Triumph and tears.

Liverpool City. Had everything. Goals, sunshine, vitriol, clangers, minimal Yaya. Premier-quality cheating. It was splattered with incidents and raw with that uncomfortable mix of poignancy and venom. My response is loaded and maybe lumpen in the way of the match. It’s bullet-pointed again – immediate.

• I’m fascinated and appalled by Suarez to the point where I don’t really want to go there… and yet must. But not first. But been thinking about the man a fair bit. He’s plainly dysfunctional – yeh, I think that’s the word. Dysfunctional.
• Happier thoughts… Sterling’s opening goal. Was this so brilliant that it confirmed him as an England World Cup starter? Was that composure evidence of such fabulous growth in his game that he must leap to the front of the wide player’s queue? Many would think so. I’ve been and remain just a tad concerned that he may in that real moment – the bona fide competitive international game – shrink back into Walcott/Lennon(?)/Ox(?) mode. He has something of the junior flyer about him that concerns me but he was certainly influential in this the biggest game of the Premiership season so far. We know he would run at people in the World Cup but would he do it with real belief or would he be as inconsistent and ultimately wasteful as the eight zillion other Boy Wonders who have disappointed in recent times?
• Whatever, Sterling will go to Brazil (now) and he will probably (now) be ahead of the fella who’s got closest in the last season or two to delivering – Townsend. Once there I hope Sterling/Townsend will be encouraged to both hug the touchlines and dart central. In other words get involved/get plenty of precious touches/be influential.
• Sturridge will of course also travel. But which Sturridge? The sullen, frankly greedy geezer who makes too many bad football choices (because he’s greedy) or the unplayably good finisher who finishes so devastatingly often because… he’s greedy (for it?) Today he was ordinary – as he has been for the last month. Saving it up for Italy, hopefully.
• Incidentally I squirmed a little when I saw that bloke Clattenberg centre-stage today. He’s a little greedy for it too, is he not?
• Inevitably, there were ‘decisions.’ Clattenberg appeared to be avoiding making positive calls until the relative safety of the final few minutes, where he felt able to dismiss Henderson for his tired (o je-sus I can’t get… there) lunge. Marginal in the sense that there was no spite in the challenge but Henderson did jump in there with studs high. So red.
• Prior to this – count ‘em? – there were any number of appeals for pens, all turned away. Suarez, Silva and Zabaleta all ‘made the most’ of things. Suarez fell most obviously into the Shameful Outrage category and therefore he gets no sympathy from me for later incidents that may in isolation have been judged in his favour. I know that ain’t logical but a) that’s how us humans work –Clattenburg too? And b) the Uruguayan should have been red-carded for his most nauseatingly OTT effort.
• I do wonder if Suarez – who presumably believes himself innocent(?) – might think ‘bugger this feragameasoldiers lichke’ and actually go to Real, where he may think there is less outrage to contend with. (Plusses/minuses; La Liga refs and defences are even worse but things feel less judgemental.)
• I would miss ar Luis – about as much as Sturridge would, I reckon – though less than Liverpool FC. The number 7 is one of the best forwards in world footie… but one of the worst humans. He made the game ungovernable.
• Okay. I exaggerate.
• Final word. He’s magic but his ‘antics’ are a total, total disgrace. I think there is again a case for retrospective punishment or would be if the machinery was in place. (See ‘The Campaign for Gentlemanly Conduct’ vols 1-265).
• The game though; Liverpool were magnificent and irresistible again for most of the first half, playing both with authority and composure and also swiftly counterattacking. They mix it up; chase and run as well as pass all around. Generally though, they play with pace… and this feels threatening, especially with that crowd on board.
• That crowd by the way bore and bears them on, towards what Stevie G will no doubt privately be calling the title they deserve – they being the players, the club and supporters live and sadly departed. The skipper rightly gathered his men to collectivise spirits for the final push. They were told in no uncertain terms that there must be no ‘fucking slips’. The implications – powerful and maybe contradictory ones – being that the title belongs to them but they must battle invincibly to the fateful end.
• How wonderful that sport can be so huge.
• There are almost unbearably rich and tender emotions around the Hillsborough thing. The tragedy itself, the awful nature of events, plus the additional, cruel travesties which may yet transform how the majority of the (tabloid-reading?) public view our allegedly world-class police. There is much bitterness in this beautiful charge towards destiny.
• City came back. Silva suddenly flowered as Liverpool sat off. I lost a few friends on twitter by suggesting that the Reds wilted under the first meaningful pressure for 20 years – somewhat uncalled for perhaps but the point remains. The bitter enemy Manchester United have had to carry the burden of being title favourites and the team everyone wants to beat for an age. Liverpool dealt rather poorly with the rising threat to their first Premier League crown. City deserved to draw level and looked more likely to win it.
• Then, 80-odd minutes in, just about the finest defender in the league – Kompany – ballsed things up completely and Coutinho scored against the run of play.
• The rest was run-of-the-mill agony. For everyone.
• The roar at the final peep from Mr Clattenburg carried with it both triumph… and tears.

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No fat lady has sung; to my knowledge.

Read something really quite interesting the other day. On the subject of fickleness, I suppose, or at least regarding the alleged facts of fandom – whether or not this notion of the part-time or unreal fan is a fair kop. (That worth a ha ha?) Or whether it’s always been statistically the case that most fans either have more than one true love in their football ether, or actually go to watch more than one club; god forbid. Anthropologists studying that commonly identified sub-group The Bloke will be unsurprised I think that within this revealingly sharp and often vitriolic debate about Prawn Sarnie Munchers being Scum-a-the-earth or the Financial Lifeblood of the Premier League, there is a historical narrative for infidelity. Apparently, for yonks, it has been gently gently secretly the case that supporters have been de-tribalising themselves in order to watch better teams outside the immediate thrall of The Manor, or shouting Ev’ton one week and Liv’pool the next (for example.) Thereby dancing silently upon the grave of their own authenticity in the eyes of all right-minded people – like themselves.

God it’s a twisted world.

In life I make a point of a) being a huge optimist but b) never really believing anybodies facts and figures, so I won’t mention that the above research on home supporters is liberated from an article in Spiel magazine, lest you go accepting/reading it. Besides, I’m dealing in the woozily general again here, and do not intend (even) to write an article about football. I merely throw in this psycho-geographically resonating lifebuoy to provide comfort to those unable to persist with a post that turns out… against the early expectations… to be, in a roundabout way, about rugbystuff.

So what are we like, eh? One minute we’re crowing or guffawing at either George North or the Irish Pack; the next we’ve drifted. Back to the Real Sporting Giants – Drogba/Suarez/Torres and soon enough Rooney. As though they can or rightfully do satiate our needs both for sporting drama and mighty role-models. Providing us with everything a fan – fickle or sanctimoniously beyond those apparently spurious judgements – could ever ask for.

The Six Nations comes to an unseemly deadstop, like some campaign in the Daily Mail undermined because it suddenly seemed Leftie; quietly and terminally, mirroring something of the muffled bitterness articulated by those dubiously rugby-converted purple rinses with their suddenly cultivated obsession for Our Stuart Getting That England Job, ahead of that Mallett man, with his unsettlingly dark features. The natural order of things succeeding, in The Mail and the proper world; properly.

The sudden smotheration of not just The Six Nations but of the existence of rugby in the British(?) consciousness so soon after that final toot at Twickenham last weekend must surely be a metaphor for something. As well as being another one of those alleged facts. Perhaps it means that – shock horror probe – folks are not died-in-the-wool, touch-pause-engaged fans in the real head-to-the-left-now-hit-like-fuck sense. They – like most of the referees at international level – have no genuine feeling for, or understanding of the dark arts or finer points of frontrowdom. They admire something of that knightish physicality; wonder how that game can go on like that with that bloke reeling around under the trainer’s insensitive touch, four foot six away from the ongoing action. Why don’t they stop, like in proper games? And how does that counter-rucking thing work anyway? And how can that thing there be right, when thingumee just pawed oosit with his studs? Like that!?! Deliberately. What ARE the rules exactly, about that?

In Wales and quite possibly Ireland there is some general understanding. The Vinnygeez has waxed lyrical often enough about this. (In Wales) red cloudbursts of communal expression; joy through clumping; tries against the English as symbols of nothing more than reasons to exist as a nation. Proper engagement on a national, visceral and poetic level. Max Boyce as the Pope/Tom Jones as The Singing Pope – or something. Something like a very much friendlier triptych than might be produced (on a post Grand Slam bender?) by Francis Bacon, let’s say, who despite his fringe-celtic toff-centric out-there-ism I suspect didn’t know much about the game of rugby. Like many residents of Soho. Apart from Brian Moore. Who really does know plenty.

But I fear I digress. (Like for a living, almost.) The point I wish to make is that there is some sudden flopping off the continental shelf going on here, as the Fact Of Rugby slips like some unappreciated gloop into the all-consuming depths. And I am interested in the reasons for that. I have a hope that because the general level of sportsmanship, commitment, fitness and honourability amongst top rugby players is so absurdly high that therefore its profile and relevance and capacity to touch the hearts of (ideally) nine year-old boys and girls will deservedly soar. Leading to – amongst other things but as a suggested minimum – a manifest improvement in respect for the planet and all who inhabit it/the necessary election of a series of humanitarian socialist governments. Because rugby really is pretty wonderful, containing as it does a uniquely focused and encapsulated form of selflessness, teamwork and bravery that entitles it fully to snort derisively at (for example) Drogba’s ham-and-pineapple quattro-staggione-in-one-day blousy affectations. Rugby I know not being perfect but rarely being that embarrassing. But I fear I digress.

Look the rugby season for our friendly Six didn’t finish just because those games did. In fact right now the club season approaches its critical phase; Heineken Cup; Premiership Trophy; equivalents and more to the massively more exposed football carnivals. So let there be space for both in your own personal calendar.

And on the international scene this enthralling but actually parochial knockabout recently enjoyed may well feel disappointingly clubby compared to summer tours or autumn internationals against the acknowledged kingly beasts and champions of the game – the Tri-Nations posse. Either way, don’t look away so prematurely, so part-time-supportedly, so uninformedly now. Because quite frankly if you invest a touch more of your time into appreciating what these backs and forwards are up to, you may well find it’s shockingly expressive of the greater sporting instincts. Those that touch pause engage upon support; heart; camaraderie. Remember them?

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.