Archive | May, 2009

The First Recorded Sound

Posted on 30 May 2009 by JamesHamilton

Some of you may remember that 1860 version of Clare de la Lune getting Charlotte Green into all kinds of trouble last year. The people behind that restoration, First Sounds,  are still very much at work, and now they’ve pushed the likely date for the first recording of sound back to 1857.

That’s not on their website yet, but there is an 1859 recording of an English sports journalist lamenting the international side’s lack of passion and commitment. Well, alright: it’s actually of a tuning fork.

More information here and…



Edison’s 1878 recording of the New York Elevated Railroad.


An 1862 tuning fork recording, using a dead human’s eardrum as a membrane. We’re an interesting species, aren’t we?

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Physical Memory

Posted on 28 May 2009 by JamesHamilton

My teens coincided with the early-to-mid 1980s. I don’t remember there being much televised football then. There was more than I do remember – I worked too hard at school to take time off for MOTD, when it was a Saturday night thing, let alone evening live matches.

I didn’t really read the papers either. What all this did was place football, physically in my imagination, twenty miles down the A6 in Luton. There was some more a little further south, in Watford, and some out east in impossible places like Ipswich and Norwich.

Noone has heard of Norfolk or Suffolk for years, of course. I imagine they’re long abandoned. Bedfordshire can’t be far behind.

The internet, and to a lesser extent, digital television, opens up new branches in the mental map. Tony Buzan was onto something. When I took on mindmapping and the methods he recommended in “Make the Most of Your Mind” or whatever it was called, my school grades rose from Cs to As almost immediately. The very physical map I had of sport in my world in, say, 1983, has been superseded by something more interlocking, 3-D and virtual. Something Buzan would recognize; something he foresaw.

It’s hard to describe without showing you, but George Best against Benfica is kind of over there in Youtube, Sven joining Portsmouth is up on a screen in the Queens Arms, and that riproaring Etoo opener is on 101 Great Goals, which is placed more centrally than the other two. Chapman’s Huddersfield is on a plate on p.100 or so of a League history at the bottom of a book stack in the hallway. And so forth.

But over the last couple of days, snatches of a Beethoven overture have been surfacing in my mind, and they’ve made me realise how a virtual/mental map has its limitations.

The core of my musical life has always been classical. Thanks to a teacher at my primary school, it got there first. There are probably around about 100 pieces that mean something significant to me, and I owned most of them – for preference on those evocative German yellow-centred records – by September 1988. I sold them for food in 1991, but by 1996 had recovered the collection on CD before I had to sell all over again. (Given where I sold them, I wonder if any of them are on Brian Micklethwait’s famous coffee-jar shelves now?)

I turn out to be one of those who preferred the warmer, more distorted and shorter-lived sound of records.  I never really missed the CDs, and now I have everything in high-bitrate MP3s. Which I neglect for Spotify.

But here’s the thing: if a passage starts playing in my mind – like that Beethoven overture – I have to go back to the records I had originally in order to identify it. I go back to a small ’80s room over a garage in Surrey, furnished with a sofabed and white melamine, and flick through the careful row of properly-shelved records, until I have one in my memory’s fingers that feels right.

The alpha list of MP3s on my screen, by comparison, means nothing. In some ways it feels wrong. Why isn’t Dvorak’s 9th paired with the Carnival Overture? Why do I have all of the Mozart Piano Concertos, instead of one loved record with Mitsuko and Jeffrey on the cover, their faces young and close as lovers? And where’s that cheap but forever irreplaceable LP of Verdi choruses that I lent Mum for company when her husband walked?

Worst of all, of course, is that Beethoven overture, because that’s part of  a boxed set, and although I can feel the tissued sleeves in my fingers, I can’t read the labels.

The same few beats repeat themselves: a hunting horn, then a brave, optimistic pause. It’s on one of these records. Leonore III?

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Scottish Football Sells Its Soul To Mammon

Posted on 22 May 2009 by JamesHamilton

.. and it was a long time ago, too: here are a couple of ads from Scottish Football Reminiscences and Sketches by the immortal David Drummond Bone (1890):


The Trainer of the Rangers Football Team writes:
The Trainer of the Rangers Football Team writes:
“SIR,–I use HERBULINE extensively, and find it of great value. I
have never been disappointed in my results from using it. It is
superior to any preparation I have hitherto tried, and I strongly
advise those in want of a safe, reliable liniment to give it a
trial.–I am, yours respectfully,
“IBROX, _February 6th, 1890_. JOHN TAYLOR.”
Neuralgia and Tic cured by HERBULINE in 20 Minutes.
Lumbago             ”        ”    ”     24 Hours.
Toothache           ”        ”    ”     Momentary.
Cold Feet           ”        ”    ”     5 Minutes.
Rheumatism          ”        ”    ”     24 Hours.
HERBULINE is superior to Mustard for Poulticing. Salient points–clean,
easily applied, a more endurable heat. No liability to chill after
using. It is a wonder to those who use it, and never disappoints in its
_Of Chemists and Patent Medicine Vendors_–
Price 1s. 1½d. Net. If Posted, 3d. Extra.
The HERBULINE Manufacturing Coy.,


Should wear nothing in STYLISH HATS



which never CRACK OR BREAK, no matter how many times they are taken off
to assist the Cheering when


Sold at 4s. 6d., 5s. 6d., and 6s. 6d.

They are admitted to be the best Value ever offered to the Public.

71 ARGYLE STREET (Near Dunlop Street).
Sign of the Clock Hat.
Branches--73 TRONGATE (Tron Steeple), and at
Temporary Premises, 134 NORFOLK STREET.
It'll be the end of the game if this goes on, you mark my words.

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1957 FA Cup Final in Colour

Posted on 21 May 2009 by JamesHamilton

I don’t know if I’ve posted this before, so if I have, here it is again. This is what I believe to be a snippet of Sam Hanna’s colour film of the Busby Babes losing to a talented Villa side, nine months before Munich.

The match itself was ruined as a spectacle, if not as a contest, by the early injury of the Manchester United goalkeeper. For eight minutes at the start, United played perfect football. 

That eight minutes is almost all we have left of that team.

Wood came back on in the second half, as a winger, and put on such a good display that you wouldn’t have known he was out of position. At one stage, he embarks on a Giggs-style run through the defence, all twists and turns, before a last-ditch tackle stopped him from surely turning the match.

The whole game was played in an atmosphere of sportsmanship, by everyone on both sides save for Bill Foulkes, who went to war on Peter McParland after the Villa man’s collision with Wood. In particular, one notices how both sides return the ball promptly to their opponents for free kicks and throw-ins – and how little time is lost to stoppages as a result.

It would have meant the double had United won, but here’s what actually happened:


Charlton played – a very young man in 1958, and it showed: watch the DVD of the entire match and try to keep count of the number of times he loses possession, notice how rarely he looks for the pass. Then switch to Charlton in 1966, 1968 or 1970 and watch him in his magnificent heyday. What a difference, and yet the criticism followed him almost up to the very end.

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Tony Crosland's Chief Idiosyncracy

Posted on 21 May 2009 by JamesHamilton

This just in from Dominic Sandbrook’s White Heat:

Crosland’s chief idiosyncracy, however, was what his wife called his ‘passionate love affair’ with Match of the Day, which had started in August 1964. ‘Any living soul he was likely to run into on a Saturday,’ she wrote, ‘was alerted that on no account must the outcome of the match be revealed.’ Crosland even refused to enter his own living room until some other member of the family had turned on the television and made sure the players were on the field. When he was forced to attend a social engagement on a Saturday night, he would brief his children to come in at the appointed time and say, ‘The Prime Minister wants to talk to you,’ so that he could excuse himself and return an hour later. During the government’s greatest crisis in November 1967, he took the telephone off the hook while the programme was on, so that idle chatter about the survival of the economy would not interrupt the game.

Were Crosland just using MOTD as a means of getting down with the workers, in place of all that PM-related subterfuge there’d  have been a huge fuss, made in front of as many people as possible, about missing the programme, and that more Saturday nights than not. But when someone like Crosland comes out with a love of football and that before World Cup ’66 let alone before Nick Hornby, one is inclined to believe them. Although not without weighing it up first.

But ‘idle chatter about the survial of the economy’ wouldn’t have interrupted the game as such: MOTD was recorded highlights. It was the programme that would have been interrupted, soi nto that brief, innocent line Sandbrook drops both memories of the one-game-only MOTD format of the sixties, and of the days before video recording. Blink, and it’s Aston… on to Charlton… finds Crerand… Best!!…goal, a goal, yes – gone. 

All changed now, and that’s why so little serious football writing devotes space to the blow-by-blow account of the game. That’s done by live minute-by-minute reports these days, and not by David Lacey, Patrick Barclay or – heaven forbid – Simon Barnes.

There aren’t many Crosland counterparts now, from any standpoint, but those that do exist will be familiar with the phrase “Capped and Released by Fred 54” every bit as well as the rest of us.

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Can Manchester United Win Four Titles on the Trot?

Posted on 18 May 2009 by JamesHamilton

Of course, if Manchester United do win a fourth consecutive title next season, they will be the first team do win four, and it will be at the fifth time of asking. That alone makes it unlikely – dominance of the top division has to end some time, and in the past, this is where the end’s come. But this time might be different.

Keeping the Manager

First Huddersfield, then Arsenal, made it to three titles between the wars. In each case, the teams had been assembled by a certain Herbert Chapman. Chapman was the sort of manager whose flywheel would go on spinning for some time after his departure – the thriving remnants of his Huddersfield lost to his up-and-coming Arsenal at Wembley in 1930, walking out side-by-side in his honour under the shadow of the Graf Zepellin. Chapman left before Huddersfield completed their sequence, and had passed away before Arsenal completed theirs.

Without Chapman, four titles proved too much to ask. There are many reasons for supposing that a title was a great deal harder to win before the end of the maximum wage and retain-and-transfer. But harder still without the oversight of the general. Barring accident and ill-health, Manchester United go into title race number four with the same man at the head.

Money and Squad Size: Don’t Try to Rebuild

No team would earn themselves the chance of four again until Liverpool in 1984-5. But they began the season terribly, and although the team recovered to show championship form from the start of the year on, they were up against Howard Kendall’s Everton in its sudden, unexpected pomp and fell well short. Management was again a question – Bob Paisley had overseen the first two titles of their three, Joe Fagan the third – but given Liverpool’s continued dominance of Division One for the rest of the decade, the change of managers is hardly to blame.

Everton’s wonderful football aside, ’84-85 was a nadir season. Anyone who was there and interested will remember a long, hot spring and summer of rioting. On the 13th of March, Millwall fans tore 700 seats from a stand at Kenilworth Road. On the 11th of May, fire killed 56 people in Archibald Leitch’s main stand at Bradford City. Then, on the 29th, came Heysel.

1984-85 was not a season deserving of a great record, but Liverpool’s early season collapse needs explanation. Since the end of the maximum wage twenty years earlier, squad sizes in the First Division had halved. This, combined with the end of the talent gold-rush that had led to nine different title-winning clubs in 1960-72, presented Liverpool with a problem in 1984-5 that might, under lesser hands,  have sent them the way of post-Busby Manchester United. With Rush injured for the first part of the season, the talented but markedly inferior Paul Walsh stepped in. And there was no more Graeme Souness – Phil Neal took over as skipper whilst John Wark from Ipswich tried to fill an impossible hole. Jim Beglin had to do the same for Alan Kennedy.

These were fine players, and all became famous servants of Liverpool Football Club, but to come in all at once in that louse of a season and pull together in time for a title was asking too much.


When Manchester United won their third title in 2001, I was passing through a service station in the Midlands. It was raining, it had been an uninspired season, and here on the television were Beckham and co. jumping up and down for all the world as if it mattered. It was still only April.

Arsenal had finished second, but ten points behind: all year, it had seemed as though the title had gone out of fashion with only United not noticing, and, how gauche of them, winning it and parading the winning.

Then the talk started. Ferguson was retiring at the end of the next season: Beckham suggested that it might be nice for the team to commemorate that, not with a carriage clock, but with going through the season unbeaten. And we’ll win him the Champions League in his home town of Glasgow.

Much of that was probably down to the press: Beckham is not prone to hyperbolic statement, and the papers would have joined those particular dots with no help from the players in any case. Furthermore, the acquisitions in the close season of Van Nistelrooy – seen as hideously risky – and Sebastian Veron – seen as cementing United’s midfield as the best in the world – outstripped anything Arsenal or Liverpool could assemble.

But the press weren’t behind the sale of Jaap Stam, nor his replacement with Laurent Blanc. Nor will anything of comparable stupidity take place this time.

What Will Stop United?

Injuries. Significant injuries have seen off Arsenal and Liverpool’s challenges, if not Chelsea’s, in the last two years. Neither Eduardo nor Torres played full seasons – and if Torres had, it’s likely that I wouldn’t be writing this now. United had to endure a torrid time in defence owing to injuries to – well, just about everyone – but the dead men were revived in time. Another two weeks of that would have lost them the title.

Distraction. History teaches two lessons here: don’t focus on one or two trophies at the expense of the others: you’ll win none of them. But don’t try to win all four/five. Contradictory, I know, but you can also feel the truth of it. The reality is that you won’t know you’ve been distracted until too late.

Scandal. In summer of 1977, Manchester United decided not to return, after all, to Busby-esque winning ways by sacking Tommy Docherty and dooming his marvellous young side to the tinkerings of lesser men. And all because the Doc fell in love… It would take more than that this time, but with the amount of money sloshing around inside Old Trafford, it would come as no surprise were some of it to find its way into trouble.

Other teams. Somehow, one feels, it won’t be Liverpool or Chelsea. Liverpool because, Gerrard aside, there may be a psychological penalty to pay for coming so close this time around. And they were never quite as good as they thought anyway. Chelsea are changing managers AGAIN – and not, to their cost, back to Mourinho, Ferguson’s only real rival.

Which leaves Arsenal. They’ve been my tip for the title in the last two seasons, which means that you’ve rather wasted your time in reading this, haven’t you? But Ashavin playing behind Eduardo excites me, and if Wenger is willing to reimpose himself on the club’s increasingly, foolishly eccentric board, then this team – Champions League semi-finalists, let’s not forget – may be due another day in the sun.

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Is Michael Owen a Has-Been?

Posted on 17 May 2009 by JamesHamilton

Disappointing to relate, but Wolfram Alpha can’t tell you. Yet. 

But if Cambridge’s finest is stumped, that does at least indicate that the question is open for debate. I think the answer’s no, and here are the reasons why.

1. Owen, we are told, is out of date. It is no longer enough to be just the “fox in the box.” His all-round game is not up to the demands of modern football. 

This sounds, on the face of it, a believable scenario. But it has two weaknesses. First of all, it is being said by British football journalists, most of whom have no more tactical awareness than the rest of us. Secondly, it doesn’t bear up to scrutiny.

Exactly which forward player’s “all round game” is superior to Owen’s? Rooney, certainly, although that’s an altogether unfair comparison. Does Peter Crouch have a better all-round game? Or Darren Bent? Does Fernando Torres? 

The comparison with Fernando Torres is the moot one, because Owen is by anyone’s measure still the second best English forward player, when he is fit. Once we get past Owen and Rooney, the talent gap opens prodigiously, and it has been widening more each year since Shearer and Fowler left the scene.

But is Owen still of a standard to compete with the likes of Torres? You have to be more than just an effective Englishman to justify a place at a top four club these days, or to be considered one of the best overall.

If you have ten minutes you wish to spend well, watch this collection of Torres strikes and see if you aren’t reminded of somebody:


It isn’t difficult, is it – but if you need convincing, here are seven minutes of Owen that should do the trick:


In essence, if Owen is finished because his game is old-hat, then so is the man commonly assumed to be Europe’s hottest striker.

The question is, can Owen still actually produce his game? Is he able to perform as he did in 1998, or 2002, or 2004, or 2007 when he so nearly rescued Steve McClaren single-handed in that last wild scoring streak for England?

2. Owen, we are told, has “lost that yard of pace” and “he’s not getting away from Prem defenders like he used to.”

That’s another English journalists’ meme, of course. What does losing a yard of pace mean, exactly? It would be interesting to see the actual numbers: how fast was Owen from a standing start in 1998, and how fast is he now? Speed, we now know, comes from possession of a certain kind of fast-twitch muscle fibre. To what extent can knee and ankle injuries interfere with these?

I don’t know. Do you? (If anyone has specialist knowledge, I’d be very glad to hear their views on the matter).

But I’m willing to bet that, given a full pre-season’s training, Owen will prove slower than Torres and Ronaldo, but not slower than Adebayor, Anelka, Drogba, Berbatov, Tevez or Kuyt.

3. In any event, most of Owen’s goals have come from attributes other than speed. His speed, as I’ve said, is a meme. His positioning, timing and balance are all better than all but one of his English rivals, and his finishing, when fit and in match practice, still better than almost anyone’s. The evidence for this actually comes from his time at Newcastle: at Toon, he has scored 26 league goals in 58 starts (plus 12 substitute appearances). For a man playing with in a team in spectacular decline throughout this period, with no settled partner to rely on and the only certainty being appalling service, this is an extraordinary return. It does make me wonder what he might have done at, say, Arsenal over the same period. How would Rooney, or Berbatov, or indeed Torres, fared?

Little wonder, really, that Owen looks out of sorts at Newcastle. It’s the only rational response to a shocking situation. Even Shay Given gave up on it: it’s been that bad. 

4. But will he ever be fit for an entire season ever again? His doctors seem to think so: the medical advice he has received in the wake of his recent year out is in total contrast to the non-medical opinions he is receiving from the press. The press think that he was played too much too young, and is now the footballing equivalent of a 90s supercar with moonshot mileage. 

Owen’s been out a lot this year – he’s played in only 31 games as opposed to Torres’ 36. But Torres plays at a club with modern facilities. Newcastle have one of the worst injury records over the last five years in the Premiership, and the quality of their training ground – the pitches in particular – is notorious. Keegan regarded their updating and improvement as a high priority – but then discovered what Mike Ashley’s priorities were, and left.

Were Owen to join Everton in the close season, a club able to keep its limited squad ticking in far better shape and with far less money than Toon, then he’ll have the chance to make the most of his doctors’ opinion and we’ll finally really know what he has to offer.

There is another Owen v Torres stat that is worth remembering in this context: Torres has made 300 career appearances as of this morning, and he’s 25. Owen is 29, and has made only 412.

To conclude: if Owen can get to a club that will offer him stability, proper football and good facilities, then he has a very good chance of putting in a proper season. It is more likely than not that in such circumstances, he’ll still be able to perform at the highest level – and certainly well enough to eclipse all but Rooney in the England stakes.

The question of Owen in club football is clear enough, then. But the international issue is another thing entirely.

Owen can and probably will do an excellent job for a club next season. Wherever he goes can only be an improvement. Will Wigan want to pair him with Heskey again? But what is Capello’s thinking?

Capello is reported to have told Owen that he is in his thinking, but needs, in essence, to “do a Beckham” to get back into the squad. Get a string of quality games under his belt, display the level of commitment to the cause that Capello demands, and he’ll be called up. It’s the press who say that Owen is out of the England running, not the England manager.

Whether Owen can be an automatic pick for Capello is another question – and in this instance, the press are probably right: Capello’s formations thus far do not suit Owen’s game. Nor have Owen’s recent seasons justified setting England up to suit him as they might have done before 2006.

If Capello is confronted by injuries to Gerrard and Rooney, but has a fit Owen and a fit foil (a Heskey or a Crouch) to offer him, that might change. I say might change. And if it does, the run-up to the World Cup will be all Owen needs to overtake Lineker and Charlton. 

But Wayne is 23 and has 21 international goals. The real Owen question is not whether he’s finished. It’s whether he’ll get to the international record before Rooney.

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What We’ve Learned About Clough

Posted on 08 May 2009 by JamesHamilton

The burst of media interest in Brian Clough that accompanied the release of The Damned United might be the last one. Luckily, television used the opportunity to dip one more time into its archives and broadcast at least a proportion of what it found. Of course, the programming hung around all this fresh material was no more than it usually is, and that deserves comment. But as the film’s release generated controversy over the man Clough, his players and his life, and that being some kind of achievement, it’s worth asking what we know now as a result of it all. And there are new things to say.

To start with the programmes themselves, and in particular ITV’s new documentary, it’s clear that there is a great deal more Clough on film than we might previously have expected. This is especially the case of Clough the player, who’d really only been handed down to us on reputation, statistics and ancient match reports.

Clough the player is articulate on and off the pitch. Quick, thinking, moving – he’s reminiscent of Rooney in that regard – and with a fierce shot off an oft-spoken, rarely seen short backlift, as impressive as we’d been warned it would be. The film of his career-ending injury is better than the grainy press photographs of the event (which look as though they were taken on the Eastern Front and tell us almost nothing other than the injury hurt). The collision with the keeper looks innocuous – and it all happens very quickly. He tries to get up, but it’s like watching the struggle of an animal with a rifle bullet in its hip. These days, he’d have lost a season, no more.

Also included in the documentary was a lot more of the young manager Clough. It was obvious that whatever the footage showed, the media didn’t want the essential Clough story to change: Clough the charismatic loudmouth, his ghost always there now to back up whichever working class passion-and-commitment clichee the middle class journalist du jour wanted to push. But what hits me time and again, watching Clough, is the effortless intellectual strength of the man, head and shoulders over the world around him. He’s very, very clever. Brighter than the articulate, intelligent men who wrote and write about him.  But God forbid, in British football culture, that thinking had anything to do with Clough’s success. Let alone the upper-middle-class effortless superiority style of thinking which is increasingly what I suspect he exhibited. That man holding his own on Parkinson and being yelled at by Ali is also the man who tried to teach the England squad to play bridge – the man who was the only one of his siblings not to make grammar school and the white collar world – the man who married Barbara, and fathered Nigel. It takes a cricketer, his friend Geoffrey Boycott, to say it.

I think that particular penny is one football doesn’t particularly want to drop.

Moving on to Clough’s changing personality, we learned more about his drinking life. The Damned United suggests, and I suspected, that the drink was always there in the background from the time of his injury on. George Best once protested, understandably, that it was absurd to point the drinking finger at him alone when the game’s culture was intriniscally alcoholic. But not for Clough, it turns out.

Clough’s drinking years seem to come in two waves, both after his injury. And, I think significantly, they came (1) before his managerial partnership with Peter Taylor commenced at Hartlepool and (2) after his managerial partnership with Peter Taylor ended at Nottingham Forest. After Taylor’s death, Clough remembered him predicting that Clough would never laugh in the same way again once Taylor was gone. “And he was right!” Clough said afterwards. Taylor wasn’t the key to Clough being a good manager, as the relative continuing success at Forest after 1982 showed. But he was key to Clough himself, and to the best kind of success.

All of the new material shed disappointingly little new light on his time at Leeds, which must now remain essentially mysterious. Perhaps, like so much else, Clough at Leeds was a knock-on victim of the Yom Kippur War and the ’73 Oil Crisis, the end of Bretton Woods, Nixon and all that went with it. 1975-6 is the interregnum between the World Cup-winning English football world and the dirty twilight that followed.

But at least, in relation to Leeds, we learn that whatever did happen, there are certain things that did not. A line has been drawn, both by the players who were there and by Clough’s family, below which his reputation at Elland Road will not be allowed to fall. There was no boozing; no real scheming; Revie’s desk did not meet an axe coming the other way.

The Leeds players come out of this very well – warm, intelligent, avuncular men who feel no need to step on Clough or to ramp their reputation in any real way. Johnny Giles’ successful lawsuit was a victory for Clough’s memory too.

After the publication of Anthony Thwaite’s selection of Philip Larkin’s letters, Tom Paulin’s theatrical disgust led Martin Amis, in relation to Larkin’s posthumous reputation, to wonder, “Are we really going to do this?” And, of course, we were.

But Giles’ suit, and the Clough family’s moving anger at The Damned United, and perhaps the persistence of Duncan Hamilton, mean that, on this occasion, it looks very much as if we aren’t going to do this.

Perhaps Larkin’s error, if it can be called that, was to leave his protegees, not in the public world of poetry, but in the private one, the county palatine profession of academic libraries. Of the two, Larkin was the selfless professional man, helping, encouraging, putting words in the right places, giving his time gratis, helping with L.A. exams. Clough’s pursuit of career was more or less entirely in his own interest. That, as they say, is football: although the same people still want the game to stand for a shifting array of traditional virtues nonetheless.

But at least we aren’t going to do this; we aren’t going to trash Clough’s shade. We aren’t going to allow the shade to be clever – and certainly not more clever than journalists who themselves want to hide that particular bit of their light under the proverbial. Allowing him to rest in peace is about as good as can be expected, so it is to be welcomed. And it’s more than Larkin got.

This clip from the ITV documentary is one of the most life-enhancing I’ve ever posted. Enjoy.

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All the Sinners Saints: Chelsea Robbed in Europe

Posted on 07 May 2009 by JamesHamilton

606 was group therapy last night. Chelsea fan after Chelsea fan heard their own voices slurring under an unsuspected weight that, the future gone from them, they could suddenly feel.  There was a lot of anger spoken of unfelt. Tiredness and resignation masqueraded as rage. Lovejoy called for vengeance, but his “I want United to beat them into pulp” was said like it was read from a list and told you he no longer had the energy to care.

It was hard not to sympathise. But I would have to admit to the following: turning the radio off after the Chelsea goal; turning in early; turning the radio on again at about ten o’clock, hearing the news, and abruptly getting up again; running to turn the television on; dancing around the room. Not, I would agree, the actions of a patriot or of a passionate Londoner.

And Chelsea were robbed. There’s no doubt that the tie was theirs on balance. But consider what it would have meant had the football gods (and let’s hope it was just the football gods and not bribery or UEFA as well) not intervened in the dying moments of the game.

We’d have had last year’s final all over again. With all that entailed. Just imagine:

Three weeks of self-serving, self-pitying mockney bullshit from England’s captain John Terry. Tedious speculation about penalties. Replays from Moscow on Sky Sports every day. The hideous ramping-up of the pressure on Guus Hiddinck to stay. Poor Frank Lampard’s mother getting wheeled out for inspiration. Mourinho hassled about his legacy. And all that Triumph of the Will stuff about the manifest destiny of the blues. 

Instead, we get United v Barcelona, a game that might just interest some neutrals and be good to watch. Messi and Ronaldo in Rome. What a way to start the summer.

To be as fair as possible to Chelsea, they have rescued their season from what might have been much, much worse. But an FA Cup Final and third place in the league is about right. It’s still achievement, but there was a moment in April when they might have gone on a run to the treble, and that would have been unjust. Remember Liverpool, who look like winning nothing now.

 It’s interesting how a club carries its essential identity into different times. Chelsea were a cup side and many people’s second team of choice for many years. They were known on the one hand for fan violence and on the other for attractive football and a certain kind of London glamour. The ghost of all that has run on into the Abramovich era. The top’s not yet their home but Liverpool still carry so much momentum from their past, hard-won momentum, that they can feel quite comfortable in the late stages of the Champions League. Result: no league titles for Liverpool, but two Champions League finals in four years. 

I wonder now if Chelsea don’t have some of that colourful mediocrity left in their bones, still to be grown out of. I wonder if that didn’t have something to do with the last twelve months and what now looks like their Leeds 1975 season.

When Mourinho left, I predicted a slow, but definite, decline. There’s still time for a great manager to stop it, to begin rebuilding from a position of strength. But not much time. Some of us who have been watching all this from the beginning think that Chelsea have a portrait in the attic, and that portrait is one of Jody Morris, and if they don’t get the next appointment right, some of us can see that picture brought out and paraded down the Kings Road in front of everyone before 2010 is too old.

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The Ghosts of 1979

Posted on 05 May 2009 by JamesHamilton

They showed the 1979 Election Night broadcast again on BBC Parliament yesterday. I watched it with four friends on Facebook and Twitter, myself here in Scotland, the others in Camden, Sussex and Oxford, comments chucking back and forth.

I was trying to write at the same time, but little by little the programme dragged me in and took over.

There was even a moment , perhaps the one which David Butler used to tell the young David Dimbleby that “Scotland is voting differently from the rest of the country”, when I genuinely thought we were going to get another go at it all again.

Except that Dimbleby and his team gave no sign that this was a second run, no hint that they had any idea or foreknowledge of just what was coming to Britain. And didn’t we just have it coming? Instead, here was Bob McKenzie advancing the opinion that Thatcher had won an insufficient majority to provide her with a mandate for any real change. The British people, he said, had – as ever – calibrated the government’s wriggle-room nicely: a little more of this, a little less of that. The modern viewer wriggles  uncomfortably..

I bailed out after about seven hours of it. Long enough to see the frightful Pat Arrowsmith dragged off to a gulag of her own making, not long enough for the Franciscan nonsense outside Number Ten. Later, I realised how out of sorts it had all left me, as though it had shifted some kind of silt inside me best left alone.

Before BSE closed the footpaths, Karen and I used to tramp the North Downs every weekend. On one such occasion, we’d set off from Westhumble for Polesden Lacey, that odd 20s cruise-liner of a house near Dorking. The route takes you through a group of farm buildings beside a ruined chapel, then across a road and up the hill. At the top of the hill, we took a breather and looked back where we’d come.

Back where we’d come was the chapel, and the farm buildings, but this time also a kind of red brick kiln, a squat two stories high, covered in ivy. It hadn’t been there when we passed through a couple of minutes earlier. That wasn’t so bad: I commented on it to Karen; she agreed, and we contemplated it in the sunshine for a few minutes before the arrival of some other walkers broke the quiet and we moved on.

When we came back the same way, the kiln wasn’t there. Not there from the top of the hill, not there in among the farm buildings and chapel when we got down to them again.

I don’t believe in ghosts – not in the traditional sense anyway. But we’d clearly seen a ghost of a sort. It could scarcely have been less frightening or more harmless – a distant, friendly pile of old brick dozing in the sunshine.

Over the next couple of months, I tried to place my experience, identify it, and read around the whole subject of the supernatural. (Old maps showed no kilns, or any other suitable building, but they were bad maps, and few in number).  Of course, the field’s awash with the deluded, the fanatical and the sinister (latterly, there are the likes of Richard Wiseman and the Edinburgh Skeptics to redress the balance, but not so then). And there’s practically nothing there to impress anyone who presumes to hold themselves to any real standards of what constitutes knowledge.

But what there was there was profoundly soiling on the psychological level. In the absence of any evidence for afterlife, or divine intervention, or worlds hidden from our view, there was nevertheless a strong sense of something wrong about this territory. Whilst you’re in it, you have, always over your shoulder, the presence of the No Entry sign you hadn’t noticed you’d passed. It’s not warning you of demonic possession, or divine anger, or spectral revenge for the disturbance of the resting dead, but – nonetheless, there’s a sense that it’s not a good idea to be digging around in all this grave soil when you should be out living your life.

There’s something genuinely ugly in amongst all the stupid seances and unreliable testimony and attention-seeking and “ghost photographs” and creepy EVP recordings and Ghosts of Flight 401s. I found myself returning to Anglican communion again, in Winchester and London, in the hope that the ritual would wash the traces of it all out of my head. Time did that in the end.

The feeling returned yesterday evening after watching all that ’79 election stuff. Perhaps it was that long parade of the famous, familiar dead, alive again and with the illness and ageing you know will come absent from their younger, cleaner, earlier faces. Or the contrast between the sheer confidence and urbanity of the 1979 occasion, and the ultimately false sense of certainty and permanence it engenders, that dissonance.

Echoes of other Facebook 1979 parties were reaching me: the rightwingers raising glasses to what is clearly their Battle of Kosovo, the lefties slumping into the usual irresponsible miasma of thoughtless self-pity. There’s that bit in Barthes where he shows you a snap of one of Lincoln’s assassins in chains waiting for the hangman. He’s moody, handsome, young and muscled. He is alive, Barthes says; alive and yet dead. He is dead, and he is going to die. And so by extrapolation are Heath, Thorpe, Powell, the Mad Monk, Geoffrey Howe, Willie Whitelaw.

And so too Robert Trelford McKenzie, so full of bounce and laughter next to the still hand of his swingometer, who we know wouldn’t live to do any of it ever again.

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