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The Beautiful Game

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Football, frankly, has never been my thing. From the early beginnings of my football experience, cold and shivering on a rock-hard football pitch at school with many other more naturally-talented football schoolfriends weaving their barely-formed skills around my big feet, I have never been a football fanatic. As far as I see it, a ball gets kicked around a pitch for 90 minutes, and it *might* go in a goal once or twice. Meanwhile, the sideshow involves who can fake injuries the best to get undeserved penalties. Where’s the fun in that?
My good friend Jac was always raving about it, and that only cemented my stance even more. Michelle is also a big fan – imagine her bad luck at landing one of the few men in the world that is anti-football. In some strange role-reversal, I sometimes end up being the football widow…
It turns out, however, that I’m not the only one. David Mitchell wrote an awesome article in The Guardian this weekend, expressing his bafflement at football’s enthusiasts. “I want a long rest from a game that never sleeps” expresses my feelings about the Beautiful Game in a way that only he can. Footballers, in my view, should down tools and take up a more worthwhile sport.
Like rugby.

I swear it’s all out of proportion

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On Saturday, I went to my second live football match. This, for anyone who knows me, is an astounding revelation and one that should be rightly yelled from the rooftops – or at least here on wibbler.com. However, there has been a piece of news that over the past few days has astounded me so much that instead I’m doing a little story splicing – and show why I think the world and its media are edging toward insanity.
So, the match. I’d never been to a football ground before, mainly because I have always had a passionate dislike of the over-promoted, money-leeching game. However, after four years of a football-loving girlfriend, I felt that it was about time I tried to understand it. Oli, the boyfriend of Michelle’s sister, managed to get us tickets for Queen’s Park Rangers, and off we all trotted up to White City yesterday afternoon to watch them play Nottingham Forest.
White City was the home of the QPR stadium – and my first impressions allowed me to put another area of London on my “Never Willingly Visit” list. The area is named after the neverending Prisoner-Cell-Block-H-style housing estate that stretches for miles. It is also the home of the BBC, and as I emerged from the tube station, as I was approached by a number of leafleters. “Want to protest against the Jerry Springer opera?” they asked. “No”, I muttered, thinking that they must be individual nutcases, intent on being the David to the BBC’s Goliath. I hurried past.
After visiting a local pub, we entered the ground, settling into our seats half an hour before the game began. The match was enjoyable – despite QPR being the wrong side of the 3-0 scoreline – but it is in the crowd’s reaction that my main thrust lies. For throughout the ninety minutes, abuse was hurled at any player who didn’t perform perfectly every time, and further abuse was dealt to those in the crowd who didn’t agree totally with the abusers point of view. Kids the age of 5 and 6 were at the ground, swearing their heads off because they thought it was the thing to do. Players were booed by the opposing supporters for anything they did and any player who dared to venture into a corner was attacked from both sides by the crowd. I can almost understand why footballers are paid so much. At least they can afford counselling.
However, it was an enjoyable day, full of tension, despair, fun with friends and a temperature that successfully kicked off round two of my neverending cold.
While yesterday’s match was in progress, the BBC was being hauled over the public coals for broadcasting an opera based on the Jerry Springer Show. A clever operatic idea, i thought – combine televisual guff with high-minded opera and cross a wide spectrum of viewers. Plus, the schedulers can wallow in being “edgy”. But the media and religious groups have been up in arms about the swearing and blasphemy – and true, there was substantial numbers of both, as I noticed when I watched the thing last night to see what all the fuss was about. It was, in reality, a clever spoof on the whole genre of chat shows, and remarkably funny in some parts. I also watched news coverage of the protests on ITV News just as it was being screened. A female protester was detailing how appalling the opera was, how no one should see it. And then the reporter asked if the protester had already seen it. The protester paused – and then said that she hadn’t. I’ll wager the majority of the protesters hadn’t seen even a second of it.
The media weren’t to be abated though and focused on the swear words, while the religious groups thrust their intimidating vective on the blasphemy. The Sun, of all people, managed to convey their disgust – this from a paper that dismisses the topless Page 3 girls as a “bit of harmless fun“. Which, of course, they are. Protests outside BBC studios ensued, BBC employees addresses and phone numbers were published on websites, causing them to go into hiding (“would these religious fanatics consider that Godly behaviour?” I wondered sarcastically) and the papers were all over the story like a rash.
So, how many swear words are we talking here? The Daily Mail announces, in an increasingly self-righteous tone, that it “has 8000 swear words”. That, firstly, is utter tosh. The number was miraculously reached, says the Mail, by “multiplying the number of profanities by the amount of people singing them”. In reality, and ignoring the fact that there’s a load of backing singers, the Mail on Sunday admits today that the real number is “under 300”.
And that’s considerably fewer than the number I and many seven year old children heard in just one of the football stands yesterday afternoon. And this happens up and down the country, every weekend. Not that I condemn it, of course – all that’s needed is a little perspective from those blinkered protesters.
So, if you want to stop your children swearing, as at least four protesters contended in their interviews yesterday, don’t protest in the freezing cold against a late night, once-shown programme. Just leave your kids at home when you next go to a football match.
UPDATE: Bloggerheads has some comments here, here and here. You go, Tim!

Alex’s Housewarming Party

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Alex M has moved house. Naturally, it was an excuse for an almighty piss-up, so Jonola, Michelle, Mark R and I descended on his new house. The gleaming, wrought-iron electronic gates that confronted us set the scene for things to come. Alex had described the house very positively – a huge farmhouse, extensive grounds, its own car park and a picturesque lake at the front. Time would tell whether this was the case, or whether it was just an enormous, delapidated wreck in the middle of nowhere, in need of a good lick of paint.
But anyway, back to the gate. Remembering Jac’s instruction to “just think of the Magna Carta”, I entered the correct code, and they slowly opened.
A quick drive down the road revealed that Alex’s description was spot on. It was an impressive find in the middle of Watford, even more so for ?750 a month. The lake, the outhouses, the barns, the large farmhouse, everything he’d mentioned was there. There were even some things he hadn’t mentioned. Like the coffins, cremated remains and several large headstones for example.
The party started off with a barbeque, which was only bought an hour before. The burgers and sausages sizzled, and soon enough Jac was to be found dropping most of his food on the grass, much to our delight.
Then, a new football keepy-uppy game. It was a good game – the ball is passed around, and the person who loses it the most gets to bend over and get a football aimed at him by the other players – but I seemed to be on a losing streak from the outset. However, Mark R got a sweetly-placed football on his posterior, which he seemed to enjoy immensely.
Jac, Mark and I then embarked on a mission to soak each other with a Super Soaker gun, so the rest of the group moved to the front of the house and decided a “homeless-style” fire was in order. We searched for a barrel to fill full of wood. It was then that we discovered, in a large barn, the coffin. And behind it, the headstones. Now, at 12 o’clock at night, in the pitch black, this is not something you really want to find. After bravely venturing in and running out screaming several times, we decided enough was enough, and found a barrel outside instead. Which, as it happens, was full of the most foul-smelling ash you could imagine. God knows what was burnt in there, but throwing caution to the wind I emptied it out. If it was a person’s remains, they are now happily sitting in the middle of a driveway, possibly being driven over every time a car passes. Apologies, Mr Burnt Man, I can only hope you didn’t ironically die in a car crash or something.
It later turned out that the building was used by the local synagogue for storing headstones and coffins, which they come along to collect every week. We rapidly reappraised the “bargain” that Alex had managed to find, and decided that a house without smelly ash, dark mysterious barns, headstones and coffins would be worth the extra loot.