Friday, November 30, 2007

photo post

The ghost of Christmas Tree past.

[Obliged to Martha.]

Thursday, November 29, 2007

gary baboo

Dileep Premachandran blogs in on a story that probably woke a few of us up well and good this morning. He quotes The Daily Telegraph as having broken the story, but today's edition of the Mumbai Mirror also carries the very discoveries he highlights: that Gary Kirsten, to all intents and appearances the new coach of Team India, might be the modern equivalent of the British old boy buying a commission into a colonial regiment: in other words, he's only coming to India for the money. How do we know this? Because Kirsten's diary of his experiences in the tropics on his '96-'97 season tour of India, when he opened the batting for South Africa, is less 'bright colours, warm people,' and more 'eww, third world.' Gee. My memory's going, but surely all these pat references to staying away from red meat and very few new cars and the 'necessity' of a sense of humour when touring India seems a little excessive even for those contentious nineties.

I could, however, be wrong. Unless Kirsten was pandering to some sinister agenda in writing what he did, there's no reason to suspect him of unreasonable prejudice. Let's lay out the facts we are after all in possession of.

First: Gary Kirsten hated India in '96-'97.
Second: Gary Kirsten has actually considered returning here for a long-term [and for someone horrified by the heat/dust/restless natives we must assume any decent length of time is long-term] committment.

...there's no reason to suppose that he hasn't returned and fallen in love with the bright colours and warm people this time around? Even if he hasn't, and is only returning for a trouserwad of cash, we can't deny him his right to do so. We may not like Gary Kirsten, and Gary Kirsten may not like us.

But that trouserwad of cash is ours, and [she says with considerably mellowed enthusiasm] that cricket side he's coming to coach is ours too, and it's a matter of good business even before it is one of good taste and sensibility to wonder if we're going to get what we want out of both if the putative coach is a man with so little apparent respect for what they represent.

I was listening to Krish Srikkanth be his vehemently opinionated self on the radio today, and as I laughed at his inimitable train-rushing-through-a-tunnel style of expressing his distaste for the idea of a coach [any coach] [especially Gary Kirsten] [when clearly all we need is a manager!] improving upon a side that has done tolerably well for itself over the last four months, and already takes orders from Robin Singh and Venkatesh Prasad as far as fielding and bowling are concerned, I felt compelled to agree with him. Had the acrimony and egoism that pretty much billowed out of the Indian dressing room in the Greg Chappell days still been in evidence I might have felt differently, but the kids are alright, for now, and the benefits of Kumble and Dhoni's experience and imagination have been serving the side as well as a third-party tactician might have done. So coaches in general aren't what this cricket fan is looking for.

Gary Kirsten in particular is what this cricket fan is casting a beady eye over.


While on coaches, cheers to the Kop for a fine exhibition of support for Rafa Benitez in the ongoing tussle between coach and controlling interests currently causing unnatural creases upon the forehead of Steven Gerrard [what? oh]. It's the thought that counts.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

the night shift: champions league

Fairly decent night for Italy in Europe, you might say. Both Inter and Roma had a whale of a time seeing off Fenerbahce [that's at least one Nobel laureate you've made an enemy of, Inter] and Dinamo Kyiv respectively. It's football silly season as far as Group F is concerned, at least, now that Kyiv and Sporting have but a UEFA Cup spot left to play for [not but that it's an exciting tournament this year, for reasons that will become especially clear if Liverpool, Chelsea, Valencia or Benfica - among others - fail to rouse themselves sufficiently over this and the next matchday].

It remains to be seen what sort of sub-plots December 12 adds to the already-acrimonious story of the Roma-Man United match-up. Attentive readers will remember that United are likely to be travelling with few to no away fans to the Olimpico, since, in the wake of the riots in Rome, the club's website offered a money-back scheme for United fans who'd purchased tickets to the match, and we must assume that a fair number took advantage of it - whether out of genuine fear of violence or a chance to get back at least some of the cash of which United has been forcibly looting its season ticket holders, no studies yet made have indicated.

Arsenal, as Gooners not limited to myself have long feared, seem convincingly to have entered their traditional mid-season slump. Holding out in back-to-back games against Liverpool and United is a fair achievement, but the points table doesn't obscure the fact that the Premiership's top club took a measly two of six possible points against opponents they are supposed to outlast in the league race. Those games and an unconvincing victory against Wigan probably set this up, as well as an uncertain cast of the immediate future for the team, which did go from challenging in four competitions to none in the space of three weeks this past February. I don't mean to be a pessimist, since Arsenal have consistently succeeded in surprising people since the start of the season, but -- well, damn, no, I do mean to be a pessimist after all. Sorry.

Elsewhere, the indubitably poorer halves of Italy's great footballing cities meet their matches tonight. Given Milan's season-long attitude of not giving a frack for anything resembling football four nights out of five it's not unreasonable to expect their playing for a draw against Benfica, which, like Barca's 2-2 against Lyon last night, should be enough to see them through to the knockouts. [Full disclosure: the blogger is a Milanista.]

Lazio, who, like Milan, have been woeful most matchdays [and unlike the occasionally spectacular rossoneri, woefuller on the others], host a confident Olimpiakos in a game that, win or lose, might not do much to lift them out of the workaday office environment, corruption charges, the current State of the Ultras and all. I wish them well.

Link of the day: Brian at The Run Of Play profiles Andrea Pirlo.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

ach, if only you DID shut up

I am going to be my usual charitable self and assume that, rather than being impoverished of intellect, Alex McLeish is merely party to some sinister agenda that requires him to suggest a psychological conspiracy to put Italy through to the finals of Euro 2008 in their place. Appearing on all counts to be a rational adult with the cognitive ability required to put words together to form simple sentences, surely he will have recognised that in the dying moments of the game at Hampden Park, Italy were already through to the tournament, being tied 1-1 with Scotland. The referee decision that put them ahead, much like the one that allowed Scotland's offside goal to stand, was questionable, alright. Luckily for France.

Not quite a Zamparini, but definitely hovering about the Domenech.

Saturday, November 24, 2007

sons and daughters of the glorious republic

Grand gestures. Whether these children will have to be bodily checked from running out of the stadia screaming in terror [or out of boredom, if it's a Juve game] is something that remains to be seen.

Well, I'm for it, concern for the kiddies apart [why, two posts in, have Italian minors taken over my blog?]. Football, and football fans, are so susceptible to the power of something absolutely symbolic, so alive to the elements of song and story in their game. So much of what happens in the football stadium is fleeting and vain - think of all those storied skinhead ultras who normally head straight out of their curvate cauldrons of hate to dinner with the folks - that sometimes the only way to achieve some kind of dialogic balance is by meeting a gesture with a gesture.

Not that I'm suggesting this as a solution to the problems that led to the events of the week before last. I'm not suggesting anything about what happened the week before last, actually. I still don't know where to come in with the words.

Oh, except. I think it's a fallacy on the part of English and English-speaking observers to talk of the violence in relation to Heysel and Hillsborough, as we've seen almost universally in press and blog reaction following events. 'Stadiums bad - Heysel and Hillsborough.' 'Italian hooliganism - Heysel and Hillsborough.' 'Football riot - Heysel and Hillsborough.' Et cetera.

It may seem logical to expect that the kind of rampant hooliganism that set Rome practically on fire is just pre-empting a massive stadium-scale tragedy of the English sort. Whatever worse fate these riots may be an omen of, they certainly won't have the [non-]excuse of being spontaneous, drunken accidents. There isn't a comparable tragedy in English football to frame the deaths of Gabriele Sandri and, as his name will inevitably be bookended forthwith, Filippo Raciti before him. I think it's safe to say that Serie A won't have a Heysel and Hillsborough in their future. They already have an Arezzo and a Catania. They already have Sandri and Raciti.

And however much I hope that those kids in Serie A's stadia this weekend are going to love their afternoons out and grow up to be fantastic tifosi and altogether upstanding citizens, they're not going to be able to paper over that wound.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

mark the music

I'm cut up over England not getting to Euro 2008. I worry that English football journalism will proceed, next summer, to pretend like the tournament doesn't exist. Time for me to get cracking on that Teach Yourself Italian course to be able to scan La Gazzetta with ease, I guess.

Here's hoping ESPN don't revise their match schedules, at least.


England really don't have an excuse. Like everyone else annoyed with football imperialism I'm tempted to call it a moral come-uppance for their overblown reputation, but an overblown reputation is a symptom - it can explain away disappointment, not failure. It's arguable that any of Western Europe's reputationally advanced teams, young Germany excepted, really deserve to be in this tournament anyway. Spain were pathetically disinterested until two matches ago; France twice ripped through the Faroe Islands but were anonymous otherwise; Italy did what Italy always does, which is just about enough on the day [I'm prepared to admit not everyone finds Andrea Pirlo good enough reason to automatically treat any team he plays in as a miracle of art, although I won't claim to understand such blindness]. And yet they're all there, up to and including the stuffed-with-talent but gormless Portugal, and the always exciting but criminally coached Holland. The points table does their reputations some service, after all.

I'm afraid of the 'Playstations and X-Boxes have done this to our youth' excuse, at least partly because I think it may be true. It may be an unfounded fear to imagine that this is a byproduct of economic and social development: after all, what are the odds that France and Spain don't sell game consoles by the n? Can the collapse of the Italian economy really relate to the annually burgeoning number of children who are entering the calcio youth system there [Pause to imagine a scenario where thousands of Italian infants rip open their presents eagerly on Xmas day expecting a Nintendo Wii and finding instead a note that says, 'Buon natale! My industry is in a state of financial ruin, making all electronic frivolities a luxury for us. Maybe next year. Love Papa.' and a bus pass to the nearest football school attached. Clutch at heart in bittersweet sympathy. Cheer kid on to 2018 World Cup glory.]? When the developed world finally reaches a point where every kid who wants a gaming device will be able to afford it, are all national teams going to be like England?

Obligingly, history and economics - and football, really - appear to be more complicated. There's hope for us all. It may even mean that there's hope for England.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

about me

Roswitha was a nun in medieval Germany who is now credited with first casting a spark over the fate of secular literary studies in Europe through her journal, in which she described the convent conducting readings of Roman drama and jotted down her own [of which more in an old explanation for my blog handle, here].

I'm 23, I live in Mumbai, India, and I'm here to talk a lot, mostly about sport, and maybe a little about books.