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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.

Arthur Montford

To Scottish football followers of a certain age (that’ll be me for starters) the name of Arthur Montford is shrouded in misty memory. Well, given that one of his trademarks was the checked jacket and in black and white TV days that caused all sorts of weird effects on the domestic TV screen that should be strobed in misty memory.

The news that he has died is sad. One of the last links to the golden age of sport (for which read football, mainly) on television – golden because there was so little of it it was all precious.

Arthur was a stalwart of STV’s Scotsport programme for many years when it was in its pomp.

No-one who heard one of his commentaries could ever forget it. Liberally sprinkled with the phrase “what a stramash” he also rarely missed the opportunity to say “up go the heads” when two or more players contested a ball in the air.

He never hid his allegiance when commentating on Scotland games, “Mind your legs, Billy” when a scything tackle came in on Billy Bremner. This perhaps reached its peak in the crucial qualifier for the 1974 World Cup at Hampden versus Czechoslovakia with his cry of “Disaster for Scotland” when the Czechs scored first. His euphoria when the game was turned round is there for all to hear.

Nevertheless he seemed a gentleman and his background knowledge of the game always shone through.

Today’s presenters have big footsteps to follow.

Arthur Montford, 1929-2014. So it goes.

Three Dutch Football Grounds

On our first day in the Netherlands we went for a walk with my brother-in-law, his wife and their dog.

We stopped at a car park in Bakkeveen and I noticed this insignia on the building at the end of the road.

KNVB logo

It is of course the logo of the Netherlands Football Association.

The sign said KNVB Voetbaldegen Bakkeveeen 2010. I couldn’t see inside the ground because the trees/shrubs around it were in full leaf. See here for a Google Maps view with barer trees.

The club seems to play in the Derde Klaas League; Subdivision Sunday North. (Judging by the results listed on this website they don’t appear to be very good.)

Apparently there are two local leagues in the Netherlands, a Saturday one and a Sunday one – and they don’t talk to each other.

On the way up Holland from the ferry we had passed a stylish looking stadium. The good lady snapped it from the car window on the way back down. This is Den Haag’s home ground, the Kyocera Stadion.

On the way to Maarssen I had seen Heerenveen’s floodlights from the motorway. Their ground looked modern and stylish from that distance.

On the Saturday we strolled to the nearest village to where we were staying, Opende, and I spotted this football game going on at the premises of MFC De Veste, the sports club there.

That’s a tidy wee ground.

Scottish Referendum Reflections

In the end I suppose confidence and hope lost out to fear and timidity (or caution if a less harsh word is required.)

I didn’t watch the results coming in as nothing was going to happen for hours. I woke up to the news on the radio.

My first thought was one of relief that none of the apocalyptic things predicted of a yes vote – flight of capital, businesses and jobs, the loss of the BBC to us forever (not that that organisation cares much for Scotland) etc etc – would now be happening, my second that Westminster could now safely go back to ignoring that part of the UK where I was born and live.

My third was a profound sadness that the country I had always suspected I lived in was not the one I had hoped I lived in.

Given, for the first time (the Union of the Parliaments in 1707 was carried out over the heads of the populace at large,) the opportunity to affirm that Scotland was a nation rather than an idea, the Scottish people had declined to do so.

I found myself thinking of Alan Warner’s views on the Scottish literature project – see my earlier post – and changing my mind.

In the light of the result Warner may have a point. If the majority of Scotland’s people see no utility in an institutional reflection of Scottishness on the world stage why should there be a Scottish literature at all? What is the point of reflecting Scottishness when, philosophically – the referendum question “Should Scotland be an independent country?” was a philosophical one – the place doesn’t exist.

I also mused on the fact that there is now an argument that, the people having rejected independence, sporting teams representing Scotland become even more of an absurdity, and that, for example, the Scottish FA and SPFL should be dissolved and merged into their southern counterparts. (Whisper this to UEFA or FIFA, though.)

As to the no campaign’s promises of further powers to the Scottish Parliament I’ll believe in promises of Devo Max when further devolution happens, not before. (See the Alan Warner link above.) In this regard please note that I am entirely in favour of devolution of powers from the Westminster Parliament to all other areas of the UK which wish for that.

I spoke to one of my sons yesterday, who I suspect voted no, and he was of the opinion that there is now a momentum, that independence will come inside 25 years.

Perhaps. Perhaps if Scottish sporting teams were absorbed into a GB framework the process would be accelerated. I had long said that the only way Scots would vote for independence was if the Scotland football team was no longer allowed to play against anyone. Since Scotland ceased to qualify for tournament finals, since we became more or less rubbish, even that might not be enough.

MH 17 and Russia 2018

The shooting down of airliner MH17 over Ukrainian airspace was a tragedy – but more likely arising from the cock-up rather than the conspiracy wing of history. Surely no-one seriously thinks that the powers behind either side in the Ukraine fighting intended their minions to shoot down a passenger aircraft? It was clearly done by a trigger-happy clown not subject to much in the way of discipline or command and control as in a regular army. Unfortunately this sort of thing happens in civil conflicts.

The consensus that it was “Russian” rebels who did it is probably correct. That they ought not to have had the weapons to allow them to do it is also a given. But I suspect that Vladimir Putin is raging that it has put him – as the overwhelmingly likely ultimate source of the arms involved – in the wrong. One more reason for the US and EU to portray him as a villain and to increase sanctions.

Yet, unless it blows up into something bigger – in the hundredth anniversary year of the devastating fall-out of an assassination in the Balkans that prospect cannot be overlooked – in four year’s time will most people, apart from the families of the deceased for whom it will linger forever, remember it? Very few gave a toss about the contretemps Russia had had with Georgia in 2008 during the Sochi Winter Olympics earlier this year.

Yet we have our Deputy Prime Minister, Nick Clegg, calling for the World Cup due to be hosted by Russia in 2018 to be stripped from that country. I wish him luck with that. The site of World Cups is in the purview of FIFA and that organisation doesn’t take kindly to outside interference.

What makes his remarks even more counter-productive in terms of his stated objective is that Clegg has said that England might host the tournament instead. Anyone who had any knowledge of FIFA at all would know that is a non-starter.

Twonk.

Germanic Hegemony Looms

Over the past eight years Spain dominated the international football tournaments in which they took part – though they had a premonitory blip in last year’s Confederations Cup (and what a misleading pointer that final turned out to be.)

After the win by Germany in Rio on Sunday we could be in for a longer period of domination than the Spanish enjoyed as the German players are quite young and will only have gained in confidence from their achievement. I don’t know if I can stand that thought, though.

Still, at least it gives Scotland an early opportunity to claim their scalp as the two countries meet on Sep 7th in the first qualifying game for the 2016 European Championships.

The late World Cup has unified the FIFA and Unofficial Football World Championships. Going into it Uruguay were the holders of the unofficial title but swiftly lost it to Costa Rica.

For historical reasons Scotland is actually at the top of the unofficial football championship rankings. The September game will give Scotland a chance to reclaim the actual title – if Argentina don’t beat the Germans in their friendly a few days before.

Sólo otro club

In one of the least unpredictable transfers of this summer Liverpool’s troubled (and troubling – the guy clearly needs help) star striker Luis Suarez has moved to Barcelona, no doubt to the benefit of his bank balance. The only question was over his destination. As he made no secret he wished to play in Spain the other option would have been Real Madrid.

Barcelona’s motto, emblazoned on the seats in their stadium, the Camp Nou, is “més que un club” (more than a club.) Such a claim to moral high ground is somewhat undermined by their acquisition of a serial perpetrator of assaults; assaults which if carried out in any other walk of life might have seen their author up before a magistrate.

Suarez’s gifts as a footballer clearly outweigh any consideration of propriety (or indeed of the player’s inner well-being: he is not going to change his behaviour when it is rewarded like this.)

It seems Barcelona is sólo otro club (just another club) after all.

The Team That Made All Brazil Cry

So. There is to be no redemption. Brazil’s historical trauma of the Maracanã in 1950 known as the Maracanazo has been surpassed. Will this one become known as the Mineirãoza?

The country of Brazil has never been involved in a war (except, perhaps, internally.) The national consciousness has been invested in football. The 1950 defeat was akin to a national humiliation. How much worse, then, a 7-1 hammering by a team who had never beaten them in a competitive game? And a first home defeat in competition for 29 years.

It’s been coming, though. They weren’t convincing in the group games, Chile pushed them close in the second round and Colombia didn’t deserve to lose to them either. Both those sides perhaps had too much history with Brazil to overcome. (And the hoo-hah over Neymar’s injury is over-confected. Brazil spent most of the Colombia game kicking “Oor Hamish” – James Rodriguez – all over the park. Given the outcome of the semi-final the real loss was in fact Thiago Silva.) The Germans didn’t care about reputations or history; they did what German teams do.

Brazil’s scapegoat in 1950 (“Look! There’s the man that made all Brazil cry!”) was Moacyr Barbosa. At least this time they can’t blame it on a black goalkeeper.

Make the most of the last few days of this Brazil-hosted World Cup. I doubt there will be another one.

di Stéfano

The football legend who has died today had a name that needed no further explanation. He was part of that legendary Real Madrid side that captivated the football followers of Glasgow and Scotland at the European Cup Final of 1960 – played at Hampden Park. di Stéfano scored a hat-trick.

I was too young to be aware of it at the time but the folk memory was promulgated and persists. Such was the effect of that display of what football could be that the names of the forward line still trip off the tongue with no need for googling. Canario, Del Sol, di Stéfano, Puskas and Gento. Mind you, I see film of that game now and think, “Where was the marking?”

One curiosity is that I believe the Eintracht Frankfurt team that formed the opposition that day were all amateurs – as was German football as a whole.

di Stéfano may be unique in having played international football for three different countries, his native Argentina, Colombia, where he played league football for a while, and Spain for whom he was naturalised in 1956. That was the type of scenario that I thought had been resolved by FIFA with its rules on eligibility but in the recent World Cup one of the commentators remarked that Kevin-Prince Boateng who played for Ghana in the tournament had previously played for Germany (but not, it seems, for the senior side.)

The World Cup was one stage that di Stéfano did not grace, for various reasons, but his thirteen national titles (two in Argentina, three in Colombia and no less than eight in Spain) and five European Cups – not to mention his scoring record – speak for themselves.

Alfredo Stéfano di Stéfano Laulhé: 4/7/1926 – 7/7/2014. So it goes.

For Interzone 254

The Seventh Miss Hatfield cover

A few days ago my latest Interzone Review book arrived. The review is due on Jul 31st so, World Cup or not, I’ll need to get going on it soon.

The book is titled The Seventh Miss Hatfield and was written by Anna Caltabiano. According to the Orion website it’s, “A spellbinding debut from a hugely talented young author, featuring time-travel, 19th-century New York, unrequited love and a mysterious portrait…” Notwithstanding that word “debut” it appears to be Ms Caltabiano’s second novel. I missed out on her first, All That is Red, probably because it doesn’t appear to be SF related.

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