Category Archives: soccer

Three Lions

Yes, I know the subtitle of this song is “Football’s Coming Home”, and football didn’t, but what am I supposed to do? It’s been a month or so since the end of the World Cup, and I think it’s enough time to be able to reflect on the event that crams 64 games into about 28 days, so here goes.

To start with, staging the finals in Russia has been discussed at length and needs no input from me. No one who follows football actually believed that removing Sepp Blatter and his cronies would make a difference in how FIFA does business, and of course, it didn’t. FIFA makes even the worst dictatorship look squeaky clean, and this was embodied in the opening game. On more than one occasion we saw shots from the V.I.P. box of  a triumvirate of evil; Vladimir Putin, FIFA President Gianni Infantino ( AKA Johnny Baby) and someone who I assume was Prince Salman of Saudi Arabia sitting next to each other and chatting. To be honest, it looked like the supervillain conference scene from a James Bond movie: There’s always one Arab in traditional dress present, Johnny Baby looks like a Bond villain and Vlad the Invader IS a Bond villain.  The scene just reeked of influence, corruption and contempt, so it was no surprise when the hosts, the lowest ranking team in the competition made it to the quarter finals.

Do you honestly believe that their games were fair and square? I’m pretty darn sure that every single official involved with Russia’s game had a visit from a couple of big blokes called Ivan and Sergei who said:

” Mister referee, here is special gift from people of Russia. Is whistle for competition. Is good for use in Russia, it glow in dark, and it stay  warm, so please, keep hold of whistle. Russian winter is very cold and dark, and we want you to be safe and make right decisions in game. last referee who made bad decision sat on park bench in Salisbury, he get very ill. We not want that to happen to you.”

Or words to that effect. You catch my drift, anyway. You might think that not having any kind of television service would be a disadvantage, but far from it, as I used a couple of streaming websites and saw all, or at least highlights of 63 games. I didn’t bother with the third place playoff as it’s the most meaningless game in world football and neither team wanted to be there. I was pleasantly surprised at England’s performance as I’d expected the usual squeaking through the group and then going out in the first knockout round to any half decent team. Thankfully, not being in England I avoided the inevitable hype surrounding a decent run, although by the time the semi final came round, even I was beginning to think that I might be about to experience England’s second appearance in a World Cup final.

Mind you, as a Liverpool fan I had already experienced the result of getting over enthusiastic about a final once this season, so kept my own counsel. I don’t know if the Germans have a word for Schadenfreude, but there was plenty of that to go round, and as well as seeing the Germans finish bottom of their group, I took especial delight in seeing Portugal, Argentina, Spain and Brazil fail to make the last eight. I have nothing in particular against those countries, but seeing Cristiano Ronaldo have to go home early was a delight. I can’t stand the guy for a number of reasons: He thinks he’s Gods’ gift and makes no attempt to hide it, he’s not a team player and doesn’t track back or make any effort to help the team and if he was made of chocolate, he’d eat himself. So, seeing him trudge off the pitch after the Uruguay game looking like you could light a candle on his bottom lip gave me quite a lot of satisfaction. I should point out, as others have done, that the last time Germany failed to make the last eight of a World Cup was 1938. Yeah, I know. They didn’t take that defeat particularly well, so I’d do a bit of planning if I were you. Yes, I know a lot of people were joking about this, but not really joking.

Mind you, I suppose I shouldn’t have been so surprised, I mean, Germany doesn’t exactly have a stellar record when it comes to winning in Russia, although at least this time the trip home won’t be quite so traumatic. I am, however, a little disappointed that Germany didn’t play any games in Volgagrad,  although I suppose that would have been a little tasteless.

As an Englishman, the most disappointing thing was England’s performance in the Semi Final. The way I look at it is that if you get that far, you go out and play the greatest game of your life, putting all your energy into the game on the principal that if you lose, you will at least go down swinging, and if you win, hell, you’re in the final, and you might not be fully recovered physically, but the adrenaline rush of being in the World Cup Final is enough to reanimate even the mouldiest of corpses. Alas, this never occurred to the English team, who apart from the free kick never looked like scoring. Raheem Sterling, Harry Kane and Dele Alli were noticeable by their absence, and it just stunned me that they didn’t seem to realise that this game actually mattered.  As with all the other games I made a very strong effort to avoid learning anything about the game, so at least my day wasn’t ruined until the end.

My plans for the final were to watch it at home mid morning, until a friend offered to host me, as he has television service. Works for me, I thought, as long as his other half doesn’t object. In the end, two other friends, also expats announced that they would host a party in their workspace and had bought at 52″ T.V. in honour of the event. They popped by work the day before to buy ham and cheese for Panini, I brought some strawberries, and set off early on Saturday morning to indulge in that most English of activities, morning drinking while watching football.

There were about 18 present all told, most of them locals who were there for the social rather than the football portion of the morning, but my Chelsea loving expat friend and I parked ourselves in prime viewing spots and enjoyed what was, all in all a pretty good game. Of course I was disappointed, but in no way surprised that France won, but I have to say that Croatia ran them close at times, dominating the opening 20 minutes and giving as good as they got. By the end of the game, suitably full of beer and food we stayed to watch the trophy presentation ceremony, and I have to admit that there may have been some coded messages involved.

Firstly, as Putin stood on the pitch awaiting the completion of the podium, he was accompanied by someone who I can only assume was a very expensive Russian prostitute. I don’t know why she was there, as the rain made sure that the pitch was well watered. Maybe she was being rewarded for a job well done. The large flags or Tifos on the pitch were a regular feature of every game, but I couldn’t help but wonder why they were being held by what appeared to be extras from a low budget 1980’s sci fi movie, nor why there was a line of female flight attendants standing behind the dignitaries. Of course, all this took a long time to set up, and was done purely for the cameras and the advertisers, no walking up the steps to receive the trophy as Bobby Moore did in 1966 and I did wonder why only Putin had an umbrella while the Croatian president, Johnny Baby and everyone else simply soaked. Talking of all things soaked, did you notice that when the confetti cannons were let off, they shot huge volumes of golden foil into the air? Hmm. A golden shower in Moscow. Nah, it couldn’t have been any kind of sly jab, could it? Admittedly, Putin did have a sly grin on his face, but then again, he usually does, so I don’t want to read too much into it.

So, not a bad way to spend a month. Plenty of football, not too many boring games, a lot of beer drunk whilst watching it and a fun morning to cap it all off. Now what do I do? I have to wait a full nine days for the start of the English Premier League season to begin, but at least that’s a damn sight less time than the 1,572 days 13 hours and 25 minutes until Qatar 2022. Assuming of course it even happens.

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The Story Of The Blues.

I wanted to wait a while for the fuss to die down and give myself the opportunity to develop some sort of perspective, so bear with me. About three weeks ago, I did something I haven’t done since I moved to the U.S. Write your own jokes. What I did was sit down and watch an entire football game that didn’t involve Liverpool.  The reason is that the question of who would be Premier League Champions could be answered by the result of the Chelsea – Tottenham Hotspur game.

It ended up in a 2-2 draw, so Leicester City were assured of victory before their final home game of the season against a pitifully weak Everton. The coverage involved shots of pubs etc. in Leicester where the game was being shown. Of course, the revelers exploded into raptures of delight when the second Chelsea goal hit the back of the net. I just wonder how many pregnancies Leicester saw that night and how many hangovers the day after. I will bet dollars to doughnuts that the city experienced it’s lowest industrial output of all time the day after the game. I will also lay money on the fact that in 40 weeks the city will see a slew of newborns called Riyad, Jamie, Shinzi and Claudio. In fact, I predict with great confidence that at least one child will bear the names of all 11 regular team members.

One thing that did make me laugh is the news that Captain Morgan rum is issuing a limited edition bottle featuring Leicester Captain Wes Morgan on the label dressed in blue pirate attire.

I won’t bore you with all the “Did you know?” trivia that has clogged the tubes of the interwebs over the season, as no doubt you have heard it all.  As you know, I am a Liverpool fan, but even so I was delighted at the result of the game, despite my antipathy towards Chelsea.  The thing is, I just couldn’t bear the tension. I just had to know where the trophy was going and wasn’t willing to wait.  Of course I watched Match of the Day that Saturday as I knew the highlights would show the presentation ceremony. This involved Andrea Bocelli ( a friend of manager Claudio Ranieri)  singing Nessun Dorma in front of a packed stadium. I will admit freely to choking up at the scene, such was the level of emotion involved.

Of course the media has piled in with analysis, with even The Economist looking for lessons. No doubt business leaders everywhere will be poring over the Leicester phenomenon for clues on leadership, success and leverage as they do with every event that makes a splash. I urge caution.

The fundamentals have not changed. I doubt if the Foxes will do as well next season but doubt they will finish in the bottom half, but both Blackburn Rovers and Nottingham Forest fell into obscurity after their unexpected Championships. The Premier League was set up with the express purpose of securing and improving the positions of  England’s richest six teams. Nothing else. Exceptions to the rule happen from time to time in all spheres of life, and this is just the most heartening one. The hegemony will not crumble as a result of this season. In fact I expect the so called top four to start next season with all guns blazing and pointed at Leicester.

I only hope that whoever wins next season will have a live musical performance before the presentation of the trophy. I hear Bjork is available.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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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.

http://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2016/apr/26/hillsborough-inquests-jury-says-96-victims-were-unlawfully-killed

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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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World Cup Willie

Hmm. Now I look at it, that title may give the impression that I suffer from some sort of embarrassing social disease. Well, to be honest, I do, as loving football is still looked upon as something vaguely unpleasant and not to be talked  about in polite company. As you know, I love football ( see “Football Crazy”) to a fault and like any true fan spent most of the second quarter of this year with bated breath in anticipation of the  extravaganza that is The World Cup. Just to turn it up to eleven, not only was this years’ Copa das Copas held in Brasil, but my dad was here for the first time in two years.

Four years ago I thought that South Africa would be the last World Cup my dad and I would watch together, so this year had a special  poignancy to it.  Logistics took the lead as I only have my desktop monitor to view the games and that makes for a less than ideal situation, so I was pleasantly surprised when my ex said that it was O.K. for us to watch some of the games at her house while she and the kids were at Disneyland. Seeing as she has a 60″ HD screen, I jumped at the chance.

For the first two weeks my dad and I looked at the schedule and decided where to watch the game depending on which teams were playing and the kick off times. Of course, we watched the first two England games on the big screen, all the better to watch our pathetic performances and well deserved defeats. Watching England is a soul destroying experience at best, and this was not best by any means. Mind you, the 5-1 thrashing Holland gave to Spain took some beating as a spectacular game.

For some reason, when talking about the U.S. team, he always calls them “You lot” as if my having lived here for 22 years somehow makes me no longer English, which I think is rather amusing.  I will admit to following the “Von Trapps” with a great deal of enthusiasm, but I’m still a proud and loyal Englishman, so the team that represents  the country of my children’s birth will never be more than second choice.

Of course, the highlights of the tournament were the Germany v. Brazil semi final which showed beyond any doubt just what an incredible game football is and made even more laughable (if that were possible) the eyewateringly high level of ignorance displayed by Ann Coulter in a recent article that did the rounds on  social media – Excuse me while I disinfect my keyboard – and Tim Howard’s amazing display against Belgium

However, the weirdest part of the whole tournament was the final. My dad was basically wherever the kids were, and Final day saw them with their mum. My sweetie and I were both invited to watch the final there and it was without doubt the weirdest experience of my life to watch a football game with my ex on one side of me and my sweetheart on the other. I have to say that my sweetie was very nervous about the whole situation, but displayed a level of aplomb and courtesy that just emphasised how much  our relationship means. There are not many women who would share a couch with their boyfriends’ ex for the sake of a football game.

The World Cup is always something of a Curate’s Egg, and while the bad parts are truly dreadful  –  yes, I’m looking at you, England – the good parts are to be relished and savoured like a fine single malt whisky shared with good friends. The best part of it is the male bonding. My dad and I get very little one on one time and the World Cup gave us the opportunity to spend true quality time together by staring at a screen and moaning as the team in white disappointed us once again, just as we’d expected.

And yes, I can’t wait for Russia 2018. Only a little over 1,400 days to go and I’m already looking for a suitable pen with which to fill in my wall chart.

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Football Crazy.

Editorial note: for “Football”, read “Soccer” if it makes it easier for  you.

I’ve been a fan of Liverpool Football Club for as long as I can remember, so it must be at least 44 years. In fact, I can’t remember ever NOT being a Liverpool fan. When living in the city, attending games was never a problem, and there was always “Match Of The Day ” on Saturday night to give access to the highlights of other games, and eventually, in the mid 80s’ live games on a Sunday afternoon, so I never felt deprived of footballing action. Moving to the U.S. in 1992 changed all that. Our first computer, a 486/66 at least gave me access to scores and game reports, but nothing else.

I dwelt in this netherland for a couple of years until Fox launched a highlights show fronted by Mario Machado, and pretty dismal watching it was too, as poor MM seemed to have no real understanding of the game, the laws or  the teams. Still, it was English football, and that’s all that counted. The expansion of cable, and then satellite gave greater access, and praise be, whole games, not just highlights, made all the easier to watch with the addition of a DVR to the home. The arrival of the kids made watching somewhat problematic due to the disappearance of all free time from the schedule as well as a permanent state of sleep deprivation  seen only in those individuals singled out for special treatment at Guantanamo Bay.  One bright note was the European Champions League final of  2005. It took me 3 days to watch the game,avoiding all potential news of the game, fitting it in around regular fatherly chores, and I still have the tape, but at least I saw all of the game, and the depression induced by the first half made for a pretty miserable day until I could find the time to watch the remainder.

When I moved to my first rental, I paid the extra $10 a month for a DVR and at long last, I could stretch out on the sofa with a beer or five and watch the games in all their  high definition 64″ flat screen glory. Oh happy day! Leave aside the frustration of lacklustre performances and defeats against “weaker” opposition, I was again watching full football games uninterrupted. In April of this year I moved again, and had already decided not to pay for cable, as the cost just doesn’t match the value I would derive from watching T.V. “The Daily Show” is available online.

A friend pointed me in the direction of a free website that shows football matches not just from England, but from all over the world. “Great”, thought I, but of course, there is always a catch. That catch is that the games are streamed live, with no ability to pause or rewind, transporting me back to the early 80s’ of I.T.V.s’ “The Big Match”, sans Brian Moore.

Just in case you missed it, the games are carried LIVE. This means that a 1:30pm kick off in England means a 5:30am kick off for me. Yeah. Now, I’ve never been one to slip out of a young ladies’ bed before either she or the sun was up, but this is what I found myself doing  one recent Saturday morning so that I could watch Liverpool take on their local rivals Everton in what is always a fiercely contested game – 20 players sent off in the last 20 years. At least my sweetie had the good grace to understand my need to see the game,  having gotten up with me the week previously when staying at my house to watch her first ever football match, for which I appreciate her greatly. Still,  I experienced a  mix of emotions as I dressed in the bathroom and then proceeded to make coffee and set up the laptop in anticipation of the game.

It’s not the easiest thing to watch such an emotionally charged game under such circumstances, especially if you are the kind of person who still yells “YESSSSS!” at the top of his lungs when your team gets a goal, or something less polite at a poor refereeing decision,   but somehow I managed to restrain myself and returned to bed 2 hours later slightly disappointed at a draw, but having seen a 6 goal game full of excitement, skill and passion. At least on that occasion I could return to welcoming arms and a bed kept warm. Not so this week. The need for silence remained, as the kids were with me, but knowing that once they awoke I’d have no opportunity to catch up on my lost sleep, I made the coffee just that little bit stronger. It’s a pity I only had coffee on hand, as a 3-1 defeat at the hands of Hull City needs something fermented or distilled to ease the pain.

Why the hell do I do this? Why the hell do I get out of bed at an ungodly hour on a weekend to subject myself to the possibility of said weekend being ruined before it’s even begun? Maybe there really is an element of masochism in being a football fan. Maybe I’m pining for my youth spent standing in the stadium with all the cameraderie, joking and sense of purpose that it entailed. Or maybe, my mother was right, and, as she used to say, that I haven’t got the sense I was born with.  Only the remaining 25 games of the season will tell.

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