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

Saturday, April 07, 2007

Two incidences of crowd trouble in European football. Or more correctly, two incidences of gross police treatment of English crowds in European football. I honestly do suspect that it is likelier that the police officers are the one in the wrong this time, as appears to be frequently the case of late.

And it is becoming pretty bad, as this Soccernet columnist believes.

I do understand that, once upon a time, English football hooligans caused plenty of damage in Europe and totally built up a stinking reputation. That was then. The Heysel ban should have done something to wake them up a bit. And perhaps due to the way the Taylor Report influenced the football watching experience back in England, many people today do watch football differently from the way the previous generation used to at the same age. Safety and security went up because of Hillsborough and Heysel, and the genuine football fan was getting institutional protection back home.

Europe is another matter. While Heysel shook the world because of the deaths it caused, far too many Europeans have simply dismissed it as an 'English' problem, as if their own countries had nothing quite like it. That could not be further from the truth, if you have been to Turkey, Italy, Spain, even Greece. Yes, you don't hear very often of crowd trouble in France, Holland or Germany, but that also might mean they are generally ill-prepared in case trouble does flare up. And it is not as if those countries don't have their own share of social problems already.

And bad fan behaviour is a socio-cultural problem, just as bad police behaviour is. There is a line beyond which the people who cause such nuisances are no longer football fans, but loutish brutes simply out to wreck other people's enjoyment on a Saturday afternoon or a Wednesday evening. Again, as I stressed earlier, England actually dealt with it with the Taylor Report and other changes in the law and its enforcement. These devices have some kind of institutional teeth.

Some other big countries on the continent proper, such as Italy, are not in such a situation. We've heard so much of their Ultras, even the way they seem to have a pretty big and bad hand in running some of the top clubs in the country. Think the Ultras based in the city of Rome, who have some influence over the way Roma and Lazio are run. If you're cleverer and know how to play the law, you used to run Parma or Juventus. Italians, however, are generally such scofflaws that even their own countrymen bemoan the problem, yet it seems the national government simply cannot do anything to force a change in behaviour. Even recent efforts following the death of a policeman may not last long.

Yet when Manchester United's top officials suggested that travelling fans for Wednesday's match should avoid the hot tourist destinations in Rome, the city's top politicians and administrators apparently were up in arms. They denounced United's travel advisory as an exercise in 'scare-mongering', probably thinking that it would somehow have a negative effect on tourist turnout in the city. I'm not sure whether it did. What I am sure of is the fact that police officers set upon United fans inside the stadium during the game, after these travellers were exposed to the usual risks of crime in Rome, particularly crime perpetrated by Ultras and their ilk. And yet United fans were the only ones set upon and made to look like bad guys.

It was the same story the next day in Seville, when Tottenham Hotspur visited. That one could well have been truly sparked by some hooliganistic behaviour by certain Spurs fans. Then there is the famous Lille incident, which happened to occur in the neighbouring city of Lens because Lille's own stadium did not meet UEFA criteria. Every time it seems to be only the English. Every time the local police officers did nothing - or next to nothing - to their own countrymen. It's all the fault of the English.

Is this some kind of continental hostility to the British Isles simply manifesting itself in football? I have a hard time dismissing that theory. The root cause to that suspicion is not entirely clear, given the fact that the British crown never really ruled that much of continental Europe. Even in the age of empire, the English were basically fighting with the rest of continental Europe for dominance over lands and colonies outside of Europe itself. They fought for African land, Asian land, American land, but never quite went into all-out economic war inside European borders. The notable exception might have been Napoleon's continental blockade of Britain, but that was a time when the French were the dominant players in Europe, and Britain was allied with Prussia, Russia and everyone else against the French.

Could it be the success of English as a language across the world, which leaves every other European national sorta needing to know how to speak English to get the best international job and business opportunities? It is possible, but that kind of reasoning is rather spurious. It's also rather recent, I should add. To draw a parallel example, Chinese hatred of the Japanese started well before the turn of the 20th Century, although in earlier times it was more about them disliking the nuisance of Japanese pirate groups, not necessarily sent with the blessings of the Imperial government. Yet Chinese dislike of the Japanese was always there, merely intensified into hatred following the rise of post-Meiji Japan. Surely the displeasure of Europe with the English started long ago too, by which I mean as far back as at least the 19th Century?

But I digress.

It is easy to push all the blame to the English, and it plays perfectly into the demonized image of the English football hooligan. That allows the continental Europeans to simply pretend that there is nothing wrong with themselves at all, nothing wrong with the way they do things. Ultras clashes? Oh, that's part of our society. We're sick of it, but we're used to it, so it's fine. Spanish racism? What racism? Everybody here accepts it, as long as you're a born-and-bred Spanish through and through. It is part of us. We shouldn't remove it. Aragones? He's a rubbish coach sometimes, but he doesn't say anything we don't approve.

That's got to stop. But it won't. Because stopping it requires facing up to the reality and accepting that things are not all fine and dandy back home, and it requires actual will. In my days in "the profession" many a brilliant proposal to solve everything from global warming to clamping down on Islamic militants in Southeast Asia got torpedoed because it was argued that state leaders lacked the political will to do even what seems obviously the right thing. Why pass up on the chance to find a scapegoat?

This is where every other European nation is weak. The British knew they could not hide after Hillsborough and Heysel. They did not try. Lord Taylor put together his report and honestly made all the recommendations he did, which is why all-seater stadiums are a requirement today for clubs wishing to enter the Premiership. Even the Championship is now populated with teams who are willingly changing to all-seater. The English could not hide, and were man enough to do something to fix the problem.

There is a downside to it, though. Just because the English are able to limit troublemakers' activities at home, doesn't necessarily mean that the troublemakers will just stop making trouble. The determined ones have since gone on a tour of Europe, and they might have smuggled themselves into the thousands of genuine fans truly going to the continent to support their team as well as take in the scenery. But the rise of budget airlines, not to mention driving being a realistic option for some, means that it is easy for anyone to travel across most of developed Europe now. And since it would be particularly unreasonable to ban troublemaking Englishmen from travelling out of the country for whatever purposes, it is difficult for immigration officials inside the British Isles to stop them from flying.

But just because there is no true total solution that will fundamentally get rid of the troublemakers, it doesn't mean the rest of Europe should be lazy and keep on branding the English as hooligans. It certainly doesn't mean riot police have a right to beat anyone and everyone they like from the English travelling group just because some of them had a drop too much. You stop them from entering the stadium and usher them to go watch the match somewhere else. If a guy comes to the stadium with little daggers, you take them away from him at the turnstile. Set up proper measures.

And if you do it right, after the Englishmen go home, you might be able to apply the same facilities to deal with troublemakers from your own country during a domestic fixture. But I'm sure the Ultras from Rome will figure a way around that.

gambitch [ 6:56 AM]

Thursday, April 05, 2007

It still feels rather funny, this.

I'm coming back out of retirement for a cameo, and I'm minutes away from starting now.

It really feels funny.

And we're going to have quite a laugh about it for some time, I'm sure.

I'm not saying I can't do it. I'm just saying the circumstances under which I'm coming out of retirement make for some really funny reading!

That's why I called you. To share a laugh.

gambitch [ 7:39 PM]

Wednesday, April 04, 2007


my face feels tense
my cheeks
they rush with blood

i feel
the fire
rush to the heart
of my palms

once more

that feeling
the fire surging
from my chest
through my arms
and into the very centre
of my hands
i feel it once again

a feeling that
for days
maybe years
i have become
less familiar with

it is a fire
of warmth
a rush
of burning desire

i have felt it before

yet it feels new
tempered and soothed
no more the rage
of a thousand beasts
not this time

just one steed
legs supple and powerful
mane glistening midnight black
gliding through the winds
the winds that
caress your hair
roughly edged
harshly weathered
yet still shining

and my eyes lock
before they turn
and steal a gaze
at yours

stretch your hand out
feel them
for you have never
seen me like this

before I go pyro
before I disappear

hand me the stones
hand me the board
let us


gambitch [ 3:15 AM]

Monday, April 02, 2007

Perhaps I should really mourn.

After all, the original Evil Team of The Amazing Race, Bill and Joe were eliminated in the seventh leg. Just when we thought we had the perfect excuse to dispose of Charla and Mirna again, too.

Yes, this show is turning into quite a disaster with Charla and Mirna somehow contriving to bungle their way into survival every week. We thought we already had Dave and Mary discarded, and whatever people will say of Eric and Danielle, they're still okay to see on television. But Charla and Mirna - ugh.

Anyway, the positives of the episode need to be explored. And considering this episode was a two-hour uber-leg, there's a bit of room for that. The travel agency game at Zanzibar, for starters, was pretty cool. I might have been okay with Uchenna and Joyce in their original season before they won it, but now I don't think so well of them. So I'm glad to see them lose out on the 'phone call' vs 'in person' battle, even to Charla and Mirna - though I must admit these things are momentary. Because Mirna especially proceeds to get on my nerves with the way she leans over the desk and makes her demands. Like not sharing information with other people who already are inside the travel agency. By which I mean Dustin and Kandice.

I must say at this point that Dustin and Kandice are working quite well on me as personalities at this point of the season. I don't know why people don't like them, just because they're beauty queens and they appeared in the previous season. I actually thought they're pretty decent racers and cool about things, not unlike Danny and Oswald.

And, if they were in a better position, not unlike Team Guido. Except they started this leg with a monster lag accumulating from the previous episode, and they got further waylaid in Kilimanjaro Airport when the flight they were desperately trying to catch - provided by the producers, not bought on their own - was closed before they could get there in time. Which is where we get to see Joe in his worst form, and a pity too. It just isn't funny.

Anyway, eventually everyone gets to Warsaw, Poland. Warsaw is nice. Home to Chopin and Marie Curie, as the Detour indicates. Home to some beautiful music, and decent-looking mannequins. The Beauty Queens pick the detour involving the music, and they're pretty good at it. Some are not so good, as it later turns out. Strings apparently even snap later. No good, Oswald and Danny!

Charla and Mirna try the pianos first, but then just utterly screw it up and switch to the mannequins. Which they're equally not that good at, even when they are asked to do something as simple as carry a mannequin. And it's not Charla's fault because she's short, but it's Mirna's fault because she's such a Mirna.

Just as Team Guido and Eric and Danielle make their way to Warsaw, Dustin and Kandice - who won the first part of this leg - make their way on to Auschwitz. No, really, Auschwitz. After the same thing we saw back with the African slavery thing and then the Berlin Wall, we are on to Auschwitz. And that is why The Amazing Race is such a great show. It throws into our face all these moments of human horror and makes people confront them, without being so Fear Factor by making people eat beetles. I like that, and I don't like Fear Factor, which is why I like The Amazing Race even more.

It also helps that, some time ago, I had seen a very powerfully constructed scene of a visit to Auschwitz in, of all places, a Japanese drama called Shiroi Kyoto. Of course, whenever we speak of Auschwitz, the concentration camps and the eventual train route to death comes to mind. And again that's exactly what we're going to visit here. Powerful stuff, it really is.

And as Miss Alli would say, it's time for a deep breath.

Oh, you mean there's an Intersection on the show now? They just keep innovating, don't they? Not that I'm thrilled by it, but okay, they're trying.

Anyway, Danny and Oswald profit by teaming up with Uchenna and Joyce. Or should that be the other way around? Either way, they claim the Fast Forward that sits right here, which is sorta dumb. I've never favoured having just two Fast Forwards. Four or five, maybe, but two? Just totally kills the chance of some team using it to save themselves. That was kinda cool. Now, it's just for the leading team to claim an even greater lead out of self-preserving instinct.

The Detour in the second half of this episode is not particularly interesting, because it's all about eating sausages, which is so northern European. I swear, we had something involving sausages back in Germany before too. That was in the season when Mary Jean - tough ol' granny that she is - commented that "seven inches is really big"! Seriously. But this one, unlike that one, wasn't particularly fun, or funny. Because there's eating in volume involved.

And then, there is, after over an hour and a half, the Roadblock! This one's pretty okay, with the knight in armour, the horse, the castle, and all those medieval themes. Or should be closer to Teutonic? I'm not sure off the top of my head whether 15th Century Europe was still in the medieval era, strictly speaking.

Unfortunately, because we're so late into the show, thanks to all sorts of screwed up planning and other issues, we haven't really got time to explore the Roadblock properly. What we do know is that Charla, who's had to take a lot of flak from Mirna throughout the episode so far - and all the episodes before it - decides enough is enough and takes this Roadblock, thereby looking entirely hilarious in a suit of armour and leading a horse. But then we can blame Mirna for that, as we can for so many things that's wrong with this team and the show. Charla does provide some comic relief for stumbling and tipping over.

And eventually Team Guido are eliminated, not because they arrive last, but because of that penalty that comes with non-elimination now. I don't really know. What works as a non-elimination penalty best? Taking away all their money? Or their belongings too? Or simply not punishing them? Or is this new model really best? I don't quite know. I do know, however, that it cost these two great guys a chance to appear in the next episode. I've nothing against Eric and Danielle for being saved like that, though. I just felt, after another stomach-churning episode of watching Charla and Mirna bicker (even though it's mostly one-directional), it's better if we could just shake them off, though we have next to no excuses to do that, even when we think we've found one.

It's just that the show is going to be harder and harder to watch without some of the old vintage still being around. Fortunately, there's still Cha Cha Cha for that.

gambitch [ 1:34 AM]


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