Thursday, 1 March 2007

The White Album


Here's one I wrote earlier while running around Chennai, New Delhi and Mumbai last year during the World Cup. It's about football and yet it has nothing to do with football. I originally wanted to leave it as a post here, hoping to win the world record for a comment, and as a tribute to surely one of the best bloggers ever. But it will do just fine for the first post on punk planning, as it has nothing to do with planning, and yet that's all it's about.
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England’s strongest side since 1966 they said. The newspapers did, mates who actually watch football and know a thing or two constantly reminded me in the run up to the tournament. It was all over the interweb, the TV pundits sang victory in unison, and even the Go-Go dancers at Long Gun on Soi Cowboy knew that England had a chance of raising the cup and for a fleeting second wink at the world and say, ‘see, told you we’re the best’.
Well anyway, we’ve still got our sense of humour. I mean its official, now that we lost on penalties again. We can just come out of the closet and say it with pride. So here goes: “We haven’t come close to raising the world cup for 40 years have we?” But anyway, it doesn’t matter because we’ve got the most expensive players in the world, easily the most loved teams on the planet and Becks is soooo good looking.

Once every four years whether I like it or not, I take football quite seriously. The world cup neatly synchs with me on this one, and I really love the opportunity to call up my mates, who think I’m a bit gay anyway, and say ‘did you watch the footy last night?’ I really enjoy the banter but now it’ll probably be 2010 before you catch me being a real lad again. I’ll be over 40 too.

Anyway it’s a real opportunity to bond because most of the time I’m either waffling on about geo-politics or psycho-babble nonsense such as how football enables lots of men to get together and talk to each other with passion, without anyone getting suspicious or a bit nervous as to intent. Apparently we used to get well revved up on politics and religion in the olden days, but just you try getting a conversation going about those things and people will think you’re plain weird. Honest they really do.

Where was I? Oh yes; our strongest team since LBJ arranged for Kennedy to be shot in Texas. Well I kept quiet in the build up to the tournament about England’s form, because I hadn’t watched a game for four years and frankly, for just a little while, after that first goal in the first seconds, of our first match of the world cup, by David Beckham (he’s so handsome) I thought we might be up for it. The goal was awesome and felt a bit like an early omen, a taste of things to come. Maybe we had what it takes to go all the way. This could be our time, and even if football wasn’t coming home, at least the cup was and that’s what counts.

I wasn’t impressed though when I watched the strongest side since the Second World War struggle to convincingly demolish a team that allegedly are a dab hand at playing the pan pipes when chilling out after a hot and sweaty game of footy in Ecuador (is that near the equator? Nobody seemed quite sure). I said it then and it didn’t go down well in the semi-quasi hostess bar we piled into to watch the match but my early observation was, I thought the England team looked a bit crap!

Anyway, give ‘em a chance I thought. Let the team coalesce naturally instead of the forced structuring of the national squad mash-up. And anyway Grubby’s new Elvis quiff-with-highlights was looking good, Ads was yelling at Sven on the telly we crowded around, for doing the wrong four-four-whatever formation while Rez lapped up having a really good reason to sink a few cleansing ales because he’s usually a Starbucks kind of guy. Oh, and I almost red-carded myself for losing it with Saggy who snagged my seat at half time unaware we’d tipped up two hours early to get the good ones. Cheeky Indians!

Which reminds me! I started to think about this piece in the Austin Healy style taxi I’d jumped into this morning from one of those painfully hip hotels on the way to Delhi airport where I was going to catch a sexy air India flight to Bombay or Mumbai as it’s officially known. The hotel was one of those Soviet architectural affairs that the Indians had a major fling with a few decades ago. Actually I loved the interior; all Indian baubles and modernist design but way overstaffed by folks in faux Issey Miyake uniforms and way under serviced in a how-long-does-it-take-to-get-the-attention-of 8 employees standing around doing nothing. But that’s got nothing to do with footy, and yet everything, when I get onto it, which is why I’m writing this.

It’s the evening and I’d better crack on or I’ll never get round to the point, but as I was writing this by pen on the plane, I felt embarrassed by my handwriting, as it is so awful these days because I rarely write. It feels all disjointed and clumsy and takes loads of effort. I predict that handwriting will go out of fashion one day. Voice to text seems the obvious way and I feel kind of sentimental for those who have really beautiful handwriting and write charming notes on lovingly selected stationary, but I bet no one is going to miss my awful handwriting. Particularly me while I’m trying to type them up.

Where was I? Ah yes the most formidable England squad since Neil Armstrong landed on the moon, partition of India and Pakistan and The Coronation. Enough of that, our first match was just awful, a real turkey of a game but the second was sheer torture because practically none of the questionable gang of assembled chums could say absolutely certainly where Costa Rica was. I’d had a few tasty Chang beers but that was no excuse for not really knowing so I was plumping for The Americas somewhere between Nicaragua and Puerto Rico. I had to play it cagey because planners have a rep to keep up and I thought it was a better pick than the Africa option that was being floated at one point. It’s tricky when taking into account skin colour, the slave trade and surely the best thing about globalisation; all sorts of ethnic groups, in the England squad. Not many Indians but more on that later.

Well, looking at our football group, I had to say that England were well-lucky. We were by far the easiest group to be in, apart from the game with Sweden that was lined up. I was semi relaxed about that one as Sven Goran Eriksson is our manager and as luck would have it (or design) we drew that match and nobody's feelings got hurt. That plus Erik didn’t take his work home or vice versa.

Anyway, after that dismal first match, I’d become a really good football pundit with loads of experience. I started to defend Peter Crouch. From what I had seen he worked harder, covered the whole pitch, was good in a tight corner, created opportunities and put the other lot on the back foot most of the time. Just because he looks a bit spastic doesn’t mean he isn’t a great football player. The boys as I’d started calling them since the start of Germany 2006 completely ignored me and kept going on about some robot dance that all real fans knew about. All I could think was we used to do that that dance when Kraftwerk unleashed Das Model on the world, and that was a very long time after The Beatles and the Swinging Sixties or say 1966.

Incidentally I once worked in 1995 as a kitchen helper at a very expensive Hollywood restaurant on Melrose with a bunch of illegal alien Mexicans who spoke no English except for two words when they found out that I was; “The Beatles" and "Hooligans”. Amazingly hard workers, they earned less dollars than me because I was a white boy, even though I’d never had any more experience than peeling onions at a Pizza Hut in Sutton in the very late 80’s and landed the job for preparing the Hollywood Bowl take-away set-dinners at 80 Bucks a pop. I learned as much Mexican as I could to show them they could pick up English too if they tried, but these days I only remember them saying ‘Mucho trabajo poco de nero’ which means lots of work and little money or something close.

To keep on top of things, all top chefs in Hollywood speak fluent Mexican if they want to run a tight ship. Which reminds me, weren’t Mexico looking a bit dangerous at one point in the World Cup? Anyway, back to England. “The finest side to be fielded since Sexy Sadie (what have you done?), made a fool of everyone on the White Album. That was a long time before robot dancing for the record.

So it’s not really a nice thing to say, and even though Beckham is really dishy and I don’t want to hurt his feelings, I thought England were really shit in the second game where the average monthly wage of our opponents was I think about 150 Bucks. This was the price of a couple of Hollywood takeaway lunch sets in the mid 90’s when I was doing my degree. Well maybe everyone has forgotten but Sven was definitely losing the plot, pulling at his hair from the sidelines, frantic even, and then the first sign of how England moves in mysterious ways kind of came to me.

Wayne, who loads of people say is the best player for England since George Best, was taken off the substitute bench in a sure sign of desperation, because he had a broken meta thingy, that had now suddenly miraculously healed! He came on after a few minutes of prowling on the sidelines and looking quite menacing. All of a sudden a few minutes into his game, Crouchy headed an awkward number in and even though it wasn’t a classically beautiful goal, I’m sure every English fan around the world collectively kissed him for putting us out of the misery of being pinned down to a draw in the second half, by a poor country with a population of possibly 83 people.

Quickly after this goal, I picked up the name Gerrard, who had suddenly poked a stunner in the back of the net from what looked like not to far away from the half way line. Apparently they all do these types of goals, week in and week out in the league but to me it looked like every reason to love the world cup every four years. A night or so later I was thinking about this in bed and reflecting much more than I ever usually do or even ever did about football and England in 1966, about things that we’re good at, stuff we’re not good at and about Wayne. The really nice Asian chap on BBC World News who was World Cup fever mad, and was my most trusted and convincing media pundit said something about Wayne showing all the early signs of a "legend". It was a probably said in a moment of rational(sic) exuberance but as my most trusted footy expert I had to square the circle, and figure out what he meant.

Incidentally this flight has been circling Mumbai airport for ages now and the pilot who definitely sounded like he was having a pulmonary over the PA said the weather had been too dangerous to land earlier. It’s the first time I’ve ever heard that, and we’re three hours late on a two hour delayed flight so I took a look out the window as we descended, which is usually worth doing in any new destination, and something equally terrifying caught my eye. I’ve seen the most hardcore slums, but as we dropped into the view of Bombay, something out of the Silmarillion emerged in my line of sight. Really scary and growing like black fractal trippy growths on hill after hill, and even poking out in ways that huts can only do after years and years of organic but filthy accumulation and temporary fixes of wood, metal and plastic, there’s not much concrete in real slums funny enough. Anyway, really black, really scary they were; easily beating Ethiopia’s and Burma’s worst housing. I have to get out there some day. I need to take a closer look. Yes, really scary; I quite like it when something feels so new it’s frightening. It’s like a legal high I guess.

Sorry, I’m really off on one, so back on topic. To me, Wayne, our best striker since the transistor was invented, hardly touched the ball when he came on, and when he did, it wasn’t that special. Okay so at least two players were closely marking him at any one point, but didn’t Maradona always do his stuff at least once a game? Then it occurred to me (because after all, it’s all about me) that both those goals in the second match happened when Rooney came on. Rooney the fans chanted, Sven sent Rooney on, not Wayne, and it was Rooney that the England squad got all psyched up about. Enough to score two goals within minutes, of what had up until then been an awful match with a country we couldn’t pinpoint on a map. Then a possible solution came up. Maybe a football legend was just as much about psychology as reality. At this point Costa Rica faltered and yet it was only later that it felt like Wayne was on the pitch and not Rooney. I hatched a theory that even if Rooney was not that good, or Wayne was much better than average; as long as we poked goals into the back of the net who cares if it was Wayne Rooney or not? Maybe England is more inspiration than perspiration. I mean apart from the industrial revolution and that whole feudal society gig. But we didn’t play great international football back then either. Even that notable game between the trenches in the First World War seems more poetic than tragic penalty shoot outs.

But what’s most important is that while I watched us lose in that funky Delhi Hotel, the thing I was most struck by were the Indians wildly cheering on Portugal with a vengeance. Never mind that the railways or say the civil service are two decent legacies that the awful empire slinked away from. It was England that was up for a bashing that night and I don’t know why but I feel it’s related to our multi-culti football team that has never had any Indians, ever! But one thing I know about Indians. They sure do kick English ass on the cricket pitch.