I. Moral.

The word ‘immoral’ has been bandied about, eh? In politics and on social.

Fair enough, in fact thank god; any sentient being must have felt the creep of depravity and self-interest swilling over from the nauseating Johnson administration (hah!) to the newly-hatched but similarly reptilian Truss Crew. It may even be that A. B. de Pfeffel (etc)’s only profound contribution to British Public Life was the re-ushering of considerations around goodness and decency… because the twat was so manifestly bereft of both.

Yup, surely beyond dispute that the dishevelled clown was amoral – lazy and utterly uncaring? Secure in his repellent cocoon, protected by generational privilege and just enough ‘quirky’ wit to seduce a sufficient percentage of morons out there in The Country, as well as a few fading, doe-eyed, probably aspirational debutantes within his, or The Party’s clutches. He raised the flag for the slags – male and female – and the heartless.

Hard to be sure how much Truss loved and/or admired him, but plainly there are *connections*. Johnson’s weird ‘libertarian’ bullishness becomes her Free Market Mania. His wallowing in pomp and casual signalling about race and value becomes her pointy-thin English nationalism. Neither give a toss, nor know anything about the lives of ordinary people.

I confidently expect Johnson to be the worst P.M. of my lifetime but in that grubby contest, fair play, Truss has gotten off to an absolute flyer. She is less obviously steeped in entitlement but more openly pro- Those Who Have than he was. Astonishingly. The now infamous mini-budget, concocted with fellow servant-of-the-toffs-and-corporations Kwarteng was perhaps the most mind-blowingly brazen genuflection towards concentrated and unlimited wealth-gathering within the great families and corporations that this country/these countries have ever seen. Truss and Kwarteng shoved it in our faces. Those Who Have will get more – you other fuckers will get less, to pay for their ‘growth’.

Growth. Say it like the swear word it is. On a dying planet; in an ‘advanced society’. Four billion years of evolving life and these evil puppets are saying this is how we should work? Forget that which is decent. Forget equality or any sense of philosophical civility. Forget the Climate Crisis. Let the obscenely rich… be richer?

Biden’s notable but understated rebuke around the laughable and patently discredited ‘trickledown theories’ – unacknowledged by Truss and co, but plainly at the empty core of their vacuous ‘policies’ – was one of the minor highlights of recent political badinage, on the Twitters. (Put your hands up, friends, if the sight of a serving Brit PM getting called out for so obviously being a dumbo, made you smile – albeit ruefully). Even the (centrist) Yanks are laughing at us; at our hopeless, mean, un-educated transparency.

But maybe there is hope. Because it’s not just Andy Burnham using that word immoral. Despite the relative absence of political intelligence in the population, there is some decency. Folks know that there really is something foul about bought-Tories (like Truss) and Outed Toffs (like Kwarteng) opting to line the pockets of their allies. There is no windfall tax on the energy giants. Tax cuts *do*, barely credibly, favour the rich. The lurch both to the right and away from that which is right has found another gear. Oh, the arrogance! Did they think we wouldn’t figure this out?

On top of the willful, cheapening, xenophobic project that was Brexit, the Truss Conspiracy piles more economic and cultural madness. There’s an argument that the key driver here is prejudice – certainly it’s powerfully present. Prejudice (or lack of care) around ordinary folk, because they ‘barely contribute’. Or because they will never grow. Prejudice (of course) towards Others; those who are foreign, whose value is less than us, the Exceptional English. Prejudice born of estrangement from normal lives.

Whilst the Tories plainly got in because of this prejudice – the whole Johnson/Cummings campaign was constructed around it – something’s changed. It’s possible that many of those gullible to racial constructs are less persuaded by strategies built around class: particularly where the thrust of advantage seems mono-directional; that is, to the overwhelming benefit of the rich.

Interestingly, Truss feels relatively isolated. Even before she shocked some (but not all) of her party colleagues by being embarrassingly shambolic, it seemed like few Tories actually believed in her, or were following. (The figurehead that is Truss has always felt decapitated, has it not – even from the nonentities and bit-players that now make up her cabinet?)

The Conservative Party may, post-Boris, have been ripe for more nationalism and more strident neo-liberalism, but I’m not sure they expected this shite. Appalling competence, woeful messaging and startlingly reactionary economics.

One of the most telling allegations against the Tories since the asinine May era is that there’s been no voice for the good. No-one protesting for decency and fairness. Under Johnson, naturally, urgent or mindful voices were subsumed by the essential hedonism of the individual. Bojo was expressly amoral: nobody called him out. That cowardice – the absence of conscience – may yet decimate the party. They deserve it.

Truss is an ideological fool, soon to be caught in amber with her arms-length colleague, Kwarteng. They may actually believe in their growth theories but nobody trusts their intentions. Events – funding/’contacts’/the facts of their upbringing – present them as neck-deep in either corruption or privilege or both. They have outed themselves and some would say, the Tories, as Defenders of the Haves. They have done it more shamelessly than any government we might remember: even Johnson was less economically-wedded to the class he burst forth from.

The government are indeed immoral. Though that might not be the word that Everyman might find, it is the sentiment that will bring this callous cohort down. Soon. The people know.

They – the Tories, these Tories – are #theveryworstofus.

Clickbait? You betcha!

Hey. Front-loading this (from last night) with a sentence on *that* presser-invasion. That presser-invasion by the England Women players may have been the best moment in the history of sport.

Now read on.

Feel like doing something cheap and inflammatory – much like the fella Kelly and the fella Bronze did, late-on, for England. (They are blokes, right? Or could it be they just pretended to be, at the death there?)

So yeh how about that cheapest of cop-outs – the Player Ratings thing – along with some comments? Let’s get at it…

EARP. 8.5: tournament score 8.5.

May have been England’s best player of the tournament and was ver-ry solid again tonight. Commanding under the high ball; had no chance with the German goal. Does she score extra style points or lose some, though, for the Loving The Camera thing? Comes all over a bit David Seaman/Jordan Pickford when she feels the lens upon her. Whatever: good work. You stay down there for ten minutes gurll, if ya can get away with it.

BRONZE. 6.25: tournament score 6.

This may be the best, most dynamic athlete and *player* in the England squad and she may know it. She’s off to Bayern next, no doubt seeking ‘a new challenge’ and a purse commensurate to her talents. (Most of which is fine, of course. Except possible inflated ego and limited loyalty). Bronze is a worldie who has spent much of the last two years either playing soo faaar within herself that she is almost absent, or being wasteful or under-focused (particularly defensively) given the immense talent she has. Poor tournament, given the success of the team and shockingly blokey cynicism (reffing the game/looking to inflame/amateur dramatics in the last ten minutes of extra-time). Should certainly have been booked for that nonsense. So yeh. We see you, Bronzey. We don’t need you thinking you’re a male Premier League Legend. Get playing.

BRIGHT. 8.679. Tournament score 9.

May be England’s most limited player but Player of the Tournament nevertheless. A Rock. The Stopper. The Lioness Army on her own, pretty much. *Maybe* might have closed down Magull earlier or better for that German goal but otherwise a close to flawless competition for the erm, Rock Stopper.

Williamson. 7.8. Tournament score 7.231.

Hugely accomplished player and excellent foil for Bright. Reads the game, can thread passes. Goodish but not at her peak in this adventure.

DALY. 7. Tournament score 6.9.

‘Honest’, old-school full-back. Meaning likes to clatter wingers and do that defensive graft. Limited composure and quality on the ball. Will battle.

WALSH. 6.572. Tournament score 6.572.

Holding midfielder who can play. But didn’t, all that much. Can see a pass but didn’t, all that much. Lacked presence, both physical and in terms of influence.

KIRBY. 6.1. Tournament score 6.3.

Fabulous player who has had significant health/fitness issues. Lucky to have seen this campaign out, having been scandalously absent in certain matches. Real shame she barely featured again tonight: Kirby oozes quality and skill and composure when purring. This evening, on a stage made for her, she barely made a pass.

STANWAY. 7.82. Tournament score 7.28.

Mixed again, from the playmaker. Not as ineffectual as Kirby but not convincing or influential in the way her team-mates, fans and coaching team might have hoped. Got drawn into some of the spiteful stuff and rarely picked her head up to find a killer pass. Good player marginally below form.

HEMP. 6. Tournament score 6.

Surprisingly low? Not for me. Hemp is a tremendous player, who does torment opponents week in, week out. But she started nearly every match looking paralysed by nerves and (as well as making some good runs and the occasional threatening cross) she ran down faaaar tooo many blind alleys. Fully understand Wiegman’s No Changes policy but Hemp’s mixed contributions were so obvious that she might have been dropped in another high-flying side. In short, another underachiever given her ability.

MEAD. 6.75. Tournament score 7.243.

Golden Boot winner: scorer of a couple of fine goals. What’s not to like? Mead’s wastefulness wasn’t at the level of her co-wide-person, Hemp but her early contributions tended to be somewhere between woeful and mediocre. So nerves. When she settled or didn’t have time to think she smashed the ball in the net. So significant plusses. But I maintain she was significantly down on her capacity.

WHITE. 6. Tournament score 6.

Fine all-round striker who lacked her edge. Good movement but missed chances, including an early header tonight. Intelligent, crafty, even but neither involved sufficiently in link-up play nor the Fox-in-the-Box she aspires to be. She may not care, but not a great tournie for Whitey.

SUBS.

RUSSO. 6.75.Tournament score 7.45.

She’ll (and we’ll) always have that backheel – probably the Footballing Moment of the Year(?) – and she featured well on appearing around the hour. Has a certain physicality White lacks and does threaten magic. Wiegman will be feeling pret-ty smug, I’m guessing that her Russo Project delivered.

TOONE. 7.82. Tournament score 7.49.

Beautifully-taken goal, against the grain of the match. Historic, I guess. Is a talent and, like Russo, has the gift of sparking something. Quite possibly unlucky not to have started games: was quietish, mind, apart from the goal.

KELLY. 6.2. Tournament score 6.2.

Bundled in her goal but like most of us half-expected it to get ruled out for the way in which she fought off her defender. Then went mental. (Think her goal was probably legit but would it have been given in Berlin, I wonder? The officials were consistently poor, were they not?) Have no problem identifying as a Football Purist so thought Kelly’s repeated and deliberately inflammatory way of ‘going to the corner’ was literally foul. An awful way to finish a good tournament.

Don’t care if folks think I’m being embarrassingly retro if I say it’s a slippery slope, that, down to where the scheisters in the Bloke’s Big Time hang out to ‘draw their fouls’. Cheap shot after cheap shot – unnecessary. The manifestly higher levels of fairness and respect in the women’s game are important. Don’t fall in to shithousery, please. Thought the lead pundit on the telly-box – former England keeper – was appalling around this and her pitifully one-eyed view of the game, generally, was unedifying.

SCOTT. 7. Tournament score 7.

Scott’ s brief for some time is to run around for a limited period of time and rob the ball, then keep it simple. She tends to do that well. She’s feisty, too. Fading memory – was it her, wassit her?!? – of a Classic Moment when argy-bargy broke out and Scott bawled “FUCK OFF YOU FUCKING PRICK!!” into the face of one of our European sisters. Guessing our Jill is a Brexiteer.

WIEGMAN. 7.985. Tournament score 8.972.

Clearly a good coach/manager of people. Don’t entirely buy the Oh My God She’s a Genius meme, because England were outplayed for too long by Spain and Sweden (and for some periods tonight) without sufficient reaction from either the England players or their coaching team. But she’s good, and she couldn’t do more than win the bloody thing, eh? Apparently she’s a right laugh, too. So maybe add a full point to those scores, on reflection.

PRESSER INVASION. 10.
The best, funniest, most human thing a daft bunch of wunnerful football stars have done for aeons. Magic.

OVERVIEW.

MASSIVE that England have won a tournament. Weird, you may think, that they have won it with half the team underachieving. But I do think that. #WEuro2022 has been a good, often fabulous comp with an ordinary final won by a team who maybe had a little luck. So what’s new? Most tournaments go that way, in fact many are poor quality, in truth and have a duffer of a showpiece.

It was important and often thrilling that we saw some top, top footie, with real quality, composure and skill at this event. France were outrageous at times; Spain gave England an hour lesson; Sweden and the Netherlands were tremendously watchable when at their best. But England went and won it; scrapped and flew in there and battled and then won it. They are to be congratulated. Here’s hoping we can look back on this in a wee while and bring out the ‘l’ word – legacy, dumbo! – without rolling our eyes (a la London Olympics, etc, etc).

I’m thinking this could be huge for women’s sport all over Europe, not just in Ingerland.

Field of Dreams.

A challenge, this: to wrangle with the conflictions around Flintoff and somehow appreciate fairly the reality-docu-dip that was his “Field of Dreams”.

Let’s blast away at the opening concerns, and indeed the opening credits. Crap intro which ladles on the Freddie-lurv and traduces the state of the game as it stands. (Of bloody course cricket is dogged by elitism – I spend half my life trying to oppose or render it obsolete – but it’s not THE most privileged sport in Britain. Let’s not start with a shameless dollop of clickbait and a slack falsehood: that debate is important).

Get that this is ‘popular TV’ but not sure that means we need to launch with Sun readership-level positioning of the central issue; that faaar too many kids are either denied the game entirely, or are rendered ‘irrelevant’ by lack of facilities/coaching/dosh. Wonderful that Frederico is (belatedly?) struck by the need to do something… but c’mon, let’s have a wee look at the thinking or motivation behind that. Then we can un-pick the socio-economic/class-based problems and hopefully look with clarity at the pitiful, possibly unsustainable failures of leadership.

Do I doubt the quality of Fred’s feeling for the game, or his impulse to pitch in and use his profile to put something back? Absolutely not. Would I have preferred it if he hadn’t made a documentary series off the back of that concern – i.e. if he had quietly but maybe more magnificently done all of this stuff off-camera? (Yes).

On the one hand Flintoff’s generosity shines through, here but it’s also the case that the former cricket-god has form for being relentlessly attention-seeking: in short Fred’s made more appalling telly that almost any man alive, and much of this seemed to be driven by a deepish neediness which may spring from his own, heavily-reported issues. (Issues I am absolutely not under-estimating. I’m just speaking plainly). Flintoff, like many great sportsfolks, has both an ego and some not insignificant baggage.

Flintoff also authentically has that Northern Way of being good and being honest. He is genuinely concerned for and genuinely proud of the mixed bag of dysfunctional ‘nutters’, borderline depressives and fabulous ‘under-achievers’ that make up his group. There are legitimately poignant (and even important) stories intertwined with the inevitable gather towards comradeship/achievement/growth.

Speaking as a Northern Lad (originally), brought up with sport in the blood and hugely conscious of the role it can play, it struck familiar chords. I didn’t grow up with or encounter Afghani immigrants who had cut their way out of lorries not knowing where the hell they were. I did, however, grow up (in the fullest sense) with lads who were allegedly ‘a waste of space’ everywhere but the sports field. I have coached a million hours in Community Settings and am proud to know people who spend their lives doing what Flintoff did – offering that way in. I know cricket can be a platform, a shelter, a right bloody laugh.

So I welled up, listening to lads who are nearly lost; imagining my kids on the streets; seeing Sean’s clandestine brilliance so dismembered by circumstance.

Freddie Flintoff’s Field of Dreams” is enjoyable and compelling but flawed – of course it is. Fred’s that way himself (and so say all of us). Cricket is neck-deep in privilege and therefore dysfunction but this join-the-dots shuftie at ‘estates’, idylls and elite private schools, may not have added much to the urgently necessary discussions around administrative change and resolving inequality. (To be fair, that probably wasn’t The Brief).

Fred, and the essential team of (community) coaches who (though largely absent from our screens) clearly effected much of the cricket development, did some great stuff. I love and honour both them and the game, for that. The obligatory former SAS hunk threw in a team-building exercise that might have taken gold at the Blokey Back-slapping Olympics and Our Lovable Rogues *really did* make progress, not just as cricketers but as citizens.

Fred got some scallywags got off the streets, off their arses and (yes) inspired them to *do something positive*. Some fell in love with the game. Some made much-needed mates. Perhaps most importantly, about half of them joined the local club after the TV Caper was done. Flintoff used his clout, some of his personal wedge and an infectious lump of encouragement to make a difference. To paraphrase him, late-on; it may even be that the listening, the offering, the life-changing malarkey was waaay more important than any win over a bunch of toffs could be. This was bigger than cricket.

Pic courtesy BBC TV.

Johnson.

We can’t just leave it to James O’B, so…

Johnson. The heave-inducing haystack; part lard, part Scarf(e)ian nightmare . The Liar. The Cheat. The Truly Grossly-Entitled One. The son of his father. ‘King of the World’. Did all of this stuff really happen?

Of course it did. And however much we absolve ourselves – even those of us who knew (who knew!) what sort of a malign prick he was – every single one of us has some serious thinking to do.

Without setting aside the Johnson-specific howlers, the international embarrassment, the murderous strategic failures, the government-by-racism, we have to be smart enough and generous enough to think beyond our justified contempt of the man. It’s fair enough to hate him, he’s a low-life in a surreal, truth-less realm he really does think he owns; a particularly foul individual. But this can’t happen again; this can’t all just be about him. Let’s deny him that.

We have to seek progress, do we not? So need to be as clear as we can about the enablers. (We won’t, sadly, be able to do much about the systems of privilege and prejudice in these islands but we must call them out).

Murdoch, Dacre and waaaay too much of the media has either created the environment for Johnson’s grotesque rampage or facilitated it via omission – by failing to call lies lies. Look with any intelligence or fairness at what the Mail/Express/Telegraph/Times have been pumping out and there’s a truly sinister level of delusion, bigotry, disinformation. The whole concept of news has been subsumed under a kind of contemporary signalling: imagery and relentlessly crass soundbitery hussling readers towards a mean, othering worldview. It’s strategic – meaning choreographed towards a specific purpose. Big Money, in short, is being protected.

I’ve just watched James Rob utterly eviscerate the Daily Mail and nodded along with the (yes, gedditt, plainly flawed) Alistair Campbell’s twitter onslaught against the worst PM of my lifetime. How many other significant public figures have been actually calling out Johnson’s filth and amorality, directly? Should it be down to Johnathon Pie to steer the public consciousness towards what’s really going on? Is that not the very purpose of The Media? How have they been so absent when The Story – that we’ve had a plainly debauched Tory leader with a high-viz capacity for lies, corruption and cronyism – is so obvious and undeniable? To repeat… is it not the media’s very function to report and therefore make judgement possible?

Of course it’s not, when they themselves are driving the urge towards cheap, dumb, race-based patterns of behaviour.

The Mail (surely a candidate for Most Vile Newspaper on the Planet?) enabled Johnson every step of the way – championed him. Dacre and co. made possible the rise of xenophobia and evil that powered Farage and Brexit, and the conflation/reduction of every political discourse to a dreamy return to a Proper Ingerland: white; noisy; exceptional. The Daily Mail coaches zillions of old, dim reactionaries towards a more exceptional bigotry every day. It is really not alone in this but everything from the relentless lying to the disappeared corruption around Covid contracts, Track and Trace, Arcuri, cash-for-honours, Russian influence, lobbying and second jobs, as well as the editing-out of the central horrors that are the Covid deaths, Partygate and the astonishing extravagances and outright law-breaking of the desperado couple, Cummings and Johnson is a function of the Murdoch/Media Baron Environment. We have to break that somehow.

Zooming out, the deliberate damage to political life and discourse is scary. The fact that Keir Starmer has been steered away from ‘controversy and ‘divisiveness’ for so long is indicative of a deadly failure within the system. The Opposition dare not oppose, for fear of a) Tory rags whipping up yet more dumb rage against them and b) this rage winning out, electorally. Only now, that Johnson is going (pleeeeeeze god), are we seeing any legit moral outrage from the Labour leadership. Previously, he daren’t call out lies for fear of scoring own goals.

On many levels this is offensive and inadequate – it serves us badly. But plainly Starmer has been advised not to appeal to people’s intelligence and decency, because three inch headlines about immigrants or scroungers will hold sway over that. That is, there is no (or there is insufficient) conscience out there – no sense that historic boundaries or norms around individual or collective behaviour remain valid. So nothing matters. When the PM’s getting blowjobs in parliament and/or been trying to get his mistresses jobs or jollies, or finishing his book/sorting his divorce instead of attending to international emergencies and this stuff somehow leaks away from view, things political are being steered ver-ry dangerously.

We’re still being run – being played – by a few families. Folks with colossal power, unthinkable wedges and an iron grip on all of us. It’s only occasionally that the truth of this cuts through. Cummings loved to paint himself as some anti-Establishment guru but he was (is) neck-deep in money and privilege. Johnson’s father is the very epitome of Olde English Entitlement: he will enjoy those privileges alongside those now afforded by his residency within the EU. (By the way, could there be a better symbol of Tory Hypocrisy than Our Stanley? True, there are a glut of contenders but everything about Johnson senior reeks of the very smuggest form of exemption – of the rules simply not applying).

Alexander Boris de Pfeffel Johnson – c’mon, let’s hoist him by that petard (no doubt) imposed by pater – is going. He hopes and expects to choose the time of his going – of course he does – and apparently expects us to host and underwrite his extravagant wedding during this period. After that he will (of course) slot into the easy life that is gifted consultancies and the After-Dinner Circuit, where he will command huge fees. (Can it just be me who’s thought all along that the whole degenerate Prime Minister Project has for Bojo been just another way of collecting anecdotes with which to entertain Lady Amplebosom, of Hartley Wintney? The shameless bastard will probably have his own talk show, never mind as many £100k speaking engagements as he wants. And he knew this would happen for him.)

Masses more of ‘Boris’ then, in the offing. Because the truth is paths will open, scandals will fade or disappear. Power persists. Johnson, despicable man that he is, will probably never be held accountable. And if he was, he wouldn’t care – wouldn’t need to. We may never know if his flirtations with Russian Intelligence were genuinely a threat to our national security, nor where the missing Track and Trace billions have landed. When it comes to Elite Family members, even the ‘quirky’ ones get protected.

London Calling. Or Falling? Or Stormed?

So waay too late, I went to an Olympics. Or an Olympic stadium. Aeons after the world loved London, Ingerland – ten excruciating years, in fact, by my reckoning – I’m there.

Now, somewhere between dystopian weirdness and jarringly-immediate come-uppance – and shit, at the moment of writing! – the fat, privileged, idle, laughing-stock who has robbed us of our very authenticity, preened the very worst of our national prejudices and creamed-off much of our silver for his pals in Stockbrokerville has been presented with a significant hurdle. Come the end of the day he may be spent. And this may be a turning-point back towards a kind of general decency and respect: a kind of England most of us could sign up to *at some level*.

(Yes, friends, I live in Wales so yes there are a million sub-clauses and qualifications inferred here. Don’t be insulted if I fail to itemise them?)

Meanwhile, *switching*, West Ham – the football team – smacked of a kind of earthy loveliness long before the London Olympics changed their geography as well as their profile. They were Bonds and Hurst and Peters and Brooking and Clyde Best. Their whole spirit was somehow characterised by the rolled-down socks (but metaphorically rolled-up sleeves) of that first-named club icon. So they were liked.

It’s absurd in 2022 to use phrases like ‘attractive football’; worse still to associate that with abstracted, rose-tinted community goodness but as I look around the acres of ‘park’ now home to the Happy Hammers, the clash of values, vistas and jazzed-up-verbals is somewhat mind-blowing. The mind drifts. The New Universe is built of gravel and murals. A metallic bowl, in cream and concrete and claret; opened-out spaces to accommodate a world of visitors; the greyish hinterland of planned policing.

I get there early so as to find stuff: Stratford, the stadium and a pub in Hackney Wick. It’s quietly thrilling to see so many Town milling about, more than two hours before kick-off. Already clear Solihull Moors gonna be swamped, on the terraces – or, ahem, in the seats.

Yes. I’m Grimsby and I’m there because I’m Grimsby. Despite being in West Wales for the whole of my considerable adult life. (Hands up, schizophrenic don’t cover it: proud of family and mates but substantially estranged from Ingerland. Particularly now). A National League Play-off Final has drawn me to The Smoke, not the prospect of a Boris be-heading, or the Plat Joob – which I have openly unsubscribed from.

Don’t blame me if the kaleidscopic madness of everything is conspiring towards another action painting. Blame them murals.

22,000 in the ground and towards 15k of them are GTFC. (No kidding. This may merely mark the size and history of the respective clubs but it feels incontrovertibly good, as a Town fan, in the building). Solihull – fair play – make a nonsense of this by quietly massacring a limp Mariners side for twenty-five minutes. They do all the ‘playing out’. They do all the ‘ball possession’. All the stuff we’ve been demanding, over beer and fodder in the local hostelry, they do.

Town have a fella called Fox in central midfield. He gets his head up. He gathers and looks – more than almost anybody in the National League. He should be playing alongside Clifton and he/they should be getting the ball. Hurst, the Grimsby manager, lacks the game intelligence to see this. Solihull boss the game faaaar too easily and Fox falls back on the easy role of dogged interceptor and header of midfield bombs. Clifton has a mare throughout. He’s not the only one undermined by nerves, tiredness and/or poor strategy but it’s a particular shame in his case.

Moors nearly murder us (see what I did there?) in the opening half-hour. Instead the lead at the interval is a manageable 1-0 – the eight foot twelve striker Kyle Hudlin inevitably nodding home just as folks were beginning to slide off for pies and pees. It’s been mixed fayre – and it remains that way – with Town’s dominance off the park barely reflected in the relatively uninspired action on the pitch.

It’s the National League; I get that. Guys are nervous and in the Mariners’ case, entitled to be drained. (Already two EPIC knock-out games ticked off. Remarkable, exhausting games). But there is a lot of poor, wasteful play and percentage-wise, a fair lump of that comes from Sousa, who, despite being gifted, seems to specialise in infuriating profligacy and Smith, who cannot pass. Others under-achieve but if I were to brutally dissect… those two guys seem the obvious candidates for release*, before the deeep breath and go again thing, in League Two, next season.

*Fully understand that some Town fans will powerfully disagree with this. Sousa’s dancing and Smith’s resilience have made a contribution. But for me they aren’t players for the next step.

The Town Faithful, perhaps blithely confident that somehow the Mariners will find a way, make their presence felt, periodically. And periodically, McAtee, the Boy Most Likely to, looks likely. Then he scores.

Seventy minutes gone, with Town threatening in bursts. McAtee beginning to look a tad laboured – been playing hurt, I’m guessing. A threaded pass offers a yard. He nails it, calmly threading the angle across the keeper. A million agents make another note. The lad may be in the Championship promptly; cruel for Town but plainly on merit.

We get our third consecutive bout of extra-time. Their right-winger gets his eighty-fourth cross in, unopposed by Amos. There is space and Town have thrown on the alternative, pacy strike-force to snatch this before pens. Abrahams is racing lustily around, Dieseruvwe showing the occasional good touch. Hurst’s late positivity feels like a healthy gamble.

The trauma of pens is avoided in probably the most predictable of fashions. Even though National League defenders spend most of their professional life defending aerial threats, (my) recent experience has been that they ain’t that proficient at doing it. (Witness Wrexham, here… and everything). A long throw is piled in to the six-yard box, from somewhere east of Lowestoft. A yellow-shirted neck cranes cruelly but the ball glances dangerously on. Maguire-Drew launches and gets a nudge. 2-1 Town.

Us part-time supporters (and Englishmen) go ballistic. It’s a ver-ry special eruption of pride, defiance, community. THIS TEAM have really triumphed. THIS TEAM really did refuse to lie down – serially. McAtee, soon after, is talking about 11 months of non-stop graft. The lad’s exhausted but wonderfully free of the arrogance that might come once somebody gets in his ear ‘about his worth’. He’s loved this club and loved this moment. He’s seen what it means to ‘these fans’. This is legitimate joy.

Anybody casting an eye over the decent sports press will have seen the columns that Jason Stockwood has been filing. They’re a kind of Decent Capitalism-Plus. The chairman gets it: people; value; patience; belief. I can’t argue with his support for Hurst – though in strategic terms I think he gets things wrong. But what the hell? There is something profoundly right – though indescribable – about Grimsby Town battling/earning/enabling an immediate (but endless, agonising) return to full-time, professional football.

Let’s draw no daft equivalence between that wonderful storming and the one the bloody nation(s) need. Travelling back to Wales, the issues, the anger, the surrealities will only garishly multiply. My ears have popped, bursting out of some West Of Ingerland tunnel. Deep breath and I’ll be all over the news channels.

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.