Confessions of an Ageing Football Player: I will be that Bolshevik!

You’re not going to believe this, but it’s true (enough). Me and the lads were out on the park tonight cheering and jeering each other as usual on a Monday night when what do you know but a postman rides up to us on his pre Second World War rickety rackety bike, rummages around in his sack and extracts what looks like a flea-bitten telegram. He looks around us all and our collection of muddy knees, torn shirts and scuffed boots and eventually his quizzical gaze focuses on me.

“It’s for you?” He’s adopted that annoying upturn of vocal intonation so beloved of soap stars from the Antipodes and I nod and reach out for his missive. I rapidly tear it open, wanting to get on with our park kick about but on reading its contents, slump to the ground in disbelief.

You OK.” states the postie, and I nod, partially dazed, semi confused and totally irritated by his inability to know the difference between asking question and making observations. More significantly,  it transpires that our national football team has, on its build up to this year’s World Cup, had to remove several of its lower ranked footballers from its squad due to some mysterious case of food poisoning they have mysteriously picked up from some mysterious source.

The management have been forced right at the last-minute to survey the stats of some our nation’s more modest talent from the league tables that yours truly fills in diligently every week in my capacity as team secretary and have concluded that the best player in our league – as defined by goals, assists, back passes and good intentions – is yours truly. I have consequently been called up to join the national squad to play for our beloved country in what is, let’s face it, the pinnacle of all sporting achievement. Ever.

There’s little time to hang around. My flight tickets are waiting for me at the airport; my bags have been packed by the team’s coach who has had to spend yet more time in the poisoned atmosphere that is the modern jet liner fuselage to collect me and my old socks and my diet from now on will be severely restricted to no less than 15,000 calories a day. It’s going to be difficult to be jettisoned into the stellar attention of international football stardom but I’m as ready for it as I always have been.

I have waited all my life for this moment: it won’t hurt my team to wait that little bit longer for me to arrive and collect what is rightfully mine: the lifting of the Jules Verne trophy on Saturday 15 July in Moscow.

Poetry on the Hoof: Hashtag Poems

In an age of shortening fuses, tempers, and attention spans not many of us have enough time or inclination to read much beyond the first few syllables of a poem, novel or academic treatise. See, I’ve lost you already.

The hashtag poem series acknowledges this poor state of affairs and instead of plying you with complicated verse structures or deep and meaningless syntax, offers you words or phrases which conjure up possibilities and useful generalities. The hashtag allows the reader to get the gist of something without having to work too hard to really get it. It also benefits the writer by allowing them not to have to work too hard at communicating something in a uniquely idiosyncratic way – so everyone’s a #winner.

Here’s a poem I stumbled into earlier. It’s about… well, it’s about whatever you want it to be about. That’s the beauty of the #poem. It’s called: #Backtowork

#Summer-haze
#Holiday-daze
#Where’sthepoolgone?
#Backontrack
#Yawn.

Confessions of an Ageing Football Player: Into the Heart of Darkness.

When I was ten I scored my first goal ever in a school football match. I was standing somewhere on the pitch facing in the right kind of direction peering into the mist which hovered over the mud and slowly, out of the king fisher blue of the sky looped this large leather ball towards me. I could see the panel stitching as if I was looking at it through a microscope – not the usual telescope I needed when it came to trying to navigate my way around the football pitch of life.

I stepped slowly towards it, stuck out my foot slowly and saw the ball ricochet off it slowly and sail back even more slowly from whence it came and through the space defined by the silhouetted goal posts and into the flaming autumnal sunset. I had scored a goal I found out later by a ‘half volley’.

All hell broke loose. I screamed, turned and ran down the opposite end of the pitch, my arms flailing in every direction. My team mates chased after me, screaming. The opposition looked on aghast at the unlikely spectacle of the boy who normally spent most of his football life engraving his name in the muddy pitch with his outsize boots celebrating scoring a goal. The whistle from the referee’s lips dropped into the mud. Even the sound of Amazonian drums could be heard in the distance, battling through the inertia of suburbia.

This was unbelievable, incredible, completely implausible as far as they were all concerned and the opposition’s captain, Johnson, showed then how to react the next time I got close to kicking the ball: ‘Get him, he’s dangerous!’ he yelled and to a boy they swooped down, ruthlessly depriving me of my next moment of glory by decking me, stealing the ball and running down the other end of the pitch in a frenzied horde to hammer the point home that they were the far superior side by scoring ten easy goals in the final five minutes of the game. We lost 15-1 that afternoon, and I knew how those guys felt last night when they were trounced by their opposition.

But that moment taught me all I needed to know about my future footballing destiny. I would be a permanent surprise to the opposition; they would constantly underestimate me; I would strike at the least likely moment in a manner which would leave everyone rooted to the ground, mouths fixed open in scarecrow gasps. I would be the guerilla in their midst.

Confessions of an Ageing Footballer: Russia 2,018: My Team 2,019

73 – nil! Those were the days: moments of glory on the school playing field on a foggy Wednesday afternoon when the final whistle went and your school mates would gather around you, beaming their small faces at you from every conceivable direction as they congratulated you fulsomely on the 23 hat tricks you have just completed in your team’s undeniable slaughter of the opposition.

The juniors from Mrs. Myrtle’s class were never going to stand up to the superior fire power of Mr. Thompsons 4th years and your part in their downfall was heralded as the natural climax of a long and muddy school football season.

In those days, England had won the World Cup for the first (and only?) time and the nation rejoiced rejoiced rejoiced. We became our football heroes overnight and in the course of that fateful autumn season when I moved primary schools seven times, I was able to become Roger Hunt, Nobby Stiles, Bobby Moore, Martin Peters, George Cohen, George Best and Jimmy Greaves in six short months -playing footie with mates in a school classroom, at the park, in the garage, in a potato field, down an anonymous dirt track, in the kitchen and even once on a proper football field.

We all became our own heroes overnight and never looked back, plotting our own way to football fame and fortune ever since. We have of course all gone our different ways: Roger disappeared into medical supplies, George Best into pub management and Jeff Hurst into the funerals business: but me, I stayed lean and mean, waiting for the next major football opportunity. World Cups have come and gone but I feel it in my bones: Russia 2018 may just be the one where I make my mark and relive the joy of 23 hat tricks against the juniors.

Neymar, Messi, Oxlade Chamberlain: you have all been warned. This year is my year.

Rust, dust and lust: a cautionary tale of resilience.

Once upon a time there was a castle which was crumbling from the foundations upwards. The white ants had been busy over the years and whilst the facade looked stable, the foundations had powdered to ashes and the ashes had powdered to dust and the dust had blown away in the cruel winds of fortune.  One day, with the townsfolk looking on and attending a gigantic carnival in the middle of the splendiferous grounds, the castle, once so proud and austere, so demanding of its audiences and towns folk, decided to call it a day and crumbled away to very little in the space of a couple of shocking seconds.

Gasps wouldn’t do justice to the sounds the townsfolk made when they saw their castle disappear in front of their eyes.  Something that had appeared so steady and so reliable had been shaken to nothing in the blink of several thousands’ peoples’ eyes.

To be continued…

Give Us This Day: a Toast to GB Cafe, Nottingham

GB in name, Great Breakfasts and more besides in nature.

The concept of Great Britain or GB in these Brexit fuelled times can be a particularly contentious one for many people, opening up as it does questions of nationality, culture and identity. There’s nothing quite like debates about food and who eats what and why and when. What we don’t eat exercises us as much as what we do.

The beauty of the GB cafe in Sneinton Market is its tolerance for a wide selection of tastes. It has a diverse offer of meals at some very satisfying prices and in an atmosphere which is warm and welcoming, if not a little heavy on the GB theme. Big pictures of London are all very well in London, but in Nottingham it would be great to see something a bit more of a Nottingham focus – which isn’t about Robin Hood.

But it’s a real find down in the up and coming Sneinton Market area and something to visit at any time of day.

Lords, Ladies, Gentlemen and Members of the Jury, please raise a toast to GB Cafe in Nottingham.

Give Us This Day Our Daily Toast: read all about toasting here

Poetry on the Hoof: Soz.

I’m sorry, I’m sorry,
I’m very, very sorry,
For the delays, the disruption, the chaos, we’ve brought
To your daily routine.

We’re sorry the tram stopped running,
We’re sorry the bus driver forgot to turn up for work,
We’re sorry the road’s been dug up over night,
We’re all sorry, sorry, very very sorry.

Sorry your tickets out of date,
Sorry your life style made you late,
Sorry you look the way you do,
Sorry your dog demanded a poo
On the high street before your very eyes,
Sorry you forgot to clean it up,
Sorry you have to listen to this.
It’s nothing to do with us, sorry.

Sorry for having to apologise.
Sorry we’ve got to listen to this.
Sorry for being sorry.
We apologise. We really do. Soz.

Tips for Travellers: Epoca Restaurant, Craiova, Romania

If you’re staying locally in a hotel which will remain un-named at the moment, you will soon get fed up with their potential promises of restaurant food and head off to an actual restaurant which actually serves real, high quality dinner where the promise of potential is not only reached but surpassed.

This is a superlative dining experience, made even better by the waiter’s introduction of their home made Țuică (Romanian Rakia) – a pure pleasure.

A colleague and I braved the wintry conditions (minus 15 degrees and a biting wind) to find Epoca and we didn’t regret it for one minute. The only regret was the thought of returning to the un-named hotel which promised so much potential but delivered so little on the actuality front.

Tips for Travellers: Hotel Plaza and Restaurant, Craiova, Romania

.. as it hides a myriad of sins. The Hotel Restaurant Plaza has an impressive front and beneficial location. It has a hard working staff and a large spacious restaurant in which you might imagine all kinds of wonderful meals would be served up. Its bedrooms are warm; its shower-rooms come equipped with everything you think you might need for a comfortable stay. “It has potential!” as an estate agent might say when they show you a dilapidated town house whose ceiling is falling in and whose water pipes refuse to stop clanging when you turn the water off.

However, the Hotel Plaza’s reality has a long way to go before it meets its potential.

True, its front is impressive: but it is just that, front and nothing behind it. Seriously, hardly anything. True, its staff are very hardworking: they have to be as there only ever seem to be two of them on duty and they’re rushed off their feet most of the time, tending to several different duties all at once.

Breakfast is a variable experience and a bit of a lottery: one morning there’s a bit of cooked food which is over an hour old and no-one to serve anything else; the next morning the breakfast is much busier and staff who are only too happy to help and get you anything you need.

On the last night of my stay, our work group saw one poor member of staff taking food orders, drink orders, rushing in and out of the kitchen, back to the reception, back to the bar, and probably all points in between trying to find a cork screw. She found one eventually but it took a while. As did my meal, which, by the time it had arrived, was over cooked yet cold and consequently inedible.

True, the shower-room is decently equipped: but it takes for ever to get a decent running shower, by which time this traveller had to give up as he had a schedule to meet and hanging around for the shower to make up its mind and fulfil its potential was no longer an option.

Potentially, this hotel could be a real asset to the city of Craiova but with one member of staff openly admitting that she had no idea why people would visit the City, let alone the hotel, there’s a long way to go before the hotel can consider itself on the assets side of the cultural balance sheet.

The hotel management need to take a long hard look at how to invest in their staff and premises: otherwise that impressive front will soon falter as other more attuned hotels offer what customers actually need, not the promise of its potential at some time in the future.