Monthly Archives: April 2016

You’ll Never Walk Alone.

It was William Ewart Gladstone, one of Queen Victoria’s prime ministers who said “Justice delayed is justice denied” , but I doubt if even he could imagine a wait of 27 years to see justice done. I’ll do my best not to get too angry about this, but I make no promises. Let me start at the beginning.

On April 15, 1989, some 54,000 football fans were at Sheffield Wednesday’s Hillborough stadium to see Liverpool and Nottingham Forest play in the F.A. Cup semi final. By the end of the afternoon, 96 were dead. LET ME REPEAT THAT. 96 people attended what should have been a glorious, exciting sporting event and went home dead. You would imagine that such an event would result in a thorough investigation in order to find and punish those responsible, but you’d be wrong.

In fact, the victim blaming began before the bodies were cold. David Duckenfield of the South Yorkshire police, and  the officer in charge that day , claimed that “Drunken fans had stormed the gates” and rushed through the tunnels leading to the terraces. Four days later, a statement repeated far and wide by the media. Indeed, just four days later, “The Sun”, a semi-pornographic comic for the educationally subnormal masquerading as a newspaper printed a headline in 200 point font “The Truth” following which it claimed that fans had robbed the dead, assaulted ambulance workers and urinated on police tending the victims. The only “Truth” on the front page were the date and the price. Needless to say, no one was surprised when piles of the publication were burned in the streets of Liverpool, newsagents refused to carry it and sales in the city plummeted and have never recovered.

Where was the public outrage? I hear you ask. well, bear in mind that this was the 1980s. Margaret Thatcher ( may she burn forever in the fires of eternal damnation) was still Prime Minister. Her contempt, which knew no bounds reached stratospheric heights for three groups, namely: football fans, the working class and the people of Liverpool. Combining all three produced a perfect storm which she and her cronies exploited to the full.  Bear in mind that Thatcher had proposed national identity cards for football fans, and for football fans alone, and had wanted all crimes within a mile of a football ground on match days to be considered a football related crime. If the 9/11 attacks had happened in London within a mile of a football ground on a Saturday, the deaths would have been blamed on football.

Now that you’ve had a couple of minutes to let that sink in, I’ll continue. The resulting Taylor Report was a whitewash, with the authorities cherry picking the conclusions. This led to the abolition of standing at football grounds which then led to the massive hike in ticket prices and the start of the campaign to turn football into a middle class day out and ostracise the true fan base.

Of course, the people of Liverpool rallied around the victim’s families, and there were precious few who didn’t know someone who had lost a loved one or someone who had been at the game. Support groups emerged to continue the fight for justice – a long, thankless task that took a full quarter of a century to succeed. A little over a year ago, the current Prime Minister, the oily creep David Cameron admitted in parliament what we had all known: that the Police had destroyed evidence, altered statements and suppressed facts. Cold comfort, but finally we had confirmation of what we all knew in our hearts.

On April 26 this year, the two year coroner’s inquest into the deaths returned a verdict : all 96 victims were unlawfully killed. Duckenfield was found guilty of gross negligence and my only hope is that he will be prosecuted. I won’t go into the details, as you can read them for yourself. I would, however like to point out two things. Trevor Hicks has been at the forefront of the Justice Campaign since the start. By now he should have been playing with his grandchildren and living life to the full. Instead he was in a coroner’s court to hear that his 16 and 18 year old daughters had died as a result of police incompetence. Jon-Paul Gilhooley was just 10 years old and the youngest victim that day. Had he lived, he would have seen his cousin Steven Gerrard captain the team he loved.

I can’t imagine what the families went through for so long. I just can’t. I wouldn’t wish it on anyone. No one should have to put up with the stonewalling, denial, vilification and outright lying that went on over the course of so many years. Only the knowledge that they were right and the support of the community kept them going. Liverpool is a tight knit city, even more so when threatened and attacked by outsiders and if any good has come out of this it is a strengthening of the city’s sense of self.

I have no quip with which to end this post, no upbeat comment to wrap things up neatly, so I’ll just end by saying:

(finally) Justice for the 96. They will never walk alone.

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Kicker Conspiracy.

This one may be a bit wordy, so kick off your heels, loosen your corset, unsnap your stockings, sit back and relax. You too, ladies.

As you know (see “World Cup Willie”), football is an integral part of my life. I’m now able to enjoy watching whole games online just a couple of hours after the final whistle and I never fail to keep up with the highlights. The ups and downs of the 20 Premier League teams are a sort of soap opera, although over the past few years, the lack of variety and the inevitability of the top four spaces being occupied by both Manchester teams, Arsenal and Chelsea rather spoil it for the rest of us. Not so this year.

The EPL script writers ( Copyright Men in Blazers) have thrown everyone for a loop by introducing new characters, transforming others and sending some into what can only be described as a death spiral the likes of which one would never believe in real life. The stand out stars this year have been Leicester City, and for good reason. On April 3 2015 they were in 20th place with 19 points from 29 games and seemed a certain bet for relegation, yet one year later to the day, they were top of the league with 69 points from 31 games and barring an implosion of epic proportions are set to be champions. I can’t tell you  how happy it makes me to see them in the top spot. Not only have they upset the old hegemony but they have done it with essentially the same squad as last year and have played some of the most exciting football I have ever seen.  Added  to which, seven years ago their top scorer, Jamie Vardy was playing for Stocksbridge Park Steels of the Northern Premier League Division One – the eighth level of English football – imagine the third string of a single A baseball team and you’re almost there. Now, he’s one of the leading scorers in the EPL and set to play for England in the European Championships this summer.

Seven years ago , AFC Bournemouth were at the foot of League Two – 92nd out of the 92 teams in the English professional system, with not even the funds to pay their milk bill, let alone their staff. Promoted as champions from the Championship last year, they are now set to remain in the EPL and pocket their share of the $5.1Bn television deal. You can’t help but love them, and not in a patronising way because they’ve fought like devils, beaten Chelsea and Manchester United and played some damn fine football along the way, and all on a  tiny budget. Their stadium holds about 11,500. Yes, you aren’t seeing things. There are high schools in Texas with bigger football stadia.

As a dyed in the wool Liverpool fan, the  collapse of both Chelsea and Manchester United brought a tingle to my special place, and it has been a delight to see the smug grins wiped off the faces of so many of their fans, as well as the managerial turmoil associated with the spoiled brats of English football not being given their free ride and automatic European Champions League spots.

It’s not all schadenfreude, though. I feel really sorry for fans of Aston Villa who have been treated like dirt by the club’s American owner, a man who cares naught for pride, history or the future and sees no further than the next dollar. It breaks my heart to see a once proud club reduced so, and only hope the fans and players stick together and refloat the sinking ship.

Now you may imagine that I take some delight from Everton’s increasingly poor league position, but not so. I like their manager, Roberto Martinez: He strikes me as a thoroughly decent chap doing his best with a limited budget. I don’t even have any animosity towards Everton fans as the blue half of Merseyside is as passionate about football as the red half. Throw in the performances of sexy, sexy Stoke ((C) MIB), Watford, West Ham and even Tottenham Hotspur who somehow managed to avoid their usual habit of fading fast, and it all adds up to a thoroughly exciting and enjoyable season.

“But what of Liverpool?” I hear you ask. Well, having sacked Brendan Rodgers as manager and replaced him with Jurgen Klopp, we’ve not really done all that well. The thing is, Klopp  has had to spend this season getting to know the strengths and weaknesses of the squad, and I expect a grand clearing out over the closed season and next year Liverpool will emerge reborn, ready for a rip roaring season and automatic qualification for the Champions League.  I accept now that our dominance of Europe is over – we steamrollered our way across Europe like  a Russian tank army from the late ’70s until the late ’80s and those days will live forever in football history, but it would be nice to recapture some of the old magic, I’m just pleased that I’ve been able to enjoy it all without the need to get up before the sparrows and been able to pause play to take a comfort stop or make breakfast.

I’m as old as “Match of the Day” and I can’t imagine not being able to see the show, even though Gary Lineker is the archetypal “Mum – safe” presenter so beloved by the B.B.C., Martin Keown is able to do nothing but recite statistics and Jermain Jenas looks like a little kid overawed by being allowed to stay up late and sit with the grown ups. One thing remains unchanged – Alan Shearer blowing up and barely controlling his urge to swear over yet another dismal Newcastle United performance as they slide relentlessly towards relegation. Someone had better load him up on doggy downers – they play Manchester City tomorrow and Liverpool on Saturday. At least that means next year he will be calmer. Unless that is, he joins Manish Bhasin as co-presenter of “The Football League Show” to provide insight into English football’s second tier.



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Falling And Laughing.

In the interest of full disclosure and the spirit of honesty, I should let you know that I am addicted to a fine white powder. It goes up my nose, down my front, it causes me to disappear at weekends, it costs me money I could spend on more useful things and causes me pain. I’m talking about snow. What the hell did you think I meant?  And if you think “Snow” is a euphemism, no, I’m talking about crystals of frozen Di hydrogen monoxide. You see, This year I was finally able to get some serious snowboarding time.

About five years ago my ex and I decided that it was stupid not to make the most of our winter trips to Whistler so we enrolled the kids in ski school and signed up for adult lessons for ourselves. Of course, the kids took to it like ducks to water, or should that be penguins to snow? My son because he loves anything technical and my daughter because she is the consummate athlete. Having worked in a sports medicine clinic I was fully aware of the pain, time and money involved in ACL tear repair, so I was the lone snowboarder in the family – It’s one piece of equipment instead of four, and you’re fixed securely to it. I’ve yet to hear of anyone being impaled by his own board. Have you?

For a couple of winters I took a couple of lessons, so managed to get a grasp of the basics, but the cost of rental equipment meant in went no further than that. The next year I didn’t so much as sniff snow (no pun intended), but last year I finally bought the necessary gear after a long search. My height and size 12 feet meant I needed the longest, widest board I could find to avoid going base over apex due to my toes or heels digging in during a turn  or the tip digging in as I put my weight on the front foot. I know the fashion is for shorter boards,  but let’s face it, width is as least as  important as length. Wouldn’t you agree, ladies?

At least I managed a couple of trips during what was last season’s perfectly crappy weather. On one trip I didn’t so much need board boots as  flippers! I didn’t break anything but did manage to fall backwards and smack my visual cortex so hard the entire world turned red for a brief flash. I always wear a helmet, so at least the world didn’t go black.

This year has been much better. After a couple of solo trips I convinced my sweetie to come along. She hasn’t skied since junior high, so she signed up for lessons and off we went. The first couple of trips were all weekend affairs but we soon settled on single night stays, booking a room at an hotel which at least is a clean place reasonably priced, but in need of some TLC.

After some group lessons, I bowed to sense and booked a private lesson so I could master my nemesis, the heel-edge turn. It’s exactly what it sounds like, but trying to teach it to myself was a frustrating affair to say the least. Two hours of one on one instruction seemed to do the trick, and seeing as it cost no more than two group lessons, but with 100% of the instructor’s attention it was money well spent.

Now before you get the idea that I’m some sort of “Better shred than dead” type, think again. I’m too old to throw caution to the wind and will admit to not being a speed merchant, but I get down the slope in one piece, and usually one go. Managing six consecutive runs down an easy slope with no falls may not sound like much to you hard core board hounds ( you know who you are), but I’ll take any A.M whiff of Napalm I can get.  Most of the other boarders are half my age, and some of them only one tenth my age, but hell, this is my first full season, so pogue mahone.

What really amazes and cracks me up in equal parts is the five to seven year olds zipping down the slope at full throttle without a care in the world. I envy their lack of fear.  The show-off teens and twenty somethings I find laughable. There is so much posturing involved that I feel that were this the 1950’s they would all be sitting in their hot rods in the parking lot of the local diner. Oh tempora, oh mores.

One thing that still stuns me is the number of people without helmets. I realise there is no legal requirement, but isn’t it common sense? Oh hang on, I’ve just seen the flaw inherent in that last sentence. I don’t have much of a brain ( please, don’t all contradict me at once) but it’s the only one I have and replacements aren’t available, so it makes sense to me to take care of it. What I really, truly don’t understand is the parents who don’t wear helmets but insist that their kids do. What kind of message does that send? I’ve always worn a helmet around the kids, whether on a board or a bike. How else are they supposed to learn how to behave except through seeing their parents model appropriate behaviour.

I guess some people just don’t get it. For instance, in Whistler during the summer, the ski runs become bike runs and it is not uncommon to see people cycling home from the slopes  along the highway wearing so much body armour they look like a character from “Call of Duty” with their helmets dangling from the handle bars! Wha? I’ve taken more than my fair share of falls this winter and have managed to bruise just about every part of my body, ego included – who knew there were so many shades of purple? – that I dread to think what state I’d be in without my helmet.

It’s not all negative,though. I love going from the heel to the toe edge and executing a grand, sweeping turn, and learning to break on the heel edge without face planting gives me great pleasure. Of such little victories is life made.

I have also been very impressed with the artwork on many boards. There seems no end of variation in colour and design and some are pure works of art. In fact, I remember writing a blog post for a lifestyle website on the topic of storage and keeping the bachelor pad tidy and I recommended mounting snowboards on wall brackets to display their underside designs. If I ever have the spare cash I’m going to get a custom  board made. The top will show a rocket shooting through space, flames jetting from the engines against a backdrop of stars and planets. The bottom will be plain black with neon orange text, reading : “If you can read this, please dig me out”





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