Tag Archives: soccer

Sir Alex Ferguson, and the Dog

Today has been a very peculiar day for me. I rose a little earlier than I normally would, egged on by my weekly cross-country-and-then-the-Atlantic phone call to my mother, and felt a little dusty. I called her and listened to the Skype tone as I thought about coffee, and work, and writing, and all of the things that sat before me that day. She answered, and within seconds knew that everything was not well. You get to know the inflections in your own mother’s voice when they are often the only markers of mood. Being as far away as I have been for as long as I have been, your senses become mostly dormant when pointed towards home. I can only hear my mother. Her tone of voice tells me so much.

“What’s wrong?” I asked.

“Well,” she said, taking a moment to pause and quickly scan over her feelings, “we, eh, we had to take Mollie to the vet today and have her, eh…and have her put down.”

I heard how difficult the last few words were for her. I almost cried at the sound of her almost crying, and at the thought that she had been crying but thought it necessary not to for my sake. I wasn’t really affected by the dog. It didn’t matter much to me anymore. She was old, and it was best for everyone. But I was sad for my mother. She let go of something a little sooner than she hoped to.

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We got that dog when I was eleven years old, one year after my father died. I think mum felt that she needed to have something around. She told me later that she thought about a cat, but we’d had one of those when dad was around. And a cat isn’t the same as a dog. There’s something inherently sad about a cat. So one day we went to Stirling and picked out Mollie, a tiny Cocker Spaniel puppy out of a chaotic, yelping litter of seven.

I’m not going to sit here and say that the dog represented my father, or that my mother sought to preserve his memory through canine affection, but there was something in that dog that helped all of us. For a little while it distracted us. Suddenly there was something exciting, something newborn and fragile to focus our attention on. In a house that spent a year filled with a sense of loss and expiration it was so refreshing to have this little black and white ball of fluff and ears bouncing around, so upbeat, innocent and tangible. But after the excitement died off it was a companion to my mother. She had someone to run with, something to cuddle into, a fourth mouth to feed. The dog filled a void that lay desperately open for the year after my father’s death.

Fast-forward fifteen years, and the dog is now in a box in the back garden, buried by my mother and my step-father. Le temps détruit tout. Did she let go of something today? I don’t think so. I don’t see there being some kind of emotional burden of grief attached to the poor animal anymore. It shed that a long time ago. Mollie’s roll changed over the years, and yesterday she was just a dog.

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Ta’ra Mollie.

After coming off the phone to my mother I looked on the Guardian’s website, as I do somewhat compulsively everyday. Now, I’ve managed to trim a lot of the fat from my lifestyle over the last few years. Torturous levels of self-discipline and a panting notion of replete failure nipping at my coattails keeps me focused on my goals and working as hard as I possibly can every single day. But, I am prone to daily slip ups. And these slip-ups typically appear in the form of football (soccer) journalism. I don’t even watch the beautiful game anymore. I just like the new breed of football journalists. I take a sickly pleasure in reading suppressed authors douse an often tedious sport with effervescent language and stuff it with philosophical undertones far beyond the contemplative abilities of the “artists” that craft it on the field. I just like imagining their smiles as they write. Reading about football is my equivalent of reality TV. My harmless little vice.

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And today, if you’re someone that knows anything at all about football, you will have heard that Sir Alex Ferguson, the purple-nosed, knighted Scottish manager of Manchester United, retired from football after 56 years in the game, with 27 of those spent at the helm of United. He took Manchester United from being a rusting, once-great side scrambling in a deep rut, to being one of the richest, most successful and consistent teams in the world.

I’m not going to get into the psychology of the man, the controversies he courted, or even try to dwell too much more on belting out a verse upon verse of praise to the tremendous weight his legacy is sure to wield over the game. There are many more talented writers than I doing those very things at this very moment, and my words would ultimately contribute very little (mostly because I would be merely paraphrasing the writers I wish I didn’t read). But I find it hard to imagine life as a football fan without him.

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Since before I was even born, Sir Alex Ferguson was in complete control of my football club. The only team I have ever watched have only ever had one person standing at the touchline berating the players and referees. He’s the craggy faced ogre that flashed flaccid pieces of mangled chewing gum as warning signs between exasperate sighs to the journalists that asked him “stupid bloody questions”. He swept the old boys out and nudged the new ones in with the butt of his broom. But most importantly, he didn’t succumb to the modern trappings of football management, like player egos, result-based success, reactionary fan pressure, or trigger happy billionaire owners, often because he was smart enough to negotiate his way around them, but occasionally because such things simply did not apply to him. There were football managers, and then there was Ferguson. He was the last of the old school, and the world will never see another one like him.

But how does that relate to the dog? I’m not sure that it does. It seemed profound in the moment I declared it significant, and, despite all the sadness, I was tingled by a precisely serendipitous feeling. Perhaps it’s that relief. I have finally buried something I have been subconsciously reappropriating for years. Football once defined me. As a child I was a footballer, and I was a Manchester United supporter. But today I’m nothing more than someone that finds an incubated feeling of removal in reading about a team I once loved. Every day I make the decision to read something innocuous about Wayne Rooney’s goal drought, or Moaninho’s future over becoming versed in US politics, or the escalating situation in the Middle-East. I should no longer seek an escape route from the news, but a feeling of empowerment through knowledge.

Like the dog, maybe we’ve all served each other well, and can pleasantly move on with our lives. Thanks for everything. Maybe it’s time for me to let it go, and let the past be just that.

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Under The Wee Bridge – Part One

It started about a month ago. Well, this particular thing did. But I suppose it goes back further than that. Deo has always been a bit of a nutter. We call him ‘Bates’. As in Norman Bates. He’s a psycho. But, he’s my cousin. He doesn’t have any brothers or sisters. An only child is exactly the way you’d describe him. He never mixed all that well with other people. At least that was what my mum always used to say. She didn’t like me hanging around with him. But I always did. I used to lie and tell her I was with Colin or Gary or one of the boys. His old man was my old man’s brother. But neither of them were about anymore. Mum always said that you could tell he was his father’s son. His father was nicknamed ‘Bates’ as well.

Anyway, we kicked about together all through school. We were really close with one another. I was always the one that had to break up his fights. I couldn’t count the number of times I got smacked in the face by him. It was weird though, cause it happened that many times that my face got stronger as his punches got harder. When it happened he would always blame me.

“You stupid bastard!” he’d shout, me holding my t-shirt to my face, trying to stop the blood. The other guy would normally be crying on the floor. From time to time I’d be down there with him.

He would always apologize afterwards. Tell me that I should know better than to get involved with him when he got the mist. That was what he called it. ‘The Mist’. I suppose it made sense. I never got anything like that. I never really got angry. Sad was always more my thing. But I got to learn when it was drifting over him. His eyes went that mirky way. You knew that he would travel through you to travel through someone else.

Football was what brought us and kept us together. That and blood of course. But that always seemed to matter more to him than it did to me. He was a center forward. I was a left winger. We always played in the same teams. When we’d get poached by another team, they’d always insist on the two of us coming together. I’d grown up planting crosses onto that misshapen head of his. I always knew where he’d run to. He scored more goals in the High School Highland league than any other player last year. He was two goals away from setting the record for the league. But he was also one red card away from setting that record too. The sad thing was, he seemed more proud of the red cards.

We got trails to go play with Hamilton Ackies when we were fourteen. I didn’t make the grade that time. I’d been having some injury problems for a while. I had ingrown toenails. I couldn’t give it what it needed. Bates got accepted and asked to join their youth team. It was a good feeder club for the big teams. It was his big opportunity. But he got hammered the night before his first game. He spewed at the side of the park. I wasn’t there, but he told me about it. He called the other team’s manager a ‘fat wanker’. He got sent off. They asked him to either sort his behavior out or never come back. Then he called his own manager a ‘fat wanker’.

He certainly won’t get another chance like that.

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Anyone but England

In Scotland we have a saying, ‘A.B.E.’. This stands for ‘Anyone But England’. A.B.E. is not a mentality held by every resident in Scotland. There are in fact, despite some aggressive rural movements, some English people hiding amongst us. This term applies mainly to sports, and most commonly to football (soccer), where petty bigotry and racism is a staple part of the game. Due to Scotland’s deplorable showing at almost every sporting event besides curling and beer pong, we tend to get jealous of the English and their successes, regardless of how meager they actually are. We don’t like to see them win. At anything.

The Clachan Arms, Achnafachel. June 2006. England reached the quarter finals of the World Cup. They were playing Portugal. Scotland didn’t qualify for the World Cup. We, one of the founding nations of the sport of football, failed to make it into the top thirty-two teams in the world. But being a nation of football fans, we had to unite together and support someone. That team happened to be A.B.E.

Now, I grew up in an area which people don’t tend to leave. They tend to stay in the village, have kids in the village, die in the village. But the jobs in maintaining the quality of life in the village usually pay reasonably well. So the young guys have money. Enough money in fact to make a trip to the nearest town every few days to buy a football shirt for whatever team England is playing against. During the 2006 World Cup, the boys managed to find a Sweden shirt, a Paraguay shirt and even a Trinidad and Tobago shirt for the group stage matches. Wearing the colors of countries they couldn’t point to on a map, they would strut into the pub proudly declaring to everyone inside that they were not supporters of that country, but that they hated the English more than anyone else. As Scotsmen, it was their only chance to win at something football related.

Their problem came when England met Portugal in the Quarter finals. A lot was riding on this game for the English. They had reminisced about their triumph in 1966 for as long as they possibly could. The commentators had been wheeling their geriatric victory out at every opportunity and force feeding it to the viewers at home. In this particular game it took the commentators thirteen seconds to mention 1966. Their words were met with a resounding “Fuck off you English cunts!” by a roomful of drunken, bitter Scots. But the boys in the Clachan Arms needed a Portugal shirt to visualize their disdain.

When they got to the local town on the day of the match, the sports shop had sold out. Clearly because this idea of playful racism was shared by other local people and the shop had not foreseen such prejudice in their patrons. The boys didn’t know what to do. They understood that merely walking into the bar clad in a Scotland shirt or a red t-shirt would not be enough to prove their inherent, uninformed hatred for the English. But as they trudged back to their van, they passed a costume shop. And they had an idea.

Five minutes before kick-off, the doors of the Clachan Arms swung open like a western saloon. The two boys walked through the door. The bustling, eager pub fell silent and all eyes looked away from the TV screen and towards them. The boys held their heads high as they strutted through the pub. They were wearing ponchos, sombreros, fake moustaches and each carrying a nylon strung acoustic guitar. They arrived at the bar and ordered two Coronas. With Lemon. An elderly gentleman looked them up and down as he turned away from the screen.

“What the fuck have you boys come as?” he asked.

The boys looked at each other, taking in their image.

“We’re Portuguese,” they said in unison.

“You’re fucking Mexican!”

“I know,” said the shorter one, “we just didn’t know what Portuguese people looked like.”

 

 

That’s a true story.

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