The Campaign for Gentlemanly Conduct; part 3.

So now we have the Para’s – is it okay to call them the Para’s? And more genuinely stirring and even remarkable sporting stuff to satiate that proper-joy-meets-nationalist-frisson-thing. A summer of smiling madly and wondering if that’s okay? C’mon… that reading and thinking stuff is … okay… but… give it a rest! BOUNCE – bounce and clap!! TOGETHER!

For life is simple and sport is good and gold is only gold. And these Olympics – these sports – can surely be enjoyed disproportionately in the moment but returned to the real life context promptly. Contemplate later if you will the alarming inconsistencies twixt ‘glory’ and gory chauvinism/materialism midst the nose-bagging or could it be appeasement of our most bovine requirements – for fast-food highlights watchable from our Pringle-caked sofas? If you will. Afterwards. Or not – I’m a fan, me.

So either relax or have fraught moments of post-modernist angst before keeping it simple. And celebrating – continuing to celebrate – on the Brit-funded, Brit-led and spun carousel. Every day there will be a fabulous and a winning smile as our athletes respond magnificently to the world-beating support in the world-class venues. Every day somebody will talk inspiringly modestly and generously of their achievement being rooted in their team, in us. And this sits somewhere rather proudly between heart-warming and outright wonderful. If you just believe.

The thread of my Conduct posts – which I promise I am returning to – has been woven crudely around this un 21st Century wholesomeness; the nature of TeamsGB being so contingent upon, so lifted by some recognition of (dare I use the word communal?) good stuff we might call spirit. It’s something surprisingly pure, this thing – their connection with, even their reliance upon a real and conceptual us. Time after time we have seen athletes rise to the challenge, even when the pressures seem absurdly charged agin them; they’ve performed; they’ve thrived. And this is one of the key things that separates them from (for example) England footballers.

There could be a specific charge here, that Team England FC have perennially wilted when their Olympic equivalents came around. I am more interested in broader charges against the game of football – or allegedly top level football – and its indulged protagonists.

My first two posts on this subject spilt their six-pack of beery moralistic banter around dubious ‘comparisons’ between the Olympic brilliance/properpeople combo as epitomised by Katherine Grainger/Mo Farrah/Justaboutallofthem,actually and (say) Rio Ferdinand. Following that massacre, in which it was scientifically proven that too many footballers really are wankers with the sensitivity of er… oil tankers, I begin to reconstruct the football model in a Danny Boyle-like pastorale. Because diving, screaming abuse at the ref and owning 5 rolexes is well out of order, right? So.

In this anarchic tumble I will again try to key you in to football’s anti-gems – the dollops of doo in the matrix – suggestive or reflective of wider issues. If this seems obtuse, my counter would be simply that I reckon fans feel like this, in spluttering, impassioned bulletpoints. It’s personal. Stuff that gets my wick then, includes;

  • Strikers seeking only to ‘draw’ a foul, or better still a penalty whilst bearing down on goal –or, increasingly, anywhere on the goddam pitch. The traditionally burning, gurning desire of the No. 9 to smash one in the top corner now being gone.
  • Pretending to be religious whilst crossing the threshold of the park.
  • Endless and often aggressive abuse of the referee/officials.
  • Petty appealing for ‘everything’, including everything that patently isn’t ‘ours.’
  • Diving and acting and the generally associated trying to get a fellow pro (hah!) sent off.
  • Note to above; in particular the diabolical histrionics around any slight contact with the face. I’ve seen Scotty Parker – otherwise a proper throwback to good ole English terrierhood – feign acid attack to his fizzog; unforgivable. And diabolically prevalent.
  • That general crassness around money.
  • That general crassness around seemingly knowing the value of nothing.
  • Specifically on Teams England FC – even given their prevailing mediocrity – the galling lack of achievement when Big Days arrive. (And I’m not just talking about penalties.)
  • More than this, the stultifyingly dull and ungenerous manner in which England teams have performed in these major tournaments. Where they play no meaningful football; where they seem pale unbelieving shadows… barely even ticking the ‘honest triers’ box. This chronic unbelief, this inability to rise when atmospheres are at their most magnificent is surely hugely telling of their relative smallness as people as well as damning of England systems? It’s what makes fans wonder if they care… and rightly or wrongly, football fans watching our Olympians and Paralympians will and do wonder why the hell the footballers can’t lift their game like this. Sorry… did I go off on one ?

Much of this counts as a digression I know. So I will attempt to retreat to my argument over Gentlemanly Conduct.

The crassness in Premiership football combined with the Hodgson-led slink back (apparently) to philosophies 30 years plus out of date means there is a crisis in the soul of English football; a real one. It may be business as usual in the Prem but it’s a sour business. Particularly when compared to the smiley-roundedness of what we have seen on tracks, on water and generally all over this summer. Nobody believes in the players because they are mercenaries. They dive, they cheat, they lack much of what is broadly regarded to be sporting. The managers routinely offend our intelligence, either through blandly pursuing the Offer Nothing ritual that is the ‘face the cameras’ moment, or, in the case of someone like the now departed Dalglish, by being actively hostile to the notion that folks might want to know something. Something real. The presiding emotions – if any are apparent – are closer to a kind of barbarism than sport. And football is… a sport.

My Campaign for Gentlemanly Conduct is a loose and I hope likeably unthreatening but genuine call for that tumbleweed moment to turn into that lightbulb moment; for some change. Footie is so in my blood it’s not true; yet I find myself turning elsewhere, increasingly, for that daft but preciously sustaining glimpse of triumph or grace. Because too much in the game is not good enough; leading me to ask why and what might be done.

My conclusion is that a recalibration of notions of respect – and the Law of the Game around this – is necessary. This seems central to the major problems (and major turn-offs), namely the poor or disrespectful or dishonest conduct of players and managers.

It’s one of the great no-brainers of world sport that footballers must be in whatever way works re-educated in terms of their relationship with referees in particular. This will probably mean bans for abuse, fines in the modern era being sadly meaningless. Beyond this, I contend there really is a role for some panel of wise men or women who review controversial moments or incidents that in some way bring the game into disrepute. They should be empowered to penalise offenders against sportsmanship as well as the Laws of the Game.

I realise the difficulties around such a panel but see little hope for improvements unless at some stage player X is materially judged against for obvious simulation – for example. If this necessitates changes or extensions to the laws so be it; that might where that politically unsound but retrievable Ungentlemanly Conduct concept comes in.  Making things or people better.  Then 3 former players or officials in a room – job done.

Us fans feel that stuff is wrong and needs righting somehow. Having a foot in other sporting camps I can tell you that rugbyfolks and cricketers and sportsfolk generally really are offended and really do relentlessly mock the arrogance and the lack of honour (however pompous that might sound) amongst footballers. The Campaign for Gentlemanly Conduct has been (and is) about representing that amorphous groundswell-thing against crap in football. Crap behaviour, crap attitudes, crap awareness. Football… take a look at yourself.

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The Campaign for Gentlemanly Conduct; part one.

The 2012 Olympics was a significant success for New Blighty in virtually every way you can think of, including and importantly because it did express some progress towards an appreciation of and national ease with our much discussed multi-culturalism. It’s surely a tad more difficult now to be casually or serially racist? Now that we’ve all seen how wonderfully part of us Mo Farrah/Jess Ennis are, how much we mean to them, even. Only the most outstandingly moronic and impervious xenophobe could bark out white supremacist garbage (or similar) in the glorious wake of such a unifying Olympics, yes?

That may be too optimistic a view. But for me a key memory, a genuinely warming one amongst the admittedly intoxicatingly gathering festival concerned how we look… and how we sound, us Brits. Tied into those abstract notions of place and belonging – notions frequently co-opted or compromised by sometimes legitimate political or cultural discourse – this goodly thing that shone back at us (proper people?) did appear to be about us; our team.

We were a hugely attractive bunch; black or mixed race or whatever. And when our athletes emerged into individual focus from their brilliant blur of TeamGBness, for their post-blow sofa-spots or trackside verbals, they were, despite their ‘diversity’ uniformly charming and generous; they were great company.

Dangerously for those of us attempting to report without lapsing pretty immediately into anglo-corn, our athletes brought back to us virtues feared lost in the age of footballer-generated smog. They really were delightful, articulate and entirely believable as decent specimens of humanity. They were compellingly appropriate if not ideal representatives for us. We therefore revelled in the sense of a shared adventure – inevitably more or less vicariously – but with a persistently humming and occasionally electrifyingly uplifting connection. Because beyond the silverware, the medals, there was a profound general awareness of extraordinary people – them – giving of their best in the knowledge of, or even motivated by, other people – us!

…Here comes that dangerous crop of hagiopoop…

Consequently us Brits were gawping and smiling at heroic effort and deserved success by athletes we were proud to think of as Our Lot – not just because of their winning but because of their winning humility, humour and palpable honesty. Time after time – you pick your own! – we were presented with beaming members of TeamGB who captivated us with their wit and their roundedness during interview. They talked with real warmth and appreciation and understanding and insight and generosity about their event… and often our place in their success. And we loved them for all that.

Okay. So deep breath and yes, remember not God Save but those other lyrics, of Declan MacManus –

No more fast buck / when they gonna learn their lesson

When we gonna stop all of these victory processions?

Maybe the world hasn’t actually been changed. A fine Olympics hasn’t, sadly, undermined the monolithic badness of Growth-worship or manifest greed. (In fact, looking at the sponsors… let’s not go there.) But maybe something in our sporting world got better? And maybe we can nudge or bundle shy or retiring loveliness a bit closer to the front of class?

Already a certain momentum against widely perceived arrogance and ludicrous over-remuneration of modest and frankly often undeserving talents in the football world has arisen. Not that many needed the Olympics to flag up the rolexization of our national game – there being even amongst the tribal and myopic some acknowledgement that players don’t give much for what they get.

So let’s just compare what we heard from Farrah and Ennis, the rowers, the cyclists (again, you name the ones who affected or inspired you the most) with what you might get from Frank Lampard/Rio Ferdinand/Kenny Dalglish. (And I reckon I’ve plumped for 3 gentlemen fairly representative of their milieu – even if one is retired.) And let’s maybe consider some vaguely equivalent post-match scenario.

There would be little chance of unaffected joy from the football side. There would be a patina of rehearsed dullness, in fact. Possibly due to some significant underachievement by a manifestly poor or disappointingly stilted England side but arising too from a widespread Premiership Quality cynicism wherein no real truths must be told and some imaginary defensive line must be held against public knowledge.

Whilst Lampard has the capacity to come across as a decent bloke, he is traditionally unwilling to break through into generous good humour; Ferdinand and Dalglish are less giving than this. Often one or both are deliberately obtuse or somewhere between absent, insultingly bland and openly hostile. There is a chronic disconnect, in short, between these legends of the game and the notion that fans might really want to know what they think of x or y. And critically, there is very rarely any suggestion that they love what they do. Or we don’t feel that.  They don’t share much.

On good days, when I feel the footie-pulse coursing through my own veins, I colour in Frank or Rio’s blandness with memories. Often though, I am spurred to join in with those ‘having a dig.’  I have to confess to having unreasonably enjoyed the diabolical freedoms being an insignificant blogger allows – I know and respect the fact that the likes of @ianherbs @_PaulHayward reign themselves in for national publication – but I can sling verbals around a bit, sound off a bit more – like you. So I can further indulge the dubious belief that our young Premiership heroes are ripe for personal as well as professional evaluation, as they are in the court of popular opinion.

When weighed up for their fitness for purpose as rounded humans, or appreciated in terms of their sensitivities, their understanding of value and yes, place, The Footballers seem embarrassingly feeble. Some might say shockingly or offensively so.

On times I am offended by their dumb scurrying through life, their brazenness. How could they allow a sport so beautiful to be so disfigured with simulation, with contempt for authority, with arrogance of such an epic quality? (For surely they are complicit in all this, if not administratively ‘responsible?’)

There is no comparison, I’m afraid, with what those cyclists give and what most bigshot footballers give. In that loose but majestically fine, tippy-tappily omniscient organ us fans call our hearts, we know something ain’t right. These people – some of these people – simply aren’t good enough. And, therefore, my friends, the Campaign for Gentlemanly Conduct will go on.

No pressure, Brendan… / Another Nail For My Heart.

Don’t know if it’s just me bein’ daft again but this Swanseathing has been rumbling away, riling me; the inevitability of it salting those wounds where my idealised wotsits should be – used to be.

Brendan Rodgers, quite possibly the best Brit or near-Brit manager (depending on your facility for nationalistically-motivated squinting/cartography) active in the Premier League outside of the embarrassment of riches zone, is reportedly, as I write, moving from foreplay to full-on copulation – should that be capitulation, I wonder? – with/to the Scouse Sex Machine. He’s coming red all over. And whilst I can understand his urges and have some real respect for the comparative restraint and dignity and management of this lurv-match between Boy Most Likely To and Club Arguably Most in Need Of, I feel like a swan snagged in fishing tackle, I do.

Because Brendan had been showing signs of being the one who snubbed that power trip, that lucre-slide, that soul-deflating slither into uncleanbutokayintoxicating Exposureville. Brendan had been foot-perfectly the model man and manager for just a few, impressive and now critical seasons, guiding ‘unfashionable Swansea’ into an historically gleeful wonderland/cash-rich hinterland where they routinely outplayed Premier League clubs theoretically twice their size and power. Like David tattooing a startling phallus via precision-flung gravel upon the forehead of Goliath FC; or something. Something startling and surprisingly er… attractive.

For the Swans, the Unmighty Swans really have lacerated the pomp and presumption of allegedly senior clubs by playing proper footie whilst their betters sweated and hoofed increasingly frustratedly around. (Liverpool FC being a decent and recent example of this very same, on a day that may have limbered up the trigger-finger of one J W Henry of the already fast-twitch-fibre-heavy U S of A, perhaps?) And Rodgers without doubt has been key to this triumph of skill-rich Cymro-Good over flaccidly underachieving Evil. Because he more than nearly anyone you may care to listen to a) talks a good game b) delivers. So that for a year or so some of us have been trying to un-etch-a-sketch the picture that now presents; a straight-forward and demystified purchase; of Brendan; by one of the big boys.

Liverpool FC do fall into this latter category. Certainly they revel in a genuine football history – one likely to be pretty incompletely understood by the folks that own the club, you suspect – not that this is a rarity amongst Premiership franchises. However in recent times many were genuinely saddened by the failure – for that, actually, is what it was – of a genuinely Liverpool Man (Dalglish) to drive the club forward, thereby precipitating the current negotiations…

which are confirmed as being completed – or rather the move itself is – at that moment…ho hum…

But perhaps most viscerally central to real Liverpool fans has been the general malaise – playing/reputation/actual – the Anfield club had dawdled or staggered or been led into. I have been heavily critical of Dalglish’s bitterness and frankly, his inability to motivate or inspire or really shape his individuals and his team. I stand by those opinions, harsh though they are. King Kenny, despite being rightly loved for his genius as a player and for his closeness and empathy with fans post Hillsborough in particular, seemed lost amongst the issues – political and strategic – rather than boss in command of them. His relations with a press he held in contempt were to be understood perhaps but not respected. Dalglish manifestly substantially reduced the inflow of goodwill and sympathy for the club and for the arguments it may have been trying to make over Suarez, as an example; increasing the sense of dissatisfaction around Anfield already welling up in response to poor on-field performances.

Some may respond at this point that ‘Pool won a cup this season and might have won two. I say look at the league table. And if you can bear it, watch endless video of insipid or worse from the likes of Downing/Henderson/Carroll/Gerrard(!), actually. By some considerable margin this Liverpool footiefare was just not good enough; again; and the fans knew it – painfully. Kenny was summoned and nothing became his reign like the leaving of it.

To be fair, it seems at this moment that the transition into Brendanland has been similarly corduroy rather than bondage pant. Being helpfully svelte over a deal for Rodgers is not the same as finishing 4th in the Premiership but perhaps – just perhaps – the relative elegance of recent activity at Anfield is suggestive of someone at the top regaining essential control; a sense I fully expect to be strengthened as the new gaffer gathers in his players and staff over coming weeks and months. Because he is good, this guy; articulate and sharp and crucially crucially crucially – able to motivate. He will instantly, despite his comparative youth and ‘inexperience’, earn the right to be properly heard (unlike Hodgson) and the assent of those passionate but knowledgeable fans – even if results flicker rather than beam – because they know he knows football, good football, that game of skill and passing and movement and yes, artistry. Liverpool in some pigs-bladder abstract feels play like that is their kind of play; a sort of twinkling choreography being worthy of them and their club and their city; that proper Liverpool. There will be some real expectation that Rodgers may deliver them back to that.

Brendan may be nervous but I doubt it. He will probably sense an immediate flood of scouse warmth suggestive of a likely honeymoon period worthy of the name; by that I mean a real space to engineer something more than a shagfest; something that truly satisfies/completes/enriches even. Footiefolks do talk (or is it just journo’s who talk?) of football marriages; how the reds could do with a legitimate love-match now! Less romantically/more generally Liverpool is longing for a return to Liverpool ways – style, sureness, confidence and naturally – success. Few would argue against that being good for the game at large.

My friends down here in West Wales are gutted but unsurprised; because they have seen up close a very impressive football man. Brendan Rodgers – a man appreciated and now gone.

A Tale of One City?

Big day for Liverpool Managers, eh? Firstly Roy Hodgson – the appallingly treated ex of the Anfield club – releases a doughtily, relatively predictable England squad; next #kingkenny goes. Perversely, perhaps, I’m more interested in the latter, it being appeallingly clear – so far – of anything smacking of crassness.

This is weirdly both a pleasant surprise and a disappointment of the most nigglingly perverse kind, as the last period of Dalglish’s reign has been characterised by a unique(?) tartness the situation now suddenly lacks; because both the owners side and the profoundly bitter Scot himself have apparently played an anticipation-crushingly dignified blinder. It’s as though a whole lotta calm, whackhh has been twinkled over the scenario by some unlikely, mediating scouse angel. Hence my personal feeling of non-closure – for which I shall naturally seek expensive therapy.

 

The statements of course may mean nothing. They are likely to have been prepared under legal advice via the scrutiny of wiser men than the chief protagonists themselves in a room no-one has farted in for 40 years; a room where miraculously pristine glasses of carbonated water appear, unbeckoned at 8.55am and at hourly intervals before being transmogrified into Sauvignon Blanc of a pretty high order come 5.30. That is, somewhere fascinatingly or even fascistically devoid of traces of humanity; or ordered, depending on your proximity to a cupboard full of suits.

Dalglish, having been summoned to Boston when many were expecting him to jet off for a yoga/golf retreat in Birkdale, has been sacked. Whether this was the politely agreed termination of his contract – which seems kinda likely to me – or the converse fraught celtic arse-flap through a defiantly departing kilt we may never know. Dalglish I think mainly saves his hatred and contempt for journalists, so he may have taken a well-argued dismissal with the good grace we are led to believe was mutually exchanged.

I know my sharp view of Dalglish tramples close to sensitivities on all manner of genuinely precious things; life and death things. I am conscious that many Liverpudlians raised Kenny to sainthood during his magnificent and heartfelt joining with families and all concerned, touched or traumatised by the Hillsborough disaster. (I wasn’t there and I can therefore not judge the degree to which Kenny helped). It may even be right that am disqualified from commenting on either that terrible issue or Dalglish the man in the wake of it. What I would say is that believe it or not, I respected Dalglish the player for his rich gifts but have come to dislike what has felt to me like a developing and unhealthy myopia and sourness in the later man. (Which may, of course, be a natural result of bearing such close witness to such tragedy). I think it is both right and probably ‘good’ for Liverpool FC that he has gone, and gone in a dignified way.

That other fellah Hodgson has also been thrust into my defiantly un-hoovered living room today, as always with the slight air of someone quietly battling insidious anal penetration by caterpillars through constant refocusing or adjustment of key muscles up and down the body. He therefore displays the gait of a man in danger of expressing untoward or explosive reaction. This is countered by concerted efforts to talk well and properly, presumably on the grounds that any minute he might scream AHH BOLLOCKKSS WORMMMSS hysterically mid-sentence. Roy talks with great effort and clarity and authority in a manner I imagine the England Football Team in their post-training soporific arrogance might listen to for all of 30 seconds. Hence – wisely – he appointed Gary Neville, who has silverfish but no caterpillars.

Hodgson’s England squad has drawn interest mainly due to the omission of Rio Ferdinand, Manchester United’s medium-loquacious centre-half (i.e. wordy on twitter) and the retention of John Terry and The Astonishingly Unproductive One – Stewart Downing, of Liverpool. Ferdinand is unfortunate in the sense that he is quality; in a markedly pedestrian group he might have been the gazelle. Or he might if he could run. The truth is he has been medium-crocked for some years and despite his real ability to read the game and caress the ball better than most of his rivals, he is patently not fit for top-of-the-range tournament football; regrettably.

John Terry is if not sub judice exactly, under a cloud and therefore lucky to be considered. His chief remaining asset – his durability, his toughness – may be a liability under cross-examination from quick-witted foreign flyers but unsurprisingly he is there for exactly that near-caricature Engerland Through and Through Thing. Fitness-wise, he certainly cannot sprint and therefore may be as big a gamble as Rio might have been; indeed the crux may be that Hodgson dare not take them both and thinks Ferdinand more damaged. All this leaves personal/political issues aside; I make the confident assumption that Hodgson has and will be utterly honourable in this regard. (Bless him). I also suspect that novelty value – and the Neville appointment – will provide Hodgson with an opportunity he may not have had if his tenure had ‘given him time’ to mould his own squad. My guess is that given such time (and minus that Neville) Hodgson would have been subjected to indifference at best from the majority of players and diabolical treatment from the press; pronto.

This is because he is old-school and methodical and on the grindingly elucidating side of articulate rather than inspired; or inspiring; or young; or hep to the funky ipod beat man. Roy is good, don’t get me wrong… but like most of us he is particularly good when people are prepared to listen. At Liverpool, they certainly weren’t.

Where that has left his relationship with his chosen skipper, S Gerrard Esquire, is an interesting point; one of many we are likely to remain unenlightened upon. As with the Dalglish sacking, as with anything; things are wrapped in so much packaging these days.

Liverpoolesque?

The state of play on Merseyside is difficult to discuss dispassionately, right, given the investments we have in that very particular city? (And no, I’m not talking money.) Liverpool might instantly mean footie to many of us but just as likely music or what we might call pop culture to many others. Or soaps, or unions, or wit, or scallieness. For every individual unit of us-ness out here in non-Liverpool, there’s a ‘colourful’ Scouse something or other fit and ready to be engaged with, or seduced by… or something, it seems. Because the brand is kindof monster in terms of this little island; because that accent and those pop/otherwise arty or sparky people are extraordinarily in our consciousness. Which brings me remarkably (almost as though I planned it!) back to footie. For I am dangerously close to making some woolly argument for all that ‘You’ll never walk alone’ stuff being special.

There may be some blinkered academic at Royal Holloway College unmoved by or god forbid even ignorant of the indivisibility of ‘Walk On’ and Liverpool Football Club. (Christ. Can you imagine meeting them at a village fete, over the prize jams, laid out post-scrutiny with rosettes duly awarded? You scurrying on towards daylight, them in deep contemplation of the horto-biological origins of greengages.) But the rest of the sentient universe knows that one song is so richly of the city (now) that it represents a surging, emotive and maybe even envy-inducing peak of tribal oneness. Something full of contradictory shades of nostalgic invincibility and here-and-now, blokey pride, for sure, but frigate bird-appropriated, throat-displayingly and singingly splendid in its depiction of importantly and recognisably human and uplifting mores.

I have been in a non-scouse environment – in a village pub in West Wales – where, post Football Presentation Night ‘festivities’, that originally unremarkable song was revisited by an arm-locked circle of admittedly rather alcohol-inspired young men (and women) in a manner that chased hard upon the inspired heels of a certain “Ma hen wlad”. Which is to say that it gathered the gathered into a soul-brotherly Massive, transforming them and the moment into something (I kid you not) profoundly joined. Or perhaps more precisely it further encouraged and maybe embodied latent inclinations to share heartystuff. It was, in its chavvy but searingly honest triumphalism, possibly the single most wonderful moment of camaraderie I have ever experienced and it owed everything to a recognition of the specialness of that Kop Thing. A thing predicated on lungbursting expression of – yes! – community.

But enough about politics. There’s a Mersey derby this weekend with a fair amount on it. For Liverpool – in the red corner – there’s an opportunity to claw back some of the further slippage of the last few weeks. For Everton – The Toffeemen more often than the Blues – a chance to justify, to usurp, to thumb a nose. On form and in terms of recent team shape and unity, Everton are substantially in better fettle; being identifiably a side with purpose and some confidence. Liverpool, on the contrary, are in a mess; this does not, however, mean they are or should be viewed as underdogs.

This is partly because Liverpool are unquestionably – though not necessarily ‘deservedly’ – the bigger club. Their pull across the world dwarfs that of their uncomfortably close neighbours. King Kenny’s rather dissolute mob – is that fair? It feels it? – are light years away from competing for the Premiership, yet understood still as a world power in the game; because of all that Tommy Smith/Emlyn Hughes/Kevin Keegan/John Barnes/Kenny Dalglish/Ian Rush malarkey. That history. Of success. Which does dwarf Everton’s.

It may be important that one of few strikingly and resoundingly Liverpoolesque wins recently came against an Everton team scampering back up the table over the last three months following their own rather typically disappointing start to the season. The returning Gerard found his superman costume for the first time for about a year and that was that; 3 – 0. That the win was undeniably against the grain of the teams respective trajectories mattered little to either set of supporters. Since then David Moyles has again re-motivated his side whilst Kenny has apparently fumbled at the tiller. Everton are looking settled and strongish, with occasional bouts of instinctive team brilliance – I’m thinking in particular of those near-unplayably good chunks of their recent game at Sunderland, for starters. There they looked creative and sharp as well as aggressive in midfield and defence. The Addition of Jelavic and Drenthe and arguably Gibson plus the return of the South African prodigal Pienaar to a squad already containing Cahill, Rodwell, Fellaini etc has understandably enabled a substantial kicking on as the season has developed. Tempting for Moyles to wonder ‘What if’ all over again… but the Top Toffee has plenty to be optimistic about.

King Kenny however is in some difficulty. He needs the goodwill legacy that stills holds back much of the anxiety and almost all of the venom from amongst fans and critics alike. He has earned this good fortune more, surely, through his magnificent playing career and understanding of and role during times of real heartbreak for the club than through either of his periods of management at Anfield. His side is demonstrably and increasingly now perceived as being relatively poor – certainly unacceptably poor for a Liverpool side. Results very recently have been close to disastrous and there is – critically perhaps? – no sense that Dalglish is ‘turning things round’.

The media is relentlessly detailing the failures of several big buys. There is a seemingly interminable amount of distraction (through shambolic lack of discipline?) over various controversies which, to put it mildly, might have been handled better. I have been critical of both SAF and King Kenny in regard to much of this and regrettably have seen nothing from the Liverpool boss lately that makes me want to drift in to support him. His sullenness and ignorance – yes, I do think that’s fair – before the media and his utter blinkeredness have been frequently shameful, bad for the club and bad for the game. And I wonder at what stage if any the owners might consider telling him and his players to keep it shut even and maybe especially when they feel provoked or insulted or wronged. And I stress here that I am not responding here merely to some inelegant handling of PR issues; I think Dalglish and by implication the club have been wrong to champion Suarez and to inflame enmities when silences or blandnesses might have helped.

So I don’t rate Dalglish as either a bloke or as a manager. I find it ironic that as the figurehead for a club he clearly on the one level understands and unquestionably loves he can fail to link hands and sing the necessary… because though that song is indeed about loyalty, it’s about hope too; and hope depends upon generosity.

That football match between Everton and Liverpool Football Clubs may well be an absolute cracker. But it’s more likely to be wince-inducingly ‘physical’, frenetic and low in quality. Clatterings and bookings and only rare moments of composure or construction, fluidity. Fortunately, the rivalry sits beneath that ugly contempt ‘shared’ between United and Liverpool but it’s hardly a love-in. There is no figuring or forecasting this one because much of what occurs will be about capitulations or otherwise to moments of stress rather than expressions of form or talent even. Plus “It’s The Cup!!” Win or lose, the Diddy Men of Everton are currently the better side. But they are smaller, if you knowwharramean?

We need to talk about thingy.

Twitter has become a part of the vocabulary of my life; in a good way I think. It’s going to sound laughably pretentious if I say for example that I have used it to watch Jeanette Winterson give a lecture on four modern sculptors but that’s true. It’s also true that I’ve tweeted a virtual beer or two with a certain former England cricketer and other matie mates in a way that fairly authentically replicates semi-pro quality blokeish banter (and I mean that most sincerely, folks) in a snug north country pub.

It is of course hugely addictive – particularly if, like me, you seek to use it at least partly to seek some mysterious ‘breakthrough’. I am sad enough to defend it, passionately even, on the grounds that my personal experience on twitter has been both enjoyable and even enriching. It depends on who or what you follow, I say. You follow morons you get banal or offensive crap. You follow @tate, let’s say or @paulmasonnews, @_PaulHayward, @DeborahJaneOrr or @adliterate, then you aren’t very often going hear “Just had me tea”. It’s about choices.

I’m choosing well I think and consequently am in touch – and it does feel that way – with really good people whom I may never meet but who contribute generously and importantly to my understanding and enjoyment of the daily flux. So I really was delighted when my mate @LineoutCoach (whom I’ve never met) landed a slot on the USA Eagles coaching roster. And I really was delighted when my mate (whom I’ve never met) @talprofs sharply deconstructed a contentious argument over bonus culture. There are other people – some now members of a near daily mob, bless’em – who likewise I have come to view as either supportive/like-minded/interesting or hilarious individuals that I look forward to seeing up there in the timeline. So I’m lucky.

Because twitter ain’t always like this.

I’m big into sport, right and forgive me for going over old ground but though I work in cricket and just about favour rugby over anything, I grew up in a footie household. Looking back to rosily or at least colourfully bruised-knee-days of endless, endless Backs and Forwards with rare but pleasingly radical eruptions of Kick Ball Fly, a football was all we had or wanted. Or so it seemed.

I still treasure hilarious pictures of me as Alan Ball, in my ‘flash’ (orange/yellow) Everton reserve kit with a number 8 imperfectly sewn on by Mrs Rawson. My shin pads extruding sideways from threadbare orange socks, my legs – my shins! – spookily skinny and almost entirely unprotected by the flapping but sartorially essential accessories. Playing first to ten goals and then change round; so matches twenty goals minimum. (Do the maths! Thirty-plus more likely.) Hours. Wonderful, daft and inspiringly communal games on the local park or legion field. That was footie.

Over this weekend, however, I’ve had the misfortune to see stuff on twitter and elsewhere that shockingly betrays that same game. After a seemingly endless campaign by Manchester Utd and Liverpool Football Clubs to undermine all possibility for proportionate or –dare I say it? – civilised sporting engagement, the despicable racist tweets many of us have seen or been subjected to(?) landed both shockingly but predictably. It seems very difficult to avoid a conclusion that points to a very deep ignorance somewhere. Much of my own heart feels that there are just unavoidably some low-slung losers out there with too little brain in them and too much bad. To hate that much, or to allow that much hate to well up over a football match – or a football issue – is… is sick, actually. But that’s a pretty dumb response. One many of us may need to revisit.

I know about and understand football or sporting rivalries. However I do not understand what’s been going on in the minds of Messrs Dalglish and Ferguson and everybody else allegedly charged with steering those two undeniably massive (but how could I use the word ‘great’ right now?) clubs. It’s been obvious for years that the rivalry has gotten out of hand. Therefore those men at the top simply have a responsibility, if not an inclination, to show some intelligence. Before somebody gets hurt. Before, actually, the game – remember that? – suffers through somebody or other letting the floodtide of bitterness spill over. (Ooh gor blimey look! There it went!)

How Dalglish can continue to be so darkly and so bitterly intransigent when the game needs a little lightness and a little help, quite frankly, is unreal. Even assuming, as I suppose we must, that he feels Evra has lied and cheated to get Suarez banned, is it not extraordinary that either Dalglish himself or someone close to him in the Liverpool hierarchy has not counselled for the bigger picture? The one that includes THE MEANING OF ALL THIS. To fail to accept that WHATEVER, it’s really important to show the world that (sports)people can get on and get over political or personal difficulties because sport is wonderfully freeing and generous and selfless by nature. Sadly nearly everything that Dalglish has done and said in that bluntly ungenerous way of his has been unhelpful in this and nearly every other regard. And Ferguson hasn’t been much better.

The Terry saga was likewise depressing last weekend in particular. For the gentlemanly handshake to be abandoned at QPR because certain players were going to refuse to shake the hand of an opponent is in itself a beautifully and ironically wrapped take-away symbol of designer-label cheapness. Sure it was a difficult situation. (So difficult that I’m not at all sure that I agree with myself as I stride so confidently towards the penalty spot that is my judgement..) But for professional footballers to be taking some high and mighty view of anything is pretty questionable (cue the dive) yet sure… understandable. Teammates want to stick up for teammates; quite possibly more than they want to stick up against racism(?) I can buy that. Maybe some of them even did feel deeply about the issues. But either the two clubs should have agreed that neither player would play, or the handshakes should have taken place. All of them. Because the game is the thing. And we need to keep talking and tweeting …about that.