Thursday, December 15, 2011

The Story of my First Semester in UL

Part 2: Beginning, Brotherhood, Becoming

...Maybe my preconceptions about the youth of today were misguided. A barely concealed loathing of anyone under the age of 25 had become something that I’d made a part of me. “Look at them there with their Converse runners and their ironic quiffs they think they’re so clever”, I’d think to myself as I watched them loitering around with little or no intent. “They wouldn’t have lasted five minutes in my day”, I’d mutter as I walked past the array of freaks, geeks and not so chics without once realising that I was experiencing what every single person on this earth does when faced with the prospect of being usurped by a new generation. It was natural for me to detest these bright eyed young hopefuls; after all they had everything I once had. And just like me many of them would go on to squander it in the manner of someone who truly believes they will never get old. Youth is wasted on the young they say, well try telling that to this mob.

But really I’m not that old and as my first brief encounter with the younger members of my class had proven they aren’t so young either. The gap between us was surprisingly small and once I’d adjusted to their tendency to become over animated at the mere drop of a hat I found that these people weren’t all that different to me. They were ever so excitable though and like a dog kennel roused from its slumber once one puppy started yapping they were all it! During these moments I simply found myself a quiet corner and watched events unfold before me as these exuberant Homo sapiens went about disproving every theory that Darwin had worked so hard to uncover.

Before long though we were one big happy family but rather than the traditional mother, father and 2.3 children I likened us to a troop of mountain gorillas. You had the quiet authority of the silverbacks (us matures), the playful vigour of the young males and the matriarchal, caring young females who at times kept their distance from the group at large for fear of being rutted to death. It really couldn’t have been any better and all the fears I’d brought with me were assuaged within a matter of days. The kids are alright I said to myself, well who woulda thunk it! However this was just in the college environment and as I vowed never to accompany the young primates on a night of debauched indulgence I could only speculate as to how they behaved away from the confines of the institute of learning.

So now that I was among a jolly good bunch of people and was in the process of making friendships which I hoped would last for years it was time to turn my attention to the main point of me being here. The learning and stuff. I want to be a journalist and that is unlikely to ever change but I suppose it is unrealistic to expect a four year degree course to consist of journalistic training and nothing else. So along with my compulsory journalism modules I was charged with picking two other electives from what has to be said was a pretty sorry looking list. Languages were out from the off. I don’t do ‘repeat after me’ unless I’m in the dock or at church (for the record I’m neither holy nor criminal). Economics. What’s that? Something to do with business is it? No thanks. History? Didn’t do it in school so figured it was pointless. Law? Apparently there’s a lot of memorising invo.....stop right there. Which left me with Sociology and Politics. Hmmm.

Looking back I’m more than content with my choice of electives. But given the fact that my decision was based on nothing more than whimsy I cannot take any credit for it. Sociology, or the ‘study of nothing’ as some have labelled it, proved to be occasionally intriguing, infrequently infuriating, but mostly just fine. Politics, which I was more hesitant about, turned out to be quite a revelation thanks to in no small part the epic nature of the lectures provided by a Mr. Neil Robinson. Those lucky enough to be present during one of his oratory performances will attest to the man’s magnificence as he regaled us all with his distaste of the feats of Margaret Thatcher among others. This wasn’t like any learning I’d encountered before. The emphasis was on us to take what we could from each and every lecture and I was determined to grab every little morsel I could. I think I went almost six weeks before I missed a lecture which even by mature standards must be pretty extreme. Oh how I laughed as some of new friends gently chided me for being so committed and dared to call me a nerd. I’d had more than enough of being cool and if it was nerdy to dedicate myself to my studies then a nerd I was.

It all seemed so easy. The few assignments that we’d got were delivered back with no little haste or effort and I could have been forgiven for thinking that this whole college lark was a doddle. However a concurrent theme throughout these early offerings was the need to ‘cite it right’ when it came to doing our end of term assignments. At first I struggled to understand the entire concept of academic writing and the referencing system. “Let me get this straight, you want me to quote someone else’s work in my writing? Why on earth would I do that? Sure whose opinion could possibly be more relevant than my own”! But like the assiduous student that I was I agreed to play it their way and endeavoured to ensure I cited every single fuckin thing right. But Christ was it torturous. I realise that we have it so much easier than those who went before us and that referencing online material is so much easier than traipsing around the library looking for that one book which may or may not contain all you desire, but having been accustomed to writing in a manner which could be loosely described as ad hoc I found it to be a somewhat demoralising experience.

In comparison to other courses I got off lightly though and if a few nights spent hunched over my laptop decrying the lack of relevant material on why the Mafia should be classed as a subculture was to be the worst of it then eternal gratitude was mine. There was another source of tears however and if there was one module which I fully failed to comprehend then it had to be Shorthand. In theory it sounded like a perfect part of any journalist’s armoury. The ability to write words at the speed of light was surely not to be scoffed at. Then I got into the class. “How the fuck can that be an M, it’s just a straight line”?!? The lines of reality became blurred as we were told that this array of squiggles and scrawls were not what they appeared. At times I wondered if she was just making it all up and we were the victims of an elaborate ruse but I pushed such thoughts aside and managed to do enough to just get by. What was that I was saying about being a dedicated student?

As I write I’ve just finished the last exam of my first semester in UL. As exams go they weren’t too bad but of course their true nature will only be fully revealed upon receipt of my results. In many ways I feel like I can’t fully assess this semester until I know how I fared academically. But the truth is that although my grades will reflect many things about my first stanza at the University of Limerick the real story is one that it is impossible to express in mere numbers and letters. It may be overly sentimental and schmaltzy of me to admit this but the truth of the matter is that I feel extremely fortunate to have been given this opportunity at this stage in my life. At certain points I observe the younger crowd and find myself once again casting envious glances in their direction as they make plans for the night ahead, enjoying the full college experience as it’s meant to be enjoyed. But I console myself with the fact that that point in my life has passed and now I’m just here for the learning.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

The Story of my First Semester in UL

Part 1; Application, Acceptance, Actualisation

As I shuffled downstairs to check the morning post I spotted it from afar. Even from that distance it looked suspicious and it certainly wasn’t a bill, some junk mail or a letter from An Taoiseach asking me round for some tea and biccies. As I approached the bundle of envelopes there could be no doubt, it was for me and the insignia on the letter told me it was the one I’d been waiting for. In the few seconds it took me to ascend the stairs and re-enter my flat I looked for clues. It felt quite weighty was that a good or a bad thing? Surely a rejection letter would be short and concise? Look just open the fuckin thing and stop torturing yourself I thought to myself. I carefully prised the envelope open and slipped out the sheet at the forefront; my eyes scanned the page.....”Dear is with have been accepted”. Accepted! Accepted!!! There it was. One simple word. A word which was about to change my life completely.

I can’t quite pinpoint the exact moment when I decided that heading to college as a mature student was something I wished to do. Having endured a period of my life which, to put it mildly, had been a test of my resolve I suppose you could say I was a changed man and with that change came a desire to finally do something worthwhile with myself. I’d reached the age of 32 with little to show for it other than some bittersweet memories and a world weary air more common amongst men twice my age. But I wasn’t ready to throw in the towel just yet so at a time of my life when many of my friends were settling down and beginning the long, slow descent into mid life misery I took the decision to (excuse me while I go all American) ‘follow my dreams’.

Again the details are quite hazy when I try to recall why I chose UL as the place to begin this exciting new chapter in my life. But I knew I didn’t fancy heading to Dublin, I’ve never liked our capital so shoot me, and many of the other options were too far North for a chap bred in the sunny South East. Everything about UL seemed perfect and the few doubts I had were allayed when the tentative email I sent to the course leader was answered not only promptly but with a great degree of warmth and courtesy to boot. So with my mind made up I set about applying for a place in Journalism and New Media at the University of Limerick. The application process was as thorough and long winded as I’d expected with every last detail of my life documented and accounted for. At one point I was half expecting a request to attend my local garda station for a full cavity search but thankfully this didn’t transpire.

But filling out application forms, however convoluted, is easy; the first big hurdle I would have to negotiate was to be the interview. Funnily enough I’ve never really been that afraid of interviews, although this may have a lot to do with the fact that I’ve never really applied for anything I really wanted before now. But it went without saying that this was a biggie. So after an early morning panic about the creases in my suit jacket and a longer than was comfortable wait outside the torture chamber I was confronted by the previously friendly course leader and one of his cohorts. It was clear from the off that they had agreed on a good cop/bad cop routine with me apparently cast as the pleading felon desperate for mercy. As a veteran of many cop shows this whole scenario was second nature to me and I dealt with it like a true pro. By tossing charming asides and winning smiles at the good cop and heartfelt pleas and earnest eyes at the bad cop I thought I’d done enough, but I would have course have to wait.

So with the waiting over and this joyous letter in my hands what do I do next? Having informed loved ones of the exciting news and listened to them get all emotional the enormity of what I was about to embark upon suddenly dawned on me. Four years of my life. Usually I’m loathe to even agree on a time to meet up with friends for a drink and here I was committing myself to something which I had no way of knowing whether I’d like or not. But being a changed man and all I quickly cast aside any misgivings and readied myself for what I hoped would be the start of something special. First up was of course moving to Limerick city. Now you’d have to be a special kind of imbecile not to be aware of the reputation of Limerick city but how bad could it be I thought as I settled in for my first night in my new flat. The answer? Not bad at all. Sorry to disappoint you but I quickly discovered that apart from a few shady night time characters and a way of speaking similar to that of a Cork person on crack Limerick suited me just fine. All that was left now was the college bit.

First up was the mature student induction. The opportunity to familiarise myself with the campus in advance of the braying youths arriving the following week was one I was grateful for and as I took my seat in the lecture hall I noted with some pleasure the amount of greying and balding heads in the vicinity. The induction itself was a fairly tame affair and it seemed that its main aim was to make us form some sort of vigilante mature student gang in preparation for the upcoming war against our younger contemporaries. The emphasis was clearly on making sure that we stuck together and repelled the advances of these beer sodden, unhygienic scamps who would be intent on relieving us of not only our knowledge but also the clothes off our back should we not be careful. Well bring it on I thought, let these little shits come at me and to quote Omar from the Wire “they best not miss”.

So it was with this mindset that I was to meet my classmates for the first time. Let it not be said that UL doesn’t ensure its students are well prepared for their time at the college as in addition to my mature student induction I now had to undergo an orientation day. Although my tone may appear a little mocking I would like to point out that both the induction and orientation, not to mention the whole first seven weeks campaign, were beneficial in not only allowing me to gain a vague idea of the campus layout but also in giving me the opportunity to gain some early allies in the forthcoming war against the little ‘uns. The orientation saw me grouped together with a handful of the people who were to make up the Journalism and New Media vintage for 2011. A couple of other matures instantly put me at ease but to my surprise it appeared that the few younger students in our group weren’t the rampaging, odious buffoons I’d been warned about but were instead quite civilised young adults capable of holding intelligent conversations without once referring to Glee or whatever it is the little bastards are into these days.

To be continued....................

Friday, November 11, 2011


Well? Are you?

Traditionally there has been many ways to prove your manliness, or earning ‘man point’s to give it a modern cultural reference. Building things with your bare hands, opening stubborn condiment jars, drinking to excess with little notable effect, single-handedly feeding the hungry masses with your amazing barbeque skills or kicking seven shades of shit out of each other after closing time on a Saturday night were all regarded as suitable ways of separating the wheat from the chaff at one point, but not anymore. Over time things have changed and it’s no longer enough to dismantle a car engine, light a match off your stubble and roar off into the sunset on your motorcycle if you wish to impress on people just how much of a guy’s guy you are.

True, all those activities are still likely to elicit murmurs of barely concealed arousal from certain females in the vicinity but they’re just as likely to see you labelled any manner of derisory terms also. You see it’s not enough for us to behave like Neanderthals and expect to sling a menstrual maiden over our shoulders anymore, now we’ve got to have feelings and stuff. Not only that, we also have to look good whilst doing so. But let us not blur the lines and imagine that the idea of men spending hours on their appearance is a relatively new phenomenom. Look at those dandies from the 19th century, how did their wives ever get near the bathroom?! Right through history the male of the species has always had an innate desire to look their best and although it might seem like those ponces in pink are going that one step too far they’re just following in the footsteps of ancestors who continually pushed the boundaries of the fashion world.

But amidst all this metro sexuality there’s one accessory item which has divided opinion almost from its inception. It is at once practical and pretty, fetching and fey and is likely to garner as many nods of approval from men in horn rimmed glasses as guffaws from gangs of garrulous girls. You can possess hair styled in the manner of a tropical parrot, clothes more garish than Joseph’s amazing Technicolor dream coat and exude an aroma similar to that of a 1920’s brothel just before opening time and still be considered one of the lads but woe betide anyone who goes that one step further and takes possession of this one item which will instantly see their sexuality brought into question. So what am I talking about then? Those dapper scarves which serve absolutely no purpose whatsoever? Nope. The myriad of multi coloured bracelets which adorn many the arm of today’s young men? Nope. ‘Wacky’ underwear proclaiming the feats of iconic superheroes? Certainly not! I’m talking about something as simple as a vestibule for carrying those items which you simply can’t do without on a day to day basis. I’m talking about the man bag.

There’s not many things which women have that make me jealous, well maybe their breasts but that’s for another time, but the fact that they can have bags full of mysterious delights whilst us poor plebs have to cram everything into our ill-fitting pockets has always been a bugbear of mine. What do they have in those bags of theirs? On the rare occasions that I’ve managed to sneak a glance into one of said bags all I’ve seen is endless junk masquerading as useful items. Next time you’re out and about in the presence of lady folk have a quick look in their unattended handbag and see can you make any sense of it all, go on try it. It’s like a war zone in there as a handful of discernible items desperately try to free themselves from the cesspit of carnage which they’ve become trapped within. I once attempted to carefully place my hand inside one of these bags before quickly withdrawing it just as the slavering jaws of some feral beast sought to liberate me of one of my fingers!

So why can they have knapsacks full of what quite frankly is nothing more than rubble while we have to go about our day in constant discomfort thanks to our keys accidentally grazing our nether regions through their temporary home in our pockets. That’s what the creator of the man bag must have thought and fair fuckin played to him I say. We have stuff too you know. It might not have the same levels of importance as those bits of paper with illegible writing on them that ladies have but it’s important nonetheless and it needs a suitable means of transport. Thus the man bag was born and from almost the first moment I saw one I wanted one. No longer would I carry my newspaper under my arm all day, yearn for a blast of Nivea dry impact to soothe my perspiring pits, wake up all furry mouthed at an impromptu session and curse my lack of a toothbrush or attempt to smuggle a bottle of an ambitious sized spirit into a nightclub. Life would be different now.

So as you do I mentioned to a few mates over a pint or two my fondness for these bags for men and my ultimate intention to purchase one. Such was the reaction I may as well have informed them that I was planning a fortnight’s holiday at Michael Barrymore’s house with Julian Clary and Graham Norton as my fellow companions. Once the array of limp wristed actions and high pitched voices had died down I enquired as to what exactly was the problem. “They’re for gays”, came the erudite response. Now I consider my friends to be a quite liberal minded bunch so this blunt retort was wholly unexpected and my new position as group pariah an uncomfortable one. “Well I like them”, I meekly replied, but in my heart of hearts I knew I could never get one now. How manbags had gained this affiliation with the more camp element of the fashion world was unbeknownst to me. But I instantly understood that any attempt to purchase even the most manly of man bags would have me looking over my shoulder in anticipation of not only insults from uber-hetero blokes, but also lascivious looks from those who saw my man bag as a symbol of my rather gay intent.

At this point I feel I should insert the requisite “I’m not a homophobe” disclaimer, although the fact that I’m willing to talk with such frankness about my desire to own a man bag should be proof enough of my liberal minded nature I hope. But as liberal minded as I am I still couldn’t bring myself to buy one of those bags no matter how practical it appeared. I was haunted by my friend’s jibes and feared an incessant volley of insults rendering me nothing more than a shell of a man with only his man bag to soothe his broken heart. But wouldn’t a real man just buy the fuckin bag and not care what people think? Go on get that bag, cram it with your bloke’s stuff and to hell with the haters! I considered this, weighed up all the options with the end result being that I wasn’t a real man. I was fine with this but what I wasn’t fine with was continuing having to carry my worldly belongings in just a few pitiful pockets.

But just when I thought all hope was lost and I was destined to eye those brave, real men with ever increasing envy fate dealt me a quite fortunate hand. There was many great things about heading to college as a ‘mature student’ to finally fulfil my dreams of writing nonsense such as this for a living but one that I never foresaw was the chance to become a proud man bag owner! In the weeks leading up to my first day at big boy’s school it suddenly dawned on me that I’m going to need somewhere to store the endless textbooks, notepads, pens and folders which I would surely need. Now’s my chance I thought with glee. Not for me a sturdy backpack to fill with college gear. No, I was getting a man bag, and the best thing was it was ‘for college’ so no one could accuse me of going all soft.

I now have my man bag and I’ve never been happier. It fulfils its primary purpose of storing my daily college necessities whilst also doubling up as a perfect means of ensconcing any other vital items I may need to call upon throughout my day. Fear of reprisal is nonexistent in this brave new world as us liberal minded learners wouldn’t dream of judging someone purely based on what accessories they flaunt. As I and my man bag strut proudly around campus I see nothing but other proud carriers going about their day with the contented air of someone who can call upon an array of suitably secreted sandwiches should they so wish. I know I’m one of the lucky ones and there are many other suffering men out there terrified to take this biggest of steps. But my advice to you is don’t make the same mistakes I did, don’t take the coward’s option, don’t apply for college just so you have an excuse and don’t allow yourself to look back on your life and curse the fact you never had the cojones to get a man bag. Because real men wear man bags. And I’m a real man. Finally.

Friday, October 28, 2011

That's bad for you y'know

Why can't they just let us eat ourselves to death in peace!!

Reports from a recent study by the Department of Health and Wellbeing have found that too much oxygen is bad for you. The studies found that on average humans inhale up to 20% more of the element than the recommended daily amount and if this situation is to continue the repercussions could be quite dramatic. Although previously thought to be the main reason for the sustainment of life on Planet Earth it now appears that, amongst other things, oxygen lowers sperm count, raises cholesterol and worst of all can lead to excess flatulence if inhaled incorrectly. However help is at hand as boffins at the research facility have promised to undertake a massive advertising campaign to educate us all about the dangers of ‘over breathing’ and how to regulate the amount of oxygen you take in on a daily basis.

Okay so things aren’t quite that bad just yet but if a story of that nature appeared in your morning paper would you really be that surprised?  You can’t move nowadays for stories warning of the dangers of eating this or drinking that as the nanny state attempts to drain the last remaining drop of enjoyment out of our lives completely. If you were to follow the advice of each and every scaremongerer your daily diet would most likely consist of the following, a glass of red wine (obviously), one egg, 125 grams of Broccoli, a grapefruit, some oily fish, two squares of dark chocolate and an arrangement of nuts and berries foraged fresh from the hills that very morning. Doesn’t exactly cause you to salivate at the mouth now does it? But if this is what they’re telling us to eat then who are we to argue!

So having followed all of this advice and merrily marched around Tesco filling your basket with foods deemed ok by the powers that be you get home and set about making a meal which will hopefully extend your life expectancy by about four minutes. You carefully scrutinise the ingredients of each and every item, tot up your carb count and compile the allowed percentages of various words which you can’t pronounce before declaring yourself content with your dish. The wok gets put on the hob and you ready yourself for a meal which even a malnourished rabbit would turn its nose up at. But then just as you’re getting ready to serve up you overhear a conversation on the radio, “God I’d never serve artichokes to my children sure aren’t they full of fliocasides......”. Fliocasides?! What the hell are they? You salvage the artichoke package from the bin and right enough there it is in black and white, fuckin fliocasides. With a resigned air you switch off the oven, empty the contents of the wok into the bin and vow to eat nothing but Goji  berries until told otherwise.

How on earth did we survive before we had nutritionists, mentalists and meddling idiots telling us what we can and can’t eat on a daily basis? More importantly how did our parents and their parents before them survive? My grandmother lived to be 85 and I can guarantee you she never saw an artichoke or a glass of cranberry juice in her entire life. Back then there was no point in warning about the health risks in certain food as they only had a choice of about eight different things, and that’s only if you counted mashed, boiled and roast spuds as three separate items. People reaped their crops, milked their cows and murdered their animals before sitting down to hearty dinners of meat and two veg and everybody was happy. An egg a day is okay? They’d laugh in your face and nearly choke on their boiled egg sandwiches before heading home for an omelette with some scrambled egg for dessert.

Regardless of what decade you were brought up in you were told to ‘eat your greens’ and that was fair enough, after all they were green and tasted like feet so they must have been good for you. But at some point during the last couple of decades, (probably around the same time we started eating Paninis), it became normal for media outlets to put a guilt trip on us for indulging ourselves. We’d only just gotten used to having a bit of variety and choice in our diets and straight away the miserable bastards wanted to ruin it for us. What do you mean Chinese grub is unhealthy, it’s full of vegetables!!! MSG?? Ah for Christ sake, I’ll just console myself with one of these tasty probiotic yogurts instead then. Brain cancer?! What?! And so it continues on and on and on. 

In fairness maybe they do have a point because little by little we’re turning into one big gargantuan tub of lard and anything that can be done to stop us hurtling towards messy Elvis type deaths is probably a good thing. Obesity is rampant in everywhere but the Third World and it’s almost as if mankind is sticking up a collective two fingers in the direction of the health freaks whilst scoffing their way to an early grave. So what does this say about us? That we don’t give a damn about what the scientists say? That’s true to a certain extent but perhaps the real truth isn’t that simple. It’s all very well telling us to eat fresh vegetables bathed in the tears of a new born baby whilst repeating the mantra ‘Asparagus cures all mans ails’ over and over again but this stuff doesn’t come cheap......and we’re all skint. I know that in the long run it’s cheaper to buy fresh produce and personally I do my level best to eat relatively healthily but when you see the likes of the aforementioned asparagus at the same price as two frozen pizzas and a Snickers bar is it any wonder most of us say sod it and take the easy option.

But if by some sort of miracle the nutritious and delicious foods of the world were suddenly made affordable to all of us would it really make any difference? Shorn of the too expensive excuse our devious minds would quickly find another reason to abdicate and before long the government would abandon the whole thing and reintroduce the old price arguing that we’re a shower of ungrateful morons. This is just human nature and something that will never change, we as a species are well versed in the notion that ‘if they say it’s bad for ya then it must be lovely’ and so the opposite must therefore be true also. Would heroin be so successful if it was stocked alongside the pistachio nuts in your local supermarket? Of course not! We’d quickly tire of its moreish charms and roam the streets at night desperately looking for that shady bloke who reputedly sells mandarins.

Never before have we been so well informed when it comes to what we eat and never before has there been such a wide variety of foodstuffs available to us. In a utopian society this would see millions of physically perfect people parading their chiselled torsos, sipping their flavour free health drinks and living to be 260 years old. But we as a species are a failure and along with destroying this pretty little home that God made for us we’re intent on destroying ourselves also. Well so the militant separatist groups that make anybody with a slight protuberance around their mid section feel like social outcasts would have you believe anyway. These health Nazis won’t be content until we’re all modern day Oliver Twists terrified to ask for some more.

Thankfully they’ll never win because capitalism just won’t allow them to. ‘Bad’ food is the most profitable legal drug trade in the world and every one of us is an addict on some level or another. There’s a lot of this food which probably only borders on the right side of legal and as Jamie Oliver proved we definitely shouldn’t be feeding it to our kids. But as with everything in life it’s just a matter of finding the right balance and not swinging too far one way or the other. Go on have that bag of Swiss triple chocolate chip cookies cos I know I will, but try not to have them the night after aswell. Try a few kiwis instead. They’re actually quite nice. It’s just common sense really and contrary to what the food Nazis think most of us possess plenty of it and can decide what we’d like to eat without being mollycoddled by those with supposedly superior knowledge. So the next time you hear some pompous, self-important preacher speak of the finer things in life just remember that their life is most likely a miserable procession of herbal teas and organic turnips and that while you’re tucking into your bumper pack of maltesers they’ll be sitting at home pondering the all too real prospect of dying miserable and alone thanks to their oh so healthy lifestyle.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

A substance more addictive than nicotine and morphine combined?

How I survived a week in the wild plains of yesteryear.

Recently I was temporarily consigned to a world without social interaction, a world without any joy whatsoever, a world devoid of entertainment and stimulation. No not Sligo somewhere far, far worse. For an entire seven days I resided in my dwellings without one of life's main essentials. I had running water, electricity and a bed to sleep in but at one point or another I would have gladly traded any of these (except electricity as you'll soon discover) for the one thing that I could not live without. I am of course talking about the internet. Moving house brings with it much upheaval and distress but lugging furniture up two flights of stairs pales in comparison to being essentially cut off from humanity. When you couple this trauma with the loss of television to boot you may begin to wonder how I even lived to tell the tale. But although there was some hairy moments I somehow managed to survive this torturous ordeal and in my opinion I'm a better man because of it.

During my hiatus in the twilight zone I relied heavily upon the oldest form of wireless communication, the radio. And it was with a wry smile that I listened to a story about how addiction to the internet is affecting the lives of the nation. Everything from the breakdown of marriages to the filing for bankruptcies can apparently be attributed to overuse of the internet and whereas at one time the blame could be solely aimed at males browsing 'specialist' sites it now seems that the women are just as bad. Endless hours spent tending virtual farms, and in the process presumably neglecting their real life equivalent ie; the homestead, has left the nation's husbands in a state of quandary as they attempt to iron their own shirts and, shock horror, cook their own dinners. It was never supposed to be like this, what happened to the idyllic picture on the box of that shiny new laptop which depicted a happy family browsing the web as one and having a jolly good time in the process? Instead that laptop has been swiftly joined by another due to 'Daddy hogging it' and now both Mammy and Daddy can be found hovering over a glowing screen till the small hours while their feral children rummage through the cupboards in the hope of finding even the smallest morsel of food to keep them from starving to death.

So while I chortled my way through this radio report and scoffed at the idea of feuding families seeking counsel to resolve their web warfare I noted with some satisfaction that I'd gone an entire 6 hours without any online usage and far from displaying the first signs of an addict deprived of his drug I was in fact thriving! There's nothing to this I thought as I reconnected with radio djs I hadn't listened to in years, cleared the backlog on my UPC box and read books at a voracious rate not seen since my childhood. So this is what my life was like before I spent every waking hour discussing inane conspiracy theories with complete strangers, discovering what happened to random celebrities from my youth and watching videos which by all rights should have horrified me but left me unfazed and apathetic. For the first time in years I felt liberated as I worried not about whether my several incisive yet scathing comments had received any responses on a football forum or whether my tweet telling Michael Owen to “just become a jockey if he loves horses so much” had roused a reaction and instead I went about my day with a head clear of such trifling matters safe in the knowledge that my presence amidst the world wide web would not be missed.

That was after the first day. By day two, a Saturday, I began to notice with no little distress that my daily routine had become disrupted due to this change in my circumstances. I sat down with my morning paper and regaled in the pleasures of sorting out the various sections in anticipation of an epic day gorging upon the work of the Guardian's finest. Within twenty minutes of finishing the sports section and moving onto the main paper I found myself becoming restless. I thought I felt a slight twitching in my left eye but ignored it and continued my perusal of places to visit in North Wales. The twitch became more pronounced and with it came an irrepressible urge to wiggle my fingers incessantly, what the hell was this? Was I turning into a werewolf? I again continued unabashed and resisted the urge to call my GP with these worrying symptoms. If only I could google them I thought absent mindedly to myself. The word Google struck me like a thunderbolt and with it the realisation that I wasn't morphing into something from a Wes Craven film but was in actual fact displaying the first signs of internet withdrawal symptoms. I needed a fix and I needed it bad but instead I found myself cut off from society reading the bloody paper and listening to Sile Seoige bang on about her childhood and how she...blah, blah, blah, blah.......fuck off Sile you insufferable bore!

What had happened? Within the space of 24 hours I'd gone from being at ease in a world without any online activities to someone who had begun to daydream about that lovely little red notification circle on facebook and the joys contained therein. Enough I said, stop being so weak you can do this . Had my twenty odd years on this earth before the advent of the internet been for nought. Was I now a slave to the whims of those who preyed upon impressionable souls like myself and insisted we live our entire lives online? Before my time in this abyss began I had vowed not to crumble by visiting an internet cafe and with a phone that I steadfastly refused to pay extra to use surfing the web I was left bereft and bereaved with no possible chance of redemption for the foreseeable future. I anxiously paced the floors of my flat and wondered what inanities were being discussed by those I knew only by their online monikers, I self indulgently wondered if anyone missed me pondering that if I died would those whom I only ever spoke to online ever become aware of my demise. In spite of myself it appeared that I was undergoing the first stages of withdrawal and in much the same way as those weaning themselves off heroin or alcohol experienced I was turning into a sweating, convulsing wreck with each passing moment. But unlike those attempting to eliminate poisonous toxins from their body I sought refuge in the knowledge that my addiction would soon be catered for as reconnection to the mainframe was only days away.

So having carefully overcome this slight bump in the road and regaining a sense of normality I recommenced my life of spartan frugality. And, football related news aside, I found that my initial comfort in existing on a steady diet of the wireless, printed word and the occasional dvd was not the result of a deceptive mind but in actual fact a highly enjoyable alternative lifestyle. Indeed after a couple of days I could honestly say that I never gave the internet and it's bountiful delights a moments thought as I readjusted to a way of living that only a few years ago was the norm. I could come over all schmaltzy and say that not interacting with people online meant that I rediscovered the joys of talking to people face to face and not hiding behind the safety of my keyboard all the time but that would be nonsense. Whether I was an internet addict or not was still up for debate but I vehemently denied any allegations that my online dalliances had altered my ability to interact with real life society in any way, shape or form. But was all of this just an illusory state of inner peace brought about by the mollifying fact that despite my relative comfort in an interactive free zone I would be back up and running in a couple of days and those books would be left gathering dust just as they were before?

So as UPC finally sorted their act out and set about installing my broadband / TV combination I sat pensively in the corner offering an air of insouciance whilst secretly urging them to 'hurry on so I can get back online'. With the door barely closed behind them the laptop was booted into life and my mind was taken to that place where time seems to lose relevance as minutes become hours, hours become aeons and before you know it it's time for bed. I hopped from facebook to my emails and back to facebook again, briefly perusing twitter on my way, posted countless inane comments on various forums and opened links that simply couldn't be ignored, and at the end of it all my mind had been reduced to pulp due to the continuous stream of disposable information that had been absorbed, processed and dispensed with little or no afterthought. It appeared I had learned nothing and my time in purgatory was to be nothing more than a brief interval in a life otherwise dominated by the power of the internet. But to my surprise I found that although the world wide web was invariably my first port of call upon settling down for the evening some of the things I'd sampled during my time away began to jostle for position in my life also. No longer was the radio something I only turned to in times in trouble as I made the musings of George Hook part of my daily routine. Sadly my saved programmes quickly began to stack up again on my UPC box and more than one unfinished book lay neglected on the coffee table but although these may have been signs of a rampant addiction I knew that if it came to it I could happily survive in a world sans internet and for that alone I was grateful.

The internet is a vital tool for each and every one of us in the 21st century, it's become such a crucial part of our lives that we've got to the stage where we simply can't live without it. But how many times have you sat down to do some serious work online only to find yourself led astray by the temptations of your favourite social networking sites? Unlike the feeling of completion that you experience upon turning the last page of a book, or even watching the credits roll at the end of a film, the internet is never ending and offers no tangible reward for the hours we frequently spend at its altar. Humans by our very nature are incessantly curious beings and it's this which make the web such an alluring prospect for us, rather than be restricted by the confines of books or television we can dictate how we wish to be entertained and if something doesn't keep us rapt for more than a couple of minutes then it's summarily dismissed and on we go. It's this kind of web usage which is at the root of any potential addiction and it could even be argued that the behavioural pattern displayed by these kind of users isn't too dissimilar to that of a strung out junkie chasing their new fix or a quivering alcoholic frantically searching the cupboards for that half empty bottle of Pernod. Melodramatic? Perhaps so. But if you too chortle at the idea of someone being addicted to something as trivial as the internet just try and live without it for a week and see how you fare.   

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Last Minute Shopping Rush Boosts UK Economy

Transfer Deadline Day and it could be your club........

The camera pans slowly on to the face of the maniacal white haired Scotsman. This looks serious, it could be a biggie. We pry our eyes away from the omnipresent yellow ticker for just one second and give the odious Jim White our full attention. He's played possum with us on many an occasion before but this time it'll be different. A British transfer record perhaps? Wesley Sneijder at Manchester Airport? What could it be? In the manner of a president solemnly addressing his citizens White carefully ruffles his sheets of paper, clears his throat, takes a deep breath and announces the news we've all been waiting for....”Reports just in.....our sources are telling us that........Burnley, yes Burnley.......have made a bid for Watford utitlity man....” his voice drifts away in the background as our hearts sink and we rebuke ourselves for being fooled again. How could we have been so gullible? This is a man who'd call a press conference for the opening of a pack of Hob Nobs and here we are in thrall to his every word on a bright Wednesday afternoon at the tail end of another disappointing summer. But it's transfer deadline day and even if there was a street party involving high kicking, high living samba dancers with liberal attitudes to clothing going on outside you still couldn't drag yourself away from the screen and that blasted yellow ticker.

Believe it or not there was a time when the wonder that is transfer deadline day didn't actually exist. Clubs were free to sign players all year round and did so at their leisure whether it was August 31st or a murky winter's evening slapbang in the middle of the season. But as ever the powers that be decided that this perfectly functioning state of affairs just wouldn't do and so in their infinite wisdom they did what they always do and tampered with it. The summer transfer window and it's cousin the shorter, but no less dramatic, winter transfer window were brought into effect at the turn of the century much to the bemusement of all involved in the game and with it came the advent of what we now know as transfer deadline day or TDD for short (how have Sky not adopted that acronym? It just rolls off the tongue!). At first managers tentatively utilised the window unsure of its mechanics not wishing to break any unforeseen, obscure rule or regulation. They did their utmost to ensure that all business was finalised well in advance of the closing date leaving only the moronic, the desperate and Harry Redknapp frantically scrambling for players at the very last. Oh how they laughed at the idea that this new fangled restriction would hamper their chances of success, “I've got a squad full to the brim with talent and by jove they'll last me all season you just wait and see”.

Fast forward a couple of months and an ashen faced Premier League manager stalks off the training ground having seen his inexperienced but precocious left back left in a crumpled heap by that lumbering ape of a centre forward who in all honesty should have retired at least two years ago. The gaffer storms into his office silently beckoning his first team coach inside as he does so. “Young Robinson has just done his metatarsal in training, do you know what that means?” The first team coach knows this is a rhetorical question but answers it just to fill the deadening silence filling the room. “We've got no fit left backs at the club Boss”. His superior barely hears him however as he is in the process of making a phone call, a desperate plea for help as it turns out. “Hello is this the FA?”..........”Can I speak to the chairman please?”...............”Well can I leave a message then?”...............”Ok, could you just ask if there's any possibility, any whatsover, that I could perhaps be given clemency to sign a player outside of the transfer window?”...........”Yes, yes I know all that but just ask him...please?”...................................”Why not?”....................”What the hell would you know you're just a secretary!!!”................”NO I WILL NOT LOWER MY VOICE, DO YOU REALISE I'VE GOT NO FIT LEFT BACKS AT MY CLUB, WELL? DO YOU?!?!?!.....And so it begins.

Once the dawning realisation that the squads they were equipped with come the end of each respective window were the ones they'd be left to face battle with for the duration the managers promptly changed tack. Like a bunch of guilt ridden husbands who'd forgotten their wives birthdays they hastily snapped up any old item from the shelves not even stopping to check it's sell by date or whether it had been previously mishandled. All rational was lost as players were bought, traded and loaned with abandon and some of us were even moved to feel a slight tinge of sympathy for these pampered millionaires whose futures were being toyed with before our very eyes. Whilst the managers, players and most importantly the paymasters were desperately unhappy with this new state of affairs for everyone else it was an absolute hoot. Us supporters got more drama condensed into these manic few days than many of us would witness over the forthcoming season. Print journalists merrrily spun ever more fanciful tales with little possibility of reproach, a strike rate of one accurate story out of twenty was considered informed reporting during this fevered time. Those in the Sky Sports News studios had an absolute ball and the scramble to see the roster for the closing week of August saw Vicky Gomarsall almost trampled to death by the over eager Mike Wedderburn. But as is the case in most walks of life the ones who benefited most were those who deserved it the least.

To be a football agent during the closing days of a transfer window must be like entering a nightclub, surveying the scene, and realising that you're the only bloke amongst scores of 'up for it' women, everyone wants a piece of you. Most Premier League managers will tell you that agents are the scourge of the game and most view them as a necessary evil which must be negotiated when procuring the services of a player. But come TDD these footballing pariahs are in high demand, no longer are their dubious activities questioned by a single soul as even the very top bosses bite their tongue and dial the number filed under 'meddling tosser' in their phones. Of course agents lap this up and take great pleasure in playing clubs off against each other in the hope of acquiring even more unwarranted cash for they and their client. But it's not just the agents who play hard ball, club chairmen wholeheartedly get in on the sordid act and hike prices up to ridiculous levels in the hope of ensnaring a manager at the end of his tether after several dozen rebuttals. Instead of tying up all their business in the early months of summer and heading off to sun themselves in foreign lands managers choose to play a dangerous game of russian roulette leaving themselves open to the possibility of waking up on September 1st with nothing more than a dead phone battery and a second rate Venezualan winger that they don't even remember signing.

But the question asked more than any other during this time is why leave it till the last day? Yes we know there's the possibility of last minute bargains aplenty, the chance that stubbornly hard headed chairmen might suddenly relent and that wantaway stars may have an unexpected change of heart and committ their future to the club, but really would it not just save a lot of hassle if everyone was a bit more up front with each other. Take the recently closed transfer window for example. It was clear to any follower of the game that Luka Modric wanted out of White Hart Lane but because he's quite a respectable little chap he didn't want to cause too much of a fuss in doing so. Now the decent thing to do for the Croatian would have been to say 'Ok Chelsea you can have him but only if you give us £40million up front, right now'. Reports suggest that at the very death a fee rumoured to be similar to that was tabled by Abramovich but by then it was far too late to put together a deal of such magnitude. So instead Spurs are left with a clearly unhappy player who will most likely be off next summer for a price guaranteed to be less than that offered this time around, Chelsea having been unable to procure their number one target have ended up with the enigmatic Raul Merieles, and in the process dented Liverpool's squad with insufficient time to get a replacement, and the only ones coming out of with any real satisfaction are yes you've guessed it, the agents. Oh and Jim White of course.

Love it or loathe it the current system of transfer windows look set to stay for the forseeable future. We will continue to spend entire summers listening to ongoing sagas and being duped into believing that come the end of August all will be okay. Even those who don't foresee any actitivy for their club will still wake up on TDD and secretly think that yes today's the day, that bid for Messi is finally going to happen and by midnight tonight he will be ours. It makes no economic sense whatsoever to have a deadline for clubs to finalise all their business but since when did anything about football make any sense? What it does do is make dreamers of us all and keep us hoping against all hope, throughout each and every window, that our beloved team will be the ones in the centre of the maelstrom come the final minutes. As long as there is TDD there will be hundreds of thousands of football fans glued to the screens more in hope than belief, but really is that much different to the experience of watching an actual game? Delusion is part of every football supporters armoury and for that reason alone we enjoy this crazed skirmish. Maybe one day transfer windows will be abolished and we'll look back on those frenzied last days with a hint of nostalgia but no matter how misty eyed we get about transfer deadlines past none of us will ever get quite so emotional as Jim White who, annoying as he may be, is the undisputed King of TDD and will in all likelihood end up being the first man to spontaneously combust live on air some time in the not too distant future.

Friday, August 12, 2011

The more things change the more they stay the same

Premier League Preview 2011/12...

Talk of fate and destiny is all too commonplace in the world of sport but there was a certain irony in Manchester City finally ending their thirty odd year wait for a trophy within hours of their more illustrious neighbours securing a record breaking nineteenth league title. Having had this barren period continually rammed down their throats by United fans it was almost inevitable that their celebrations at finally capturing a major trophy were somewhat tempered by the record breaking exploits of United. But in many ways it has always been thus. Although City were for certain spells before the war perceived as the 'bigger club' of Manchester the arrival of Matt Busby and his revolutionising of United cast a long shadow over the blue half of the city. Busby's holy grail as United manager was of course the European Champions Cup and upon finally reaching his summit and leading his side to glory he secured their place in the annals of history as the first English club to win the biggest prize in club football. But once again City's feats found themselves overlooked as despite becoming English League Champions for the first time in over thirty years their achievement paled in comparison to that of their local rivals.

But now over forty years later with City having endured year after painful year in the background as United swept all before them it seems that thanks to the dollars, pounds and roubles of some mysterious benevolent Arabs the noisy neighbours may finally be ready to step out of the shadows. Thanks to a level of investment scarcely seen before in the English game Manchester City find themselves installed as third favourites for the ultimate prize behind United and another team not shy of splashing some unearned cash Chelsea. Much is expected of Mancini's men having had a bedding in period which yielded the prize of a place amongst Europe's elite in the Champions League, but for those behind the scenes at Eastlands this is what they believe to be just the beginning of a period of glory unprecedented in the club's history. With a squad starting to look like a cohesive unit of athletes rather than an assorted bunch of misfits, mercenaries and morons they seem well placed to make a concerted tilt at toppling United from the top of the pile.

However just as all seemed rosy at City so a spanner is thrown in the works. Although their talismanic captain Carlos Tevez is still officially a City player and a replacement in Sergio Aguero has been procured it's difficult to surmise how much of an impact the inevitable departure of the want away Argentine will have. A City side which, up until now, has performed in a manner best described as perfunctory may find that they suddenly have to express themselves and go out and win games rather than simply play to avoid defeat. This is particularly true of their approach to games against the traditional big four where City will have to learn that self preservation is simply not enough and that victories in these games are crucial towards league success. So with the blues of Manchester seemingly ready to break into the elite what of the other sides that have made the top four spots their own in recent years.

In securing United's nineteenth league title Sir Alex Ferguson finally made good on his claim of knocking Liverpool off their fucking perch but where to next for a man about to enter his eighth decade on this earth. Following their humbling at the hands of Barcelona in the Champions League final Fergie could have been forgiven for thinking that his most imperative task was assembling a side capable of toppling the Catalan maestros but he would do well to take heed of the growing threat from his 'noisy neighbours'. In the aftermath of that Wembley humiliation and the subsequent retirement of Paul Scholes it was clear to even the most narrow sighted United fan that one area of the team in particular needed immediate surgery. That we now sit here on eve of a new season and United have thus far failed to embellish their midfield options may be down to a multitude of reasons but if Ferguson wishes to fend off the challenges on the domestic front and overcome the obstacles he faces in Europe then it's imperative he land Wesley Sneijder or a similarly capable midfield general.

Aside from his midfield dilemma Sir Alex has spent wisely with the only question mark hovering over new goalkeeper David de Gea following a less than steady debut against City in the Community Shield. However Ferguson's relative problems pale into comparison when put up against some of his contemporaries. Over the last trophy-less 6 years Arsene Wenger has gradually begun to resemble a man slowly but quite steadily heading towards severe dementia. Having seen his young team capitulate on more occasions than a child taking it's first steps, culminating in an embarrassing Carling Cup Final defeat to relegated Birmingham, Wenger has spent this summer fending off the inevitable interest in not only his captain, Cesc Fabregas, but also the gifted young Frenchman Samir Nasri. With the likelihood being that he will eventually lose both of these crucially important players before the transfer window closes pressure will be at an all time high for a manager second only to Ferguson in Premier League longevity. For some time now it has seemed almost disingenuous to suggest that Wenger could ever be sacked but depending on the state of his squad come the 1st of September and the early displays of a team shorn

Across London Chelsea have never been shy in tearing up the script and starting all over again and their latest change in management sees Portuguese rookie (sound familiar?) Andre Villas Boas take the helm. At just 33 Villas Boas becomes the youngest boss in the league, rather ironic when you consider that the team he inherits is one that has been gradually aging together for some time now. After a stirring start to the season the West Londoners ended their campaign rather tamely bowing to United in both Europe and at home. For many it seemed like the end of an era as long standing lynch pins Terry, Lampard and Drogba seemed to be playing only from memory such was their inability to affect things in the manner we'd become accustomed to seeing. All of this pointed to a busy summer at Stamford Bridge with some wondering whether a complete overhaul was required if Roman Abramovich was ever to fulfil his dream of winning the Champions League. But save for a couple of low key signings and their continual, fruitless pursuit of Luka Modric Chelsea appear content to stay with what they have and rely on their new young manager to wring one last season out of those declining legs.

Having welcomed back their very own messiah in January of this year Liverpool embarked on a run that saw them shoot up the table and qualify for Europe when at one point relegation had been mentioned in dispatches. A large part of this strong finish to the season was the form of recently acquired Uruguayan Luis Suarez who has proved something of a revelation and is already looking a bargain at the price of £22 million. This summer Dalglish has chosen to stay closer to home with his signings and although Stewart Downing, Jordan Henderson and Charlie Adam are not the kind of names to striker fear into Europe's elite the Merseysiders have every right to believe that a return to the Champions League is a realistic target for the season. Having excelled in their first taste with Europe's elite Harry Redknapp's Tottenham found the dual tasks of competing with the very best in midweek and maintaining a challenge on the domestic front too much to handle and ended up having to settle for a place in the Europa League by finishing fifth. Redknapp, usually so active in the transfer market, has bullishly rejected Chelsea's advances towards Modric but with time running out and neither club willing to budge he will be braced for ever more desperate measures as Chelsea aim to bolster their squad. Redknapp being Redknapp will surely have contingency plans in place should he lose the vivacious Croatian and if there's one place to be on the eve of August 31st then it's surely White Hart Lane.

Of the clubs hoping to threaten the supremacy of the coterie quickly becoming known as the Big Six only Sunderland have shown any real ambition in improving on last year's performances. The loss of Darren Bent saw Steve Bruce's men go into freefall having at one point looked odds on to secure a European spot and with Danny Welbeck returning to his parent club, Manchester United, it was up to Bruce to begin something of an overhaul at the Wearside club. Having brought in enough players to field an entire new starting eleven his main challenge will be ensuring harmony and unity in the dressing room. Everton who have so often relied upon David Moyes to work the oracle with little or no resources are once again entering a new season without any notable new recruits and you have to wonder just how long Moyes can continue to deliver this level of consistency under such trying circumstances. Aston Villa, so often the League's underachievers, looked like a team heading in the right direction towards the tail end of last season. In Darren Bent they had one of the League's most reliable goalscorers and a promising young squad looked ready to blossom together once the right man could be found to lead them. It's fair to say that most Villa fans didn't consider Alex McCleish to be that man but when have the fan's opinions ever been considered? The sales of wingers Ashley Young and Stewart Downing did little to appease the grumbling masses but the astute snaring of Charles N'Zogbia and Shay Given means that already Villa look to be in a position where manager and support can pull in the same direction.

Every Premier League season has a crisis club and this year that unwanted title looks like heading to the North East and Newcastle in particular. With home favourite, Andy Carroll, long departed and the funds for that transfer seemingly vanished the Geordie's must have thought things couldn't have gotten any worse. Wrong. The sale of captain Kevin Nolan to Championship side West Ham United was galling enough but as Luis Enrique and Joey Barton look set to follow him out the door it's hard to imagine anything other than a relegation battle for the Tynesiders. Alongside them are likely to be the usual suspects with both Wigan and Wolves preparing themselves for another hard year of scrapping tooth and nail for every available point. Ordinarily the promoted clubs are predicted to have a brief stay in the top flight but this season QPR will hope to buck that trend given the way they swept all before them in the Championship. Holding on to Adel Taarabt will be crucial to any success the one time founder members of the Premier League will have but most fans will be glad to see the return of one of English football's most atmospheric grounds, Loftus Road, if nothing else. Joining them from the Championship are Norwich City, another Premier League founder member, and first timers Swansea City. With squads consisting of players largely untried at this level it could be a long hard season for two clubs who pride themselves on playing the game in the right way, they would do well to take heed of Blackpool's example who also boasted such purist beliefs.

And what of the rest? The clubs who may occasionally flirt will relegation throughout the season and at their most giddy moments believe Europe is a certainty. Fulham will continue to be the League's most inoffensive team and more than likely blitz the opposition at home while meekly surrendering on their travels. West Brom look poised to do the unthinkable and establish themselves as a Premier League club following years of occasional visits, with a manager well versed in controlling mid size teams and a forward line looking increasingly menacing following Shane Long's arrival things are looking rosy at the Hawthorns. Stoke are the antithesis of Fulham in that barely a week goes by without someone complaining about the over eagerness of Tony Pulis' men, this is unlikely to change this season and The Brittania will continue to be a visit endured rather than enjoyed. Bolton Wanderers, under Owen Coyle, have undergone something of a transformation in recent years and now exhibit the kind of football implausible under Big Sam's reign. The big fear for Wanderers at this moment in time must be holding onto a manager whose stock has risen immeasurably over the past twelve months. Blackburn Rovers have reverted to type following a spell when bids for the likes of Ronaldinho had us all guffawing in disbelief and signings more in keeping with a club of their stature should ensure another season of mid table security for the Lancashire side.

So there you have it a season which promises much and one that Sky will have you believe will be the bestest most exciting one ever is almost upon us. Despite proclaiming throughout the summer that I for one wasn't really looking forward to it all that much and I could take it or leave it, I now have that giddy feeling in the pit of my stomach which can only mean one thing, the roller coaster is about to start all over again. Whatever does happen I can assure you that when I read back on this article come the middle of May I will have a wry smile as each and every prediction contained within will in all likelihood have proven way wide of the mark. But when all's said and done isn't that why we love the game?

My Premier League table for 2011/12

1. Manchester United
2. Manchester City
3. Chelsea
4. Liverpool
5. Arsenal 
6. Tottenham
7. Sunderland
8. West Bromich Albion
9. Stoke City
10. Aston Villa
11. Bolton
12. Blackburn Rovers
13. Queens Park Rangers
14. Everton
15. Fulham
16. Norwich City
17. Wolves
18. Newcastle United
19. Swansea City
20. Wigan Athletic

Monday, August 8, 2011

We don't need another hero

Oooh he's setting a terrible example there...

“So are we going to the match today then or not Dad”, “It depends Son, it depends”. “Depends on what?! Kick off is less than a hour away!!”, Got to see the starting eleven first lad and if 'he's' playing then you know your Mam won't let you go”. The matriarch of the household appears from the living room with the news this football mad child dreads, “Just heard that the filthy, rotten sex addict is going to start so I'm afraid your Dad is going to have to go to the match alone today Jimmy”. The distraught boy runs to the refuge of his room and once he's certain that no change of heart is forthcoming he carefully procures the signed picture of his icon, the only picture he's got left after all his others were torched on that fateful Sunday afternoon, looks Ryan Giggs in the eye and says “I don't care what they say Giggsy you're still the greatest no matter what”.

To suggest that the off field exploits of Giggs have forced concerned parents into such extreme actions is perhaps facetious but with media intrusion at an all time high it's inevitable that those elevated to the post of 'perfect role model' for children will have that unwanted mantle snatched away from them by those ever hungry for salacious gossip. However when deciding who and who isn't suitable role model material for our poor, delicate offspring there is certain criteria that must be filled. Obviously the said individual must have a certain degree of talent otherwise what child in their right mind is going to take even half an interest in such a wastrel. But the other more defining factors are the ones that must always be adhered to no matter what degree of ability they may possess. Behaviour in public is the biggie, the hopeful candidate must always conduct themselves in manner liable to make the elderly coo softly to themselves in approval whilst ensuring that a certain level of charisma, but not arrogance, is displayed in the process. This criterion is quite often beyond the reach of many of the planet's most famous denizens as they mumble and stutter their way through public appearances or worse still launch into self absorbed soliloquies about just how great they are. Tutting parents hastily turn the volume down and thank the Lord they sent Junior to bed a little early tonight.

In those all too rare occasions when a person is 'taken to the nation's hearts' through a combination of excellency in their field and a personality brimming with humility and deference they must from that point forth be expected to forgo further examination before they can even think of progressing to the level of 'national treasure'. Family life, past and present, must be publicly palatable or this love in will come to a crashing conclusion before it's even begun. A working class background is preferable but not essential and the proud parents must find themselves in a long and lasting union or else the jive's up. Siblings and the family at large had better not have any skeletons clanking around their closets, if so they run the risk of curtailing our heroes chances completely. Any hint of a wrong un' in the gene pool will have the public at large questioning whether that 'dear little boy' may end up corrupted beyond repair.

So having proved themselves to be paragons of virtue it's left to these superior beings to ensure they keep their collective noses clean and not find front page scandals dedicated to their extra curricular activities. With the News of the World now sadly departed many misbehaving celebs breathed a heavy sigh of relief and resumed their drug fuelled sado masochism sessions safe in the knowledge that pictures of them bound and gagged wouldn't be beamed around the world the next day. But for many it was a case of the horse bolting after the gate was locked. The NOTW took it upon themselves to 'expose' as many celebrities as they saw fit. The fact that most of their revelations were brought about through entrapment or that the average man in the street didn't give a toss about [insert random celeb's name here] DRUG SHAME!!! mattered not as they revelled in increasingly tawdry tales until the whole thing came crashing around them much to the delight of anyone with a modicum of sense.

But amidst all this talk of 'setting an example to the children' and 'being a role model to millions' there seems to be one group of people who have as of yet not been consulted. No not The Scientologists, the children themselves. When I was a kid growing up the level of media intrusion was nothing like what it is today but even then the people I chose to base my childhood dreams upon were not without controversy. Anyone that supported Manchester United during the 1980's will be well aware of the club's reputation as a veritable drinking club during that time. Paul McGrath and Norman Whiteside will be forever remembered as footballer's who bore the wrath of Sir Alex and in the process found themselves heading towards the first exit door due to an apparent lack of discipline. But what history doesn't tell you is that amongst all the hardcore semi alcoholic footballer's at the club during that time one man reigned supreme. That that man also reigned supreme on the football pitch no matter how much he'd imbibed was his saving grace however and to an eight year old boy Bryan Robson could do no wrong.

United's number seven and right up until his death in 2009 he would have been considered someone whom children would be well advised to steer clear of. Michael Jackson's life was shrouded with intrigue and discord from almost the very start but events only took a sinister turn in the early 1990's when sordid stories regarding his personal life begun to circulate in the media. If ever there was an example of a squeaky clean pop star suddenly 'turning bad' this was it and I'm sure many horrified parents took drastic measures to ensure their children weren't influenced by the music of this monster. But again from a child's perspective I was largely oblivious to these scurrilous rumours surrounding the King of Pop. The only way Jackson had ever influenced me was by scaring the bejesus out of me with his Thriller video and prompting many a night of failed moonwalk attempts.

So do children really care all that much about the private lives of those they aspire to be? At a young age they are more likely to be solely fixated on the public image served up to them and will pick and choose their favourites in the whimsical nature expected of them. Indeed on many an occasion a child will take it upon themselves to select the more unsavoury characters as those they look up to. Wayne Rooney has courted his fair share of tabloid scandals over the years and has been labelled everything from a thug to a granny shagging sex fiend. Definitely not role model material as decreed by the British media but as someone who gives his utmost every time he walks onto the pitch he already has a head start on most of those deemed more suitable for a place in our children's affections. What it comes down to is that kids, despite being seen as impressionable morons incapable of forming their own opinion, have a remarkable ability to separate the wheat from the chaff and decide for themselves who's worthy of their utmost affection. When cameras close in on the histrionics of Cristiano Ronaldo or foul mouthed rants of Ashley Cole we're immediately treated to the well worn line of how they're setting a terrible example to the children as if they plan on immediately heading outside to recreate the scenes they're witnessing. Not only is this is an insult to the children of today but it also casts aspersion on the ability of their parents to tell their offspring what's right or wrong.

As a child progresses through life and treks down the road to becoming a well rounded adult the chances are that those who heavily influenced their pre-pubescent life will become nothing more than a distant memory. Sure they'll still have their sporting, musical, political heroes but with growing maturity comes the realisation that the real role models aren't those that perform their feats to millions of adoring fans. The nurse who maintains an air of cheery stoicism despite being surrounded by those with horrific ailments,, the local shop owner who has had his premises broken into on numerous occasions but refuses to bow to the mindless thugs, the man who steps in when no one else does to stop a group of bullies taunting an elderly woman and perhaps even those that brought them into this world and cared for them every step of the way Because whether they realise it or not their real heroes are those whose lives seem painfully ordinary and mundane but whose exploits are no less spectacular than anyone you care to mention. Not every parent will provide the kind of positive influence that a child needs in their life but many will try their utmost, regardless of the sacrifices involved, and in the process become the most unwittingly effective role model a child could ever have.