Friday, January 26, 2007

Bruce Springsteen, and the club that never walks alone

I like Bruce Springsteen - The Boss. Nobody tells a story in a song as well as The Boss does. Nobody throws a concert like The Boss throws them. And nobody can don a pair of overalls and pose unshaven for a photograph like The Boss can.

Here's the thing: anyone who has listened to a Springsteen album will understand that The Boss is probably the world’s number one working class hero, no matter that he's probably rich enough to buy El Salvador. Which is all very curious when you consider how lousy he makes the blue collar life sound.

He has spun countless stories about simple folks with complex problems - almost all of them involving a car that runs badly, a lousy job that they're about to lose, or a girl named Mary (most Springsteen songs have a girl named Mary).

His stories are filled with empty highways, decaying factories, workers on strike, smoggy industrial skylines, wood paneled taverns, and rustic characters who once had it all going for them, but through life's cruel turn now find themselves with no money, no car, no job, and a wife (named Mary) that's about to leave them.

Evidently, nobody in Springsteen's blue collar hell ever gets promoted to manager, or even able to afford a decent Toyota. They instead exist in proletarian hell where mortgages are foreclosed, transmissions leak, and wives have a "headache" every night.

I feel your pain, brother Scouser...

The Boss knows how it feels to be a Liverpool fan
Here is a club that has once won - at some point in its tumultuous history - every prize worth winning in club football. 18 league championships, 7 FA Cups, 7 League Cups, and importantly 5-time winners of the European Cup / Champions' League.

And almost every Liverpool fan you meet will not hesitate to remind you of just that - the statistics. Liverpool fans live and breathe the history that once was. The great 80's with Souness, Hansen and King Kenny – and a bit later with Rush, Barnes, Beardsley and the rest - when they took all of Britain and most of Europe by storm, weighing in as number one contenders on almost every major competition.

Later years saw them unearth the prodigious, predatory talents of Robbie Fowler and Michael Owen. Current captain Steven Gerrard and his deputy Jamie Carragher embody the very spirit of the club: resilience, passion, thirst for glory and a never-day-die approach on the field. A friend who is a die-hard Liverpool fan – and I am close to many of these, in spite of my allegiance to my beloved Manchester United – once said “if Liverpool had six Gerrards and five Carraghers we could again be the club we once were.”

And therein lies the conundrum of the Liverpool fan: in this day and age when strategy, inventiveness, technical ability, panache, wizardry, flair, elegance, flamboyance and style are the sort of buzzwords used by so many to describe a modern football club, all of these don’t matter as much to the Liverpool fan as much as the heart does.

They say if the heart is empty, the rest don't matter (and rightly so).

Truth be told they have had many nights where the heart eventually won the day. Last year’s FA Cup final against West Ham United was one such occasion; on their day, the most tactically astute team don’t have a hope in hell of walking past a Liverpool team that turn up feeling all heart and blood and sweat and tears.

And nobody ever needs reminding of that glorious night in Istanbul. Hand on heart, I will say it meant more to their fans who for over a decade were bereft of any notable achievement, vis-√†-vis Manchester United’s dramatic Champions' League victory in 1999, when many of the club’s fans were already used to close to a decade of winning everything.

It’s heart, and blood, and sweat, and tears. Very working class indeed. Why Springsteen has not yet written a song about them is beyond me!

Standard Scouser stance: Heart on sleeve, hand on head / mouth / eyes

But blue collar romanticism aside (and I’m actually referring to the red half of Merseyside), we shouldn’t ignore the real essence of being a protagonist in a Springsteen song: he’s always a loser and a bum, no matter how much you feel for him.

And that my friends, is Liverpool in a nutshell. You tend to feel for the poor chaps. Close to 17 years of absence on top of Britain’s league is a long time indeed. Some of the babies born when they won their last league title have grown up to be teenagers who unlike their parents prefer the modern appeals of the game: strategy, inventiveness, technical ability, panache, wizardry, and all that nonsense. Heck, many of them probably even support Chelsea. Or worse, Everton!

So you would please excuse me my dear Scouse friends if my genuine wish is for you to pull your bloody socks up and start the damn season properly next year. For goodness sakes go on and win the blessed thing so you can finally sing about something worthwhile.

Or don’t. I mean, what the hell would The Boss write about then?

Monday, January 15, 2007

The wild west beckons for David Beckham

After seasonal items on his missus, metatarsal and misfortunes for England, David Beckham is once again making the headlines in the back pages of our daily reads. Now he’s off to America to tantalize the other side of the Atlantic with his celebrity, charisma and charm. Even Rocky is backing him to get back over the top once again in his new home.

The papers are already
full of it. They’re all saying that Europe’s big loss can only be America’s big gain.

I say: Good riddance!

A lot of shit on that roof, and not just from the birds

I am part of many who really think that America offered the altogether best option for Beckham, a player who in spite of all his alleged talent and his so-called place in the pantheon of footballing greats is already in the darkening twilight of his career at the grand age of a mere 31 years.

Conquering the final frontier
When the great Pele, Franz Beckenbauer, Carlos Alberto and a few notable others joined the
New York Cosmos in the late 70s, FIFA and the world projected a period of unprecedented growth of the sport’s popularity in America. Almost 30 years later, it is Africa and Asia that is recording the success many expected to see from America.

The hosting of the 1994 World Cup was mooted to be (yet another) watershed milestone; the eventual result was a very flat souffl√©, both in terms of in-event audience participation and post-event momentum. Japan and South Korea on the other hand hosted a wildly successful World Cup in 2002, and all indications are that Africa’s turn in 2010 will record the same, if not a greater, level of success.

So where does America stand on the football world map, then? And importantly what will Beckham bring to the sport in a country that already ranks the world’s number one game a lowly seventh after baseball, American football (do they even use their feet?) basketball, tennis, golf and ice hockey?

Beckham is first and foremost a figurehead, and being a footballer comes a distant second. He is the proverbial catalyst of the materialistic world, symptomatic of the greed and decadence that has besieged the sport in the past two decades.

While he may not be responsible for much of it happening, if you accept the philosophy of supply and demand, in himself he embodies the reasons why there are more and more empty seats in football stadiums all over the world, and really – when you think of it – the very reason why children all over Britain wait till a few days before Christmas before asking daddy for a Manchester United or a Chelsea shirt (or indeed, a Real Madrid or a Barcelona shirt) under the tree on December 25th, depending on who is on top at that time.

Hero worship is not wrong in sport. Not when the they are about stalwarts like Diego Maradona, Pele or Zinedine Zidane. Or Muhammad Ali, Tiger Woods, Ayrton Senna, Michael Schumacher, Sachin Tendulkar, Boris Becker or Roger Federer - men who brought so much to their game.

But when players like David Beckham enjoy so much from the sport for the very little that they bring to it, there has got to be something very wrong.

Now, let not all of this detract from the fact that come May, we can all expect to see and hear more of football (the ‘real’ football) from America. That can't be bad for the sport. Already there is talk of Ronaldo and Luis Figo heading stateside, at the invitation of their former Real Madrid colleague, and a few more notable names may follow. The newspapers and Nokia Football Crazy are sure to afford America a few cursory column inches and footage respectively. For a while, we may even believe Beckham and America are on well on their way to making good on the previously unfulfilled promise

But with his 32nd birthday coming in May, Beckham's peak as a player is well behind him. Most would say his zenith was reached in the years between 1999 and 2002, with the crunch of Aldo Duscher's boot on his metatarsal in a Champions League tie between Manchester United and Deportivo La Coruna being the moment that stopped the Beckham juggernaut dead in its tracks.

The fact is Beckham was perhaps never all that. All he had was a very good right foot at a time when right feet weren’t very fashionable, and he brought a sense that something could seriously happen if his team won a free-kick at the edge of the box. He could not tackle, he could not dribble, he could not head, he was atrocious at penalties, he did absolutely nothing with his left foot, and to say that he was a captain would still be too kind; the man simply couldn’t lead a kid into a toy store with an open door and a handful of twenties!

A crying shame: He was very good at turning on the waterworks, though...

So you would please excuse me if I think the whole damned thing is a bit too farcical. Give it a year and let’s all see how big a joke it actually turns out to be.

For now, good luck America. Good luck David Beckham. God bless us all!

Finally, for the benefit of any American who might read this: In Malaysia, and the rest of the civilized world, we refer to the sport as football, and rightly so. None of this soccer nonsense!

Pray tell me, anyway: Why on earth do you call it American Football, when all you’re doing it throwing the pigskin about? With your hands!

I don't want to jinx it, but...
With Liverpool hosting Chelsea at Anfield on Saturday, there is a sense at Old Trafford that this is a weekend that seriously offer my beloved Manchester United a chance of stretching their legs over the dreadful Chelsea, if (and it’s a big ‘if’) we get things right against Arsenal.

If Rafa Benitez needs help motivating his players, he need only show them the videos of the games against Arsenal, and the photographs of the Liverpool bench
holding their heads in despair after that 6-3 drubbing. My bets are on Liverpool, if only because they definitely need this win, and also because I desperately need them to!

I’ve always been grudgingly impressed with Arsenal.
On their day they can really play the opposition out of the game with a display of jaw-dropping finesse and flair.

That said, when Man Utd turn it on, they are simply irresistible, and we’ve seen that a number of times this season already. And the 85th minute goal and the resulting defeat at Old Trafford earlier this season will not be forgotten, for sure.

Arsenal vs. Manchester United
LIVE from the Emirates Stadium. Sunday, 21st January. 11:55pm.

This is the match of the week!