The Sports Press

white_sports_journalism_world-111-thumb-640xauto-1846Sports journalism in the US is a respected and full-time job (though it is a curiously white profession). In the UK, we have hacks, TV journalists and the odd, very few, real sportswriters. Generally it comes across as a job for limited wankers.

Most are hacks, churning out terrace talk or gossip fed to them by agents. Following their stories and cues are the TV journalists who did very little actual research but happily comment on what the papers are saying. The real writers, talented men and women who could possibly work in many fields of writing inhabit the broadsheets and websites, writing the occasional pieces across the broad spectrum of sport often using historical analysis. Think of it as your grandfather telling you a few stories from back in the day while reflecting on present events. They know nothing really changes too much in human psychology.

Last week Mancini, the manager of Manchester City swore at a press conference when asked for the zenith time if his job was under threat. It really might be. But its unlikely right now. Yet his exasperation was fuelled by lazy hack journalism and lit by the final question. Finishing second in the league and ejected from the Champions League is a poor season for Man City. With the players at their disposal, they should be challenging for everything. Yet what they and their manager lack is nouse and experience, something Ferguson across the city passes onto his players every week. But more significantly, Ferguson’s players come to the club to win, knowing anything less will see changes. These players are well-paid but that isn’t what draws them to the club. Its Ferguson and his drive to win.

Mancini has made mistakes this season. This tactics are suspect at times especially his rotating system at the back. Its simply unnecessary. He has also bought some relatively average players for phenomenal amounts of money.  Wenger at Arsenal is also under media pressure. The fans, while a little disenchanted, are sticking by him. He is Wenger after all and the issues at the club reflect a different financial reality. His magic does seem to be waning and again his transfers upfront and in defence are often poor or simply not good enough. Earlier last week Wenger snapped at a female journalist who asked if he has anything to say to the fans after their FA Cup exit. His irritable reaction didn’t look good but the question was inane and Wenger took the bait and then provided the story than a simply call the question inane and move onto another question.

Managers give press conferences to attempt to manage the media and get their side across. Yet today with the rolling 24 hour news and the internet rumour mill, very little can be achieved. Ferguson takes note of questions and refuses to speak to certain journalists until their organisations send a replacement journalist. He knows how to use his influence and understands these journalists are looking for an easy story rather than a dedicated piece. They have half a page to fill too. Wenger and Mancini let their irritation out in public and feed the machine who then sell the story onto the fans.

The media would argue when the managers win they take the plaudits and must take the blame when they lose. Managers like Wenger and Mancini need to take a page from a different book and let the machine do the work. Initially sensationalist and made-up stories would fill the gaps but the public won’t stomach that for long. Ultimately it might lead journalists remembering their roots or pack it in all together and leave it to the on-line and dedicated fans to provide the depth.

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Dan’s Awards 2012

DSCF7883Person of the Year

Gabriel Almonacid for being a great mate in Colombia providing me with a bed, a guide in Bogota and the ‘nearby’ old towns and staying with his great family in Armenia. I even heard he and Claudia tried to call me the other night!

Comeback of the Year

Christine Leclerc. After living together for a year many years ago, I can say I have missed that big laugh and smiley face a lot.

DSCF1214Newcomer of the Year

Jan Thomas Ødegaard, the slightly eccentric Norwegian gets the nod.

My Christ Its Been a Long Time

Bobbi Coombs met me at the airport in Winnipeg after not seeing each other for about 3500 days (aka 9.5 years) and then had me to stay for a few days. We ate Easter dinner with her family, watched hockey together and I got well and truly plastered with her brother Doug.

DSCF8918Meal of the Year

Eating the freshly-caught fish in Colombia with Jenni and Kati.

Sushi with Ronnie and Debs in Ontario

Tapas and red wine with Gabrielle in Bilbao.

What the hell happened Last Night drunk night

3. The Sarajevo dancing night.

2. Post presentation with Oli Bigland in Oxford

1. Waking up in the morning in a Ukrainian mental hospital. I still don’t know what happened.

PANO_20120516_183803Sight of the Year

Kotor in Montenegro blew me away. Waking up in our house in Salento in Colombia. The sight of Venice from the train station. Its everything you’ve heard about.

Random Moment Award

Jumping off the NY subway to be with Bora.

The house gig with Em in Bavaria

Cultural Event of the Year

Taking part in the La Merce festival in Barcelona with Ilo. Fireworks, burns and dancing masks.

DSC_0392-1Sports event of the Year

Big year for games. I saw maybe 10 and 5 or 6 were football derbies, the Yankees and the Knicks play in New York but it has to go to the Belgrade derby. Red Star against Partizan Belgrade.

Films of the Year

Moonrise Kingdom or Cloud Atlas

Favourite album of the year

Japandroids

Moment of Violence Moment

Getting chased and hit with a truncheon by a rabid Bosnian policeman before the Sarajevo derby was pretty exciting.

Bar of the Year

Tijuana bar in Belgrade, the night of the French music with Mirjana and Jan.

Hospital Bar in Kiev with the flaming helmet

Scariest moment of the Year

Seeing Emmi somersault off her bike and land on her head in Bavaria. Luckily she was wearing a helmet and only broke two neck vertebrates.

Big Balls Moment

Heading back in a taxi from the beach with Jenni and Marioka in Santa Cruz, Colombia, we saw a neighbourhood street party. We changed in the hostel and walked there. the police were outside telling us not to go in as it was a cartel party. We looked at each other and walked over. After some drinks and flour thrown over us, we ended drinking the local firewater outside the convenience store with some truckers until the early hours.

Standing up to another huge, sneering policeman before the Sarajevo derby was fairly scary.

Would I do it all again?

Hell yeah. I’d like to thank everyone for helping me along the way 🙂

Beach Football World Cup Qualifiers

2013-01-22 09-25-37-063I went to the WC beach football qualifiers here last week. Beach football is usually garbage but being sat with 200 Afghans as they trashed Qatar 7-3 with their goalkeeper making a string of fantastic saves and then scoring on the counterattack was brilliant. The Afghans who do the poorest jobs were great fun. They were smiling, had drums and danced and cheered. Plus if you know anything about Afghanistan, you’ll know how diverse they are ethnically and that really showed in the crowd.

The previous game brought out the local Thais and Japanese as their nations dueled to a 4-1 Japanese win. The Japanese are good at this, twice winners in the past but this time their hopes seems to rest on the 6-4 African guy who played at the back! The Qataris themselves were embarrassing in their lack of support for their team.

IMG_20130126_215410_0I went back with friends here for the finals. The UAE controversially beat Australia (who scored an equaliser a  second after the final whistle). The UAE spent a significant amount of their time rolling around on the sand too. The final brought together Japan and Iran and its fairly raucous fans. Iran used their size advantage to bully the Japanese but simply couldn’t get past the best player in the tournament, a lanky, black ‘Japanese’ guy called Ozu. Japan led throughout until the last few minutes when Iran scored 3 quick goals to equal it up. It went to penalties and Iran kept their nerve. The best team beat the best player who tired after leading the whole team and never being subbed.

The top 3 team went through to the World Cup beach football tournament in……Taihiti. I am in the wrong business. Great nights of football and cultural experiences.

Milan Derby – AC Milan vs Inter Milan

IMG_20121007_212732Timing is everything but this year has been curiously fortunate. Not only have I met old friends who happen to be in towns not usually associated with me (New York, Philadelphia, Frankfurt, Belgrade, Salzburg as examples) I’ve caught festivals and events on the per chance of being there. i speak of the Barranquilla Carnival in Colombia (the largest in South America after Rio), catching the end of the ice hockey season in Canada, the Knicks vs Nets game in the USA, the end of the snow in the Alps, the Festes de la Mercee in Barcelona, the film festival in San Sebastian (Penelope Cruz et al) and another random trip with Jan. Along the way, I’ve met more old friends than I can state and new classic additions to the roster. Certain ideas have been reinforced, new ideas bred and mistakes averted (or at least seen early rather than late).

On a lighter level I’ve seen sport in many of the countries. Ice hockey in Canada, basketball and baseball in New York and football in Colombia, Serbia, Bosnia, Wales, Italy and soon, Ukraine. I wrote before about Serbia and Bosnia, the derbies there were intense, if slightly lacking in football. But football, like many cultural and collective events are signifers of culture development. Development blazes in many directions and could be said to be directionless and football, like most sport (sorry Mr Cameron, Johnson and Coe) is relatively unimportant but becomes interesting when used as a propaganda. Let’s all cheers success and latch on. Forget the rest. Cheers or be damned.

The crowds at the games reveal some of society. Colombia’s crowd were cheerful, mixed affairs full of boos and cheers, chants and relaxation. Serbia and Bosnia were tribal, male affairs where football sat in the background as male antagonism and group mentality led the chants of anger and negativity. The chants took no account of the game. It revelled in the violence them and us, the false assumption bred by facture, ignorance and discord. The celebratory stories of fear and menace sounded like England in the 70s and 80s. The Ukraine vs Montenegro international in the huge

In Italy, I timed myself to Milan perfectly for the biggest game of the year so far, AC Milan vs Inter in the San Siro. Outside the ground there was a casual police presence and yet outside and inside the crowd was mixed. Friends or couples walked or sat in opposite colours. The lack of hostility indicated a maturity within football and society in general where differences fall into the background, the foreground of commonality of issues, problems and culture are debated and upheld. 85,000 people understood the true value of the game.

IMG_20121007_224738The game itself was a classic of noise, missed chances, whistles and humour. The home in the curva sud and away in the curva nord fans were in opposite ends, unveiling humourous banners to each other and generally having a good time. The majority of the stadium was mixed seating and better for it. The lack of animosity and acromony created a relaxed atmosphere allowing the traditional exaggerated Italian body language to overtly exert itself at every chance.

Inter won one-nil despite being down to 10 men for 40 minutes. Milan had the ball in crossing positions down the left all game but desperately lack a striker. Robinho also continues to prove himself as one of the greatest wastes of talent in the game. Inter weren’t much better and how Milito is considered world class is beyond me. Cartman from South Park moves quicker. All this explains the team’s missed chances but only fortunate timing describes mine.

Cardiff to Japan and back again

I managed to squeeze in a weekend to Cardiff with Dr Luke, Ro and Poppy at the start of August. Alex from Notts Uni came down as well as my old mate Si. Ever a pleasure to see them and a rare one too with Si. Life post-uni, as many from Notts are finding out is very different, and rewarding in others way. Gone are the days wasted with hangovers, watching daytime soaps and mulling over physically leaving the house. Hobbies and friends become near luxuries. Get used to it; it doesn’t change.

 

 

We spent the weekend wisely, catching two matches (Korea vs Japan and Newcastle vs Cardiff). Neither game were particularly satisfying or important. We spent the Olympic bronze medal match inside the stadium but near camped at the bar. Newcastle managed to produce a magnificently bad defensive display that killed the game off by half-time. But what was important was the symmetry involved.

I’ve lived in both Japan and Korea for over 3 years in total. I know each culture well and cherish those times. We all caught trains to meet in Cardiff and it reminded me of meeting Yukiko on the way to Hiroshima. She came down from Kyoto while I boarded in Osaka.

We arranged to meet in the  front carriage. It was the early train, maybe 730 or so. I remember Yukiko asleep, curled up in the corner, bag in hand waking with a blurry subconscious look and my smile.

We passed the days in Cardiffdrinking beer in the park, talking over times and memories. I’ve much fondness for Si, a guy I totally respect and whose opinion I’ve often sought from football, music, women and work.

I remembered meeting Si at Kansai International with four beers in hand for the short train ride to my place in Kyoto. There was no other way to toast his arrival and  our times together. Days later we were in Hiroshima in kimonos, singing karaoke and getting carried home after too much sake and Captain Q whiskey. Again we went to a game to  a game, Germany vs the USA and I don’t remember a single moment of it. But I remember Si was there.

Euro2012 Semi Final Preview

Before I get to this England and France are out.

England are out. Bulldog spirit and defending can only get you so far. We couldnt keep the ball. Rooney was out of touch, Carroll is raw, Young was poor, MIlner isn’t good enough. Gerrard played reasonably but can’t do it all by himself. The defence were the stars which says a lot. Lescott and Johnson proved themselves to be international class (if not world class), Terry was his usual body on the line and Cole is world class. The endless talk of Joe Hart beocming one of the best goalkeepers in the world sounds like media hype to me. Besides he is 26, not 20. Its about time.

For France the reasons are obvious. The defence is actually weak. Rami is never good enough at this level nor is Mexes in reality. Midfield is average but Benzema hits the goalkeeper all night long. He isnt a real goalscorer. He shows that at Madrid where he still doesnt score enough. Blanc gave up before kick off with that team and tactics. Poor show. The worst two game I have seen here involved France. Similarly with England in 2006 and 2010, it must be hugely frustrating for players to spend two years qualifying for a major event and then go out so pathetically.

I said before the tournament Spain would struggle and they have. Without Villa to put the ball home, they pass the ball all day and lack real incision and pace to get behind the opposition. A bigger blow is losing Puyol but there are few teams who can play with Spain so it doesn’t matter here. In a World Cup it would. Against the pace of Portugal, they will miss his organisational skills and leadership.

They will play Portugal who have finally woken up the the pace they possess. If everyone played to their level, they can really compete. Ronaldo has missed more than he’s scored but the rest need to put a shift in. Its a good thing to lose Postiga too. He’s not good enough. Portugal have the talent to win this if their centre midfield works as a unit.

Germany have the organisation to beat Spain, They too lack pace so the likely final will be a dour-ish affair. I am not convinced by the German centre backs or Boeteng. They have conceded 4 goals so far to average teams but midfield forward, they are a very good team, if not as creatively brilliant as many would say. Schweinsteiger is a German Spaniard (less skill but more presence) and a fine player. Gomez is a goalscorer. Klose will look redundant against the best. But Germany will win this.

Italy were good tonight but they lack real penetration. So many chances tonight and no goals. They are more mobile than in the past but lacking in quality traditionally associated with the Azzurri.The Germans should have too much for them especially after tonight’s game.

Predictions (assuming the teams are as expected)

Spain 0-1 Portugal (that’s right!)

Germany 2-0 Italy

Balkans Battles Part 2 – Sarajevo Derby – RK Sarajevo vs Zeljeznicar Sarajevo

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I’d never been hit by the police until this game. In the past, the police merely questioned on the street occasionally. But it always irritated me. That interaction was all about to change when we got to this game. It was the Saturday following the Red Star game and on the advice of our friend Addy, Jan and I were stood with the SK Sarajevo Ultras near old-town Sarajevo drinking before the local derby against Zeljeznicar. Frky introduced himself and chatted away, asking about us, why we were there. Frky was a law student at the university and asked me about the Newcastle Sarajevo game in 2002. I couldn’t actually remember it. He talked about what happens before the games, where the meeting point was and not to worry about being in the fans’ north end. The others were generally more circumspect though they took great interest in my Newcastle United tattoo. Once they knew we were friends with Addy, they relaxed somewhat.

We met up with Alam and Diego and walked to the game. The walk to the stadium for a big game is always exciting. It was a derby game dividing central and eastern Sarajevo. Similar to the game in Belgrade, the league was gone. RK Sarajevo had to win to get a Europa league spot and local pride on the line. Reaching the stadium, we bought tickets from the office for 2.5 euros for the ultras end. I was taking my SLR. I wanted the pictures again and figured we’d be safe enough. We had Frky on our side but the real dangers were outside the ground.

Firstly a riot policeman thought I shouted an insult as he passed. He stopped, towered over me and said something with a real sneer. I replied ‘tourist’ and ‘no Bosnian’ but he took this for a Bosnian being clever and continued his words. (Thanks to the RK fan next to me who failed to own up to his comments and let me take the look!!). Soon after while queuing up, the police arrested a fan. When the police van arrived, another fan slapped the side of it shouting ‘ultras, ultras’. In a second, the police descended on the queue. panic ensued and everyone turned to run. I turned only to meet a policeman running my way and he slapped his truncheon across my back as I jumped down a ledge. The policeman stood over me for a second then walked away breathing heavily. Jan got hit too after avoiding two attempts. The storm passed quickly and soon enough we were in the stadium but the adrenaline was still pumping.

Inside we sat down and I looked around. Its noticeable how few fans wear the club shirt, mostly prefer their own dress or various club-related t-shirts, bought from markets. The fans were a mixed of men, kids and young women. Everyone knew the songs which like the Red Sar game didn’t relate to the match. Few commented on what was happening. Joints were being smoked. There were more women, more young fans in the stands. The atomsphere was more jovial than the previous week.

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The game was good, finishing 2-2. RK blew a 2-0 lead but finished the game stronger and could have won it. When they scored, flares were lit and riotous joy broke out. Similarly to the Red Star, the supporters actually have a cheerleader at the front who organises the chants. And again around the 50th minute, tens of flares were lit, obscuring any view of the game. We filed out into the evening warmth, meeting up with Alam (who thought we were crazy to go in the north end) and Diego. I needed some water and to de-stress.

That evening we drank and stayed out late. I woke up the next morning and checked my back. I was kinda disappointed I didn’t have a war wound! Alas I still had the rakija hangover!