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August 8, 2013: ‘STAY CLASSY, FOOTBALL’

THE urban dictionary favourite ‘stay classy’ has had a good run. Next year will see the 10th anniversary celebrations of Will Ferrell ordering San Diego to ‘stay classy’ in the film Anchorman. Those simple words have led to almost a decade of people My Spacing (what’s MySpace?), Facebooking, texting, emailing and tweeting you something ironically grim and grimy with the accompanying words ‘stay classy’. Stay classy Camden. Stay classy Kentish Town. Stay classy everywhere.

Once a week somebody will order Camden Town to ‘stay classy’ with a picture on Twitter of a bamboozled street drinker – probably spelt BAMBOOZELD among online jokers – suffering in the sun on the grass by the canal. Everybody at all times must ‘stay classy’.  In fact, if you could crack open Liverpool manager Brendan Rodgers’ Facebook status right now, the latest update will almost certainly say: Stay classy, Arsenal.

OK, okay, what he really said in a press conference this week – referring to the Gunners’ money-spunking £40million chase for Luis Suarez – was: ‘I have to admit I was surprised. I always associated Arsenal as a club with class.’
But it’s the same difference. The put-down he was trying to effect was still: Stay classy, Arsenal.

He seems like a decent enough guy but the trouble for Brendan is that accusations of who has class and who doesn’t do not really work any more in football.

As much as Liverpool and Arsenal – and all of the other football clubs with a desperation to retain a sense of historic grandeur – want to be the ‘classy’ outriders who would never, ever buy a league title like those bullies from Chelsea and Manchester City, the game has changed. Nobody has truly stayed classy. As painful as it might be to a supporter like me, if Arsenal had that charming 1930s marble halls class still, then its stadium would have a charming, old sportsbook name – I dunno, like Ashburton Grove – rather than bear the crown of a sponsor.

But Liverpool can suck it up too. The supporters, with their anthem and Paisley quotes and fans with lots of badges, must know that their own club has lost a share of its soul too with the changing ownership in the boardroom.

And, come on, look at who Rodgers was talking about in that press conference: the least classy player in the entire Premiership, Suarez, a bitter biter accused of racism but cherished by classy old Liverpool as a top-scorer who they are desperate to keep. Classy Liverpool trying to retain classy Suarez from classyless Arsenal. Silly, right?

Oh yes – all the class in football has long gone and we know it, and most of us, like the addicted fools we are, have reconciled our consciences over our sold out souls a long time ago. My club, your club, none of us can really hold the moral high ground. Rodgers must be aware that we’re not walking around in a sepia world where club officials wear sharp suits and spats – that’s how I imagine class – and fans swing rattles any more.

We watch a sport where the best we can hope of our former England captains is that their biggest sin will be hawking crisps to the kids. It’s a sport where Real Madrid can offer £100million for one player while the young in that city are suffering a searing unemployment crisis not felt for generations.
Teams take on pay-day lenders as sponsors. They sell unnecessary third kits in the club shops. The programmes cost folding money, and so do the hot dogs.

And that’s just the start of it.

It’s too late for ‘stay classy’ now, Brendan. The moment has gone.

Past sports columns

August 1, 2013: ‘Swimming? Running? We’d rather look at pictures of Gareth Bale at an airport’

‘We raved on and on and on about how brilliant we were at doing the Olympics. And, apart from the ticketing fiasco, we were brilliant at doing the Olympics.

We showed that if you spend huge amounts of money on the London Games, you get a mesmerising spectacle in return, a festival of brilliance capable of convincing us that we do actually love watching swimming more than football.

The sobering reality is that most of us don’t, and apart from those three weeks, football triumphs whether we like it or not. It may be a nasty fact of life – rather depressing, yes – but it’s true. Like incurable, drugged sleepwalkers, the majority zombify around football… READ ON.

July 18, 2013: ‘In praise of Stuart Broad’

For me Broad deserves a teensy bit of credit if anything. To see the ball bounce off his bat and clearly into the hands of an Australian slip and to not release an accidental “oh shoot” from his lips – the obvious giveaway – was a perfected skill most of us can’t achieve when facing far less pressure-soaked moments.

I accidentally broke the pipe on the Hoover the other day but my expletive-laden reaction – oh shooting shooting fudging shoot… fudging thing! – heard three streets away immediately ruled out the commonplace strategy of blaming all breakages on kids, animals and undetected earthquakes.
Broad is equipped with a much calmer temperament, the ultimate double bluffer. The heartbreaker just stood there..

He looks such a nice young chap but that was cold-stone marvellous.. READ ON.

July 11, 2013: ‘MURRAY SHOULD HAVE LOOKED AT THE JOURNALISTS AND SAID SMELL YA LATER’

IMG_0715WELL done Andy. That’s all we need to say now, well done Andy Murray and thank you. Thank you for a picturebook Sunday afternoon when anything in the world seemed possible, a flicker of Olympic glory returned for a few skin- peeling hours of joy.

We always knew that Centre Court would be bathed in sunshine on the day Britain ended its Wimbledon curse in the men’s tournament and finally we could raise a barley water toast to a champion.

We could quibble afterwards why a man who had just become a bit of a people’s hero, having achieved what once seemed impossible, needed to be supremely punished with a fast-track visit to the Downing Street garden and forced to make muggy small talk with our wobble-chinned politicians.

The poor lad must have thought ‘what on earth did I do to deserve this?’ as they clucked around him like bloated peacocks on Monday.

We could quibble, too, about why the iconic moment of victory had to be set to the sofa chat soundtrack of Andrew Castle, who should probably be advised never to search his own name on Twitter while at work.

(I did that on Twitter once and found myself staring at a rock n roll hairdresser called Richard Osley running a salon in California called The Grateful Head. At once, I knew I wasn’t alone in this world. But judging by the mixed response to his commentary, Castle might not find it such a heart-warming experience).

On finals day, the crowd actually yelped prematurely in excitement on match point – during the rally – when they thought Novak Djokovic had missed on the shot before he actually did. Alas, there was not time for Castle to pipe: “ There’s some people yelping, they think it’s all over… IT IS NOW”.

But there’s his voice, Andrew Castle, from the sorry adverts and from those barren years of short shorts British tennis, overlaid like Wolstenholme on a moment of our shared sporting history, forever.

There’s a quibble too in the stupid questions Murray was subjected to after victory had finally been secured. I wanted him to walk into the press room in sunglasses and a leather jacket, turning to the assembled journalists with only two words: “HAPPY NOW?” before walking out with the gold trophy and disappearing on a Harley-D and a ‘smell ya later’. What actually happened is a lot of

reporters asked him what his next challenge would be, as if even winning Wimbledon would not break their treadmill of unimaginative questions.

Just let him enjoy this one, yeah?

Then came the even more vacuous line of questioning from TV’s marvellous Holly Willoughby: “Will you be proposing to Kim now?”

Righty-hoots. The chances of the couple marrying after all did hinge, suspensefully, on the result of Sunday’s final. Defeat would have inevitably seen Djokovic sitting in the back pew on Andy and Kim’s big day shouting out “uh-ah, no, no, no, not until he’s beaten me at Wimbledon” just at the moment the vicar called for any known lawful impediments.

Thankfully, Murray deals with dull questions with the exasperated style ofakid–oranadultforthatmatter– being disturbed from his PlayStation.

“I only just met you 10 minutes ago so I wouldn’t be telling you first,” he trolled. Good for him.

All they really needed to do this week was say ‘well done Andy’.

June 27, 2013: ‘WHO GETS TO SIT ON CENTRE COURT?’

In this lark-makers’ seating area, you could see TV’s Lee Mack, Jonathan Creek and Jason Manford looking on. Hear that: Jason Manford gets to go to the tennis and you don’t. If only you – you in the queue – had been as funny as Jason Manford, you wouldn’t be in the queue.

All of those guys may have won tickets in the ballot, of course. How lucky though that they got tickets so near to each other, all on the same day, and on Centre Court for Andy Murray.

Now, this all does sounds very bitter, very student newspaper column stick-it-to-the-man (even if the man happens to just be Lee Mack) bitter.

And, of course, people who are well known have as much right to go to the tennis as everyone else. But rather than worry about whether the comedians get tickets, maybe there could be more school trips. I can tell you of a few secondaries that would tear your arm off for the chance… READ ON.

Past sports columns

June 20, 2013: ‘TEAR DOWN THIS WALL, MR GOLFYCHOV’

‘Close your eyes and you see footballers on the course every afternoon and bankers, lawyers and successful retirees there on a Sunday morning. And that takes us back to the first sentence. Golf needs more plebs. We might be a bit loud, we might wear the wrong shoes, but we want to play. Somebody needs to go up to the hedgerows that keep us out and shout: ‘Tear down this wall Mr Golfychov.’ Until then we’ll keep watching from the sofa, locked in a negative spiral, rotting our sanity while hoping to watch the drama of something going wrong, waiting for a drive into the lake, a ball hitting a tree or the special prize, the holy grail: a missed two-foot putt… READ ON.

PAST SPORTS COLUMNS

June 13, 2013: ‘FROM CALL CENTRES TO CENTRE COURT’

WHEN professional sports people moan about their lot, the natural reaction for most of us is zip-all sympathy.

They’re not working in a call centre, cold-dialling people who don’t want to talk to them back and unwittingly fattening up on ginger snaps all afternoon to make the dull pain pass. They’re not waiters, or chuggers, or parking wardens, or door-to-door chamois cloth salesmen.

They don’t develop hunch backs staring at spreadsheets all day, or learn how to “look busy”, or stay up on the internet all night researching whether or not it’s too late “to go into teaching or something”.

They get to play games every day…. READ ON

June 6, 2013: ‘THE MOURINHO FACTOR’

Everybody in sport is cast as dull, apart from two people: 1. Mo Farah, on the basis that he not only lit up the Olympics but the wacky fool could also arch his arms together to create an ‘m’ – in 30 years’ time, he’ll be asked on Harper Beckham’s late-night chat show and asked to do it for old times’ sake.

And 2. Jose “he’s a character” Mourinho. All we’ve heard since he returned to Chelsea this week is that he is one of sport’s “‘great characters”. Like salivating seals, sports hacks have hung on every Mourinho word, desperate for him to be brilliantly arrogant for them… READ ON

May 30, 2013: ‘SO, WHO IS OUR SPORTS PERSONALITY OF THE YEAR IN AN OLYMPICLESS SUMMER?’

Well, back then, last summer, every time somebody won a gold medal, Gary Lineker would turn to the cameras and his eyes would bulge with excitement. Like clockwork, he and other BBC sports presenters, would say: “Sports Personality of the Year is going to be a cracker this year… it’s gonna take a week to get through it.”

As if that had been the ultimate goal of our Olympians and Paralympians from the start, as if their original masterplan had been: 1. Win gold 2. Get a knighthood 3. Advertise Shredded Wheat but most importantly 4. Win Sports Personality of the Year. READ ON

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