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Saturday 8 September 2007

International Weekends? You Can Keep 'Em

We were debating whether we should be supporting England, or Israel, around the Friday night dinner table, after my Ma had mentioned that some of her mates were going to Wembley with Israeli flags. Being English, she thought they should be supporting England, but it so happens that I’d only just watched the movie “This Is England” a few days prior. Set in the 70s with a skinhead / National Front backdrop, the film was a stark reminder that if, heaven forfend, those right-wing lunatics ever prevailed, we Jews would probably be right behind the darker tribes, as targets for persecution.

However when it came to it, with no Arsenal players involved in England’s game, I struggled to muster much enthusiasm of any sort. In fact it might’ve been more fun to have witnessed the typically histrionic reaction to an England defeat, thereby perpetuating the Red Sea pedestrians’ optimistic dreams of qualification. Yet while I hate to admit to wishing harm on anyone, perhaps the happiest outcome, as far as I’m concerned, would’ve been one which saw the visitors knobbling a couple of vital cogs in our Premiership rivals squads.

Obviously, since I consider myself an Irishman by marriage (albeit without any bureaucratic bits of paper to prove it), I was bang up for the Boys in Green later that same evening, frightening the poor dog with my raucous reaction to Kevin Doyle’s corker. It was indeed, as stated on Sky TV’s coverage, “a goal good enough to win any game”. Although from such giddy heights of euphoria, it was that much further to fall when the Slovaks equalised in injury time. If I were a drinker I would’ve joined all the other Ireland fans, filling my pint glass with my lachrymose lamentations for the remainder of the night.

What’s more, while it might’ve been a plucky performance from the Slovaks, I can’t help but harbour some ill will towards them and the Neanderthal contingent amongst their support. To my mind the seal on the Slovak flag still retains some fascist connotations and although the infamous barbarism of the Hlinka Guard might’ve been consigned to history, (willingly collaborating with the Nazis’ Holocaust objectives), I’ve heard enough unsavoury, ani-semitic accounts to believe that the passing of time has left many modern day Slovaks little more enlightened than their forbears.

Perhaps Stan Staunton’s side were guilty of switching off in the dying throes of Saturday’s game, yet to my mind the Slovak’s equaliser might well have been a symptom of a more widespread disease amongst successful young players these days, that often appears to result in their under-achievement on the International stage. With rewards beyond their wildest dreams on offer at such a tender age, it’s perhaps not surprising that some of them begin to believe in their own publicity, certain they only have to turn up for their ability to win out, against some of the less gifted individuals amongst European football’s lesser lights. However the gap between the major and minor footballing nations continues to diminish and the “haves” are all the more easily embarrassed by the hell or high water hunger of the “have nots”.

Considering the scarcity of genuine star-quality in the current Irish squad, the TV pictures portrayed an encouraging performance overall, aside from the spell of Slovak pressure prior to their first goal and the utterly demoralising aberration at the end. Nevertheless there were instances both in Bratislava and elsewhere on Saturday, where supremely well rewarded professionals were perhaps guilty of a momentary lack of the sort of intensity that’s to be expected for the entire 90, from a player swollen with pride at having been picked to play for his country and with the hopes of a whole nation resting on his shoulders.

If they’d demonstrated the dogged determination of a player still with plenty to prove, perhaps we would’ve witnessed Douglas tracking back to thwart the Slovak striker, or O’Shea hurling his sizeable frame forward, to get any sort of block on the ball, instead of feebly turning his back. I’m not pointing the finger of blame, I’m merely questioning whether there’s a complacent mindset amongst many modern-day stars, which makes for far less passionate International performances and is perhaps a contributing factor in my own sang-froid.

Then again it wouldn’t be the Boys in Green if they went about their four-point objective the easy way. We can but pray that everybody’s blood is pumping for all the right reasons in Prague on Wednesday!

Meanwhile if it wasn’t for my interest in Ireland’s efforts to qualify for Euro 2008, knowing how much it would mean to the country and that the competition itself would benefit from the invasion of the genial Green Army, this International week would be little more than a stressful wait, to see which of our multi-national contingent returns fit for Saturday’s far more important Derby.

Hopefully the goals scored by Eduardo and Rosicky will do their confidence no harm (so long as Tommy saves any further significant strikes for the weekend, rather than Wednesday!). Yet if the interruption to the Arsenal’s season wasn’t inconvenient enough, I have to suffer waking on a Sunday with nothing but Wycombe v Brentford to watch on the box. Additionally, if there’s been a bit of a lull in the PC climate of the recent past, we’ve witnessed increasingly frequent occurrences of a disturbing trend of late, where the far-right numbskulls have been hijacking the International terraces, as an insidious promotional vehicle for their vapid, but highly offensive racist and xenophobic bunkum.

I for one will be greatly relieved to be done with the interminable and mind-numbingly boring media debate over Mclaren’s team selection. Although it’s amusing to hear pundits singing the praises of the young bloods, when the hapless England manager originally planned on digging up the dinosaurs from yesteryear, in Campbell, James and Heskey, to save his bacon.

It’s likely to be a long week waiting for our trip down the wrong end of the Seven Sisters Rd on Saturday. Sadly Gilberto will have a lot further to travel, after Brazil meet Mexico in a pointless friendly in Foxboro, USA in the wee hours of Thursday morning. Hopefully Arsène’s planning on contradicting his “one day rest for every hour of time difference” principle, to avail ourselves of the reassuring presence of the Brazilian captain.

As for the team Wenger puts out against Tottenham, perhaps the crucial question is who we’d prefer to see trotting out in the keeper’s jersey. Almunia might have never let us down, but neither he, nor Jens commands the sort of respect required to radiate an unruffled aura of calm, out from behind our defence. Not since Spunky have we been blessed with the sort of dominant presence between the sticks, who’s capable of preventing us from defending like panic-stricken rabbits, caught in the glare of the opposing strikers headlights. Craig Gordon will appear cheap at twice his inflated price, if his efforts keep Roy Keane’s Sund-Ireland in the Premiership. Instead of paying peanuts for relative goal-minding monkeys, I would’ve loved to have seen us break the bank for the best available keeper.

Then again, Spurs own jittery keeper has hardly been inspiring them with confidence of late and I’m certainly not complaining, after having secured THE single most significant signing this week, with the knowledge that Wenger intends to continue walking on water at the Arsenal for another 3 years. I don’t think it was a coincidence that le Gaffer’s signature was timed to offer his returning players the reassuring boost of retaining their much-revered boss (not that Arsène was planning on going anywhere else!). Maintaining an air of stability within the camp is perhaps all the more vital, with all the off-pitch intrigue surrounding the Gunner’s future at present.

It seems our new Uzbek investor’s legal muscle has managed to bully the web server of the former Uzbekistan Ambassador, into removing the allegations about his iniquitous criminal activities from the internet. But not before all interested parties had discovered the dubious credentials of David Dein’s latest bedfellow.

As my old man was fond of saying “you lie down with dogs, you get up with fleas” and I wouldn’t be at all surprised if Stan Kroenke has decided he’s backed the wrong horse in our ex-vice chairman. Dein’s desperation to recapture his Arsenal throne is perhaps reflected in his injudicious choice of new partners and if the board should come to the conclusion that they lack the financial clout to stave off an indefinite succession of billionaire predators, it could be that Stan will be seen as the lesser of the likely evils – after courting Kroenke and now partnering up with his Uzbek pal, if an impatient Dein doesn’t get his way, surely any subsequent conquest will involve doing a deal with the devil himself?

In the meantime we might see an about face from the board, with our snobby suits not being nearly so snotty towards self-made Stan and his millions, in the hope he’d be able to provide them with the muscle to at least maintain some semblance of control. Doubtless they’ll be more receptive to having their directors box invaded by ‘new money’, rather than ‘dirty money’ along with the prospect of doing boardroom business with someone who has the sort of depraved morals that make Abramovich seem a righteous rabbi by comparison.

You couldn’t possibly make it up and if by any chance we should get bored with the Wengerball taking place on the pitch, unlike Spurs, we have no need of Eastenders to amuse ourselves, with this soap opera of our very own. that’s set to run and run! By coincidence this weekend’s Derby marks the start of the jewish New Year. Here’s hoping that we’re left savouring the traditional apple & honey, with its promise of a sweet season, while they have to suffer the habitual taste of bitter herbs!


Anonymous said...

I am an avid reader of your blog and am surprised and slightly disenchanted that you choose to use that film in this context. I took it to be a snidey swipe at the mentality of English people and personally would consider that the film depicts a view shared only by a few small minded morons and bigots. Please don't perpetuate the notion that all white, English are neanderthal 'litlle englanders' and then expect us to listen when anyone else bemoans racial stereotypes. I am an Arsenal fan who travels the globe to watch my beloved team and have done for 25 years. I will continue to do so with black, asian, jewish etc freinds and pay a lot of money to watch a multitude of different races and nationalities play for my team.

Anonymous said...

I'd have to agree with Steve's comments about the film and your reaction to it. As you note yourself that you are Jewish, I don't need to ask if you have any idea how awful sterotypes can be. Sloppy work, very sloppy.

As for international football, As someone who supports England I have to say that I find them totally unwatchable at the moment. It's awful grim football. I just can't sit through it for 90 mins.

It would do England a lot of good to lose badly at the moment. Besides the entertainment factor of watching the tabloids and the meatheads that believe them self-implode, it might actually bring things home to people at last that England actually isn't that good and that if they want to ever improve then things are going to have to change.

Bern said...

I'm always delighted to receive comments on my pieces, as it is most gratifying to know that my humble efforts are being read (and hopefully enjoyed). However the one drawback is that when I feel the need to respond (as I do in this case), I always feel as if I am doing so in vein, as I am uncertain if the person (steve and robm) will ever get to read my response

As a result I was thinking of replying in a separate post, but since this is primarily a football related blog, I felt it was unfair to bore those who click from the Newsnow link, looking for Arsenal related material

I am not really sure what to apologise for but I'm happy to do so. Perhaps I should apologise for straying onto a political subject (and it seems a hot potato at that), on a football related blog. Although one of the reasons I've ended up posting my missives to this blog is so that I'm able to freely vent my opinions, without fear of shoving my thoughts down anyone's throat, uninvited. I originally started writing my long-winded rants on the Arsenal Mailing List many years back, but then coincidentally, right about this time of year, I posted an e-mail to the list, where I was whinging about the fact that I was forced to miss a match because I was obliged to spend the evening at my aunt's house, to see out the fast after Yom Kippur with the traditional nosh up.

I assumed that some folk might find my tale amusing, as I recounted how we (me and my uncle) kept disappearing into the living room in order to keep abreast of the score.

However someone posted a reply to the mailing list, in which they stated that they didn't want to hear about all this jewish stuff, on an Arsenal mailing list. I am not an over-sensitive person, but I detected anti-semitic undertones to this response and so I decided that in future I would no longer post my War & Peace like ponderings to the mailing list, but sent out a mail advising everyone that I would forward my missives to them, only if they wanted it. So I gathered together a collection of a couple of hundred e-mail addresses and I’ve been mailing my weekly pieces out to them ever since.

So many people on the mailing list thought I was over-reacting that I began to wonder myself if perhaps I’d misinterpreted the situation and I would have gone on wondering if I’d made a mistake, if it wasn’t for the mail that was forwarded to me from another listee, in order to confirm my suspicions. This person had gone to the trouble of sending an e-mail to the chap who’d made the original comment about my post, to suggest that perhaps he should apologise for upsetting me, in order to convince me to begin posting to the mailing list again and dismissing the suggestion, the geezer signed off his reply with the remark “Gas ‘em all”

Aside from the fact that I was left thinking that there was no way I was going to slave away at the keyboard, knowing that there was a possibility my efforts might be enjoyed by his sort (although I guess that’s what I’m doing with the blog), I also didn’t like the idea that my efforts were arriving via the mailing list, unsolicited, which meant that folk were entitled to complain if there wasn’t sufficient Arsenal content. Whereas by mailing it out to those who requested it, or by putting it up on the blog, I no longer have to fret about wasting folks bandwidth, or filling their in-box and I am therefore free to write about whatever takes my fancy without concerning myself with complaints, as people are free to read or ignore as they so choose.

However that definitely doesn’t mean that I don’t want anyone to disagree. To the contrary, absolutely my only qualms about people wanting to argue the toss is that I find the idea that they are unlikely to see my response, very frustrating (like everyone, I want to at least try and get the last word in ϑ. As I’ve said, I welcome comments of any sort and just wish there was a better way of enabling a proper discussion

Meanwhile, I definitely didn't intend to have a pop at English people in general, after all, I am English, my parents are English etc etc. Nor was it my intention to perpetuate any stereotype. However it just so happened that I watched that movie (This Is England) just the other day - good movie BTW and this meant that it was in my mind.

I also don't think there can be any dispute that there is a large faction of people in this country with that Little Englander mentality. Thankfully it's not quite so common these days but there's still plenty of racism on the terraces. There's a bloke sitting a couple of rows directly behind us at the new stadium who is in the habit of coming out with offensive comments.

They might be water off a duck's back to me (as I wouldn't go to footie if I got upset everytime I heard someone say "Yid scum"), but my Irish missus certainly won't abide them and has felt the need to answer back on more than one occasion with a "less of the racism, please" remark

So while we might not be living in the 70s, the past few decades of political correctness does not mean that all the bigots have simply evaporated. Sure there are plenty of people who have learned to become more tolerant, living in our multi-cultural society. Yet there are also many others who continue to retain their racist views, but who are simply aware that it is no longer acceptable to express them in public.

Moreover, after a period of relative propserity, there is every chance we are going to see a cyclical dowturn in the economy. Along with the massive migration into Britain, both from Eastern Europe and from countries outside the EEC and the way the media has contributed towards influencing those who don't possess their own powers of reasoning, into thinking that every unshaven Muslim is a potential Al-Quaida terrorist, personally I have this feeling that we are moving towards a social climate in this country that will be ripe for the right-wing to flourish.

We have already seen it in certain circumstances, where the BNP have managed to win council seats in various local elections and I've experience it first hand, working as I do, for the English National Ballet, where one of the dancers was recently outed in the press as a BNP member (even though she has a baby by her decidedly non-white partner!)

Although it's not so common in public, I am fairly certain that there are many people who think to themselves in private that this country would be better off if all our cities and towns were not innundated with immigrants.

Although the jews would not be the most obvious targets for these bigots' disapprobation (no doubt only because we are not quite so identifiably by our colour), I know full well that when it came down to it, folks with this sort of mentality would not consider me to be English but jewish. Despite the fact that judaism is a faith not a race and that I am by no means religious - in fact I despise certain aspects of religion in general and judaism in particular as a result of my own personal experiences. Although I appreciate that faith is important to many people and I often think they are fortunate to have such conviction, I honestly believe that in general, religion is a force for divisiveness and is the cause/excuse for much of the world's strife (and this from someone who has an incredbly religious heritage, where my grandfather was the 28th generation of rabbis in the Azulay family - do a Google for "Chida Azulai" if of interest).

Myself and a black guy I work with at the ballet were only discussing the other day that in some respects we preferred it back in the 70s when (to coin a phrase) "you could call a spade, a spade", as at least back then you knew where you stood with regard to racists as there was no effort made to hide their point of view. Whereas nowadays the vast majority of people will go out of their way to avoid, or deny being racist, for fear of disapproval.

And thus where in the past one might have been able to have nothing to do with someone whose viewpoints one didn't agree with, these days you can find yourself breaking bread with a person on a regular basis, until one day when they've had a few too many and begin to reveal their true self and you suddenly realise the abhorrent side to their nature. In some respects, I much preferred it when I knew where I stood with people.

I've experienced this on the terraces, when I've found myself hugging the stranger beside me at an away game and I've felt a little ashamed when I've subsequently heard them mutter some racist comment.

Obviously I don't mean to tar everyone with the same brush, but in truth, footie is perhaps the prime example of the fact that everything is not quite so rosy in our multi-cultural garden, as many would have us believe. I notice it regularly, but then perhaps that's just me? However you only have to look at the make-up of the crowd at most footie games to appreciate my argument.

It so happens that the Arsenal is one of the most mixed crowds in the country and even then, there aren't that many non-white faces in the stadium. However if you scan the crowd at places like Everton. Blackburn. Boro (Bolton even - as they appear to have made quite a concerted effort to attract an Asian following), it is fairly rare to see a single non-white face in the crowd. If you don't believe me, take a look next time you are watching Match Of The Day (as I often do) and you will often find that you cannot spot a single black face in an entire terrace and even at those clubs located in close proximity to massive Asian communities, you will only see a scant number in the crowd.

In fact I often wonder if there might be more black people on the pitch than there are in a 30k crowd! But then I can understand it, as despite the fact that overt acts of racism on the terraces have diminished massively (in this country!), I would certainly think twice about taking a kid to an Arsenal game because of the prospect of him hearing anti-semitic comments and similarly I am not sure how I would react if I was a black guy taking my child to a game and the bloke a couple of rows behind me hollered out "you black c***"!

Now I know full well that much of the racism heard on the footie terraces nowadays does not actually have any racist intent (or at least I like to believe this is true), as, for example, I am convinced that the vast majority of Gooners using the word yid are not being anti-semitic and I am sure there will be those who are in the disgusting habit of insulting black players, who firmly believe that they are not being racist (naturally with the exception of all those who phoned to complain about Trever McDonut's "white bastard" reference on the box)

Nevertheless I am of the opinion that we are all of us intrinsically racist to a greater or lesser extent, as a result of cultural, parental and media influences as children. Sadly, we all grow up hearing, or overhearing comments that tend to stereotype one race or another and to my mind it is downright impossible for such incidents (at such an influential age) to occur without leaving an indelible imprint on ones psyche

Mercifully most of us are able to form our own opinions as we grow up, from our own personal experiences and so for example, we come to appreciate that not every scally Scouser is out to nick one's car stereo and not all us “front wheel skids” are overly fond of a shekel. Nevertheless I’m fairly certain that even the most right-on people on the planet are deluding themselves when they say they are not racist. They might not act racist and might not display any racist traits, but we are all of us influenced to some degree by the stereotyping that goes on around us all the time and to my mind anyone who says otherwise is either a liar, or a fool.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for a thoughtful reply. I enjoy your blog and it's on my list of places I read when I'm in the mood for some Arsenal news for the future.

I won't pick over your reply item by item as that isn't what it's all about. I've had similar conversations with fans of other clubs about the atmosphere at matches, the guy who cuts my hair is a ManU fan, as it happens, and we were talking about the violence creeping back in here and there just today as he was butchering my locks.

This part of your reply resonated with me in particular:
"Myself and a black guy I work with at the ballet were only discussing the other day that in some respects we preferred it back in the 70s when (to coin a phrase) "you could call a spade, a spade", as at least back then you knew where you stood with regard to racists as there was no effort made to hide their point of view."

-- Very true. What's the saying? "A honest villan is a cut above one who smiles and smiles"

Here's hoping for 3 points later, I'm off to listen to the ManU - Everton game!