Part-time Passions by Darren Thompson

My football taste causes a few raised eyebrows amongst my friends, which are probably justified. There won’t be much I can tell anyone they don’t already know about the top divisions. I’m not trying to sell the non-league scene, just some of my views and experiences (I’ll probably digress, as I’m no writer).

Despite been a Hull City fan for almost two decades, I have an almost unhealthy obsession with non-league football. If funds would allow it, I’d travel the length of the country to watch the most obscure of teams. It stretches to reading the TV text, looking on websites and more.

ferriby

I’ve always got my eye on travelling to a local team of part-timers. Some places I have been locally are Hall Road Rangers and Barton Town Old Boys, however I’ve developed a bond with ‘The Villagers’ of North Ferriby United, to the point where I actually dislike some of their opponents, for example Hednesford Town & Vauxhall Motors. I genuinely smirk at their demise, due to incidents that have occurred against NFU. Their bogey team is FC United of Manchester. Never seem to get the decisions against them…Well for this season at least…FCUM.

Why attend non-league? Well, it almost has the romance that the FA Cup used to have. I don’t feel insignificant or anonymous like I do in a big stadium. People tend to start recognising you after a few fixtures. I do know a few people now at NFU which is also a factor.

It is different to the professional game, in many ways.

Off the pitch: Price! entry, refreshments, programme, etc. At least 1/3 of the cost. Souvenirs tend to be similar though. A lot of clubs serve your hot drinks in a mug and trust you not to lamp someone with it. I believe every non-league ground I’ve attended, I could walk all the way around the pitch, through every stand. Quite a novelty, no segregation. On the cosmetic side, a lot of the stands tend to be ramshackle glorified sheds. Sound systems seem to be particularly poor. People are in place to run out of the ground to collect the balls that have ballooned over the fence – their actual purpose at the club. You are likely to get chatting with some old fella in a flat cap like you’ve known him for years. Every ground tends to have a freak that lives & breathes his club, sporting a flask, fleece and crap trainers. There’s no singing and goals are usually celebrated with clapping as opposed to a roar. Staff sneak friends & family in too, which annoys me as someone who doesn’t have this perk.

On the pitch: people will notice the obvious differences, especially places like Hall Road & Barton Town. The terrible pitches don’t help, but players are generally lacking most of the qualities of the overpaid primadonnas. After doing a 9 to 5 shift at work they won’t have the same opportunities or time to improve much. Players mostly rely on they physical side, often brutally so. They’d certainly do Fernando Torres a mischief. Long-ball to a decent striker is the norm. It can be horrible to watch and you’ll question how they are even footballers sometimes. Although Ferriby aren’t a million miles away, they have some very good players that could make it at league level and do play some attractive football, there is even a clear gulf in class at non-league level. I called their promotion before the season started !!! Though I’m not a betting man.

Cost and quality aside, I don’t get the same feeling of passion from non-league. If their team win, lose or draw, the fans don’t seem to get as stressed or excited. I could never give up the big leagues and revert to been a full-time non-leaguer. There’s some kind of empty space that I can’t put my finger on. Despite my many gripes about it, I still believe the Premier League is the place to be, though I love the Championship too. Nothing else comes close.

If you want friendly, cheap and intimate, give non-league a go. If you want expensive, but brilliant, exciting, controversial, memorable etc, maybe don’t bother.

I like the smalltime, but love the bigtime.

tommo profile pic

Darren is 31 years old and resides in Hull. Most people don’t know his forename and call him ‘Tommo’. He is Hull Glasses Wearing Champion and even sleeps in them. Owner of 100’s of football shirts, possibly a hoarder. Loves to experiment with coffee and literally anything football. Has no fashion sense.

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Premier League Predictions by Martyn Taylor

You will have seen, heard and read them all week long, people. When you bought your tabloid newspapers on the way to work, or listened to your various sport Podcasts while sat on the bus. Everyman and his dog has a prediction about what might occur during this season in the Premier and football leagues.

Who will go down?

Who will break into the top 4?

Who will win the ‘Sack race’?

I don’t care who will go down, I don’t care who’ll be a surprise package! Here at Sitting on the Swings a few of us got together and put our heads together and decided (over a few beers) what we should predict for the upcoming season.

So Italian it's possible he's taking the piss.

So Italian it’s possible he’s taking the piss.

 

So here is the ‘Sitting on the Swings 10 predictions for the season’

1. Paulo Di Canio to go insane.

Paulo Di Canio is by far the Premier League’s biggest fruit cake (since Ballotelli left City). He has already banned his players from having ketchup on their meals or ice in their drinks because he once saw a team mate drink a glass of Coke before a game and they lost! Nutter! He slid on to the pitch on his knees to celebrate securing safety last season. He has also fallen out with every player from last seasons squad. We are surely now only a misplaced ‘Mama Mia’ away from a full blown gasket and an impromptu attack on a referee (again)

2. Theo Walcott to peak too early.

Theo really is an annoying little twerp! He can skin defenders left, right and centre at will, lay a pass on a plate for an attacker to tap in, and single handedly win matches for the Gunners. No doubt he will be a shoe Rio. however come March, April or May, Mr Walcott will start picking up niggling injuries or tweek his hamstring, and make his visit to Brazil only half the player he was in September.

3. Rio to make Rio!

For a while now, it has genuinely eluded me how for 3 years to long Rio Ferdinand has been idolised as a great defender. He has a bad back, no pace and a funny looking lip! Once or twice a game he makes a good block, and because he points out a danger for Vidic to clear, it means he can ‘read the game well’ NO! Not having it! He was a brilliant defender at his best, but sorry Rio, no Rio for you!

4. ‘Fergie Time’ To become ‘Moyes Time’.

I give it 2 weeks before we have a situation where Man Utd will be losing or drawing at Old Trafford in the dying minutes. Moyes will have a quick word with the 4th ref, and POW! 6 minutes added time will appear from nowhere! Man U will score and ‘Fergie Time’ becomes ‘Moyes Time’ The transition will be seamless!

5. Hawk Eye goes Bog Eyes!

In the age of video technology, where punters have been crying out for some help for the officials, I predict that Hawk Eye will either fail, or be unable to give a definitive yes or no. Did it cross the line, or didn’t it? will never be the same argument again. On the bright side, at least it will give us miserable sods something to moan about in pub!

6. Female intuition fails!

A couple of years, there was uproar when the Premier League appointed a female linesman…. sorry lineswomen. Keys and Grey laughed and joked off camera, which led to their sackings. Nevertheless, she had an impeccable game and avoided all the attention that came her way. I reckon that sometime this season, Miss Massey will make a poor decision which could change the outcome of a match. Mr’s Keys and Grey will sit back in their ‘TalkSport’ studio and sneer “We told you so.” BURKS!!!

7. Off with their heads!

The distinguished and knowledgeable folk at ‘The Sun’ or ‘The Mirror’ will review the first 5 or 6 results of the season and call for the heads of Mark Hughes, Steve Bruce, Harry Redknapp or Nigel Pearson to roll after poor starts. The chairmen of the clubs will take the difficult decision, to remove the manager from their posts. The same tabloids that called for the guillotine in the first place, will call it a disgrace and slate the chairmen for their decisions! Morons!

Simmer down, girls.

Simmer down, girls.


8. Rooney’s third coming.

Wayne Rooney has long not been a fan of his new manager (for reasons mentioned in an earlier blog) Come November, when Robin Van Persie once again falls foul of his injury jinx that blighted his career at Arsenal (and many of my fantasy teams) where will Moyes turn? Step up Rooney the saviour. He will score the goals that keep Utd’s title challenge on track, and by January he will have signed a new contract and once again he will be kissing the badge of his beloved Man Utd.

9. Mark Hughes. Midas touch?

For many years, Mark Hughes has been touted as a top manager. Every time a top job comes up, like this summer at Stoke, his name invariably is mentioned. How the hell is this? Everything the guy touches turns to shit! The only exception was his stint a the Wales national team manager, where he got the best out of the players he had. I propose that if he doesn’t make it past the end of the season at Stoke, the man should never work in football again….EVER!…..

Number 10 is perhaps the easiest to predict.

10. Joey Barton to go cuckoo on the pitch.

The Premier League’s most over hyped ‘Hard Man’ ever, is on his last chance (again) at QPR in the Championship. After spending last season trying to rebuild his career in France with Marseille, he’s back! I give him until November before he kicks, punches, gropes, spits, or snarls at an opponent, team mate, referee or ‘Arry Redknapp. TUTT TUTT naughty boy Joey!

 

mart questionsMartyn Taylor is a 31 year-old father of three and lives in Hull. His pastimes include watching 80s action films over and over again and and debating the all-time Premiership XI with Mr Miles. His knowledge of American sitcoms of the 90s stands second to none. He once walked into a men’s public lavatory absent-mindedly singing the theme tune from Two And A Half Men. You can find him on http://www.twitter.com/shirleysblower but he never tweets, so just follow him on here.

Football Fools and Their Money! by Martyn Taylor

Good job he's good at football ain't it?

As last weekend came and went, the new football season kicked off for the 72 teams of the football league. When This event happens, it brings a nostalgic fondness to my heart. Of all these 72 clubs, all but about 5 are debt ridden, poorly run and hanging on to survive by a thread, Yet they manage to carry on putting out a team week in, week out. The teams represent the townsfolk with passion and pride, and give the patrons of public houses up and down the land, plenty of boozed up banter to keep them chatting until kicking out time.

In the coming weeks the Premier League will be forced down our throats from every angle possible. Sky Sports are already up to season 2004/5 of their review series ‘Premier League Years’ by now.

This season is a little different from other seasons, as it is a World Cup Year. We can hope and dream about how England will forget about their recent failures at international tournaments, and how The Three Lions future stars flopped at this summers under 20 World Cup and under 21 European Championships respectively. Yet maybe, just maybe we could make it out of our difficult qualification group, and maybe how despite of the heat and humidity in Brazil, they can make it out of their tournament group, and how miraculously they will beat some of the super powers of world football in the knock-out phase of the tournament to lift the legendary ‘FIFA World Cup Trophy’ (Not as catchy as ‘The Jules Rimet Trophy’ is it?)

Yet no, there has been little, or no mention of the upcoming competition in the media since the ‘Confederations Cup’ earlier this summer. This is because three of the biggest clubs in the land have changed their managers. Jose Mourinho has returned to Chelsea to hopefully turn them back into genuine title contenders. Manuel Pellegrino has arrived at the ‘Etihad stadium’ to no doubt be given one season to become European Champions, and last but not least Sir Alec Ferguson has retired from his 26 year tenure as Manchester United manager. As many a pundit and fan had predicted Sir Alec has been succeeded by Fergie-clone, David Moyes.

it is the last of these appointments that started a transfer ‘Merry-go-round’ in the Premiership. Wayne Rooney is now, or has never been a fan of Mr Moyes, which harps back to when Moyes was Rooney’s manager at Everton. You see, Mr Rooney had “Written” an autobiography claiming that Moyes had forced him out of his boyhood club and subsequently leaked details of it to the press. David Moyes refuted these claims and sued Rooney for libel, before settling out of court. It seems fair to say that Moyes’s arrival at Old Trafford has upset ‘Shrek’ Rooney. Moyes has basically said that Rooney would have a bit part to play in the future. He now wants out. The only problem is that Rooney has only attracted interest from Man Utd’s title rivals Chelsea, and no way will the Old Trafford outfit relinquish one of their better players to their rivals.

I foresee in the future a lot of sulking, pouting, moaning and yawning in the stands for Man Utd’s former ‘star-larker’, but, lets be honest, if you earned £200,000 a week, I maybe wouldn’t be all that arsed really.

The second prolonged transfer saga of the summer is perhaps the most controversial.

Over at Anfield, Mr Luis Suarez has started to dig his teeth in (no pun intended) over a move away from Liverpool. Unfortunately for Liverpool, he is undoubtedly their star player, so they do not want him to leave, which if you were on about any other teams star player, it would be understandable, but Suarez is no Golden Boy! He is currently serving his second long suspension since joining the club, the first for racism, the second, incredibly, for biting no less. The man is trouble, and the quicker we can get him out of the English game, the better! There is one slight problem though. The only club to have shown any interest in the scum bag is the Premier Leagues perennial underachievers, Arsenal. They bid the tidy sum of £40,000,001 to activate the release clause in his contract, but that wasn’t enough moolah to temp Anfield’s hierarchy to accept. If I was Mr Henry I would snap off the hand of any man offering money for the rat bag, so that it could be reinvested in the club on players who want to play for them.

As no offer has been accepted by Liverpool, I give it a week before Splinter, sorry, Suarez, starts ranting on about how he is been treated like a slave by the club (horrifically)

The third installment of the summer transfer kerfuffle involves Tottenham’s top boy, Gareth Bale. He has been single-handedly carrying Spurs for 3 or 4 seasons now. His out of this world performances have not gone unnoticed. The cream of Europe’s top teams have been watching for a while. Last season Real Madrid made a fleeting advance toward Mr Bale, but they were rebuffed by both club, and player. They would not be deterred. This year, Real have returned with all guns blazing, an offer of £85,000,000 has been touted around the media, but Spurs are not impressed, and refused. The problem for Spurs is that the man in question has had his head turned by the Spanish giants offer. Tottenham are holding out for a ridiculous world record bid of £100,000,000.

Bale it seems, is bound for the Bernabéu, he seems to have Spurs best interest at heart as well as his own, and wants to leave the club in a better shape than it was when he arrived. It seems he may actually leave England with his reputation intact.

Where will these 3 contract rebels end up plying their trades when the next world cup arrives? Who knows! I’m non the wiser, but I do know that the world of football will be non the healthier for all the mud slinging that has been going on.

Money, so they say, makes the world go around, and the world of football is no different!

Give Me Fucking Strength by Paul Featherstone

hull city tigers

Okay, so hastily composed this one, but as the title suggests- “Hull City Tigers”? Give me strength man.

Is this where football has come to now? That a team can be re-branded? Is it now the policy of the board to actually polish turds?

Before I plough on, if you weren’t aware, Hull City AFC have been re-branded as “Hull City Tigers” for their second stint in the Premier League by their owners, the Allam family. Now, the Allams have done many good things for the club, and we will come to that soon, but this is not one of them.

Very shortly after the announcement, the name started to trend on Twitter. It was not in a positive manner. There may have been quickly knocked up photos of Tony The Tiger. For a team that many will feel are out of place in the top flight, naming yourself in such a manner makes you look like someone at a party wearing an ill-fitting, cool jumper your wife made you put on, even though you’re 54.

The initials HCT sound like something that a woman hitting the menopause takes too. I’m sure in the minds of the Allams, it sounds like Elvis’ TCB, but rather than “Taking Care Of Business”, it’s “Total Complete Bollocks”.

I could go on for hours, but my main point here is how this reflects on owners that swoop in to help a team to success and how football fans are just rolling over and getting fist fucked by a rich businessman in a hotel room near Terminal 5.

The Allams saved the club from the brink of extinction, took them back to the Premier League for the second time and have strong links with the city. Even the controversial sacking of Nick Barmby bore fruit, as Steve Bruce took just one season to gain promotion.

All of the above, though, does not give a divine right to do as you please with the club, because you helped it out when it was in dire straights. Men help vulnerable women get into countries to improve their lives, then take their passport and sell them into the sex trade. That is not a viable blueprint to bring across into running a football team.

In fact, Allam has said he hates the word “City”. If he knew anything of the club and it’s fans, he would know that almost everyone says “Are you off to see City this weekend?”. Not “The Tigers”, not “the mighty HCT”.

Yet, the most shocking part of the whole situation has been to hear some fans seem happy to just sit there and take it, because of all that Allam has done for the club. They don’t agree, but feel he has earned the right to do it. That equates to letting a rich, old man grope your tit because he bought you a new rear indicator light.

Football fans usually have a lot more sense than this, and if they passionately disagree with something, they stand against it. It will be interesting to see how this one continues to develop. It may have been smart to announce it now, so that British politeness creeps in and no-one wants to “make a fuss” to ruin the first game of the season.

Something should be done though, as more football teams are going to need rich benefactors to save them, and the more they are used as play-things and brands, the further disenfranchised the normal fan will become.

The national game is becoming privatised, grrrrreeeeeaaaattttt.

 

Paul FeatherstonePaul Featherstone is 31 years old and lives in Hull. Most people call him “Fev.” He has an encyclopaedic knowledge of football and music and uses the word “c*nt” far too much in everyday conversation. He spends a lot of his time blagging his way into celebrity parties. He is to be commended for once meeting Jo Whiley and refraining from beating her to death with a big stick. You can read more of his vitirolic comments on http://twitter.com/FevTheRevoff

Paul Gascoigne: A Pre-Emptive Requiem by Allen Miles

I have always been absolutely baffled when public figures die and people I know get really upset. I cannot understand why the death of someone you have never met would ever affect you personally. I remember being utterly bewildered as a fifteen year-old when the tidal wave of public tears and chest-beating greeted the death of Princess Diana. The thousands that lined the streets for her funeral, with their bloodshot eyes and quivering hands, none of them had ever met her, let alone formed any sort of personal relationship with her, so why did they get overtaken by these emotions? I remember being out one Saturday night and news got round the club that Layne Staley of Alice In Chains had been found dead after a massive heroin overdose. People were actually crying in the club. The man lived 4700 miles away in Seattle, and had probably never heard of Hull, yet people in Hull felt compelled to grieve openly about his demise. I didn’t understand.

The only time I’ve been slightly melancholy about the death of someone whom I’d never met came in 2009, with the death of former England manager Sir Bobby Robson. Robson had a reputation as the nicest man in football, commanded enormous respect on the world stage for his tactical knowledge and success all over Europe, and had been heavily involved in the development of some of the greatest talents of all time, figures such as Romario, Jose Mourinho and Ronaldo. He also gave me the definitive memory of my childhood, England’s barnstorming performance at Italia 90, and Italia 90 is my favourite thing of all time. He was a relentlessly positive man, and upon learning that he was suffering terminal cancer in 2008, having beaten the disease on three previous occasions, he said: “My condition is described as static and has not altered since my last bout of chemotherapy… I am going to die sooner rather than later. But then everyone has to go sometime and I have enjoyed every minute.” On the 26th Of July, 2009, a mere five days before his death, he made his last public appearance at a recreation of the Italia 90 semi-final against Germany, and almost all of the original players turned out in the name of The Sir Bobby Robson Cancer Trust. Robson was scheduled to make an appearance in the director’s box but true to his persona, he insisted on being wheeled out onto the pitch to thank each player individually with a handshake. As he went down the line it was titilating to see the 1990 squad nearly twenty years later, broader of waistline (John Barnes,) higher of hairline (Mark Wright,) or both (David Platt,) but they were all instantly recognisable, apart from this one figure, a wiry, wizened man with a stringy neck and anaemic looking arms, who greeted Robson with an almost desperate enthusiasm, and as the Knight of the Realm released this man’s hand he looked on after him with hollow cheeks and the eyes of a puppy whose master had just abandoned him in the woods. This man had been the star of the show at Italia 90, and changed English football, and arguably world football,  forever at that tournament. He was unrecognizable from the old pictures. It was Paul Gascoigne, England’s greatest ever professional footballer. And Paul Gascoigne is going to die soon.

paul-gascoigne-with-sir-bobby-robson-2930519-1389990

This week we have seen him in the press yet again following another relapse into his alcohol addiction, which led to an arrest for affray. The desperation of the story was that he was not arrested at some trendy Soho nightclub or Mayfair hotel, places where the current breed of football superstars conduct their misdemeanours these days, but at Stevenage Railway Station on the platform. This followed an incident this February where he was taken into intensive care in a rehab clinic in Arizona, paid for by his great buddy, 1996’s Chris Evans. Gascoigne suffered such intense alcohol withdrawal that he had to be strapped to a bed, where he had to be revived three times after his heart stopped, and repeatedly injected with librium. A few months later he had made a public appearance at a sports event where he was due to give an after dinner speech during which, according to witnesses, he began rambling incoherently and frequently broke down into tears.

For those of you who are too young to have seen Gazza play, ignore the general comparison to Wayne Rooney that seems to get wheeled out by the press these days. It is unhelpful for many reasons; for a start Gascoigne was a far superior player, but the major difference is that Wayne Rooney is a brilliant player who can occasionally behave like an overgrown seven year-old. Gascoigne was an overgrown seven year old who occasionally behaved like a brilliant player. In many ways it is unhelpful to talk about his playing career at all as what we are dealing with here is a man who suffers from savage bi-polar disorder and OCD, and is also completely helpless in his battle against alcoholism, but his playing career is what defined him, made him, and will ultimately kill him.

 

Gascoigne was that rare breed of English player: The Entertainer. Driven by a child-like need to please people and be seen, there was an almost desperate air right from the start of his career, when put-downs from his Newcastle team-mates about his weight led to him behaving in increasingly bizarre ways, on one occasion stealing the groundsman’s tractor and driving it through the wall of the team’s changing room. In the build-up to the match that cemented his place in the Italia 90 squad, a friendly against Czechoslovakia, he was seen in the tunnel before the kick-off, wild-eyed and unapproachable, ferociously thrashing a ball against a wall, seemingly oblivious to his surroundings. The night before the 1991 FA Cup semi-final against Arsenal, he had to have sedative injections to get to sleep, and in one very revealing incident from just after his career-changing turn in Turin, got leglessly drunk and marched into his old primary school to berate his old teacher who had, many years ago, told him he’d never make it as a footballer. He was the most famous person in the country at this point, and had cemented his reputation as one of the greatest players in the world on the biggest stage of all, yet his fragile self-esteem still prompted the need to go and say “I told you so.”

gazza dribbling

Gazza played his last professional game in 2004 for Boston United, yet it is the critical opinion that his career effectively ended in 1991 when he went rampaging around the Wembley turf like a pitbull with a needle full of amphetamines up its arse, nearly decapitating Gary Parker and then mangling his cruciate ligaments in an idiotic lunge at Gary Charles. He was out for nearly two years after that match, having behaved like a wild animal for the fifteen minutes he was on the field, and his decline, both on a professional and personal level, began here. He wouldn’t be picked regularly for England again as Taylor and later on, Hoddle, both had misgivings about his “re-fuelling habits.” Only Terry Venables put his trust in him, and he was rewarded with Gazza’s last three decent performances at the highest level, against Scotland and Germany at Euro 96, and, at the same tournament, as the ringmaster in the 4-1 evisceration of a very decent Holland side, his greatest match in an England shirt. Two years after that, Glenn Hoddle dropped him from the France 98 squad, he was both overweight and out of form, and stood and watched as Gascoigne trashed his office in a fit of temper.

You see, what wasn’t realised at the time, before the era of sports psychologists and the like, was that in order for Gascoigne to perform with such intensity on the pitch, his adrenalin levels had to be through the roof, and when you’re reaching those self-inflicted chemical highs 50 times a season, the volatility of mood swings would be utterly uncontrollable. Imagine the most wound-up you’ve ever been in your whole life, the biggest pressure situation you’ve ever endured, be it your wedding day, the birth of a child, a really important job interview, a medical emergency you’ve been involved in, whatever, now imagine being at that level of mental and physical intensity, twice a week, having 30,000 people staring and cheering at you in rapt adoration, and the press are camped on your front doorstep every day looking to see how you react to it. How can you possibly deal with those highs and lows, particularly if you’re a less-intelligent-than-average bloke who already has embryonic mental health issues and an addictive personality? You escape. You escape into whatever brings it down for you. And in this case, Paul Gascoigne escaped into alcohol.

For the people who are reading this that have no interest in football, I have tried to think of a public figure to compare Gazza to, so you can appreciate the tragedy of this situation. Initially I thought of someone like Kerry Katona, a relatively normal person who is just not bright enough to be famous and needs someone to look after her. Kerry Katona, however, has no discernible talent and is on the telly simply because the general public enjoy watching human car-crashes. Then I thought of Ozzy Osbourne, a man who has a talent, but is out-of-control and in thrall to his vices. But again no, because Osbourne is a very wealthy man who lives in a huge mansion in LA and is taken care of by his wife, who keeps him off the booze and makes him lots of money.

No, I had to think of someone who, like Gascoigne, was an absolute master of his stage, had millions of adoring, hysterical fans, and when he wasn’t on his stage, simply didn’t know how to make his way through life, and would pick up all manner of grotesque hangers-on who just wanted to fleece him of his money. He would develop an addiction to mind-numbing substances and would blow all of his wealth, another deeply-disturbed man-child who on some level, possessed that rare trait that we know as “genius.”

MichaelJackson_Wide_620x350

And as we choose to remember Michael Jackson for the video to Billie Jean rather than his squalid court cases and the horrific self-inflicted facial disfigurements, let us hark back to the 2nd most famous photograph in English football history, the photograph that documented how one brilliant player’s inability to control his emotions one night in Italy led to an irreversible change in the English game, how it was dragged out of the doldrums of hooliganism and right wing politics to be the billion-pound entertainment industry, that, for better or worse, we all subscribe to today. Look at the carved stomach muscles and tree-trunk thighs of a player who, for much of his career was derided for being fat; a player who, for much of his career, was the best on the planet.

gazza turin

 

It is difficult and heart-breaking to equate the gaunt and frail looking figure that is the Paul Gascoigne of today to that photo. And it is deeply upsetting to watch the perpetual chain of humiliations that his life has become, whether it be turning up at a police barrier to give a lunatic who’d gone beserk with a shotgun some fried chicken and a fishing rod, or cashing in by giving “confessional interviews” to parasitic vermin like Piers Morgan. His friend and former team-mate, Gary Lineker, recently spouted up on twitter with the following:

“Lots of you asking for my thoughts on Gazza’s plight. I can only hope he finds peace somehow, but fear those hopes maybe forlorn.”

And Lineker is right, Paul Gascoigne is going to die soon. Whether he commits suicide, poisons his liver beyond repair or drunkenly toddles out in front of a bus, unless he finds someone who can nail the thought into his brain that he has to stop drinking, he will end up dead. And when he dies, a big chunk of my childhood will die as well. This is the saddest story professional sport has to offer. If you don’t want to shed a tear, don’t look at the following video.

 

profile b and wAllen Miles is 31 years old and lives in Hull. He is married and has a 2 year-old daughter who is into Queens Of The Stone Age. He is a staunch supporter of Sheffield Wednesday FC and drinks far too much wine. He spends most of his spare time watching old football videos on youtube and watching 1940s film noir. He is the author of 18 Days, which is widely recognized to be the best book ever written. It is available here. http://tinyurl.com/8d2pysx

A Lesson In Power Of A Common Superhero by Paul Featherstone

Football is quite clearly the national past time of the British. Every weekend hundreds of thousands of people pour into stadiums, to watch their heroes decked in the colours of their chosen team. Sons mingle with fathers, mothers get rare time with their whole family that their partner or children won’t complain about, friends forget their troubles for a few hours.

People do this, not just because of their love for the sport, nor their wonder at the tension and joy played out on the pitch, but also because, like every major event, they trust that they will be kept safe, along with all of these people that they attend it with. That trust is such a small, but hugely important thing. We as a society, build almost everything on trust. Without it, we would all stay inside, lock our doors and never venture for anything but sustenance. Quite often, that trust is placed on the men and women of the emergency services and that when called upon, they will be there to protect and help us, even if it means giving their own lives in the process.

Imagine leaving for a football match, excited at the theatre the day promised, but it being routine enough to be like any other? You don’t say you love your mother. You maybe don’t see your wife because she is at work, because it’s safe in your mind. You trust you will be home to do any number of all those things again. You trust someone to take care of you when you get to the game. You’re so busy living, death is not ever a thought.

96 people never came home on that exciting, but ultimately routine day of April 15th, 1989. We now know the truth of course, that the trust they placed in someone, somewhere to keep them safe at the game, was not rewarded with their lives.

The astonishing mistakes that led to their deaths, were only exacerbated by the impending lies and smears that firmly pointed the blame at the innocent dead. Their fellow fans were branded “animalistic” – The Sun newspaper effectively compared them to war criminals. Accused of urinating on police officers, picking pockets of victims and beating those trying to save lives.

I’ve never known the pain of someone I care about dying in such a manner and nor do I either wish to. I’m truly lucky to be able to make that statement, as are most people. It would shatter all of our existences.

To then find the strength to fight back against those slurs, to even be able to get up and make a cup of tea every morning, is a feat that is difficult to surpass.To have to do that for 24 years, is torturous. Yet, the phrase “Justice For The 96” is one that every football fan, and those beyond the sport, are aware of. That is down to the campaigning families of those 96 dead people.

It is a beautiful life lesson, borne out of horror- that if you scream and shout loud enough,and if you don’t back down in the face of adversity, the truth will out. You will win.

That is not always the case of course. It is frightening how the power of the establishments in this world, can silence and destroy the will of the many. However, a victory of this magnitude stirs the soul and should provide fortitude, for anyone who faces anything of this sickening manner ever again.

Bravery, true bravery, is very rarely shown. This was not running into a fire to save someone, in the knowledge that death was what really awaited behind those flames. Yet, it required the same courage of a super human level. Every year, people flock to the cinema to look at those qualities exhibited on a silver screen, but if we look hard enough, it can be in our own world, waiting to inspire us.

The superheroes we need to protect us from evil, are sometimes waiting in the wings, with just their voice for a power. Every single one of those who campaigned should pass into folklore, because their actions should be the inspiration that ensures no football pitch should ever be cloaked in wreaths ever again. To use a football analogy, this was a wondrous victory, snatched from the most unforgiving jaws of defeat.

Whatever your teams colour, whatever your allegiance, if you ever meet anyone of those people who secured it, treat them like the superhero they are.

Paul FeatherstonePaul Featherstone is 31 years old and lives in Hull. Most people call him “Fev.” He has an encyclopaedic knowledge of football and music and uses the word “c*nt” far too much in everyday conversation. He spends a lot of his time blagging his way into celebrity parties. He is to be commended for once meeting Jo Whiley and refraining from beating her to death with a big stick. You can read more of his vitirolic comments on http://twitter.com/FevTheRevoff

 

Let’s talk about Fußball by Jamie Hunter

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I read a story a few months ago. It was about a boy named Kuba. Kuba was born in the small village of Truskolasy in southern Poland in the mid-1980s to Father, Zygmunt, and Mother, Anna. A keen footballer, he and his older brother Dawid would kick a ball around at any given opportunity. At the age of 8 he and his brother were invited to train with Raków Częstochowa, a professional club based in Częstochowa, the nearest city to their home village. Inspired by his uncle and Polish national team captain, Jerzy Brzeczek, Kuba showed great promise and continued to train with the club up until a personal tragedy caused him to quit football. At the age of 11, Kuba watched as his own Father stabbed his Mother to death.

“Why are you telling me this story?” you may well be thinking. I’m telling you this because on 25th May, Kuba will be playing in the biggest match on the club footballing calendar, the Champions League Final, and everyone just loves reading about footballers, right?

‘Kuba’ is the nickname of Jakub Błaszczykowski, Borussia Dortmund winger and Poland national team captain. After his Mother’s death he was raised by his grandmother and uncle who encouraged him to get back in to playing football just 3 months after the tragedy he had witnessed. He says everything he achieves in his life is dedicated to the memory of his Mother, and those achievements are plenty. Shortly before Euro 2012 his Father died and Kuba took leave from Poland’s training camp to attend the funeral despite not seeing his father since those fateful days of his childhood. A few weeks later he scored one of the goals of the tournament in a 1 – 1 draw with Russia and in an emotional celebration where he was mobbed by his team-mates he pointed to the skies above his home country in honour of his Mother. Jakub Błaszczykowski is in incredible man, I’m sure you’ll agree.

Błaszczykowski signed for Dortmund from Wisła Kraków in 2007, just 2 years after Dortmund were on the brink of bankruptcy and had to enforce a 20% pay-cut on all their players’ wages. Previous to this, Dortmund were loaned €2,000,000 by none other than fellow 2013 Champions League finalists and Bundesliga rivals Bayern Munich just so they could pay their players on time. The loan was paid off and Dortmund & Bayern have continued their great rivalry, both earning two Bundesliga titles each in the last four seasons. On the 25th of May these two great clubs will go to battle at Wembley, the home of English football.

Can you imagine Manchester United bailing-out a struggling Leeds United when they were hemorrhaging money from a Peter Ridsdale-sized wound during their hilarious flirtations with the abyss? Or how about Portsmouth receiving a 7-figure cheque and a smile from Arsenal, who seem to have more money than sense? And can you imagine reading in your tabloid rag-of-choice an inspiring story about a footballer who has gone from the extremes of childhood suicide to the pinnacle of world football, as opposed to reading that he’s been shagging is brother’s wife for years? No, no and probably not.

The Bundesliga is the best football league in the world. It’s littered with proper clubs, proper players and proper fans.

We recently saw its two top teams teach La Liga’s top two a lesson in how to play football properly, with aggression, team work, technical ability and ruthless efficiency. Neither German team made concessions for their oppositions’ predictable tactics. ‘Tiki-taka’ was redundant against Bayern’s sheer enthusiasm, pressing of the ball and want for possession and when they did get the ball they were more interested in sticking it in the net than racking-up their ‘Passes Completed’ statistics. Real’s counter attack was ineffective against Dortmund’s enormous, aggressive defense and, certainly in the first game, Lewandowski’s devastating and wholly natural goal-scoring ability must’ve made even the most ardent Spaniard question if the “false 9” is really the right way to go. Bundesliga 11 – 3 La Liga was the final score and possible implications for world football could follow such is the magnitude of those results.

The top Bundesliga teams are full of proper, world-class German players too. You can pick two German teams worthy of the international stage from just the top 4 clubs. In England we’ve exhausted the “big four” before we have enough arses to warm the bench. Players like Neuer, Reus, Götze, Gündoğan, Muller, Kroos, Hummels and Lahm will be the future of the German national side for years to come. At least soon we can stop asking if Gerrard and Lampard can actually play together when they retire from international football and leave a void the size of Jack Wilshere’s medical bills.

It’s not just German players either. Shalke 04 have players that all English clubs would envy in Klaas-Jan Hunterlaar, Ibrahim Affelay (on loan from Barca) and Jefferson Farfán. Former Premier League favourites and Dutchmen Rafael Van Der Vaart and Arjen Robben are both effectively plying their trade in the Bundesliga. The league has also seen a recent influx of quality South Americans, specifically defensive-minded Brazilians, and Juan Arango is a name well worth putting in to YouTube. It makes for a diverse and eclectic league where the sub-divisions are fewer and much tighter than La Liga or the Premier League, where a team can score 55 goals and still finish bottom of the pile.

As for the fans, well, it depends on how you feel about Germans. There are a lot of them though. The Bundesliga sports the highest average attendance of any football league and during the 2011–12 season had the second highest average attendance of any sports league in the world. Any football fan who saw the Dortmund celebrations after the semi-final second leg against Real will have been impressed and incredibly jealous of the bond shown between players and fans. The chasm between fans and clubs seems to be increasing over time but to see that sort of solidarity between multi-millionaires and ultra-passionate fans was quite beautiful. The atmosphere generated at games is also incredible, aided by the impressive stadia in which most teams play. I also had a beer with a VfB Stuttgart fan once, he seemed like a nice bloke.

With the impending arrival of Pep Guardiola at Bayern and sporting both Champions League finalists, maybe we’ll see more players attracted to the Bundesliga. Maybe more UK media attraction too. It would certainly help if Sky covered the league in a similar way to their La Liga shows. It would certainly be a damn-sight more interesting than some of the games those shows serve up when Barca don’t happen to be playing Real on that particular weekend.

After we witnessed the greatest league season in football history last year, we’ve suffered one hell of a hangover this season. I sincerely implore any football fan to give German football a try, be it keeping up with it online or the odd game on ESPN. And even though Bayern have ran away with the German title this year, I’m already excited for the next Bundesliga season. Maybe it’s because I’m moving to Berlin and Hertha have just secured promotion back to the German top-flight. Yeah, that’s probably it.

jamie hunterJamie Hunter is 26 year old ginger person from Hull. He’s a graphic designer and likes his job because he gets to sit down all day. When not sat down at work he likes to sit down in other places, like pubs and at home. He can be found on http://twitter.com/at_least_calais and also on Google Street View, walking down Chants Ave with a 4-pack of bog roll in his hand.