Six Nations under one groove…

L’eau: c’est claire et bleue, n’est-ce pas? (Did I get the feminine thing, right?)

Clear blue water. It feels that way, the morning after: France at a higher level. With Matt Dawson’s recent description of Scotland as ‘world class’ looking ever dafter – or evermore like some kind of weird but familiar (and peculiarly English) Existential Guilt. An over-compensation.

Murrayfield was swiftly quietened. Then England Wales felt and often looked slightly Division Two, with Eddie Jones’s crew again looking like a team that lacks identity – quite possibly because Eddie Jones changes the line-up every time they step out on the park.

The hierarchy seems clear, then: France ten points better than everybody else, with Ireland and England closely matched, behind. Les Bleus go to Cardiff – where they should win – and host England, who may yet offer a challenge. Should Natural Justice prevail, however, the best and most entertaining side in the tournament will win a Grand Slam. Few would deny them that.

Scotland have closed a metaphorical gap, to their credit, in recent years, but remain reliant on inspirational sparks from the crowd, or from hearty, ball-carrying individuals. It’s notable – and disappointing for us neutrals – how Hogg and Russell have underwhelmed, thus far. Wales, meanwhile, are somehow both close to a slump… and occasionally brilliant. Here are my two live blogs, from Saturday.

Du Pont! Generously waiting a full seven minutes before dancing and smashing through the hosts. Classically ‘French’ try – meaning all-court rugby of a particularly expansive species, made by the scrum-half’s endless, penetrating break. Murrayfield stamps its feet quietly and shakes out the cold. May be resigned, early doors.

A minor response – an important response – as Russell knocks over a pen but within another five or six minutes a second, genuinely glorious try from as France surge, sling, then bundle over in the corner. After fifteen, the visitors lead 12-3 but have already minced most of those absurd expressions of confidence from pro-Scottish pundits. (C’ mon: it’s been obvious. Scotland were fortunate to beat England, they are an improved side but still a relatively moderate one AND NOWHERE NEAR AS GOOD AS FRANCE. Whatever happens from hereon in).

The wind is blowing strongly, in Scotland’s favour – assuming you accept that a following wind is a boon. The thought strikes that Hogg’s monumental kicking game may be key to keeping this close ’til half-time… but beyond that?

Scotland managing set-pieces okay: they rob a line-out and van der Merwe opens his legs. Encouragement. Then a Big Moment. Jaminet launches at the high ball but clumsily mis-judges. Yellow? He is maybe fortunate. What the full-back’s error does do is offer real momentum to Scotland. They capitalise, after an extended period of pressure: Darge powers over after a tap penalty. After the extraordinary expression of superiority from France, in those initial exchanges, the scoreboard reads 10-12. Ridiculous and rather wonderful. *Perhaps especially* given the growing sense that a few French heads are reverting to stereotype: i.e. lost under pressure.

Scotland again get the penalty upon contact: then France strip the hosts. Then a knock-on, from Jaminet – who, in fairness had to reach behind himself in the attempt to gather. (Poor pass). Incredibly, we reach 35 minutes (in about 12) and this entertaining harem-scarem feels even. No phases, lots of excitement.

AAAARGH. Clear green water for van der Merwe then Hogg must surely score?!? The pass is out front… a teaser… a killer. The skipper can’t get there but can’t stop himself reaching and knocking on. Could decide the match, that – a score then and even I might believe in a ridicu-grind towards a Scottish victory. Instead, we approach the half and France have a line-out on the twenty-two.

The first opportunity is missed, strangely because of a slightly lazy long pass, form the godlike Du Pont. No matter. France, well into red time, keep this alive and scorch diametrically towards the other corner. Pace and power again combine, as Fickou barges over and in. (Perhaps that might have been defended?) Whatever. 10-19 may flatter France a tad… but surely does represent the relative strengths of the sides?

Second half. France score early (so I’m looking wee bit smug). Danty may have been a tad fortunate with the bounce but again, that sense that Natural Justice is at work: an improved but out-gunned Scotland are being, yaknow, out-gunned. 10-26, now.

Half of you may not like my dismissal of the Scots: it ain’t personal. I rate and respect the development and the skill and spirit (especially) they are showing again, here. But they are not The Contenders some of the Top, Top Pundits have been saying they are. And I do think that’s been obvious – even when they’ve won games, showing a healthy mix of ambition and of guts.

France are kicking a bit like France; otherwise the differential might be bigger. It’s blowing, at Murrayfield but our friend Eunice is long gone. Notable that Russell is having little influence; a kind of non-developing theme, in this championship?

Have Scotland suddenly tired? The French winger Penaud suddenly has acres to jog into, unopposed. One of the weirder ones – and surely dispiriting, for the team in white? Converted, so we now sit at 10-31, in (whatever the French is for) mullering territory. La Marseillaise; magnificently.

The game does that thing where it goes into Inevitably Scrappy Mode. Scotland have no choice but to look for tries, and battle courageously. France seek unanswerable superiority through multiple phases which the hosts, to their credit, deny them. It’s a clear away win and has been, arguably, since the fourth minute. The breakdown is contested manfully, to limit the damage but Penaud again finds a paddock available as Ntamack kicks serenely into space. 36-10.

Finally, something for the locals to cheer. Kinghorn runs… and runs… and offloads to the grateful VDM. Thrilling but almost irrelevant. A knock-on in midfield prompts the whistle. 17-36: away win, of the convincing variety. Warburton waxes lyrical about France, who come to Cardiff on 11th March to entertain us – and *I do mean* us. I’ll be there!

Les Bleus are earning the right to be talked about as world-leaders. That’s unknowable or un-provable, surely, as yet(?) but they look like a side that could go to-to-toe with the icons of the South. Meantimes, they must be targeting a Grand Slam, to cap off an exhilarating championship. It’s what they deserve… and I strongly suspect most neutrals would welcome that eventuality.

England versus Wales.

Smith gets us going. Great hoist. England have it, just a few yards out but concede the penalty… before claiming one in return. Easy kick for the glamour boy – drilled home. Jones’ Posse looking bright and aggressive: the worst chant in world sport gets an early airing by way of erm, encouragement. A second penalty, again exactly where the fly-half would’ve wanted. 6-0; all a bit easy.

Sniff of an opportunity, for Wales. Tompkins pings a probing punt forward but nothing arises. Decent defending, from Daly. (A-and the Alliteration Overload Award of the week goes to)…

A sudden burst of pressure offers the visitors hope, via scrum then line-out, deep into the twenty-two. Longish advantage before Biggar opts for another throw in the corner. Lawes robs it!

Wales notably unhappy with the refereeing: not just their skipper ‘having words’. Cuthbert breaks but concedes a penalty on contact. But some encouragement for the red shirts, who are shading things, in this wee period. It remains 6-0, after 15, however.

Gorgeous step and no-look pass from Marcus Smith electrifies the midfield. Again, within seconds, Wales have offended but the England pivot narrowly fails to capitalise. (Kickable, nine out of ten). A mixed game, quality-wise, with limited phases. Randall looking confident, mind.

Ewels within an inch or six – hands under the ball. Prolonged break for a review of Williams’ sly mitt. The full-back is binned, eventually, and England are five metres out. Scrum. Rinse and repeat, messily, infuriatingly – consider re-setting the lawsingly.

Wales get the pen; Sinckler standing but getting no sympathy from the ref. Best part of ten minutes near the Welsh line but almost no rugby. Finally, Wales clear. Injuries and spillages. Basham rips brilliantly, Lawes gets one in the eye but still almost no rugby – or *only* rugby of that competitive-but-suffocating variety. Cowan-Dickie subbed, injured, on twenty-four minutes. Another scrum. No sense, in truth, that Wales are a man short.

The visitors surge, Cuthbert dismisses Nowell faaar too easily but another error follows. Scrum Wales, in a decent, central position. Ambition, from Biggar as he tests opposing wingers with a floaty, cross-field kick. Nothing results but the clock has ticked down. Slade’s neat step almost threatens but it’s a tectonic clattering from Curry that ultimately offers Smith the chance to increase that lead. Slotted nicely from thirty-five yards.

Now Liam Williams is back. He may be happy enough that the board confirms an increase of only three points in England’s favour. Given that conditions are perfect – really perfect – I’m wondering (after 35 mins) if this game is going to reveal the relative (that word again) mediocrity of both teams. (That harsh? Perhaps. But this is ordinary fayre).

Finally rugby breaks out. Phases; movement; threat. Smith is absolutely at the heart of it, bursting intelligently, drawing and popping, utterly justifying his place. He thrashes over a simple pen. England go in 12-0 up.

Ugly, ugly, strategic, deliberately sapping breakdown work, from England. Part of the Great Grind? Fair enough. It may be the way to win this.

OH GAWD!! Uber-clanger, from Wales gifts Dombrandt a try. The number eight has only to catch the shockingly fluffed line-out and his momentum will carry him through. He catches, he stretches and the lead goes to an inviolable 17-0, as Smith misses the kick from wide.

Wales do respond, with some sustained attacking – well, relatively, but inevitably the visitors cough up possession. Pivac will be angry, never mind disappointed.

As with Scotland, so with Wales: we get spirit. (Then we get the Royal Bloody Family).

The game feels gone but Williams throws a sharp one out to Adams… and the flyer finishes clinically, as he tends to. 17-5, 25 minutes remaining. Surely not? Wales have found some purpose. A further try is not unthinkable. And then who knows?

Line-out five metres out. Phases with some control. A TRY SEEMS LIKELY. Tompkins, deservedly, gets in. With Biggar being characteristically emphatic from the tee, Wales are flying and the margin is only 17-12. Youngs comes on for his record-breaking appearance. England need him to manage this.

A little territory, for the home side. Cuthbert breaks out but is isolated and expertly crunched by Nowell. Penalty. Smith – at the furthest extent of his range, you suspect – converts, for an eight point lead. (So important). Marginal, but that may have been against the grain of the match; certainly of the half.

Wales offend at the line-out after a clearance from Slade. Kickable. Smith again delivers calmly. Nine minutes remain. 23-12. Commentary team quite rightly making the distinction between the margin on the scoreboard (eleven points) and the ‘lack of (real) authority’ in England’s performance. Untimely pens and/or recurring pens have cost Wales.

Two minutes left and Wales looking to make some statement of defiance. Line-out routine. They have a penalty. England asleep as Hardy taps and goes. In! Jones will be angry and disappointed – particularly as Wales will have one more phase of possession. 23-19. Tension where there was none.

The visitors retain and auto-circulate, showing tremendous resolve – and skill under pressure. Williams does brilliantly to stay in touch… but Wales again contrive to concede possession. Game over? NO!! Lawes concedes a deliberate knock-on (and pundits all agree he should be yellowed). Ridicu-tension, now.

After a near-epic spell of edgy, competitive, necessarily expansive rugby, England get their hands on the ball. The roar of relief can be heard in Brighton. Were Wales ‘hard done by?’ In the sense that they were better and more threatening in the second half, yes. But they lacked both the top-level sharpness and discipline to hurt England enough. And England lacked authority. Some drama, belatedly but this was mixed fayre from two unremarkable sides.

Where were you?

Where did that reference to The Mekons come from? Oh yeh. Twitter. Those profound, weedy, ridicu-lyrics: somebody posted. As did I, ’bout lunchtime, Sat’dee.

Meanwhile it was sleepless sleep, in the howling, battering gale and watchful half-skewed relentless triptych-vision. Daft, undulating, golden, white resort-sports for the White Stuff Generation on the one screen, footie and/or cricket on the other. Maybe radio too.

The rugby, you have to watch. Even if you absolutely do, now, fall into the category of Six Nations Dilettante. (Yup. Sadly. Having previously followed club action/the wider game, I now find myself unable, somehow, to grab a hold. Too busy; too much else). But this, despite mixed or even lowish standards, is a good tournament. Never more so than when the green/red/navy danders are up, the tribalism off the scale and the gales a-blowing.

England slaughtered Scotland for an hour, without turning dominance into points. Then Smith – the Hoddle, the Poster-boy, the Soft Centre – was withdrawn, as the stats (probably) or the GPS (possibly) said he was 0.023 down on something. Despite having just raced thrillingly across the try-line, thereby raising the flag for poetry and instinct in a way only probably he and his opposite number could even contemplate, Marcus was pulled: Jones and his 1400 sub-coaches looked to Ford to ‘manage the thing from here’.

That moment of soul-crushing pragmatism prompted the ancient-but-righteous gods of joy, IRN-BRU and twinkling perversity to gather immediately around and hoist their kilts. The hitherto impregnable Cowan-Dickie wilted in the maelstrom, pansy-patting the ball forward and out of play, to deny a possible score for the foaming, lurking Graham. It was both a robbery and a moment of grace: the penalty try being awarded, apparently, as punishment for the deliberate, if barely-controlled slap at the ball, without consideration for whether the attacking player would have gathered in cleanly and touched down. In that sense, controversial. Morally, a win for the resurgent jocks and all of us.

Meanwhile, before, Ireland stunned Wales. *All the ingredients were there*, as they were in Edinburgh. Febrile ether; gale; beery breath. Plus a marginally more complex ‘national relationship’ between the protagonists. (They tend to be Celts together after proceedings. During, there is *feeling*). Ireland launched and never came back down – or hardly – the intensity of the thing being simply too much for a mediocre Welsh side, who could not, despite keeping the score respectable for 40 minutes and more, compete meaningfully across the park.

It was a series of impressively purposeful, urgent flurries by the hosts that wore Biggar’s side down. The new Welsh skipper has a mighty, doughty spirit to go with his management skills. Even he was found shaking his head in disbelief and disappointment, late in the game.

Zoom out; remember. (Christ it was only yesterday!)

Pacing the energy-use was key, eh? And re-fuelling with care. Early alcohol was deeply unwise – it generally is – but throw a healthy pile of nosh and a tactical kip in there and you find yourself upright for The Cricket, later. (Upright in bed, anyways). Aus have won the toss and are asking Heather Knight to carry her team through another onslaught. She can’t. Nor can Sciver, the other Significant Hope.

England bat, understandably but also illogically – the series has gone! – with caution. Winfield-Hill is both dreamy-good, with her expansive drives but also unable, with her early partners, to garner more than three an over. When her coach Keightley and her 178 sub-coaches know that Healy will coast nearer to six, from the off. So it’s reasonable madness, from England. They splutter to a chillingly disappointing 120-odd all out: Winfield-Hill gets her customary 30. It’s never-in-a-million-years a competitive total.

But I slid towards fitful slumber at about the twenty over mark. When England were still below 80, from memory. Rafters clanging. Sea rumbling. Had to lie side-on and perch a pillow over my head to blot out – just a little – the sound. Felt both bit like smothering yourself and retreating into childhood and adventure. Oh, and final phone check – just to turn off, really. But yeh, twitter…

When I was waiting in the bar, where were you?
When I was buying you a drink, where were you?
When I was crying home in bed, where were you?

When I watched you from a distance, did you see me?
You were standing in a queue, did you see me?
You had yellow hair, did you see me?

Mekons.

Vicious but fair?

Desert Island Discs. We all do that thing where we pick our choices, yes? Or get part-way through, or come over all excited and find we’ve chosen twelve that absolutely have to be in there, before – having treble-checked with a responsible adult that it’s a relentless, brain-jangling, relationship-busting eight – we combust. Eight. Only.

Life lurches, again: this theoretical bastion of ease, this very symbol of Beebism and aural-pastoral reassurance becomes yet another bloody angst-apocalypse. Shit! Is this COOL ENOUGH? Are there at least two tracks here that only four people in the UK would have chosen? (In my case) given that I’m happy to sling out the universe of ‘classical’ – entirely through ignorance – do I have to give a wee nod to Free-form Jazz/Black Music/DEVO/Albanian Prog Rock? How much exactly am I performing here?

There’s something thrilling, maybe, about that rash and dangerous and in my case heavily instinctive culling of Stuff That Is Undeniably Wonderful. But that instinct does run up against both the maths – bollocks! Eight! – and the pictures that inevitably waft in. Palm trees. Sand. Lizards. Blazing mirages. How many mournfully introspective indie toons can I lever into this, realistically? Do I let the sunniness dictate – or the potential loneliness? (Confession: loneliness not an issue in my case). To what extent is this a practical choice, meant to ‘see me through’ and how much a validation, a deep, heartfelt pattern from the soul?

I’m a part-time supporter of plenty of stuff but maybe particularly Desert Island Discs. Occasional listener. Sometimes turner-offer, mid-way, too – or even earlier if the music is crap and the interviewee dull and posh – and *this happens*, right? (Here’s a brutal truth: there are a lot of oldish worthies on this programme. There is that sense that D.I.D does represent the Beeb in that most of the folks you’re gonna be listening to went to private schools then did something grand. That’s how the universe is, for sure but it’s a pret-ty significant turn-off for this particular listener).

But let’s get to the fun bit: the bit where we can argue. My choices. Will be trying not to overthink these but will undoubtedly fall right into that trap of making my case, for each. *Fatal*, I know.

Toon numero uno:

Nightswimming – R.E.M. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ahJ6Kh8klM4

Don’t even think about arguing. One of the great, beautiful and (sure) most deeply melancholy noises ever made by humans. Needs to be there. Everything humans have ever been is in this. It’s a towering achievement.

Two:

Keys to your Heart – The 101-ers. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tx8bM05mmQ4

Yup. Obscurish but no apologies. The guitar sound and the understatement; the almost-acoustic thrum. The soul-punk heartiness of the Strummer vocal. The call to goodness. Joyful and invincible.

Three:

This Must Be The Place (Naive Melody) – Talking Heads. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rVoPzA0g3Ac

There are plenty Talking Heads toons I could have chosen – three or four from the unsurpassable ‘Fear of Music’ album alone. Gone for this because of its colour, its lovely meandering depth… and (maybe unusually for me) because of its sheer musicality. Speaks to something – to many things – close.

Disc four:

Poptones – Public Image Limited. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=b8e2CTB9oeQ

Political, in a sense. Metal Box is a truly extraordinary racket: provocative, difficult, rich. The veil through which we must pass is a real protagonist. Lydon is defying you to dare to walk on through. For me, that’s part of the brilliance – that these guys are seeking to go ‘right past music’. You might find it offensive or pretentious. People I like think it’s some sort of weird Germanic(?) Prog Rock… and hate it. The glimpsed-at imagery – forests, murderous intensity, ultimate banalities – shrieks genius, to me: likewise the trickling guitar and mad, subversive bass all over this album.

Disc five:

It Doesn’t Make It Alright – The Specials. https://uk.video.search.yahoo.com/search/video?fr=mcafee&ei=UTF-8&p=the+specials+it+doesn%27t+make+it+alright&type=E211GB384G0#id=1&vid=d1ffe800b70ef0e618cd018eddb510f3&action=click

Loved and indeed still do love The Specials. Could have chosen anything from The Greatest Number One Of All Time (Obviously), Ghost Town, to the soaring Free Nelson Mandela. Chose this for its modest typicality and preciously non-precocious message towards anti-racism – which may be the message for the age, yes? Elsewhere the obviousness and ‘worthiness’ might be clunky: not with these guys. The Specials have truth and magic.

Disc six:

Transmission – Joy Division. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6dBt3mJtgJc

Something essential and pure and simple going on here. Something which destroys radios, or the whole concept of ‘air-play’. A riff, one of the great bass-lines, some strangely affecting vocals. A storm of purifying angst. Curtis paraphrasing and somehow raising the bar that Costello hoisted with Radio Radio: annihilating ‘the fools trying to anaesthetise the way that you feel’. Stripped-out, godlike; a new wave. Of its time, of course… but timelessly fresh, I reckon.

Bloo-dee Nora – disc seven:

Trying not to let the clamouring Bunnymen and Cure and Nina bloody Simone, fer Chrisssakes(!) in. So actively disallowing too much historical, proportionate consideration. Instead, going back to Poor Old Soul – Orange Juice. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RmpNSpzx2wI

Another understated worldie. Ridicu-literate and jangly and full of that utterly authentic integrity that Proper Songwriters can find and can offer us. Defying the tsunami of pap and of casual, idle affairs. Strumming towards something crystalline and gobsmacking.

Then charging on… to disc eight, where it does get scary.

Except I’m re-committing to this idea that on another day five of these get changed, so all pressures are off. And it doesn’t matter that this dates me. I can surge on, irresistibly and fearlessly. I can and am going to tell you that Radiohead have been the greatest rock and roll band of the last twenty-plus years… and that therefore I must and can and will go to their stack of stonking, enriching missives.

Going for No Surprises. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=u5CVsCnxyXg

Those words; those chimes; that worldly, artful irony. Squeezing out sparks, squeezing out the essence of where we’re at. Somewhere dark, thin, bland, un-worthy.

A heart that’s full up like a land-fill

A job that slowly kills you

Bruises that won’t heal.

Hardly a laugh a minute, but there is plainly, obviously, undeniably beauty and insight and truth, here… and therefore protest. Could be I’m saying (with these choices) that folks who are somehow active are my chosen company for a spell on a desert island. Make of that what you will.

Now. Who comes with you?

Oof. Just been asked which one I keep. In the spirit of punktastic and diabolical cheek… I’m keeping Whiteman in Hammersmith Palais, The Clash!

In a similar spirit, can see me adding Things I Forgot to this *definitive list*…

Multifarious apologies for any cruelly intrusive adverts that may interfere with your listening.

Ted Lasso.

Two series in, so what do we think?

We think it’s pret-ty close to wonderful. We think it’s gobsmackingly surprising that something which we feared was gonna reek of America(na), of franchises, of that whole dumbing-down of the universe by checking in so constantly with the Gods Who Dance With Schmaltz turns out to be a rampaging, intelligent, bright and even poignant force for good. (Good telly; goodness in humanity).

We have fallen about, and blubbed. We’ve darn-near turned off – maybe when Ted’s made-for-American TV-isms have flown irritatingly over our heads again… but then been utterly compelled, both by the humour of the Overall Thing and by the brilliance of the sporting intel.

Say what?!? Sporting intel? Yes, even when – as always – the live sport can seem clunky and in danger of failing the myriad authenticity tests so immediately and rightly hoisted by pedantically maniacal fans like my good self. (We know footie. Don’t fuck wiv us*). YES, sporting intel, because whoever is writing/directing/playing/making this stuff does understand football (enough) and, remarkably, coaching, too.

*In fact the live sport here is waaay better than most; though admit the bar has been set appallingly low by almost every football film or series in history. Players can play, mostly, ‘live’ matches are 80% there and the changing-room vibe is decent, plus.*

Ted Lasso (the programme) makes a zillion jokes about Ted Lasso (the coach) not knowing the rules, the history, the zeitgeist in which football booms and busts and yaknow, breaks us. But – in case, friends, ya missed it – this is all knowingly done. The outstanding awareness and generosity and wisdom embedded in the Lasso Method – coaching as transformative, civilising mission, which *really does* look to empower players/individuals, through appreciation, prompting, enquiry, support – utterly squishes any idea that this Dumb American is some under-informed fraud. NO. Ted is a wonder-coach; that’s what this story is about. A bloke who, despite being absurdly out of place, re-defines the quality of that place… by being wonderful… and sophisticated… and deeply, inviolably human.

Everything is faith. That corny, hand-written sign above the door, that says BELIEVE. That ethos, where something we might need to dare to call brotherhood (and critically, authentic sisterhood) grows, becoming essential to the execution of strategies on the pitch and the veracity of the drama beyond it. If there is a tension around Ted’s flirting, or outright crazy street-meme-dancing with and through banalities-which-might-be-profundities and vice-versa, somehow it works. People love him and he bloody deserves it. We’re mercifully and pointedly not hearing anything about god, here, but the series is an ode to faith.

(Minor note. I’m a sports coach so do have some knowledge of how teams are selected, motivated, organised. It’s clear to me that Ted/the writers have a good understanding of where coaching is. Lasso’s relentless good-humour should not obscure the objective – which goes beyond any kind of ‘good guys can win’ schtick. Ted is enacting a very contemporary thread towards building ownership/decision-making/power within the player. The camaraderie and the community-of-souls thing is of course a necessary co-host to all this developing positivity. But the leadership smacks of informed, elite-level choices towards empowerment).

So Ted is a humble genius and a daft idol. Vulnerable, through family breakdown and trauma – separated, father a suicide – prone to anxiety attacks which we see, on camera, in a popular TV series. Further evidence that this world-franchise-monster is overwhelmingly a force for good in the universe. (Except that’s daft, right?)

This is a Big Television Event and it has resources. Unlike many hiked-up projects that might fall into that category it shares the quality and the stories around. Hard to find a character that isn’t well-drawn, generously developed, real enough to make us laugh or cry or root for them. (Can’t stand Awards Ceremonies so didn’t watch the Emmys but apparently it won a shedload. No wonder. Great casting, looks excellent in almost every scene, scripts top-level).

Coach Beard is brilliant – lugubrious and wise and kinda delusionally-in-lurv. He gets ‘his own episode’. Rebecca Welton is stunning and hilarious and extraordinarily multi-dimensional. Her relationship with Keeley Jones, who is willing herself rather magnificently towards Being Someone, whilst oozing with love for those around her, is knock-out and frankly, emosh. Lots of this is frankly emosh, whilst knowing exactly how close it tiptoes to that aforementioned schmaltz.

In short – because I really could go on, about Coach Nate, Mae in the pub, those daft three Greyhound supporters and Miss Fuckwitch and (Our New Hero) Sam Obisanya and (That New Pantomime Villain That I Ju-ust Think We Might Finish Up Loving) Jamie Tartt – you need to make an effort to see Ted Lasso. On Apple TV. It’s popular but grown up. There is sex – and especially via the softening but formerly hardened street-warrior Roy Kent – there is lots of fu-uck-ing language. So what? More importantly, this is a ludicrous but self-aware and ‘issues’-aware smash. A celebration. A reminder that cynicism – probably ours – is bad and that love stories can be good.

Visceral.

McCoist was talking shamelessly tribal gibberish. The roof was off. The rain, having been appropriately biblical, was now an irrelevance. As was football. As was gravity, quality and Covid19. Everything old, new, bright, dim, dark or dead lived in the moment – in the roar.

Hampden. Hampden the protagonist. Football under those eyes, yes, but hardly, maybe? Or is that an insult to the selfless rage? A specialness that’s so deafening you don’t know how to rate it or see it through. And never mind thinking, how do you coordinate? And whose chest do you beat?

That sense of international-level football having been usurped… leaving us or leading us into what? Early-on, arm-wrestling; cheating, or simulation and sliding, by the looks. Fakery and thrust and the cusp of violence. Mainly a kind of mindlessness; a slipping away into the inevitable.

Bloody Scotland were bloody. And Scotland. Defending so badly at crucial moments it was almost unbelievable but cruelly, comically Scottish to those of a neutral bent – obvs. Surging manically and (hah! First half) launching those laughable long throws, so deeply did history and expectation (and the rain and the Lack of Quality and Lack of Options) conspire towards a kind of old-school physical intimidation of the Others. Israel in white: rolling about in sequence – so not entirely naively shell-shocked – but shamelessly (the sly wee devils) also looking to yaknow, play.

McGinn scores a fine goal and every now and again looks – god forbid – to pick up his head and thread something. Gilmore available but lost, too often, in the maelstrom; contribution mixed. Liverpool’s left back barely in the game, or certainly force-less, but Dykes running through the whole, soaking melodrama. Poor then heroic then shocking then at the bloody centre. (His feeble pen, his fortunate goal, allowed, post-VAR, by the ref, despite studs raised chest high). All extraordinary, all predictable.

(For that penalty I wonder if perhaps the official was so bored with Israeli histrionics he simply awarded against the visiting centre-back, who had fallen stricken, feeling the striker’s boot close against his face. There was no meaningful contact, and the centre-forward could not adjust himself to dive and head, but for me it was what we used to simply call ‘foot up’… and therefore dangerous – at least potentially. No goal but goal given. Naturally. This was almost entirely a visceral experience and the fact of slow-motion ree-plaaays and/or civilised consideration by a team of skilled officials was never going to re-educate that).

Scotland won an often enthralling, sometimes dispiritingly low-fi game, by out-gamboling, out-hearting, out-charging their opponents: 3-2, with McTominay chest-bumping in the winner. The lad went through the gears from embarrassment to Braveheart before quite knowing how to celebrate. Then he lapped-up the scrumptious, overwhelming barrage from the stands. The tall, resolute but notably one-paced midfielder knew full-well that he owed those supporters for an assist.

The match then, was a fierce throw-back, with the abundant brilliance McCoist and his fellow pundits apparently saw being surely essentially a brilliance of spirit. Scotland played, as they do – as they need to – with palpable spirit. This is a less patronising assessment than you might think. Some of this occasion was tremendous.

Strawberry blonde.

How is it, exactly, that we’re not on the streets? With the foulest, most rancidly prejudiced and corrupt government of my lifetime traducing the work of parliament, hour by hour? How? When the pitifully transparent Big Dog himself is cocking his leg over everything that feels right? How can this liar, this wilfully amoral clown be getting away with it?

The answers are several; some obvious, some not. Firstly of course the British Media is largely either brazenly prostituting itself beneath the Evil Barons – let’s specify; the filthy Mail/Express/Sun and their joined-up-writing equivalents The Telegraph and Times – or *mysteriously* failing to pursue stories that might lead somewhere tetchy for Johnson/Sunak/Rees-Mogg/Patel, etc. In short our ‘free press’ is either bent to the will of near-fascists, or so cosied-up to the private school/’elite’ families/personal benefit system that genuinely investigative journalism is smothered in an anaesthetic fog.

We expect the BBC and The Met to be more or less pliant to the will of the Establishment: we’ve got that. The Beeb is stacked full of decent people – lefties, even – but the Direction of Travel is being carefully steered by Daily Mail stooges. So Kuenssberg* hasn’t been a-tweeting about Partygate: extraordinarily, she didn’t have any information on any of those events, despite having unprecedented access to the drinking, dancing scumbags. And similarly, the obviously corrupt ‘tendering process’ for covid-related contracts has remained impenetrably obscure, to protect Tory families and funders.

(*Not just her, naturally. Plenty newspaper journo’s have strangely gone quiet on this one – often because their seniors were at the Downing St parties. One of the great failures to report).

I’m not sure who first used the phrase ‘the very worst of us’ to describe the execrable scheisters at the helm. But how else might we capture that sense of real, deep contempt for Johnson and Cummings and Patel and Mogg? They are surely simply not of us and yet we’ve let them besmirch us. Johnson for his utter separation from decency, truth, morality of any perceptible kind; Cummings for his evil narcissism and calculated debasement; Patel for her brazen prejudice and that faux-bullish small-person’s arrogance (or worse). Mogg is just an unspeakable caricature of tory privilege and estrangement from the real world: monied; less clever than he thinks; as stupidly unaware as the other freaks. They are The Very Worst Of Us.

As I write it seems our friends at The Met have exonerated Johnson for Partygate. Because he wasn’t in any sense responsible. And neither was poor old Carrie. They were merely hosts and Star Attractions in said events. They were, unlike their fawning underlings – lately found guilty – ‘innocently’ wee-weeing on the graves of thousands of plebs.

Out There, (here), in the meanwhile, in the Inconsequential Wastes, daft buggers like you and me were blowing masked farewell kisses down phones before bawling into our hands, because that seemed a sacrifice we all had to make. In these uniquely aching moments, in Downing Street and within the sphere of influence of the Secret Tory Machine, it was ‘Dancing Queen’ time.

Even the most cursory look at our bouffant, bumbling, unconscionable Prime fucking Minister will confirm that Johnson has never made a sacrifice in his life. Never needed to. Alexander Boris de Pfeffel Johnson – like his appalling father before him – has never needed to reflect, only to drive inexorably forward, towards His Manifest Destiny. Like Rees-Mogg, assumptions towards brilliance and a kind of inevitable ‘greatness’ cossetted his ether – his aura. Boris was chosen, by his class, his schools, his clubs, his exceptional milieu, to plough on, towards oven-ready genius and fame. The irresistible power of a zillion years of feudal domination (and peasant capitulation?) was his. No wonder we chose him.

It remains – incredibly – possible that Johnston may survive the murderous incompetence, the missed COBRA meetings, the outrage that was the Covid contract-fest and now the relentless, mind-bending Partygate lies. The volumes of stupidity and naivety in the general population have carried him on, rubber-stamping Cummings’s filthy xenophobic Brexit, dumbly dancing with that poisonous conflation of Brussels with immigrants. Where we are is a triumph of sorts for Daily Mail-levels of bigotry and for the Great Families who continue to piss on our strawberries.

Never has the UK been so low, so barren, so shameful.

Mady Villiers – in the flow.

So, Mady Villiers then. Even in defeat. Electrifying and watchable, ‘stoked’ and stoking the energy of the crowd with her youthful, skillful, thrillingly-coordinated contribution.

Most folks coming away from Sussex County Cricket Club on Saturday night will have been smiling and re-living the genuinely multiple moments of brilliance from the England player – even some of the few visiting or Brighton-resident Kiwis, you suspect. (The White Ferns won the match – deservedly – through better and more consistent work, but even their Player of the Match Sophie Devine brought less extravagant pazzazz and performance to the event). Villiers, meanwhile utterly shone.

Elite women’s cricket is soaring in the background but in a sexist universe it still, of course, finds itself categorised (by men of a particular sort, obviously) as Almost The Real Deal But Not Quite. Blokes who look and sound like me – ‘sporty’, ‘authentic’, ‘experienced’ – own this territory as much as if not more than they own everything.

So a) they wrongly and inadequately judge male and female cricket as some hierarchical homogeny b) they know exactly which one is ‘best’. Oh and c) many of these guys really are arseholes  –  look at social media/listen in the pub but (even) the ones that aren’t reside in the Flawed Geezer sector of humanity. (I flit, inevitably, between both male states, hoping to keep my foothold in the Flawed-but-trying subsection).

Male cricket is allegedly ‘best’ because The Blokes bowl quicker and hit harder and throw themselves around in the field more athletically. Physiological difference makes this (ahem) an Undeniable Truth. Bullshit. It may be a convenient truth but good luck trying to de-authenticate Marizanne Kapp’s recent bowling performance (Hundred, final) or South East Stars’ openers Smith and Cranstone, batting in the weekend’s Charlotte Edwards Cup Final. And maybe take a look at Sophie Ecclestone’s left-arm slow. *Etcetera*.

The point is it’s futile, unwise, unhelpful and plain wrong to go comparing. Just watch without prejudice. Or – because I get that machismo-thing (or that baggage-thing) may get in the way of that aspiration – do your best. I’ve chosen to follow elite women’s cricket around for some years now and I find it truly compelling: there are even some plusses to the Sexual Politics side of this – the sense that despite everything, women’s cricket is manifestly, irresistibly on the up.

Back to Villiers; partly because the most legitimate criticism of the elite women’s game has arguably centred around fielding standards. (Know this is more flawed thinking – a kind of concession to that matrix of bullish negativity – but think there is *also* something of a fair cop going on, here). Skill levels and agility levels in female international cricket or women’s pro’ cricket are not always where they might be. Too many mis-timed dives over the ball, too many catches dropped.

Much of this can be simply accounted for. Lack of experience – maybe particularly under lights. The ver-ry recent advent of full-time professional contracts. Skill Development under way, rather than culturally ingrained (as per the blokes). Coaches and players in the women and girls’ pathway the world over are grafting with real integrity and purpose to get to where Mady Villiers is. Maybe they are conscious that brilliant movement will better appease the sceptics? I hope they feel more that there is something wonderfully liberating in throwing yourself around and that this in itself is the driver towards increasingly exhilarating sport.

At Hove on Saturday night, Mady Villers was prowling and diving and catching and slashing magnificent throws in to the stumps. At one stage, with the equally outstanding Danni Wyatt stationed to her right – and both, therefore, within about thirty yards of where I was scribbling – it felt fab-yoo-luss to be in the presence of such intensely-tuned athletes. If you wanted authentic, high level sport, it was patently in front of you. If you wanted frisson and raw but heightened entertainment, ditto.

I am posting a picture of Mady Villiers throwing, at the head of this blog. It’s a cheat in the sense that this pic – robbed from ECB, from memory – was not taken on the night that Mady announced herself as a presence. That was Hove, Sat-dee Sept whatever-it-was. (Go find some highlights, maybe?) Here, in this frame, Villiers is ready to go/flow/throw.

As a coach/sports-fan/bloke, I love this pic. It reeks of urgency and focus and magnificent, grooved movements. It’s bursting through stuff. Love the left foot raised as the heel is placed. Love the wide, elastic base and that sideways-on position. Love the game face and the high, throwing elbow. Love the gesture of the left hand as it flips and points and feels for the target. Love that the chest and core is clearly being flexed and opened, ready for the lashing-through of that right arm. Love that she’s gonna bloody sling this, hard.

Am aware of the dangers of extrapolating out – searching for symbols. But (quite possibly because of my flaws or guilt or certainly my *viewpoint*) it feels not irrelevant that this is a young woman. Mady Villiers. Showing the universe that she can really do this.

Points of Interest.

How many times do coaches find their best team by accident? Feels like a lot – across sports. Today, about twenty-five minutes in, with Finn Russell making Test Rugby look an absolute lark, it seemed that Gatland had joined that long illustrious list of flukers.

Biggar, a magnificent, hearty, consistently excellent manager-of-the-game had succumbed, after ten. Russell – palpably the brighter, more twinkletastic star – looked immediately what he is; a more complete footballer. The Lions, immediately and with relish, adopted Plan B (Finn scratchmix inna dancefloor stylee) and rugby broke out. The Sherrif scored. The Boks had no answer.

And then, ultimately, they did.

Points of interest and possibly contention. Why was Russell not a starter? (Or Hook, Grealish, or Hoddle?) Because they represent, apparently, a risk. The *best, most gifted players*. Percentage-wise. They fall victim.

They fall victim but then the coach or captain chooses to ‘make statements’ rather than take easy points. Meaning bigger gambles, probably, than those around selection of the best footballers you have. Work the algorithms around that baby, I’m still in a froth; have been since yaknow, whenever.

The Lions should have won the deciding Test, earlier, by half-time. There really was a period when the Boks had no answer to Russell’s Running Rugby – an Accidental Gambol. Suddenly the Irish genius Henshaw – switched to 13 but still finding an exhilarating burst of flow and freedom – came into the game. The forwards popped and crackled… and recycled. It seemed that in the knowledge of Russell’s multi-dimensional brilliance, the guys in red honed-in on a way of playing: perhaps they were thinking that this is the only way Ar Finn can do this? Whatever; it worked and maybe crucially they were playing, rather than ‘executing’. This was rugby not strategy – or felt and looked that way.

Coaches and captains may be making calls about how far they push for killer moments (as opposed to taking points), or there may be a kind of all-in squad policy to go ambitious, go for the statement. Certainly belief in The Process is rife: players across sports being asked to go back to that sacred well. It may be a great hypothesis but it may also be bollocks of the most obvious kind, predicated on masturbatory over-coaching or dumb machismo. Amazing, contradictory stuff: High Philosophy and weird, primordial denial of that which is surely unarguable – the needs of the game situation.

Whether Gatland or Alun bach or the whole posse opted as one for bold kicks and subsequent lineouts (and scores, ideally) we may never know. We cannot even know if the eminently presentable penalties spurned would have been converted. However, it seems likely that a critical distance could have been established between the two sides. Maybe *after that* might have been the time for the visitors to express some superior confidence?

One of the more delicious ideas to emerge from this series is whether or not a kind of Barbarian approach from the Lions might have prevailed. It did, after all seem like whenever the away team threw the ball around they brought not just excitement but a very real threat. So imagine Russell playing throughout. This might have brought Watson and Hogg into the games – might have brought tries, victories and – who knows – a smile to the face of world rugby? But of course that wasn’t Gatland’s brief.

There is a case that the option towards lineouts/driving mauls/theoretical tries cost the Lions the series. There is a case that Liam Williams – who, I emphatically thought should be restored – cost the Lions the series. (Failed to put Adams in, catastrophically/made a right hash of trying to stop the winning try). There is a case that Gatland only got anywhere near his best team on the park (and that strangely this precipitated periods of both dominance and entertainment) when fate intervened. So funny ole game.

The South Africans are clearly a force but I can live with your accusations of naff partisanship after my next, final, inflammatory notion… that they are both unlovable and led by donkeys. Surely neutrals would have viewed much of this series as poor – possibly as anti-sport? Much of that hard grind and all of the matrix of cheap mind-games and cynically dislocating ‘theatre’, were (let’s remember) choices? But yeh: coaches, eh?

All Our Fuss.

An addition: after the event. In the light of the despicable racist abuse of the players involved, a sentence about England and its gammons. If any clown thinks my view of events (below) is in any sense a criticism of any of the players who stepped up to take penalties, then they are stupid as they are prejudiced. Similarly, those who created mayhem and violence of any sort, or posted or in any sense sympathised with the bigoted filth that arose, predictably, online do not speak for me. In fact they make it almost impossible – for me any many others – to identify as an English-born football fan.

This post contains *opinions* – chiefly criticisms of Gareth Southgate – but it is as anti-racist as he is.

Here’s what he should have done – he being Southgate.

In the short term, he should have quietly but firmly told Saka and Sancho they weren’t taking pens. And somebody on the staff should have told Rashford that long and winding run-up was too daft, too convoluted and too involved to be the preamble to generational glory. Those three game lads will carry the guilt but it was an obvious series of howlers, from the gaffer.

Anybody who knows football knows you need a few touches to warm up the senses – perhaps particularly if you then face the cold reality of a dead ball to strike, early-doors. Howler, then, that in his conservatism and unwillingness to act, Southgate fails to give Rashford and Sancho meaningful time on the pitch. Howler – no matter how much the players themselves may have clamoured for the moment – that Southgate misreads the magnitude of all this, and allows Sancho and Saka to step up. More senior, more solid players should have been tapped-up weeks ago.

During the prelude to penalties, there had been a sense of scramble – perhaps there always is? But it looked like the order was still being thrown down, by the England Manager and his chief aide Steve Holland, right at the last. Could be they were deciding on penalty takers 8, 9 and 10 but wasn’t a good look. And despite Mancini making a gaffe of his own – by allowing the wretched Belotti, who has been woeful on each of his appearances – to fluff, entirely predictably, his effort, the maths worked for the Azzurri. England got beat on pens again.

Perverse to blame Sir Gareth? I think not. Or at least I am prepared to continue the no-doubt unpopular and admittedly rather severe arguments I’ve been making for weeks/months/years. Southgate is a great manager but dispiritingly pragmatic coach; a man whom we are right to love and cherish for his worldliness and contemporary suss… but still, despite that theoretical generosity, a relentlessly one-dimensional football man. England hid away their talents, once more.

The best team won, on the night – even after an electrifying start for the home team. Italy slaughtered England for much of the second half, either side of a deserved equaliser. If Chiesa had not been sadly withdrawn due to injury, you feel he personally would have extinguished the Three Lions, in Ordinary Time. (3-1, I’m guessing). As it was, England dragged it out, before showing a little spirit as the thing ebbed towards that sapping denouement.

But Southgate had again been frozen into inactivity, compared to his opposite number. There were no England subs when the universe cried out for them. (Southgate barely does subs: subs imply proactive thinking). Mancini, meanwhile, swapped everybody, as his players strode forward. England belatedly brought on Sancho but even that felt like a sop: something you can do ‘safely’ because he’s out there, on the fringes. Then came Henderson, for a tiring Rice. Grealish, as always, appeared to ‘make a rescue’; when it felt like the game had gone. Feeble stuff, from those allegedly directing the England camp.

England played well in the first half. There was some energy, some purpose, even if there was comparatively little in the way of joined-up play. Again this reflects the manager’s penchant for the seeing-out of games as opposed to fluent football. Whilst I have to respect that this pragmatism evidently got his side to the final – and the semi, at the World Cup – I absolutely reject this as a life-choice. Playing Not Much Football is life-crushingly dull. It may even, despite appearances, be dumb: we will never know what a team coloured by Grealish and a free, flicking, flashing Foden might have achieved. Maybe it might have both entertained us and won the bloody tournament.

Gareth chose not. He opted for the safety of six or seven defensively-minded players and a system that spoke to the gods of Care and Management. Yes, there were times when his players flew a little: Sterling, though pale last night, looked a worldie for much of the tournament. Kane looked a player again, for the first 45. Elsewhere, how did the creative players fare? (Who were the creative players, actually?) England’s culture was again so steeped in What If They Do This To Us(?) that we saw very little of Mount/the wingers/any truly sustained attacking play.

The best team won. They won, ultimately, in a shootout that was manifestly mishandled by England but Italy should have won earlier. It was a stunning and deserved triumph for Mancini, who has not only made the Azzurri almost unbeatable again but has made them more watchable than at any time since… I dunno… 1966?

England’s tournament was arguably another stepping-stone: but perhaps only towards that rather miserly acceptance that games of football are there to be managed, not enjoyed. There will be claims of heroism and spirit: these are exaggerations. A goodish team has done well – without looking stylish or fluent. Neutrals will still be wondering what all our fuss is about.

Player/Manager ratings: out of 10.

Southgate – as Manager, 12. As Coach, 6.

Pickford – 6.5. Spent the night bawling, as always and lashing the ball 60 yards up the park. Clearly under instruction, but he ensured England lost possession within 25 seconds of gaining it. Ridiculous.

Trippier 6. Had his vengeful head on. Odd. Only occasionally involved.

Walker 8. Solid, athletic, calm.

Maguire 6.5. Weirdly changeable again. Some woeful, nervy touches and some of that upright elegance.

Stones 6.5. Ver-ry quiet. Not sure if that was good.

Shaw 7.5. First-half great, later barely contributing, going forward.

Phillips 7. As always, got better – or worthier? – as things progressed. Ran forever but few memorable passes.

Rice 8. England’s best player for an hour. Actually ran past people but – as expected – lacked that killer incision.

Sterling 5.5. A significant disappointment. Look what Chiesa – his oppo’, arguably, in the Player of the Tournament stakes – did.

Kane 7. Excellent for some of the first half; then too quiet.

Mount 6. Ran but made few contributions with the ball.

A Sacrilege.

I’m up for maybe fifty percent of the Southgate love-in. No, seventy percent.

The bit that says he’s an outstanding manager – but maybe, possibly not coach.

The bit that’s utterly, utterly behind his messaging about race, diversity, honouring the Black Lives Matter campaign.

The stuff that without being overtly political, is pissing all over the gammons and the government.

I’m also absolutely behind the idea that you need to judge the character and the nature of players, and build with them. In some cases this might mean trusting them to come good – gambling that their faith in you and your culture will produce. In other cases, folks get passed over or dropped… because this is professional football.

Southgate is something of an exemplar, on these terms; he gets Bigger Pictures – well, some of them – and he is generous enough to insist they – or some of them – count.

But life is complicated. It’s ridiculous, surely, to look at England FC and see the whole as a simple, shining light? Even if all the players were/are completely united behind Sir Gareth’s entirely compelling aspirations towards equality and respect. Even if it’s right to be righteous in the face of stinking privilege and prejudice (at government level and in the general population), it doesn’t make sense that – as some of the more delusional columns are suggesting – Southgate is leading us towards a brighter, fairer dawn. He isn’t – he can’t.

The England Manager is doing a wonderful job of many things but – to take one example – he cannot divert or control or persuade away the likely jeering and booing of the Italian national anthem tonight. In short, his dignity and grace, inspiring though it is, cannot undo the wider malaise.

Out with it. We have the most amoral PM imaginable, leading a shamelessly corrupt government streaked with racism and bile. The country – England – is more loaded up with contempt for The Other than at any period in a lifetime. The best Gareth can do is make a wee dent, show a better face to the watching world. The campaigners within his group will likewise do their skilful, progressive bit but as so often, only the converted may be listening. Southgate/Rashford/Sterling/the Universe deserve better.

Life is complicated and we wish it could be more just. Southgate’s philosophical stuff is wonderful but only The Mood will change – and probably only then if England win.

Let’s talk footie, then, briefly. I have consistently argued that Southgate’s conservatism – I know, ironic, but that’s what it is – around managing games out rather than playing great, attacking football disappoints me. His ‘pragmatism’ re Rice and Phillips. His ‘ruthlessness’ re Grealish. I hear (how could I not?) the argument that Winning (or in tournament football) Winning Through Is What It’s All About; but for me, nah.

The undeniable fact that Ingerland have gotten through to the final does not mean fitful and relatively negative displays in the early rounds, or seven defensively-minded players against an ordinary German side or no Grealish and minimal Foden was unarguably right – either ‘ethically’ or in football terms. Nor does it mean that selection or even strategy was right, over all. It just means that it worked over these few tournament games and they got through. (Unpopular note: England again had an almost suspiciously easy draw).

Who’s to say what a genuinely ambitious side, with James and Chilwell as genuine flyers and Foden and Grealish as genuine players, might have done?

No matter how good Shaw or Rice, or Phillips might have been, there was another way. Fascinatingly, we might see it as a more generous, more holistically enriching way… but this would set it entirely at odds to the Gareth Project: would make it a sacrilege. It may be outright dangerous to suggest that Southgate Himself has been a tad disingenuous in describing the squad’s alleged commitment to entertainment and excitement. Sure, the excitement has happened but more, in my view, via the winning than the doing.

(*Notes*: Italy have come through playing the most positive football we’ve seen from the Azzurri for decades. Which may mean nothing).

Southgate is a thoroughly good man – too good for most of us. I would love him more completely if his approach to the football had been as generous as his approach to his Public Duties.