gambitch - now available in blue
Our constant efforts to reinvent ourselves reveal how much we fear our own images.

Saturday, October 18, 2003

The UEFA Cup second round draw is out. Interested readers can check it out here. Some of the ties look very attractive, like Basle vs Newcastle United and Brondby vs Schalke 04. I look forward to checking out the results in a few weeks' time.

Meanwhile, FIFA boss Sepp Blatter has criticized England players for their threat to boycott the Turkey game in response to the FA's handling of the Rio Ferdinand affair. You may remember that I didn't think favourably of the quit threat when rumours about it surfaced, but I don't think too favourably of Sepp Blatter either, and I think that his saying what he said after England played the match and won automatic qualification for Euro 2004 was a great sign of courage, leadership and conviction. Not.

As for FIFA's apparent interest in the Rio Ferdinand affair itself, it is shameful that FIFA should decide to play judge before the FA was done giving Ferdinand his entitlement of due process. FIFA are not empowered to decide whether Rio was guilty or not, not when the FA itself was actively investigating and has yet to decide what charges to press against the player, if at all. FIFA should not threaten to punish Rio hard should the FA itself be deemed to have cut him some slack. The threat is unacceptable from a legal process point of view. Definitely it first suggests that FIFA have decided on Rio's guilt, and secondly it has shown FIFA's lack of trust that the FA would mete out a just punishment if one should be needed.

In defence of Rio, though, I should note that he has been exceptionally cooperative since he realized he had missed the test. You may say I am being kind by supposing that he did honestly forget about the test - a mistake that, however stupid it was, at least did not bear any malicious intent. Consider his actions afterwards. He rushed back to the training ground to offer to make up immediately, which was not possible as the test team left before he could arrive. He then took the extra effort to take a comparable test within 48 hours of the original test time. More than just showing earnest remorse for missing the original test, the action of going for a make-up test and submitting the result (negative, which means he passed) shows that Rio's drugs record remained clean, and should be considered in mitigation. A two-year ban is thus totally unwarranted. A hefty fine should serve as a good enough smack on the knuckles.

In yet more news, Olympique Marseille want to secure Fabien Barthez for the rest of the season on loan. FIFA apparently will approve of the transfer, which occurs outside of the regular transfer window (another of FIFA's inventions). While I appreciate that Fabien needs to get a few games, and Tim Howard is doing really well, I don't want to see the move become permanent. Barthez has been the best successor so far for the great Peter Schmeichel, and while Howard has done well, Fabien should stay to keep up competition for places. United has seen a few more goalkeepers try and fail to lay a strong claim on the Number 1 jersey, and for all his gaffes, Barthez has proven to be better than Bosnich, Taibi, Goram and other such men who have tried and flopped.

The boys play Leeds this weekend. It's going to be very hot at Elland Road, like it always is. I hope we get the three points and the London derby ends in a score draw.

gambitch [ 3:19 AM]

Friday, October 17, 2003

I tried calling the feedback hotline for my local teletext service (yes, in this day and age, there are still people who read teletext) because I wanted to give feedback on a piece of news put up on the teletext. By some bizarre error, someone had put up a snippet about Taiwan President Chen Shui-bian drafting a timetable for a new Constitution for the island. Nothing too wrong with that, except it appeared in the Sports section! Now, I don't know what makes a new Taiwan Constitution sports news, so I figured I might as well give the people a call to tell them about their error, so that they could fix it.

Instead of a person manning the hotline (they did list it as a hotline after all) I got a voice recording that went "Sorry, the mailbox is full." Cue raised eyebrows.

No matter, I thought. Since the teletext service belonged to a media company that also runs a news arm, I reckoned maybe calling the news tip-off hotline might be helpful. They officially don't take calls on other things, but surely I could explain why I had to call a wrong number. At least the chances of me speaking to another pre-recorded voice would be much lower.

No such luck. Again nobody was manning the line when I called. Instead another voice recording requested that I record my message after the usual beep. I hung up immediately, thinking it wasn't really rude to hang up on a voice recording. No hard feelings.

But really, they should actually put people next to the telephones for these hotlines. I can't imagine speaking to a voice recording when I want to tell the police about a slashing incident in the area, so why should it be different when I want to give the press a tip-off on the same story?

(The name of the media company in question has been withheld to protect the company's image, although why I should be so kind to do so I don't really know either.)

gambitch [ 12:08 AM]

Thursday, October 16, 2003

Millwall sack Mark McGhee

I find it more than a little sad that Millwall have decided to sack McGhee despite the fact that they are nowhere near the relegation zone. Maybe it's like what Nethercott said - supporters have grown impatient and are dissatisfied.

Millwall are not exactly Liverpool - and I know lots of Pool fans are also getting impatient with Houllier's failure to break the Premiership stranglehold by United and Arsenal - and nowhere near Inter's standing, though my fragments of memory suggest that Millwall are a pretty big club with a proud history. As for McGhee, he has been quietly building a good reputation in the past few years, especially since taking over the reins at Millwall.

It's therefore a bit of a shock for Millwall to cast McGhee aside. They will be hard pressed to find a suitable replacement.

gambitch [ 1:39 AM]

Wednesday, October 15, 2003

As the few people who know me will know, I'm a bit on the plump side. I give no genetic excuses for my build ("my parents had the O-O gene and it's hereditary!") - I have photos of my childhood to prove that, at least when I was 6 or 7, I was averagely scrawny in spite of what was then already a rather big appetite. Indeed, the fat set in only after I was 7, and I blame it on both my appetite and the fact that I frequently came into contact with food. That is, if 'blame' can be the right word.

Thanks to my appetite, and the fact that dinner at home is usually served at around 6.30pm, I tend to feel hungry late into the night. While it's easy to say that I should just shut that sensation off and go to bed feeling hungry, we all know that in practice that can be hard to do. It's true even now; supper has become part of my life. And we're usually not talking about two cookies or a few pieces of Pringles' Sour Cream and Onion. I'm a bit more into the big league, like plain instant noodles.

I remember when I was around 8 or 9 years old (and that's many years back, when Lee Kuan Yew was still Prime Minister of Singapore), I used to go for art class on Saturday afternoons. The art class was held in a school different from where I was actually studying, and my mother knew about the class through word of mouth. I enjoyed the art class where we were drawing with crayons, and we drew mostly cartoonish stuff. The art teacher - who my father learnt much later was once his classmate - pinned up the drawings he found good, and my works often featured.

Anyway, that was the class itself. After each session was over (one session was two hours long) I would scamper down from the classroom on the third level to the canteen on the ground floor. In my memory, the canteen had weak lighting if at all, and the benches were the old, long wooden variety. The school was not very wealthy, perhaps, because the school's buildings were of the old design. Many posh parents today cannot really see their kids studying in such a school with all these old facilities, but back in the 1980s I doubt many would have had a problem with all that. The prosperity of the 1990s that washed into many schools like the high tide makes it difficult for kids to imagine those old days.

But I liked those old days. I still like them. Call it nostalgia, if you will, but I found those days as a kid fascinating before I had to be thrown into the fast-forward of above-average education and all that jazz. I liked the Saturday afternoons spent in art class drawing pictures of dinosaurs watching a volcano eruption and scenes during football matches. And I liked the afternoon teas that followed the class, though I didn't know it as tea back then - I only knew I was hungry and it felt something like the recesses I grew used to in school.

I should explain here that my mother took me to the school where the art class was held. No, my mum didn't drive me there; my family didn't own a car in the 1980s, which wasn't something particularly out of the ordinary. Instead, mum and I (and later my kid brother) took the bus to the place. We were fortunate that in these parts, even in the 1980s, we had a pretty good public transport network, so taking the bus was quite an enjoyable experience in itself. But that's detracting from the story. Anyway, I was definitely not the only kid whose mother took him or her to art class. Much like today, it was already a trend back then. So while the kids were in class, the parents with nothing else to do would all adjourn to the canteen, sit and talk whatever they wanted to talk about for two hours.

So whenever I (and later my kid brother) was done and half-skipped my way down the stairs to the canteen, I would see a whole lot of parents sitting on the long benches and waiting for their children. Apart from my mother, there would often be something else waiting for me. Actually, somethings. Two bread rolls bought from a canteen stall, to be exact, with a nice slab of luncheon pork nicely tucked into each of them. For those who don't know what luncheon pork tastes like, it's a bit like the sausages used in hot dogs, but the meat feels less compressed, so your teeth would cut into the luncheon slice more easily.

There's nothing particularly fanciful about those luncheon pork bread rolls. In fact, I never really got around knowing what the proper name for it was. All I knew was that it was nice and delicious, and it felt good to be holding the bread in my then-little hands. When I took a decent bite, I could feel the bread stretch a little bit - but not too much like cheese - and the bread just seemed to expand inside my mouth, filling it and giving a warm, satisfying sensation.

It was an inexpensive feeling - one bread roll like that cost about half a dollar, maybe even less - but it felt homely and pleasant.

Years later, my folks and I watched as bakery after bakery opened all around us, some even turning into successful franchise chains selling designer bread, each piece costing upwards of a dollar. Yet it was difficult, almost impossible, to find people selling the humble and seemingly unfashionable luncheon pork roll.

Sometimes, when I crave for something to stuff my mouth with, in my head I frantically think of where I could find a little stall that would sell a roll like that. After a few minutes I sigh and give up, and turn to the nearest McDonald's for a Filet-o-Fish.

Some old things you can only find in your memory...

gambitch [ 2:16 AM]

Tuesday, October 14, 2003

The draw for the Euro 2004 playoffs is out. It looks pretty interesting.

Latvia vs Turkey
Scotland vs Holland
Croatia vs Slovenia
Russia vs Wales
Spain vs Norway

Not too bad. Two correct guesses out of five is quite good.

gambitch [ 11:38 AM]

Monday, October 13, 2003

An interesting case study of how a mix of sports and religion-driven politics makes for a self-destructing Molotov cocktail.

Why Northern Ireland is rotting as a football nation

So England squeezed through to Euro 2004 by making sure Turkey didn't score in Istanbul. While the result was disciplined, it does bring up a few worries for Sven. Firstly, David James. He was lucky a few long shots late in the game did not catch him out, and he had a couple of solid saves to his credit, but the propensity for the occasional howler can still be seen. He was lucky not to be punished on this occasion, but against the stronger teams England will face in Portugal, the same cannot be guaranteed.

Scholesy had a decent match on the overall, but he didn't score for yet another match in the Three Lions shirt. Nor did Rooney, Vassell, Gerrard or Becks. Beckham had it worst as he fluffed a penalty after slipping on his final step, and then had a header ruled out for offside. England must be concerned about their inability to convert without Michael Owen. Indeed, neither Arsenal nor United have a recognizable England striker on their books. The fact that England's best offerings are a duo for an ineffective Liverpool (Owen and Heskey), a lad fresh back from injury (Darius Vassell), a precocious teenager with the occasional bad temper (Rooney) and a workmanlike tall hotshot hailing from a relatively unfashionable club (James Beattie of Southampton) must be more than a little disturbing.

Gone are the days of Sheringham and Shearer, of Ian Wright, Waddle and Lineker. Even Robbie Fowler is continuing to rot after being frozen out at Liverpool many years ago. England needs to find its marksmen again, and they can't be starting their search too soon.

Still, we have ten teams left in the playoffs draw tonight in Germany. Some of them are so good you wonder what they are doing here, while some are absolute shockers happy to have made the draw (just ask Poland's Jerzy Dudek). The draw will be made later, but I fancy it will be interesting to make a few guesses.

Here's my pick of what the draw may turn out to be. Home or away first doesn't matter.

Croatia vs Slovenia
Turkey vs Russia
Spain vs Norway
Holland vs Latvia
Wales vs Scotland

Let's see how many I get right at the draw tonight.

gambitch [ 2:27 PM]


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