sneaking into my kitchen, just to say hello?
So the day starts. How will the day go?
Football is a sport with much scope for human error, in truth or in impression. The nature of its rules leaves many things vaguer than they need to be. Much scope exists for interpretation. Moreover, Sepp Blatter, the current head of international football administration, FIFA, likes it that way. He thinks that errors by officials are part of the game’s essential character. He may be right, but what if tolerating those errors makes the sport more dangerous than it need be? When less money was involved in football than it is today, one could understand just living with mistakes: little was at stake. Now, mistakes may mean millions of Euros or Swiss Francs, to use FIFA’s home country’s currency.
Two incidents during the current World Cup have brought this topic to a head.
First, an apparent biting incident occurred during a match, but was not penalized by match officials. FIFA investigated, using video evidence, and found a player guilty of an offence and slapped a heavy ban on him, plus a financial penalty. This, despite the player claiming it was a simple accident during play. Luis Suárez’s bite on Giorgio Chiellini’s shoulder is not enshrined in history.
Second, last night, during the match between Brazil and Colombia, the home team’s star player was kneed in the back by a Colombian player. The immediate result was that Neymar was stretchered off. The referee, Carlos Velasco Carballo, had not signaled a foul, so the Colombian player, Juan Zuñiga, was not sanctioned. Since, doctors have reported that Neymar suffered a fractured vertebra and cannot play again in the tournament. Brazil won the match and next play a semifinal on Tuesday, against Germany.
Watch the incident, yourself, for the first or n-th time.
Many will say that the chances of Brazil winning the semi are much reduced due to Neymar’s absence. That’s speculation. But, there will be losses. Neymar has several sponsors; they may see his value fall if he cannot play and they cannot exploit his presence. Related, viewers may be fewer if this star is not playing. Whether we like it or not, people gamble on football games, and it’s not universally illegal. Bets associated with Neymar will be compromised. His club may lose his services unexpectedly, depending on the expected recovery time. More examples exist. It may take a few days for them to surface.
FIFA has announced it will investigate the Neymar incident. We may see another result as in the Suárez case.
But, in addition, legal actions may follow. Footballers are reluctant to bring legal actions against each other. But, if Neymar’s playing career is jeopardized, he may want to seek financial redress. Likewise, sponsors may seek redress. I am no lawyer, but can imagine how that could open many cans of worms that bring the offending player, certainly, and the match officials and FIFA, probably, into the case as culpable. Let’s leave that idea there for lawyers to ponder, as I’m sure they are doing already.
Many have clamoured for FIFA to use video reviews during matches to help resolve contentious incidents. Put simply, FIFA refuses to do so. Their detailed reasons often relate to the flow of the game, and Mr. Blatter’s liking of errors.
FIFA used this World Cup to introduce ‘goal line technology’, to avoid embarrassing mistakes that led to goals being awarded or denied (as in 2010, when Lampard scored for England against Germany) when the opposite should have been the case. It has succeeded in that task.
But, that leaves many important issues unresolved on the field, while TV viewers can see replays that show clearly, at best, mistakes were made, or, at worst, that no one can really determine what took place.
Other sports have moved to use video replays to help match officials, and the sports have not changed fundamentally as a result. Football has fewer natural breaks, but many do exist. In fact, stoppages are integral to the game, as can be seen from data showing how little time involves the ball being in play. In the Neymar incident, the time taken to treat the injured player could have been used for review with no extra time lost. So, the argument against stopping for reviews is not strong. However, I need not belabour that point now, because the details of how to apply reviews can be worked out later.
The issue is really whether the sport needs replays to maintain its integrity, players’ health, and the financial interests of clubs and sponsors in tact.
Had a player died or been permanently disabled, previously, during a match with or without sanctioning a culprit, the matter might have come up sooner. But, the fact that one of the sport’s stars has been affected (at a crucial juncture in a tournament, and on home soil) changes focus, drastically. That’s a sad reality, but there it is.
I think the clamour will rise over coming days. Referees can be shielded by the rules of the game because they can claim reasonably to not having seen incidents. That’s hard to disprove. But, it also opens up much suspicion about motives and biases of officials. If that comes into serious doubt, then the game’s integrity must fall.
But, I won’t jump too far ahead. Let’s watch this incident develop after the immediate dust has settled, knowing that should Brazil lose the semi all hell could break loose.
I was nowhere near the place, but I could hear and feel the noise: “USA! USA! USA!” That’s what Americans chant. Normally, when it comes to soccer (they will forever have problems talking about football, which they reserve for the grid iron variety), they are the ones sitting in the corner sulking that the television is not tuned to baseball or basketball or NFL games. “”Jeez, you guys! What is it with this soc-k-er? I don’t get it. A bunch o’ guys, tapping a ball around, and never scoring. You can’t get me to watch that. I want action, dude. Dunk it, LeBron! Boom! That’s what I’m talking about. I’m gonna get a Bud, anyone want one?” To which the answer is a resounding no. Like the American love of fizzy yellow water with foam, their tastes in sports are just a bit off, for the rest of the world. Leave us to wallow in what they see as boring. The adrenalin of near misses, and the open goals that become half chances. The controversy about almost every move. The silly little battles that are going on all over the field (pitch). Football fans understand the idea that you cannot let your opponent run free: if the ball goes past, the man cannot. Yesterday, though, a good number of Yanks, understood what yanking was and why it happened. Their team was playing for a spot in the last eight of the World Cup. All of a sudden, Americans understood that a ‘world’ championship meant playing teams from other countries. PResident Obama, who is not really American (even though slim evidence of his being born in Hawaii exists), had set it up that the greatest con-try on Earth could be idle all afternoon. He had his meetings done in the morning, and was ready to pop the popcorn. “Michelle! Where’re those beers, hun?” He had his staff set up to watch in the coziness-not of the White House’s media room. Thousands gathered at other venues, including Soldier Field in Chicago, where former Obama chief of staff, Rahm Emanuel is now mayor. Pictures of about 20,000 fans packed there to watch the Jumbotron (which reportedly went out), lit up social media. The USA had their Eureka moment. Football was cool. USA! USA! USA!
Well, it’s one thing to sit there, but it’s something else to feel what the rest of the world feels. Unlike sex, faking it with emotions in football, is not the right thing to do. If you do not naturally put your hands in your mouth when a man pulls back his leg to snap a shot, don’t do it. Just yawn, or step in front of the screen to pick up something.
I know many diehard American football fans, with whom I had spent countless hours coaching kids, refereeing, playing games, week in, week out. Every football event had a big gathering to watch and support. Now, these people need not do that with the curtains drawn so that the neighbours would wonder what all the ruckus was about. They could put out flags and silly red, white, and blue clothing and yell “USA! USA! USA!” Welcome to the world.
Ironic, it may seem, that they USA has been coached most recently by a German superhero on the football pitch, Jurgen Klinsmann. Skilled, and good-looking, he had also mastered some of the sports dark arts. Before Robben, there was Klinsmann.
I would give him a 9.5 for the effort in the video for technical merit, and 10 for style, with the exaggerated rolling that came from his own lightning bolt strike. Jurgen knew how to roll.
He also knew that while Americans were feeling the need to put up huge walls to stop immigrants coming into their country, many ‘countrymen’ resided in Germany, and would love to be called Americans. Five of the 20 field players on the USA roster (or one-quarter) are dual German-U.S. citizens. Klinsmann came of age during the Cold War, when the U.S. military stationed hundreds of thousands of soldiers in Germany. He played with and attended school with many children of soldiers, so this all feels natural. (The father of each of the five German-raised players is a former U.S. serviceman.) When he took over the national team, Klinsmann made no apology about his interest in recruiting the very best American-eligible players he could find. The squad also includes players who could have played for Norway, Mexico and Iceland. He knew the German system and felt it produced better trained players. The results during this World Cup show that. The USA may have to reconsider its traditional college-based structures as far as football is concerned. Most of the rest of the world knows that you need to get out and be playing with full-grown men much earlier than after you graduate from college. But, let’s leave them to figure that out. Klinsmann’s German recruits fought for their country as hard as anyone born there was supposed to. Those who doubt national pride, wherever it comes from, just don’t understand. Moreover, these recruits come from military backgrounds, sir: many could epitomise the US Marines motto, “Semper Fidelis”, which signifies the dedication that individual Marines have to “Corps and country,” and to their fellow Marines. It is a way of life. Jurgen did well. He had his soldiers, and how apt then that fans would gather in Soldier Field.
But, what a match for which to raise their flag. Tim Howard is just beginning his short presidential election campaign. I joked on Twitter: Joking apart, Howard would become a saint easily, for his ability to save. If the day before we had seen Germany’s goalkeeper, Neuer, redefine goalkeeping to add the role of sweeper, we saw Howard revert to the role of shot stopper. Feet, hands, chest, head? Whatever it took. All at once or parts at a time. People got excited that he broke the record set in 1966 of the most saves in a match.
Well, that tells you the pressure under which his defence was. Not until extra time was he beaten. His head should not be bowed in shame, nor should that of any of his team mates. I’m sure his former Everton teammate, Marouane Fellaini, playing for Belgium, or his normal league opponent, Vincent Kompany, Belgium’s captain, had nothing but praise for him and relief that he had not stopped all afternoon.
Despite, Klinsmann brashly telling his team to change their travel plans to go home after the final, the USA are out. Beaten, not bowed. Klinsmann is one coach who should have no fear for his future, unlike many of his partners in crime leading Ghana or Cameroon, for instance. I imagine he and the team will get a rousing welcome home. POTUS would perhaps get universal endorsement for a decision to send Airforce One for them.
President Obama will not be staying on at the White House after his term is over, so he may have to make the most of moments like yesterday, when he was able to show that “Yes, we can!” attitude still applies. He has a way to go to capture the true spirit of a football fan. The usually close relations between the USA and Great Britain could help him mightily, though. He needs to get on the phone and talk to PM David Cameron. The latter can arrange for some real viewing parties when leaders meet again (with Chancellor Merkel, too, who knows how to chug a flagon of ale). Cameron can tell Obama that there is no mute button in football fanaticism. You give it your all. Leave nothing on the table, so to speak.
I think we’re done with the silly late night talk shows where hosts can joke about football and get a belly laugh. Now, I think they can raise ratings by having replays of Howard’s saves. Watch out for him doing the late night circuit soon. I think we are also done with the inane “Soccer is boring” mantra. We will leave Ann Coulter and her brand of snide tackles in the mud where they belong, and hope that she learns to pronounce the “Chomp-s Hay, Lee say” better…maybe, she had visions of Luis Suárez about to bite her and twitched so much wondering if he was about to chomp out of a taxi while she was being interviewed. I suggest she get picked for a friendly scrimmage and be given ‘the treatment’, à la Cantona, on the field and off. A little Kung-fu fighting? “Oh, ah, Cantona” used to be the cheer.
In England, they talk about ‘afters’, when players give a little more zeal to their tackles. Cantona did it with great panache. I would leave it to him to be persuasive with Ms. Coulter and her love of headline grabbing gobbledegook.
Since the final stages of the World Cup started, I’ve written about it more than anything else. Why? Because the so-called ‘greatest show on Earth’ has been just that. Football fans love drama, excitement, uncertainty, controversy, beautiful play, stunning goals, and more. We have had all of that in spadefuls. You want drama? Get it early, as when the USA’s Clint Dempsey scored against Ghana within one minute of the start. Whatever plans Ghana had went out of the window, because they were in the hot seat. You want excitement? The dying minutes of The Netherlands against Mexico this weekend had too much. Only minutes left and Mexico were sailing into the quarter finals. The Dutch had tried, but close is never enough in football. Wesley Sneijder had played an almost invisible role. Then he was left all alone on the edge of the penalty box, and boom, the ball was sailing into the back of the net past the otherwise unbeatable Ochoa: 1-1. Into added time, and Robben jinked into the area, stopped on a Euro and turned and pushed the ball back toward the penalty spot. Out came the lunging foot of Rafa Marquez, onto Robben’s foot.
Oh, dear. Why, Rafa? Pheep! Penalty! Up steps Hintelaar, and down went Mexico. Pande-bloody-monium! 2-1. The Dutch win. Mexico are crushed flat as a tortilla. Uncertainty? Hello, Greece? Can you play against Costa Rica’s 10 men for most of the second half and into additional time and not win, please? Then watch the Ticos score their first four penalties? You score your first three, then miss the fourth? The Ticos score their fifth, and win 5-3 on PKs? Too unlikely? Wrong! Broken plates all around cannot undo that reality. Controversy? Well, how do you want that served? You like the ‘man bits man’ variety provided by Luis Suárez, and his uncontrollable jaws? (At least, he had the decency to stop that lunatic defence of stumbling and falling into Chiellini’s shoulder. Whether or not he came clean because Barcelona said they wanted to see clean teeth, I don’t know. I hope his grandmother and all the politicians jumping up to shout conspiracy and ‘we are the victims’ will put away the masks.) Or do you want the variety served up by African countries? Cameroon, ahead of the games, Ghana and Nigeria during the knock-out stages, all got tripped up by the green stuff. Not grass, but the crispy, crunchy, paper (or into my Swiss account) type. Cue Pink Floyd. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wy04c-6DEgE Or you want the (assistant) referee who disallowed what seem like two good goals by Mexico in their opening round win against Cameroon, and has to be sent home variety? He was Colombian and any suspicions… Or match-fixing allegations being investigated by the Cameroon football federation. Beautiful play? When does the word that sound like Messi get used when the maestro is at work. Tell me his winner against Iran was not a thing of sheer beauty and grace. Tell me! A left foot like his could win elections in many countries, and need no platform. Comparisons with Maradona are not needed: Lio-nel is himself. Two Argentines with such sublime left feet. For those, who only watch the World Cup, realise that he does it all the time. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iEiWfRPx9sM Stunning goals? Messi again. Tim Cahill’s rocket volley. James Rodriguez’s volley for Colombia against Uruguay: back to goal, chest trap, swivel, ball does not touch the ground, smack with left foot, goalie tips it to underside of bar, ball nestles into net. Gooooaaaallllassssooooo!
Check the other candidates in the eyes of one British paper. Phew! Where were we? What else? Up to yesterday, more goals, 150, (not including in penalty shoot-outs) had been scored than in South Africa in 2010 and we still have 10 or so matches to play. The goals have been coming is bundles, at 2.78 a game, a high number for those who worry about low scores, which football fans don’t. Technology now allows us to be up-to-date in real-time, and that is wonderful. Check out some of the statistics. Some extraordinary interactive data have been prepared, including a set that shows from which clubs all the players come. I cannot wait to hit Rio in a day or so. It’s one thing to watch matches on TV. I may not get to see a match up close and personal. But, the atmosphere of live football going on around you is intoxicating. I’m glad to say that I have a lot of women friends who are mad football fans. Men have their passion, but women get absolutely delirious, plus they get into stuff most guys do not, such as the size and shape of thighs and butt cheeks. But, that’s the sport. The manufacturers are helping us buy into the many new aspects of football. Shoes that are more colours than in the rainbow: Adidas, Nike, Puma are duking it out.
The players, too, add to the hype: their celebration dances, which are now group affairs; their hair cuts, which seem crazier each game. Their little rituals. Officials have been slow to get in on the act, as is right. But, the power of the spray can. Almost as iconic as the vuvuzela? Stretching it, right? Well, another few hours before one more spin of the wheel on this crazy tournament. Some people have found other things to fascinate them. I have no clue what that could be. All activities should be shaped around the World Cup schedule. Play golf? Start at 7am, finish by 10.30. Home by 10.55. Game on. It’s really simple. All tasks must fit into half-time window. Phone, if they ring, will be ignored. “Dad, can I take the car to Timbuktu?” Yes, just be back by half time. I feel sorry for those in the USA who try to dish football (soccer) as some evil, alien force–the most ridiculous of which must be Ann Coulter. I’m glad that I have a huge number of American friends who are as crazy about the World Cup (that truly represents most of the world) as many are about the so-called ‘World Series'(which covers the 50 states of the USA). But, that’s a topic for a boring dinner party. Today, they will get the chance to show their real interest. They already celebrated great goals. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MUnO2AJVJ6c They will be getting used to the irony that their German coach has managed to find many German-Americans, who speak German better than English, but have great pedigrees if not college degrees. Top players can look like Rastamen, but speak of nothing to do with jerk as a food. That is part of the fabulous gift that is this so mesmerizing and enthralling sport.
Football brings out all the passion in players and fans. Often, the level of passion is excessive.
Players conduct themselves violently, verbally and physically. They often get punished for that. Fans go out of control, and fight or verbally assault opposing fans; they, too, sometimes get punished. Not all the crimes are seen, so some of them go unpunished. Technology can help with identifying offences. It often is with regards to fans’ behaviour; it is less often used for players: the governing body, FIFA, prefers to let errors be a core feature of the sport. To my mind, that is a very ignorant stance. It is getting full exposure during this World Cup.
FIFA bent a little by allowing ‘goal line technology’, so that ghost goals would not be allowed, and good goals would be counted. It has not been needed that much, and on one occasion seemed to fail, but it was because the ball approached the line twice; the right decision (goal) was made, eventually. But, it moves with fear and hesitation to use video technology further. It had to, though, because of a horrible-looking incident during the match between Italy and Uruguay. Luis Suarez, Uruguayan, appeared to bite Gustavo Chiellini on the shoulder, then seem to feign that he had been hit. FIFA mounted an investigation. They found Suarez guilty yesterday, and banned him for 9 matches, fined him SwF100,000, and from any football-related activity for four months. For what it’s worth, I think that sentence was ludicrously light. Sure, it will hurt his club and country in many important games, if they wanted to use his services. But, he is a serial and repeat biter of other players on a football pitch. He needs psychological help, clearly, if he feels that biting is a reasonable reaction to either minor provocation or no provocation. Amazingly, his team mates and national association, think that he has been hard done by and will appeal the sentence. But, other pertinent opinion is not wholly against Suarez. Citing a Reuters report:
- Uruguayan Football Association president Wilmar Valdez: “…to me it really seems like a completely exaggerated and abusive sanction.”
- Uruguay captain Diego Lugano: “Indignation, impotence, I think that’s what we all feel. We’d all like a fairer world, but that world simply does not exist. Those who rule, rule, and the strong ones are the strong ones… Keep feeling proud of him, he deserves it. Nothing will stop us. We will carry on with humility, union, determination, recognition of mistakes, and with our heads always high.”
Dr Andrew Evans, a performance psychologist at Nottingham Trent University thinks differently: “This punishment won’t serve as much of a deterrent to Suarez in the future as it’s too similar to previously imposed sanctions. What is really needed now is a psychological program capable of promoting long-lasting behavior change.”
Brazilian forward Fred seems supportive of Suarez: “It was unfair because it could end a player’s life. Four months, nine games, everyone on top of you, criticizing his error. He has to be punished, yes, but I’d like to see Suarez still playing in this World Cup.” (Perhaps, he means seeing him on another pitch and far away from him?)
Sports equipment firm Adidas: “Adidas fully supports FIFA’s decision. Adidas certainly does not condone Luis Suarez’s recent behavior and we will again be reminding him of the high standards we expect from our players. We have no plan to use Suarez for any additional marketing activities during the 2014 FIFA World Cup.”
Andreas Campomar, author of “Golazo! A history of Latin American football”: “For many Latin Americans the ban will have wider repercussions. It will be construed as the usual high-handedness Europe employs in relation to Latin America. A case of one rule for them and one rule for us.”
We see reactions vary depending on relationships to the player concerned. Facts are not all the same, it appears. This, I know already. I also know that footballers do not see their own actions the same as those who watch them. But, let that confusion roll on.
A week or so ago, I took issue with a Jamaican organization that supports children, for their apparent willingness to put forward the good behaviour seen during the World Cup as examples for children to follow. I asked why they did that without reference to the very bad behaviour. They said they were stressing positives. I responded that it was as if the bad were invisible. Their CEO contacted me privately and told me that the messages were not clear and they would be withdrawn. I do not know how they would have survived a credibility test with the Suarez offences. Again, however, people seem to see what they want to see.
I don’t want to equate Suarez’s actions to those of a killer, but some the reactions are not far from those of The National Rifle Association, which is challenging proposed legislation that would prohibit stalkers and perpetrators of domestic violence from buying guns, arguing that not all stalkers are violent and that the bill violates their Second Amendment rights.
Some stuff happens out of sight to the viewing public. Take the action alleged by the Ghana FA, that Muntari punched a staff member, and Boateng insulted the national team coach; both players were sent home before the team’s final match. Muntari had punched Armah during a meeting over US$3 million of unpaid money as senior players rounded on team officials for not keeping promises. The Ghanaian players’ discontent over the lack of payment, which had been simmering for days, exploded on Tuesday when they refused to train–even threatening to boycott their match against Portugal on Thursday–until they were paid more than $3 million in appearance fees, to be divided among the 23 players (about US$130,000 each). The fragile situation even required an intervention by President John Dramani Mahama, who spoke to the players on Tuesday and assured them the cash would be loaded on a plane and arrive Wednesday afternoon. Ghana played on Thursday, losing 2-1 to Portugal, and a neutral observer could easily say that they looked nothing like value for money, even playing at a level so low it was hard to believe that they almost beat the mighty Germany a few days ago. As I wrote on Facebook: ‘Ghana showing that if any good set of players so desire, they can play with supreme ineptitude.’ If someone levelled another charge of match-fixing against Ghana, I would not be surprised.
Of course, technology is making FIFA and match officials into a laughing-stock. While, they covers their ears and eyes to the many offences that are committed in the name of ‘the beautiful game’, cameras catch most, if not all of them. Some are broadcast immediately, showing officials to be either incompetent, unobservant, capricious, uncaring, or any range of other negative characteristics. I loved the replay last night of a player being held back by his shorts, which just about stayed on: the referee saw nothing, admittedly, because the offending player manhandled his opponent to the referee’s blind side. But, the assistant should cover the other angle. I know the system does not work, but that’s the theory. Other images now get aired almost as quickly and with added flair. They can come as ‘GIFs’ or ‘memes’, repeating the offending action, with some added animation or commentary; take a look at a compilation here. Again, the officials can look foolish.
The Economist published a very good article a week or so ago, arguing that football is a great sport, but it could be so much better if it were run honestly. That dishonesty comes in many forms, some of which I have just touched. Self delusion, denial, lying, cheating, greed, slothfulness, and more can be seen at this World Cup. It’s really a crying shame.
The anger of my Ghanaian friends yesterday was palpable, as they carried the collective shame of ‘Paradise Lost’, seemingly for ’30 pieces of silver’. Contrast that to the image (staged?) of Muntari handing out money on the streets in Brazil a few days ago. I felt it too: I had pinned hopes on Ghana reaching the final and winning it all. They had been ousted in 2010 by a set of controversial circumstances, including a goal-saving handball in the final minute of normal time, by none other than…Luis Suarez! That had left a bitter taste. It still is there. It is more bitter because I saw a team of wonderfully talented players reduced to the level of mediocre 12 year olds. Energy sapped. Imagination gone. Ability to think nil. Ability to execute nil. How do you go from heroes to goats in only a few days? It can’t just be money.
But, the tournament will move on. Little can change in terms of how the games are administered. People are excited that referees can spray white foam on the field and players do not move from where they should be. Now, it’s obvious if cheating is going on. Yet, FIFA resists doing similar things to make games more transparent and officiating easier. They were dragged kicking and screaming to sanction water breaks, while players are wilting in extreme temperatures and humidity. But, the quality of football had been lost on them for a while. Why else give the tournament to Qatar? Why not send it to Greenland in December? Who cares that they are not FIFA/UEFA members?
I’m not going to rant about the way that a simple game can descend into chaos. You read about how referees have performed in each game, and have a laugh while thinking whether they have a hard job or make an easy job look hard. They are the camel on whose back the straws are laid.
The layers of straw are sitting in their luxury seats and loving the beautiful game and all its flaws. Play on!
Every day is preparation for the future. I have a hard time always keeping things in their separate boxes because I often see how stuff flows out of one and into another. It can be quite amusing sometimes; other times, a little distressing. I’ve been on ‘holiday’ with my daughter for the best part of two weeks. Many people scoff when retired people mention ‘holiday’, as if only certain forms of activity: time away from home and travelling are pleasures we can all enjoy. I love getting to mix up the many ingredients that have gotten me to this point in life and know that more gets added all the time. So, I am rolling with the moments.
My daughter and I spent a nice day yesterday being tourists and then getting to dislike them. I took her to visit my former grammar school, in part, because it’s just five minutes from Buckingham Palace, which she really wanted to see. “Will the Queen be at home?” was her first question. We saw how my school had changed physically: much of the interior design is untouched, and I could feel myself back 40 years as I walked up and down stairs; but modernity is there in full with iMacs all over the place and a new underground gym.
The old gym is now an art room. The school was rare in that it had courts for playing Fives, a game like squash but played with bare hands. The playground is still the same and I explained to the caretaker taking us around how we used to play several games of football at the same time going both lengthwise and across. Skills were honed by not getting mixed up by other games, and not colliding with other people. We were nimble. But, I did not dwell on the past there, and we headed on to see the palace.
I used to walk past it many times a week, heading to St. James’s Park for lunch, to read, sometimes to kick a ball with friends. Rarely, did we spend time looking at the palace or thinking about the Queen. I always noted the throng of tourists. Now, I was one of them.
Their faces were pressed against the railings and they filled both sides of the Mall, as they waited for the guards to change. I explained to my daughter, who had a hard time getting a view. “How do they see with those furry hats over their eyes?” Good question. “Why are they riding down to the palace on those horses?” I explained about the changing of the guards. I was not taken with the spectacle, and I’d seen it many times before, but noted that Britain does pomp really well: centuries of practice.
We talked about how I spoke, and that my accent reflected where I had gone to school, in an area where most people did not speak like Cockneys, but ‘proper’. We also talked about the fact that we must have been carrying some Jamaican ‘vibes’ because people came up to us and spoke with Jamaican accents as we walked aloud: ‘Bless up!” the security man said as we walked past a building. Strange. Maybe, we had an aura.
We moved through the throng and walked through the park, taking in the geese and pigeons. It was a not-glorious summer’s day in England: skies were overcast, wind was blowing slightly, people were on the grass, deck chairs were laid out empty but ready.
My daughter sat in one for a few moments: I explained that she had to pay to use it. We headed on to Trafalgar Square, and more tourists, who were clambering onto the base of Nelson’s Column and mounting the lion statues. I urged my daughter to do the same. It’s a kind of rite of passage. I did it when younger, sometimes when not completely sober 🙂 She did, and then waited patiently while a group of girls took their pictures by a lion’s mouth, taking about as much time as it does to make a movie epic :-(. We did our photos in about 30 seconds, then decided to go to the National Gallery, just the other side of the square. The whole area was full of people sitting and walking and hearing explanations in many languages.
The area was also now a place for open theatre and we took in some of the performances. We then went for the quiet of the paintings. Lots of children were there on school trips; English schools have another three weeks, or so. Many were on the floor drawing or sketching. We decided to look a little, then just take a pause in front of a Canaletto. I’m no art buff, but I know relaxing when I see it.
My mind wandered to matters Italian. I immediately thought of the Italian footballer, Cannielini, who had the day before been the victim of an apparent dental attack during a match. Luis Suarez, the alleged gnasher had been doing some ‘damage control’ during the day trying to make light of his latest biting incident. I had been flabbergasted at the incident and seen the replays many times. It’s clear to me: he bit the Italian, then made it seem that he had been struck. Low down. FIFA were supposed to deliberate on the matter and it had become quickly the subject of much online banter. That’s the power of social media.
We were due to have lunch at a nearby Italian restaurant, Prezzo, so my wandering mind was not on a random walk. I thought about sport and cheating. I had to condemn Suarez. I later read some articles trying to defend him: ridiculous, I thought, and said in comments. Friends I visited later put it clearly: barbaric, unhealthy, animalistic, childish, unthinkable. It was not the subject for good adjectives. But, what will FIFA do? That is what concerned me. I went back to thinking about caneloni and Canaletto.
We headed on to lunch, with aunts of my first daughter. My little daughter was again having to deal with new people, some of whom knew her, but she could not recall. Anyway, she sat happily and thumbed the book she had grabbed in the morning: Tuesdays with Morrie. It happened to be in our room where we are staying. A challenging book and I am intrigued what a 10-year-old will make of it. Anyway, it had become the love of her life during our morning Tube rides. We had a great lunch, full of reminiscences, and including some pictorial evidence that was amusing but not damaging.
I looked great with a beard and lots of black hair. My daughter giggled at the sight. We enjoyed the memories and we enjoyed the food.
We caught up on where the various cousins were, now grown up and able to decide for themselves what to do. Live in Paris. Work in Virginia. Stay at home. Get into relationships. Usual stuff. We talked about being retired. It came with many benefits, not least time to do what you wanted, like go into central London for a long lunch, or travel for a few weeks with one of your children. It also came with fringe benefits, such as free transport and discounts at restaurants. Satisfied and amused, we all left and headed on to our next venues.
We rode the Tube with the husband of one of the aunts, as we headed up the Northern Line to Highgate. We talked about his life after teaching. His wife, my former sister-in-law, was still working, near Trafalgar Square, hence the choice for lunch. She was getting into athletics, and had taken up field events such as hammer throwing, discus, javelin and shot putting. That was quite intriguing. She was not into masters competitions, but representing a club at regular meets; their son ran middle distance events. The husband had not ventured back into sport, leaving his rugby days behind. He had thought about writing, after being a school headmaster. I shared thoughts on that, and suggested he give it a go. It’s his ‘piece of paper’ to fill. We parted and then my daughter and I sauntered up Archway Road to find more friends.
We reached a little close and were greeted by a man holding back a yapping dog. That was unexpected. The dog was a relatively new arrival, from a shelter. He carried a squeaky rubber duck. Touching. He liked us, judging by his desire to lick our legs.
We headed straight to the TV. Another round of World Cup matches were due on at 5, and I wanted to get a little sight of tennis, first. Friends understand such things, and we’d set out the afternoon in that way. My friend gave us drinks and my daughter gave up on us, once she had been offered a computer on which to play. We talked and caught up on a few years’ absence. One of his sons had just come back from a long trip abroad. He had slept, but then woke to realise he ‘needed’ to go to meet someone. He said a quick hello and goodbye. My friend’s wife came home from school earlier than expected, just as her son was leaving, before the football was due to start. She greeted us, then headed off to do some other stuff. We settled in for the football.
The game between Argentina and Nigeria had plenty of action. The commentators were all over the greatness of Messi and comparing him to Maradona. My friend alluded to the tainted greatness of the latter. “I can’t forgive him for 1986,” he muttered. We were one on that, and then went on a tour of football incidents that seemed to define players. We ended up talking about Suarez and his repeated desire to bite people. We agreed that he needed help. Would he get it and accept it? He’d refused it in the past. Are all great players and performers really badly flawed? Time worn debates were ready to be restarted. But, we let our arguments flow just a little, and focused more on the clear brilliance of Lionel Messi, who seemed more normal than many.
We talked about social media–my friends said they were phobic about it, or at least not very comfortable with it. We talked about how it seems to distort behaviour in some people. We agreed that some are fooled into thinking they are talking to the world and it’s listening, but that somehow they can do that and seem to be invisible. We agreed that it was not universally good and not wholly bad; not all happy, and plenty sad. A lot like football. A lot like life.