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World Cup Draw

Hmmm. Interesting.

England, Slovakia, Slovenia, Lithuania and Malta.

It’s tricky. Not as tricky as Group A though; or G. And it might have been better to be in Group B.

The England games will take care of themselves, I suppose, but we’ve come unstuck against Lithuania before.

We’ll just have to make the best of it.

The Hope That Kills Us edited by Adrian Searle

An anthology of Scottish football fiction. Polygon, 2003, 191 p.

 The Hope That Kills Us cover

From Stuart Cosgrove’s foreword, with its tag of “Anybody who says he disnae like football is a lyin’ bastard,” – a quote from the final story – to that final tale this book is an examination in prose of Scotland’s contradictory love affair with the Beautiful Game – an affair at times not beautiful and not a game. The tendency of Scots to see anything and everything through the filter of football is evident from the contents.

This paperback edition contains additions (by Brian Hennigan and Bernard McLaverty) to the original hardback contents. Each story’s title page is illustrated by photographs taken by Paul Thorburn of different sets of goalposts from round Scotland. Occasional double page photos, overlaid with quotations from the stories, intersperse the book.

As is usual for anthologies and might be expected from the range of contributors the stories are varied in tone and style. The relevance of football to some of them is a bit dubious, though.

The opener is The Thing About Brazil by Allan Spence. On a trip to Brazil, Andrew remembers his dad and their visits to Ibrox, takes in a Flamengo-Palmeiras game at the Maracanã and, later, has his own moment of football glory on Ipanema beach.
In A Belfast Memory by Bernard McLaverty a Belfast man remembers the time that “Charlie Tully called” and the discussion that ensued on the shameful demise of Belfast Celtic.
Linda Cracknell’s The Match is only incidentally about football. A woman is taking a holiday in the Carribean on her own since her husband wouldn’t miss a vital European match. (It could have been any obsession really but I suppose football is the most plausible.)
In This Is My Story, This Is My Song by Laura Hird some Hearts-supporting friends gather for the funeral of one of their number, killed in a van crash. Supporting Hearts is the biggest thing in the lives all of them.
Iain Maloney’s Football Scarves and Richard Kimble tells of a boy’s experience of his first match – a Cup Final – interspersed with his Dad’s reminiscences of how the ending of the TV show The Fugitive, gripping much of the nation at the time, was announced over the tannoy at a night game.
The Hand of God Squad by Gordon Legge is the tale of two (moderate) drinking pals, the hotels they drink in, the Englishman who first of all befriends them then joins in their trips away with the Tartan Army (complete with kilts.) All tied up with the sad end to the qualifying campaign for the 2002 World Cup.
In The Cherrypicker by Jim Carruthers the narrator’s grandfather was a Cherrypicker, so he is slightly disappointed both that no-one famous turned up at the old man’s funeral and at the absence of missives from Liverpool in his effects. Years later, on seeing Glenbuck, he cannot credit the team’s name.
Nae Cunt Said Anyhin by Andrew C Ferguson is narrated in a very broad Fife Scots. It is the story of Tam Johnston and the gift of sublime football talent the fairies passed on to him; a gift almost useless because Tam likes the drink too much (“George Best oan a budget”) and even though he gets to play for Scotland they’re “so shite even Tam cannae make a difference. Couldnae score on Loveboat.”
Billy Cornwall’s Jesus Saves has Wee Davy thrust into a game against older heavier boys, where he imagines himself as Kenny Dalglish.
Heatherstone’s Question by Des Dillon is another not really about football, even if two neighbours in Galloway do support different halves of the Old Firm. Rather, it is about neighbourliness, and reticence.
Alan Bissett’s A Minute’s Silence charts the friendship and rivalry between two boys that sours when they attend different schools and start to support different teams (you know the two.) About sectarianism and how it is not engrained, but learned.
In Denise Mina’s The Bigot a criminal has scheduled the divvy-up from a job for the day of an Old-Firm game. Again, the football content here is really incidental. Revenge, it seems, is a dish best served not only cold but well-planned.
Sufisticated Football by Suhayl Saadi has a man “lying in the cells at the dark bottom of the Old Partick Police Station” being visited by the ghost of Allegro Akbar, a celebrated football coach. Illuminated with words from Urdu and Arabic – ghosht = meat = the ball, pyar = love, and ishq = perfection (as in Zidane, Hampden, 15th May 2002) – illustrating the philosophy of football.
The Tomintoul Deliverance by Brian Hennigan is the humorous story of how Loch Muick triumphed over the ancient enemy Athletico Tomintoul – despite not having played them for years and a season spent losing heavily to the likes of Dynamo Fochabers and Sporting Kilwhinnie (not to mention Unsporting Kilwhinnie) – mainly through managerial exhortation by cliché. A flavour of the tone is given by the sentence, “It was at times reminiscent of the film Zulu, particularly when the Tomintoul attack set fire to the thatched roof of our goal.”
The Last Man in Scotland Who Doesn’t Like Football by Colin Clark tells the story of “Pasty” Hastie, who doesn’t like football so got a hard time at school. The affliction goes on to haunt his adult life.

Pedant’s corner:- non sequitar (sequitur,) sprung (sprang,) its (it’s,) Billy McNeil (Billy McNeill,) “Better tae have to hoopsthough eh?” (the hoops makes more sense,) Queens Park (Queen’s Park,) “Where’s the excitement I that?” (in that, surely?) Thursday through the Saturday (that “through” is USian usage,) what we what we, was was, students’s, allen key (Allan key,) “’And you’ll have you got yourselves kitted out?’” epitomy (epitome,) gets the heads shaved (get,) Robert Prosineski (that’s how it’s pronounced but it’s spelled Prosinecki,) a missing quotation mark, were (where,) alter x 2 (altar – both times,) a few slice of bread (slices,) one and other (one another,) wanes (weans,) Ranger’s (Rangers’,) sliver shelving units (silver?) ranger top (Rangers top,) sleak (sleek,) viscose (viscous,) threw (thrown,) soccer (soccer!!!!) miniscule (minuscule,) deosil (usually deasil,) snuck (sneaked,) nine items or less (ought to be fewer, of course, but it’s a straight quote from a supermarket sign,) a question mark after what wasn’t a question, lead (led.)

A Season With Verona by Tim Parks

Travels around Italy in search of illusion, national character and …. goals.

Secker and Warburg, 2002, 447 p.

A Season With Verona cover

Parks is an English novelist who has lived in Italy for many years. Long fallen under the influence of the Brigate Gialloblù (the Yellow-and-Blue Squad,) “ultras” who throng the Curva Sud of Verona’s Bentegodi stadium for home matches, he conceived of the idea of attending every game of the team’s 1999-2000 season, selling this to his wife on the basis he could write a book about it. The result, though, is not a book only about football and the experience of being a fan, but also an exploration of Italy, the strange divisions, attitudes, enmities and prejudices within that country.

Given that the team Parks is so devoted to is Hellas Verona, not one of Italian football’s superpowers, the book’s subtitle is a bit of a red herring. Goals (at least, Hellas goals) turn out to be in somewhat short supply. This is partly due to the loss of their previous manager, Cesare Prandelli, to a bigger club. His successor is not as accomplished.

As well as the Veronese dialect being derided in the rest of Italy, Hellas fans and Verona itself had at the time (and may still) an unenviable reputation, as racist. (As far as the football club is concerned the nearest British equivalent might be Millwall – “No-one likes us, we don’t care” – but that club’s profile is probably lower than Verona’s, its football history less illustrious. In the miraculous year of 1985, before Parks’s time as a fan, Verona actually won lo scudetto – imagine Millwall winning the English Premiership – but immediately after that incredible outcome the system of appointing referees in Serie A was changed.) A sub-theme throughout the book is the saga of a teacher in Verona who was the subject of an attack because he was a Jew. Most Veronese are solicitous and supportive of him but the national press and media weigh in with stereotyping of all Veronese as racist. The situation becomes ever more complicated when it is revealed that the man did not have the teaching qualifications he claimed, thus putting his job in danger. (But even this is turned against the Veronese.) Neither is any hospital report of the man’s injuries ever produced. The attack may not have occurred at all. However, Parks portrays the fans’ racism as more contrarian and reflexive than real, an assertion of defiance and distinctiveness. An afterword says that a black Colombian made his debut for Hellas two seasons later and was warmly welcomed by the Curva Sud. During the season covered the Verona fans encounters a certain amount of casual violence, both from opposition supporters and the police. (Veronese, being perceived as racist, are seen as fair game.)

The author’s novelistic background shows through at times. The chapters are structured with a fiction writer’s feel and the incidents detailed highlight the points he is making. All but a few chapters are tailed by the Giornata (results) and Classifica (league table) after the fixtures discussed within. Among his more general observations are that, “To do anything in Italy you don’t need to be capable of it. What you do need is a certificate. The document is crucial.” He adds, “There is no people more ready to imagine a conspiracy than the Italians.” Yet “everyone wants their team to win at all costs and everyone earnestly wishes the world to be fair.” Parks concurs with Leopardi who in a book published in 1828 stated that society in Italy is a “school for insult.” The description is even more applicable to football. While not sharing their enmities to local rivals Bergamo, Brescia and Vicenza, when Inter come to town Parks feels the indignation – familiar to fans of wee teams everywhere – of Hellas fans to those Veronese who have turned up to support Inter. “How can they do it?” Mixed in with this is the disparity in resources “the five reserves they” (Inter) “have on the bench are worth more than our whole twenty-five-strong squad put together.” On the iniquities of referees officiating in a match involving a big team at the Bentegodi, Parks says, “The more I think about football, the more I am convinced that injustice is an essential part of it,” adding that the fan of Verona, indeed the fan of a small team anywhere is lucky. “He gets it.” Also, “The truth is that whenever a provincial side come to Turin,” (to play Juventus) “they arrive expecting to be cheated. More than they would anywhere else.” (Welcome to Parkhead and Ibrox!)

The first game is a trial. Away to Bari, eight hundred and fifty kilometres down the Adriatic coast. Not as far as Lecce but bad enough. And held not on the usual Sunday of Serie A matches but as the anticipo at 3 o’clock on Saturday afternoon, and thus the first match of the entire Serie A season. This arrangement is for pay television purposes. A second anticipo is played on a Saturday night and a posticipo on the Sunday evening. I don’t like the concept. Football games ought to be played at the traditional time (football’s soul has long since been sold out, in some cases far too cheaply, for filthy lucre) but I do like the word posticipo. In a circumstance which will be unsurprising to also-rans in other countries only the provinciali, not the big five of Juventus, Inter Milan, A C Milan, Lazio and Roma, are delegated to play on a Saturday afternoon. Parks’s journey to Bari on the Zanzibar bus (the book is dedicated to its denizens, the Zanzibar is the bar from which the supporters bus leaves) is a nightmare full of interruptions and replete with Italian expletives – if you didn’t know what vaffanculo means before reading this book it wouldn’t take you long to work it out – with Parks’s credibility at stake, travelling for hours on a clapped out vehicle stocked with initially suspicious diehards. The game, too, is a trial for the most part but Hellas salvage a draw. For the later game at Lecce Parks uses his projected book as a means to travel with the club. Unable to get there any other way he flies with the team and officials, staying at their hotel. The players turn out to be fairly sad individuals, almost like little boys lost. The game, too, is lost and Parks swears not to travel with the team again.

It is only more than halfway through the book, when the reality of a relegation struggle has become clear, that Parks mentions what he had hoped to avoid, something unthinkable. Verona has another football team, from the suburb of Chievo. Traditionally poorly supported – Parks characterises this as more or less a woman, two men and a dog (I paraphrase) – and habitual denizens of the lower leagues, they have not long been elevated to Serie B, and so are now allowed to play at the Bentegodi but are exemplary, with two black players and fans who don’t invite trouble. Worse still for Hellas fans, Chievo are on course for promotion. Hence Hellas faces the imminent loss both of Serie A status and that of top dog in Verona. It is here that Parks rails at the fact that, without television money – with Serie B and European games added to the schedule it means that there is football on Italian TV every day of the week – Chievo would not be able to afford the players who have brought them success.

While not being beyond personal considerations – he greets the pathetic performances that threaten the club’s status with the thought that “they are destroying my book” – Parks is good on the trials of being a fan. When Bologna score first in the (for Hellas, must-win) third last game of the season he observes, “Then I realised that although I thought I had already abandoned hope before the game, actually I hadn’t. I had pretended to despair, precisely to keep alive the tiniest hidden hope, flickering deep, deep in my breast. Now it was extinguished.” A reaction familiar to all fans who have been in that situation. Then Adailton, “the only Brazilian who can’t play football, as the fans like to say,” (these fans and Parks have obviously never witnessed Rafael Scheidt) scores a beauty. Verona go on to lead the game but almost throw the win away.

The season ends on a triumph of sorts. Five points behind with three games to go was a situation never before retrieved in Serie A. Yet Hellas still ended in a three-way tie for the last relegation place. In the complicated way Italian football approaches these things there can only be one pair of teams to play-off. Lecce came top of the calculation of the relevant results so Hellas had to confront Reggina (to whom they had lost at home in the normal season while drawing away.) That normal away game was played in Sicily, in Catania, as Reggina were being punished for crowd trouble. So after a 1-0 win at home, Parks travels for the first time to Reggia di Calabria for the final game. Only one plane can get him there, the team’s, which of course he had forsworn. Nevertheless he has to go. At 2-0 down an away goal means survival. Its achievement is succeeded by an excruciating period of Reggina pressure and an heroic display by Verona’s goalkeeper, Ferron. An orgy of violence towards the away team, officials and fans follows the final whistle.

I note that Parks describes Luca Toni – playing for the opposition – as spending the game falling over, seeking to win free kicks. I once commented on another blog that the spectacle of said player resembled a tree trying to play football; a comparison that blogger described as inspired.

Pedant’s corner:- having if off (it,) national Italian team (Parks’s sojourn in Italy is perhaps in evidence here, the usual order in English is Italian national team,) for convenience sake (convenience’s,) indignance (indignation,) Seishelles (Seychelles – though the misspelling may have been a reproduction of that of one of Parks’s students of English,) place kick (free kick,) that can effect the timing (affect,) sung (sang.)

Sepp Blatter

I still don’t quite know what to make of Sepp Blatter’s resignation.

It was only a few days after he’d secured his presidency for another term. Maybe there’s a lot to come out about his dealings behind the scenes. It would seem so.

But…. A thought occurred to me.

Is it a bit like John Major’s resignation? He resigned (as head of the Tory Party) but still managed to stay on if you recall.

And Blatter’s given himself about six months still in charge while the process of electing a successor takes place. I wouldn’t be in the least surprised if he tried to stand again.

Whatever, I doubt that the next World Cup will be removed from Russia. There were good reasons why it should go there. (It was Europe’s turn and Russia hadn’t had it yet, among others.)

Qatar in 2022 is another matter. (But 2022 is Asia’s turn.)

In another point; to make things absolutely clear, if there is a rerun of the voting for 2018 or 2022, to avoid accusations of sour grapes, England ought not to bid and perhaps neither ought the US given it was that country’s initiative that has resulted in the arrest of FIFA’s executives.

Final Place Confirmed

So. Motherwell it was who stayed up. Convincingly in the end.

Tier 2 is going to be very tough again next season. There’ll be two of the biggest supported clubs in Scotland in Hibs and Rangers (having now found out for themselves that this division is devilishly difficult to escape in an upwards direction: can it be long before noises are made to increase the size of Tier 1? Or is that too cynical?) Also there will be six other full-time teams and an Alloa Athletic seemingly somewhat revived by new(ish) manager Danny Lennon. Eighth for the Sons would be a magnificent achievement. I’d take that right now.

We’ve got a new manager ourselves of course.

But I’m feeling nervous already.

Tier 1 Play-off

At time of writing it looks as though Motherwell, after their 3-1 victory in the first leg of the play-off, will retain their top level status at the expense of Rangers.

Chickens should not be counted, however. Last year Hamilton were 2-0 behind in the tie after losing at home, the same total deficit as Rangers face now, but still won through by beating Hibs by the same score at Easter Road and then winning the penalty shoot-out.

While an overall Motherwell win would be a poke in the eye for those who feel a sense of entitlement rather than realising that they follow just another (at present not very good) team and it has been amusing to see Rangers not scooshing this division the way they did the lower two, my own preference would be for Rangers to prevail – but this is only for somewhat selfish reasons as it would avoid the possibility of them winning the Tier 2 title next season (or the year after?) and thus robbing Dumbarton of the unique distinction of having won championship titles at four different levels of Scottish football.

Hartlepool Cheer

You may remember me posting about Hartlepool United’s FA Cup loss to non-league Blyth Spartans back in December. Even then their plight looked pretty desperate but in early March it was worse. The club looked doomed to be relegated to the Conference. Rooted to the bottom of the English League Two table for what had felt like months they were ten or so points behind the second bottom side. Since then the turn round – no doubt inspired by new manager Ronnie Moore – has been remarkable.

As I write today, even yet Hartlepool have won only twelve league games all season – out of a total of forty-five. Five of these though were in the last eight. A run of four successive wins on the 14th, 17th, 21th and 28th of the month and a draw in the first game in April took them from dead last to third bottom. Football can be amazing at times. And Saturday’s 2-1 win over Exeter City combined with losses for both Cheltenham and Tranmere Rovers confirmed that the club would stay in the Football League for at least another season. Was there dancing in the streets of Hartlepool do you think?

I feel a bit sad for Tranmere Rovers who have been members of the Football League for over 90 years but Hartlepool hold a greater place in my affections. Cheltenham are more Johnny-come-lately in this respect.

I hope this relief isn’t short-lived and a measure of success (rather than avoiding failure) awaits next season but given the history outlined in my December post I wouldn’t discount another struggle against relegation. The heady days of vying for promotion to, and competitivenes in, League One seem long ago now.

Traveller of the Century by Andrés Neuman

Pushkin Press 2013, 592 p. Translated from the Spanish El viajero del siglo by Nick Caistor and Lorenza García.

 Traveller of the Century cover

Traveller of the Century is the first novel by Argentinian born though long time Spanish resident Andrés Neuman to be translated into English.

Its protagonist, Hans, arrives by coach in the city of Wandernburg, somewhere on the borders of Prussia and Saxony, fully intending not to stay long. The city is strange, though. Apart from the constant changing between which of the two countries it belongs to (the setting is post-Napoleonic, there is a lot of moaning by the characters about the baleful influence of Metternich) its streets and buildings seem to realign themselves every night. So once again I find myself reading about a weird city (The City and the City, Pfitz) or altered borders (Europe in Autumn.) Neuman does not overplay this aspect of his novel however. The shifting topography is mere background, the city as it is. Hans finds himself lingering in Wandernburg (it is a difficult city to shake off) and becomes drawn into the lives of its characters; especially the literary salon held every Friday by Sophie Gottlieb and her father. The best friend he makes in the city is a lowly organ-grinder (who sadly does not have a monkey but rather a dog) living in a cave two miles outside the city. And there is a masked man who is attacking women at night.

Barring one two-line exchange on page 569 the dialogue isn’t marked out from the rest of the text in any way – neither by quotation marks nor by dashes – but rather is embedded within it (characters talking across or interrupting each other is rendered in parentheses, as are any actions of the speaker.) This idiosyncrasy does take some getting used to and, coupled with the lengthy discussions of philosophy, politics, economics, the merits or otherwise of Walter Scott’s novels, poetry etc in the scenes taking place in the salon, is one of the reasons it took me a while to settle to the book. Once in its stride however, the thrust of the story won me over. The love affair which we always know is inevitable between Hans and Sophie – despite her engagement to the wealthy Rudi von Wilderhaus – has a slow build up but gives Neuman ample scope to deal with two of the eternal literary concerns, love and sex. Sophie is a determined woman, opinionated in the salon, standing up to both father and fiancé in the matter of assisting Hans in his works of translation (a great excuse for the two to meet in Hans’s room at the inn,) and, a fact naturally kept concealed from father and fiancé but of course impossible to hide from Hans, sexually experienced to boot, an attribute which Hans rather appreciates.

There is a hint of mystery to Hans beyond his status as a traveller. He has books that look old but bear recent publication dates. It is only one of the many intriguing aspects of the book that his origins remain an enigma to the end.

In the salon we hear of Adam Smith that his “theories are capable of enriching a state and impoverishing its workers,” a fact proved many times over in the past two centuries, also – in a comment emblematic of the author’s referential approach – “These Argentinians are very restless, they are everywhere at the moment. They have a penchant for Europe and seem to speak several languages. They talk incessantly about their own country but never stay there.” Of Hans and his friend Álvaro we are told, “They spoke in a manner two men rarely succeeded in doing – without interrupting or competing with one another.” The novel might have been designed to test the statement that, “There are two types of people. Those who always leave and those who always stay put,” while Hans says to Sophie, “I feel as if time has stopped, but at the same time I’m aware of how fast it is going. Is that what being in love is?”

Not that it’s all serious stuff. We encounter a pair of semi-comical police officers, Lieutenants Gluck and Gluck (father and son,) tasked with finding the attacker. And what are we to make of the names thrown in as if at random of those incidental characters, Rummenigge, Klinsman and Voeller? I doubt it is laziness on Neumann’s part, as if he has only a limited knowledge of German names and merely utilised those he had heard elsewhere. Is it a subtly sardonic allusion, a joke at the expense of any highbrow readers, who will eagerly latch on to the salon discussions but perhaps miss this reference to German former footballers – and strikers at that?

Whatever my misgivings to begin with, Traveller of the Century is a novel not frightened of demanding effort from its readers but worth that effort just the same, one of those works that will stay with me for a long time.

Pleasingly, the translation seemed to be into British English but there were still a few entrants to Pedant’s Corner:- “And, yes, be able” (to be able,) there’s no need be so formal, the only thing he kept up all evening were…. (was,) neither of us like to waste time (likes,) from her there to her navel (from there to her navel,) laid for lay, do you take me for fool (a fool,) medieval, running towards to them, knelt down next to straw pallet.
I looked up Braille and water closet in case of anachronism. The first just about fits; however the second term wasn’t used in English till 1870. But the book is set in Germany and written in Spanish, perhaps the description was in earlier use in those two languages.

Surviving the Shipwreck by William McIlvanney

Mainstream Publishing, 1991, 253 p.

Surviving the Shipwreck cover

This is one I read for completeness. (And it counts for the Read Scotland 2014 challenge.) McIlvanney is one of the most prominent Scottish writers of the second half of the twentieth century, with a string of highly regarded novels to his name, all of which I have read with immense pleasure and admiration. Despite his output being mostly outwith genre (unless the Scottish novel is a genre) he is credited as being the “onlie begetter” of Tartan Noir – not an accolade he sought or even necessarily agrees with – but many Scottish writers of crime fiction speak of him as an inspiration. (And not only writers of crime fiction.) Surviving the Shipwreck is a collection of his journalistic work from the 1970s and 80s.

It starts with an preface setting out the thread of the pieces within – the shipwreck of the book’s title is the loss of social idealism, of belief in our ability to reconstruct society more fairly, of that strand of left-leaning thinking that isn’t Marxist (McIlvanney says the Scots always found Marxism/Communism to be wrong-headed) but had been submerged by the prevailing political climate and, despite the banking crash of 2008, still is.

The first piece was written in the run-up to the first referendum – the one that was won in 1979 but was also lost due to the requirement for more than a majority to bring a Scottish Parliament about. (In effect dead people voted no.) In it he lays out the hopes and fears that Scots had about the prospect, many of which were repeated in the referendum of 2014. In a particularly brilliant phrase he describes the displacement of what might have been political energy into other areas, the most recent example being “the B picture remake of the Darien Scheme that was Scotland’s World Cup sortie into Argentina.” He also predicted the eventual (typically Scottish in its lack of resolution of the problem) result. What struck me on reading this in 2014 is the change that actually having an extant Parliament in Edinburgh has made to the Scottish psyche. There is much less anti-English feeling, much less fear of being too wee and too poor, much more confidence in Scots’ ability to do things for themselves. The displacement of energy into football too is much less pronounced (but that may have been due to the fact that Scots came to realise that by and large our footballers are – at least at present – mediocre at best.)

Then there is a piece on the city of Edinburgh’s manifold dualities, which made me reflect on how perfect that then makes it as a capital for a nation of so many divisions; another on the corrosive effects of poverty and how the benefits system traps people in it; the mysteries of disco and its differences from the dancin’; the experience of the dog track; the delights and miseries of following the Scottish football team, “The train standing at Platform One is the Wembley Football Special. This train has an Inferiority Complex Car where light traumas will be served throughout the journey. This train goes by way of Paranoia, calling at Little Dependency, National Neurosis and Ultima Thule,” not least to Argentina in 1978, when McIlvanney, along with five companions, undertook one of those epic trips through the Americas and remembers most of all the kindnesses received everywhere, but especially in Argentina; the dispiriting experience that is Las Vegas; the reduction of life to personal economics; the accepting nature of old fashioned pubs; the necessity of highlighting the plight of those left behind in the wake of materialism; the mutual incomprehension of men and women; the resorts people will turn to to alleviate their lack of funds; the haunted nature of living in North America, the lack of inter-community feeling; the more humane socialism of Scotland compared to Eastern Europe; the necessity for teachers and pupils to reach a meeting place; the challenge both to the cosy detective novel and also to the dismissal of a fiction if it can be labelled genre that his novel Laidlaw represented; the defining characteristic of the Glaswegian (humane irreverence); cultural elitism in T S Eliot’s poetry criticism, and more generally; the manifold losses – not just of jobs and worthwhile lives – that monetarism inflicted on Scotland; the genesis of his novel Docherty in the lack of presence of working people in literature.

In Gulliver’s Last Voyage McIlvanney essays a Swiftian look at Scotland’s attitude to its history, a series of forgettings and inventions underlain by the fact that, at some time in the past, the country was sold against the will of its people.

Notable insights were:-
(We have) “a society where the government is dedicated to ignoring the damage its policies inflict on ordinary lives.”
“Everybody can understand selfishness and greed, and Thatcherism has constructed what passes for its political philosophy out of these two brute instincts. The dignity of just complaint must never be lost. Without it, we accept what we shouldn’t accept.”
“The greater radicalism that has at least nominally persisted in Scotland may be partly attributable to the fact that the country (was) virtually powerless. It is easier to have noble ideals when you are not obliged to live according to their terms day by day. But that greater radicalism is also partly attributable to a tradition of taking ideas seriously. We must not lose that. Taken seriously, ideas are dangerous but not as dangerous as the absence of taking them seriously.”
“The policies of this government resolve themselves into one basic premise: they are a licence issued to the wealthy to exploit the poor… Margaret Thatcher is a cultural vandal. She takes the axe of her own simplicity to the complexities of Scottish life. She has no understanding of the hard-earned traditions she is destroying. And if we allow her to continue she will remove from the word “Scottish” any meaning other than geographical. (There will be) incalculable damage to the future – the loss of belief in society, the anti-social tendencies encouraged, the lesson branded on thousands of minds that you are alone and your society doesn’t care.”

These criticisms are still relevant I fear.

Pedant’s corner:- they didn’t use to be there (the phrase is “used to be”) and that bad (badly)

Hartlepool United 1-2 Blyth Spartans

FA Cup Second Round, Victoria Park, 5/12/14.

Normally in a situation like this my sympathies would be with the underdog, in this case Blyth. However, long ago in my youth I conceived a liking for Hartlepool United, adopting then as my wee English team. (Not that I have a big English team.) This may have been because Pools were continually crap for much of my childhood several times having to be re-elected to the Football League. (In those days the Conference did not exist and there was no relegation from the League.) Under Brian Clough as manager – his first such job – their fortunes improved and they gained promotion just after he left. Immediate relegation was followed by two re-election close shaves. They had another such brush with loss of league status in the year before automatic relagtion came in and only just missed that the next season.

When Cyril Knowles took over as manager (yes, Nice One Cyril himself) things got better. Despite his tragic death they won promotion in 1992 but were relegated again two years later.

In the very early years of this century they endured promotion play-off defeats three years in a row before finally achieving elevation again in 2003, competed well in the higher division for a while but dropped back down in 2013.

This game was my first glimpse – courtesy of the BBC – both of Pools and of Victoria Park, which looks a tidy ground. At its start Pools were rock bottom of the Football League once more.

You couldn’t have told that from the first half, they played well, knocked the ball about, created chances which only desperate defending and an inspired goalkeeping save prevented and scored a beautifully crafted goal. But if you don’t put your opponents away when you’re on top football can punish you. A silly free-kick concession gave Blyth the opportunity to score – with a dead ball strike from a former Pools player – and the sucker punch came in the last minute of normal time, a defensive error allowing Blyth their one and only chance from open play, which they took.

In the first half I couldn’t understand how Pools were in the league position they are; they looked way better than Exeter whom I had caught sight of in Round One of this season’s FA Cup. In the second they just faded away. The Conference looms.

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