Socrates and the Corinthian democracy

With his beard, unkempt hair and stern look, there is an aura of a revolutionary about Sócrates. In some ways he was the footballing equivalent of Che Guevara, with his political opinions backed by his activism.
To add weight to his mystique, Sócrates was one of the most elegant and gifted players to wear the yellow shirt of Brazil. He was also part of the 1982 and 1986 World Cup squads that played some of the most beautiful football ever seen at a major finals. With the likes of Falcão and Zico, it was a talented team that tore apart the opposition and scored spectacular goals like Sócrates’ equaliser against the Soviet Union. All that seemed to matter to that Brazil teams of 1982 and ‘86 was the joy that they brought to people. They were Garrincha, just a few years later.
Many Brazilians have fond memories of ‘The Doctor’, as he was nicknamed due to qualifying in medicine. Rumour had it that Socrates studied at University College Dublin but sadly was confirmed as an urban myth. He was seen as a leader of the people, who was kind and brought happiness with his football. Politics was also a passion of Sócrates, who had his eyes turned to the social injustices in his country.
Brazil during the 1960s and ’70s was a country ruled by a military junta following the 1964 Brazilian coup d’état, and culminated in the overthrow of the democratic João Goulart government. The previous regime was deemed to be a “socialist threat” by the military and the right-wing, who opposed policies such as the basic reform plan which was aimed at socialising the profits of large companies towards ensuring a better quality of life for Brazilians.
With the support of the US government, Goulart was usurped with Humberto de Alencar Castelo Branco sworn in as the president. Initially the aim of the junta was to keep hold of power until 1967, when Goulart’s term would expire, but ultimately felt that they had to keep control to contain the “dissenters” within the country.
Protests against the junta were brutally put down with dissenters killed, tortured or having to flee the country. Repression and elimination of any political opposition of the state became the policy of the government. The current Brazil president Dilma Rousseff was one of those who was imprisoned and tortured on the instructions of this totalitarian regime.
The organisation and structure of football clubs were very much regimented, too – with little or no freedom to manoeuvre – which was in tune with the junta government. Players were expected to obey orders and were closely supervised; whether it was being told when they could eat or drink, or to having to be holed up in training camps days before matches.
Initially, Sócrates along with his team-mates went along with this structure. However, he felt suffocated – famously a man of peace and freedom – and with the dictatorship strangling the life out of democracy in Brazil, believed that it was a time for change.
Naturally, it was not something that Sócrates or his team-mates could openly discuss. Instead it had to be done subversively, behind the scenes and through the power of words. Many high-profile athletes in Brazil at the time were politically aware and felt that it was their duty to try to use sport to re-democratise Brazil and end the regime.
An agreement was reached with the new club president Waldemar Pires in the early-1980s which allowed Sócrates and his team-mates to have full control of the team and to establish a democratic running of the club. During a meeting in which everyone got an opportunity to speak freely, it was agreed that every decision would be decided by the collective. This would be when the squad would train, eat or, as Waldemar expressed in a documentary about the Corinthians team, “when they would stop on the coach for a toilet break”.
What made the Corinthians democracy even more unique was that voting wasn’t restricted to the playing and coaching staff; it was a model that involved everyone within the club. Whether it was the players, masseurs, coaches or cleaners, everybody had a say. In short it was ‘one person, one vote’ with everyone backing the majority verdict.
After agreeing the new structure it was first put to the test when Corinthians went on tour in Japan. Walter Gasagrande, who was 19 at the time, was heavily in love and wanted to fly back home to his girlfriend. A vote was called for with people speaking for and against Gasagrande being able to return to Brazil. It was decided that he would have to stay – and Gasagrande respected the decision.
Nothing was off-limits at discussions with it being agreed that a psychiatrist was to be hired in order to help the team. Sócrates and his colleagues had an open mind and invited people who interested them outside of football. Prominent artists, singers, and filmmakers were invited to speak on various topics.
Corinthians slowly embodied the dream of the ordinary Brazilian in removing the dictatorship, to be replaced with universal suffrage. This was markedly expressed on the back of the club shirt which had ‘Corinthians Democracy’ printed with splashes of mock red blood similar to the Coca-Cola logo.
It was a move that upset the prominent right-wing, many of whom had branded the Corinthians’ Democracy movement as “anarchists” and “bearded communists”. However, with football coming to represent the very essence of Brazil even the junta government knew that they had to tread carefully. Nonetheless, the government still warned them about interfering in politics.
Indeed, they had used the success of the 1970 World Cup for their own devices, so much so that Sócrates stated: “Our players of the 1960s and 1970s were romantic with the ball at their feet, but away from the field absolutely silent. Imagine if at the time of the political coup in Brazil a single player like Pele had spoken out against all the excesses.”
Sócrates and his team-mates were prepared to bring in a silent revolution by using football to speak out against the military junta. The first multiparty elections since 1964 were set for the May provincial elections in 1982. Despite this, the majority of Brazilians were scared of voting. Some didn’t even know whether the army would allow them to vote, while others thought it safer not to vote at all.
With the May provincial elections set for the 15, the Corinthians team decided to up the ante and to chip away at the dictatorship. They agreed that they would have ‘on the 15th, vote’ on the back of their shirts to encourage people to head to the polls.
It was a quiet voice of dissent but as a smiling Sócrates advises in an interview years later, the military junta could hardly object as the team was not backing any particular party, merely encouraging people to vote.
Corinthians’ mood was quickly picked up by Brazilians, with the military government taking a battering in the provincial elections. It now appeared that the regime was losing its grip on power. Sócrates later said: “[It was the] greatest team I ever played in because it was more than sport. My political victories are more important than my victories as a professional player. A match finishes in 90 minutes, but life goes on.”
With the thirst for democracy at its peak, Corinthians now pushed for presidential elections. The team now took to the field with ‘win or lose, always with democracy’ emblazoned on their jersey this time. It was a mood that was quickly engulfing the ordinary Brazilian, who sensed that they could push for democracy.
During this period the Timão won the 1982 and 1983 São Paulo Championship. Unsurprisingly, considering his talent, Sócrates was highly sought after by top European clubs. In 1984, he proclaimed at a large rally that if congress passed through the amendment for free presidential elections then he would stay in Brazil. A huge cheer went up but sadly the amendment fell and Sócrates moved to Fiorentina.
Brazilians, in the words of Sócrates, were beginning to realise that political change was possible. It was something that the military government couldn’t stop, and so it was in 1985 that they were defeated in the presidential elections. Finally, Corinthians had achieved their objective of returning democracy back to Brazil.
It was a dream that Sócrates and the club were proud of bringing to the fore. By using football, they had managed to get their message across and helped bring about the change that people wanted. In many ways, it is quite fitting that since football is in the bloodline of Brazil, it was the Sócrates and the Corinthians Democracy that was part of the movement that helped rid the nation of the military government.
A first class player and man, there are few footballers with the same skill and integrity of the great Doctor Sócrates. It is why, after passing away in 2011, that he was revered with a fitting tribute by Corinthians players and supporters who held their fist out in memory of their legendary brother.

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Theresa May – Another omnishambles

Sometimes art really does imitate life.  Watching Theresa May literally choke on stage as the words of ‘building a country that works for everyone,’ fall apart you did at one point wonder if this was an episode of ‘the thick of it,’ starring Theresa May as Nicola Murray.

Everything about Theresa May since the ill-fated general election has been a omnishambles.  From her poor interviews and interactions with the public that had to be stage-managed purely for damage limitation.  It didn’t help that May kept parroting slogans in the hope of hypnotizing the public but just led to her being mocked when she was far from ‘strong and stable.’

Yesterday in Manchester was meant to be a ‘re-branding.’  of Theresa May taking responsibility for the mess of an election but being more stronger and listening to the electorate’s needs.  Indeed policies such as the energy price cap look putting politely very similar to Ed Miliband’s  2015 Labour manifesto.

Instead it literally fell apart metaphorically and physically.  Right at the start it didn’t bode well when a comedian broke forward to hand Theresa May a P45 before being bundled out.  There was brief bit of composure as she cracked a joke about it being Corbyn who ought to be given his P45 before her voice decided to give up on her.

A small cough quickly made Theresa May sound like the Fast show’s Bob Fleming as she resorted to making another lame joke at the Chancellor Phillip Hammond’s expense.  Even the sip of water in an attempt to kill the cough didn’t work as Theresa May started to choke.

It didn’t get any better as Theresa May seemed to be openly drowning on stage.  At one point Amber Rudd led the cabinet to applaud their leader to give her time not just to recover but to reassure May.  However Boris Johnson looked like a bemused relative who doesn’t know when to stand up in Church as Amber Rudd motioned him to follow her lead.

Not that it really helped as Theresa May started to look like Roy Hodgson watching his team being completely outplayed and not knowing what to do.  She really was one step away from rubbing her face in frustration hoping that it was all a nightmare.

At one point you did wonder if someone from the Tory faithful was going to throw the towel in.  To stop what was now painful but absorbing viewing for all the wrong reasons.  Then the words started to fall and it seemed to sum May’s shambolic career as Prime Minister.  Indeed the jokes flew that if the Tories could hardly build a decent prop then how could they build a country that works for everyone?

Eventually May somehow staggered towards the finishing line like an amateur injured marathon runner who finishes hours after everyone else.  The traumatic smile and pointing to her throat were all mannerisms associated with the hapless ‘thick of it,’ Nicola Murray.   Malcolm Tucker declared ‘her a omnishambles,’ and it would be fair to say so was Theresa May.

This speech was meant to be a new start.  A more personal Theresa May far removed from the aloof portrayal that she gave during the election.  It was meant to focus on her own thanks for the NHS who have helped with her diabetes, her humble family origins from her Grandmother being a domestic servant to May being Prime Minister.

That new start lay in pieces pretty much like the words that had fallen off the Conservative slogan behind her.  Rather than talking about a new start and May reasserting herself as a leader the talk was of how shambolic the speech had been.  That’s also not mentioning the reason why Theresa May decided to wear a bracelet with the image of Frida Kahlo whose views in sharp contrast to May’s

It has to be said Theresa May looks like a middle manager way out of her depth who finds herself as Chief Executive of a leading firm.  She also looks like a troubled football manager who has run out of ideas and is just counting down to the inevitable of being shown the door.

That’s not to say that will happen just yet.  Catastrophic as yesterday’s performance was it makes no sense for the Conservatives to ditch their leader whilst in the throes of Brexit.  Theresa May is pretty much toxic so might as well take the fall for Brexit when it no doubt doesn’t go as planned.

 

Boris Johnson a complete disgrace

The disgusting comments from the Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson about the possibility of the Libyan city Sirte being the new Dubai ‘after they have cleared away the dead bodies,’ should have led to him being sacked.

It was a crude, disgraceful comment that showed a lack of regard for ordinary people killed in Libyan civil war.  A lack of respect and insensitivity that these dead bodies are just an inconvenience so that rich businessmen can build a rich beach resort.

More class and dignity should be expected of a foreign secretary which Boris Johnson clearly hasn’t got.  The remarks at the very least should have been under more media scrutiny because that statement is clearly unacceptable and in any other walk of life would lead to dismissal.

Keep the guards on the train

Of course it is going to be an inconvenience when Merseyrail goes on strike. It will mean being on the 80 or 80a (so-called because it takes eighty days to get to the city centre) rather than the twenty minutes it takes to get to work on the train. However I don’t blame the striking guards for but the bosses that are intent at putting safety and jobs at risk.

In Oscar Wilde’s Dorian Gray there is a famous quote on how some people ‘know the price of everything, but the value of nothing.’ This can be said about the train bosses whose decision to axe the guards is purely driven by maximizing profits. Don’t let anyone say that it is anything different.

The literature promoting the new state of the art trains racing towards an exciting future. Guards it states are no longer needed on these modern trains and the sell is that it is all part of progress.

Merseyrail state that they will find other jobs for the guards but what is omitted is the extra money that the accountants perceive that they will make from the wages saved. That this is a reasonable compromise for progress.

Of course nobody is against development.  Nothing stands still, but the dispute  is not only about jobs but protecting passenger safety. To state as Merseyrail have that the train driver will  be able to look out for passengers  is ludicrous.  The drivers prime responsibility is about getting the train safely to a to b without worrying about what is happening in the carriages.

There is a lot more to the guards job than opening and closing doors whilst making sure passengers get on and off safely.  For example they can act as a deterrent to any anti-social behaviour  or can contact for assistance if the situation demands it.  This stops matters escalating and provides support for passengers affected by this.

Other times they have provided help when a passenger has taken ill. Guards have also helped people who have got lost and advised them which stop to get off and what train they needed to get back on track.

Another matter that is omitted by Merseyrail is that Guards are also there to assist passengers in case of a serious emergency.  They will make sure that they evacuate the train safely as well as keep them updated rather than passengers having no support at all.

This of course is just a few examples and I am sure that there are numerous other examples of other tasks that Guards have done to assist to passengers.

The ironic thing is that being a customer driven business you would think that Mersey and Northern rail would be savvy enough to realise the importance of having a public presence.  That people appreciate having an actual person to speak to and that things are getting too impersonal for some passengers.

What gives me a wry smile is when one of the guards makes a funny comments such as ‘change at Liverpool central for Wirral services if you need to go over the dark side.’  Another casually tells passengers that they are ‘currently ‘five feet up and travelling at thirty miles an hour so.’

Some passengers comment on twitter and other social media services about how amusing they found the guard and how it brightened up their day.  Merseyrail take advantage of the positive feedback by retweeting and thanking them for their comments.  Ironically it is the same company that wants shot of them whilst at the same time acknowledging the positive feedback that Merseyrail have got due to that interaction with the guard.

An argument can be made to protect jobs for the future.  After all we have to ensure that there is work for people.  This strike though is also about safety for passengers and not cutting corners for the sake of making extra money.  Guards provide a fundamental job and provide a public face which passengers want.  That’s why come the 3rd and 5th October I will be whole heartedly supporting the guards and hope that Mersey and Northern rail come to their senses and realise that guards are a necessity.

 

Liverpool in the 90’s – The Spice boy era

Wembley on a bright May day prior to the FA cup final can be a glorious sight.  Much was expected in the Cup final of 1996 as Liverpool took on Manchester United in what many hoped would be a classic final.

That though was marginally fractured when the Liverpool squad strolled out onto the lush green Wembley pitch in  flash Armani white suits.  It had to be said that the suits looked ridiculous with the team looking a bunch of ice cream sellers.  However the image and the nickname of ‘Spice boys,’ stuck and was seen to epitomise what was wrong with Roy Evans Liverpool.  It was a team that was perceived as all image and no substance.  More interested in partying with football coming a poor second.

Time is always a chance to put things in perspective and the criticism aimed at Roy Evans can be seen to be harsh.  Liverpool were consistently in the top four and played some of the best football around of that particular era.

Unfortunately for Roy Evans, Liverpool’s dominance was still recent when he took charge in 1994.  After all their last title was in 1990 and prior to that had plundered so many trophies from the 1960’s to 1990 that it would put a Viking haul to shame.  With detested rivals Manchester United the dominant force, the pressure was instantly on Roy Evans to put Liverpool back on its perch.

After the sacking of Graeme Souness whose two and a half years in charge were turbulent.  Due to poor signings, unrest in the dressing room, and trying to change things too quickly, time was called on Souness’s reign as manager.

The problem Liverpool had, was of who to appoint to make Liverpool the dominant force once more.  Looking at the possible candidates at that time there are none that particularly stick out.

Of course hindsight is a wonderful thing to say that Liverpool should have looked further afield to foreign shores.  It is easy to say that Liverpool could have beaten Arsenal to the punch by appointing Arsene Wenger two years before he agreed to join the Gunners.  At that time English football was insular with the possibility that someone like Wenger would have had problems getting his ideas across.  Like the Czech Jozef Venglos whose stint at Aston Villa in 1990 was short-lived there could have been a good chance that the players didn’t take to him.  Furthermore Wenger inherited a strong defence at Arsenal which would not have been the case at Liverpool.  Either way it would have been a brave move for Liverpool to have taken a chance looking at that particular period in time.

Closer to home the only names that could be considered was John Toshack.  Success at Real Madrid and Sociedad as well as having played for Liverpool would make him a serious contender.  As it was Toshack had allegedly missed his chance after turning down the job down in 1991.

Although hypothetical there could have been a chance of trying to bring Kenny Dalglish back to Anfield.  This might have been hard considering that he was building a Blackburn Rovers team that would eventually win the title for the 94/95 season.

That left the bootroom and as Roy Evans was literally the last man standing, was seen as the man to steady the ship and ensure that the traditions of Liverpool were kept.  Ronnie Moran another Anfield stalwart would ensure that his experience and knowledge would also be used.

Football at that particular time was at the crossroads between the old world and the new world of the Premier league.  Not just in terms of the money that was being splashed around but in terms of professionalism.  The acceptable wisdom that a few beers was okay was eventually eradicated to a regime more similar to a high-profile athlete.  Evans had to deal with that as well as re-building a football team that had high expectations from its supporters.

Added to which Evans was used to a world of where players like Souness, Dalglish, Hansen, and Case would take personal responsibility.  Being professional and having the desire to win even if that meant ruffling feathers in the changing room if teammates were not pulling their weight.

This new Liverpool did not have those characters who didn’t care whether it was the European cup final or a Sunday league match.  Winning was what it was all about and the likes of Souness, Dalglish, Case, St. John, and Smith epitomises this during their time at playing at Anfield.

Bill Shankly was certainly a tough character who stood no messing and made sure that his players knew of the high standards that he expected.  Despite looking like your favourite Uncle’s in their comfortable cardigan and flat cap, Bob Paisley and Joe Fagan were as hard as nails who ruled like a Mafia Don when required.  Roy Evans though didn’t have that steel and ability of when to knock a player into line and when to shown him the door.

Ultimately it is about having respect and sadly Evans could not command that from his team.  Part of the job is knowing when to rid the club of bad influences and players who lacked professionalism.  For example Neil Ruddock should have been one of the first to be shown the door.  Aside from the pass the pound game that he was alleged to have instigated (a pound coin would be passed throughout the match and the last person with the coin after the final whistle had to buy the first round) and loud mouthed slogan ‘win, lose, or draw, first to the bar,’ Ruddock hardly looked after himself.

There were also instances of players competing to steal his car park space, not showing up for training, and general ill discipline that led to supporters that the players were not at all that serious about winning.

Some ex-players dispute the lack of discipline and state that Evans could be strict.  After all Don Hutchinson had been bombed out over a drunken indiscretion and Stan Collymore after proving too much of a disruptive influence.  The truth as they say is somewhere in the middle but it has to be said that discipline was not Evans strong point.

Despite having being tasked with re-building a team going backwards there was a nucleus of good youngsters coming through.  McManaman and Fowler through the ranks with Redknapp, Jones, and James the other youth players cited to have the potential to be top players.

Evans was shown to be a coach who wasn’t afraid to change things.  He did introduce three at the back in an attempt to not just stabilise the defence but with the two wing backs added to support the attack.  There was also the nous in the sense of pushing John Barnes into a central role after his losing his pace.  Barnes experience and passing helped keep the midfield ticking over.

Yet there was the sense that Liverpool were falling behind their rivals not just tactically but on how they trained and approached games.  The Liverpool way was always about not showing any sentiment and ensuring that they always stayed one step ahead of the opposition.

Matches and high-profile defeats such as the mist game against Ajax, Red Star Belgrade, and Watford were all instrumental in how Liverpool changed their approach and tactics.  For example the Belgrade game taught the importance of retaining the ball and led to the centre-halves being expected to be comfortable in bringing the ball out.

Liverpool in the mid nineties were still using the old and trusted methods of the past.  John Scales the former centre half talks in Simon Hughes Men in white suits ‘The wooden target boards were still used and they were rotting away. There was no tactical or technical analysis.  There were so many bad habits.’

Ironically Liverpool who had previously always prided themselves in being ahead of the game had allowed themselves to stagnate by continually sticking to old and trusted habits.  Previously the bootroom had been more than aware that the game continually evolved.

There was also complaints that Evans was too simplistic in his views.  That he didn’t have the ability to be able to change things when it wasn’t working or instructing his players what he wanted out of them.  Again times had changed and the mantra of instructing players to ‘play your own game,’ may have worked previously when the team was a well-functioning machine with players signed to play that position but not a team that was being built.

Despite all this the football was highly entertaining with some eye-catching attacking football.  With Robbie Fowler banging in the goals it seemed that if Liverpool could iron out the problems at the back and a view at the time adding a bit more steel in the midfield then Liverpool would end their wait for a nineteenth league title.

As it was Roy Evans signings fell way short of backing up the potential that was already at the club.  Players such as Phil Babb, Jason McAteer, Kennedy, Scales, Leonhardsen, Friedel, and Kvarme to name but a few failed to deliver.  Paul Ince may have been seen as being the steel Liverpool needed but he was not the player that previously excelled in the Manchester United field.

Stan Collymore was Evans high-profile signing from Nottingham Forest for £8.5 million.  Despite his talents he was still a risk after being a disruptive influence at Forest and his previous clubs Southend.

In Collymore’s first season he was productive with him and Fowler terrorising defenders and scoring goals in abundance.  Yet the problems that had dogged his career re-surfaced at Liverpool.  Collymore failed to turn up to training regularly and lacked the professionalism required.  It is only now that we know of Collymore’s battle with mental illness.  Evans unfortunately didn’t have the capacity to recognise this or the ability to deal with the issues as a result.

Success and certainly at a club like Liverpool is what a manager is judged on and Evans fell short.  There was of course optimism when Liverpool beat Bolton to win the league cup in 1995 but that was to be the only bit of silverware that Evans won in his tenure as manager.

Roy Evans despite finishing no lower than fourth in the league failed in delivering the league title.  The nearest that he came to it was in the 1996/97 season when Liverpool finished fourth in a two horse race.  During the run in when the pressure is high it is about delivering results and keeping that nerve.  Liverpool could not take advantage and despite getting themselves in a good position after beating Arsenal at Highbury they messed up by losing at home against Coventry.  As it was a 1-1 draw with Sheffield Wednesday saw Liverpool finish fourth rather than nabbing even a champions league spot.

The harsh reality as cited by Fowler and other ex-reds of that period is that the team simply were not good enough.  None of Evans signings made a lasting impression and it would be fair to say that Patrik Berger and Danny Murphy were probably his only real success.

Fowler in his autobiography believes that Liverpool were not that far behind and not in as bad a state as Gerard Houllier made out.  That is a fair point but at that stage the pressure was taking its toll on Roy Evans.  In his interviews during Evans final full season in charge looked tired and unwell as he seemed to be buckling under the pressure.  The summer of 1998 the Liverpool board should have either continued to back Evans or cut ties.  As it was David Moores fudged the issue and went with a joint manager venture of Evans and Houllier which didn’t work.  After defeat to Tottenham in the league cup in November 1998, Evans called time with Houllier now solely in charge.

The legacy of Roy Evans Liverpool is one of a team that played swashbuckling, cavalier football.  Nobody will forget the two 4-3’s against Newcastle that seemed to sum up both teams attitude at the time.

There is also the negative image of the partying, up for a laugh, not really caring, and lack of professionalism that hogged the headlines of some of the Liverpool players.  Indeed it could be argued that whilst Manchester United had Roy Keane, Liverpool had Neil Ruddock and that crucially is the difference in terms of attitudes installed in the team.

Even now some of Evans ex-players do cite a lack of discipline and leniency.  Jason McAteer says of his former manager ‘I think he found it hard to drop or discipline players.  We were all his boys.  We had some big characters there, and he found it difficult to deal with the Collymores and Ruddocks.’  Maybe Evans expected his players to be more adult and take responsibility but a manager has to quickly stamp out any indiscipline and make an instant mark.  Evans failed to do so.

Of course if some of the signings had been real quality and if they had got players like Thuram or Desailly then things might have been different.  As it was Liverpool were great in attack but brittle at the back.

Thrown into the mix was that Liverpool’s methods were still stuck too much in the past.  What had worked previously didn’t mean it still did.  In terms of tactics, training, and diet it all needed a fresh approach.  Something that ironically Liverpool had never been afraid to do in the past.

It could be argued that Evans was unlucky with injuries with Rob Jones finishing his career early and a serious injury to Redknapp whilst playing for England meant he never got the best out of some that young potential.

Evans Liverpool despite its frustrations still provides some fond memories.  The football was fun and at the beginning with the likes of Fowler and McManaman the future did seem bright.  Yet the team fell short and unfortunately it was to be the white suits and not trophies for what Evans Liverpool will be remembered for.

 

 

Blackadder goes forth and the ‘Great war.’

A hundred years ago Britain was mired in a nightmare war that seemed to be going on forever.  It was meant to have been over by Christmas 1914 as Britain’s men were encouraged to do their bit for ‘King and country.’  There are those that try to varnish the past from the reality of the Great war and attempt to portray it as a necessary war.  It was as Edmund Blackadder said to Baldrick ‘a war which would be a damn sight simpler if we just stayed in England and shot fifty thousand of our men a week,’  such was the strategy of the Generals.

The saddest aspect was that it was a futile war.  It was more about protecting Empires and asserting their own power over rivals.  Once the patriotic fever was over it was not an adventure but a horrible nightmare of mud, barbed wire, trenches, and the continual slaughter were whole village regiments were virtually wiped out.

Blackadder goes forth pretty much captures the madness through its dark humour.  From the insane General Melchett who has Blackadder court martialed and sentenced to be shot at dawn for killing his pigeon ‘Speckled,’ Jim. Indeed soldiers some of whom suffered from shellshock were summarilly tried and executed for ‘cowardice.’

Then of course there is Field Marshall Haig who casually uses a brush and rubbish pan to sweep up the toy soldiers from his plan of the battlefield.  The scene of course showing the disregard that the Generals had for their men.

Each week for the six episodes we watched Captain Blackadder desperately trying to escape the madness of the trenches.  Whether it was posing as Chefs, organising a variety show or hunting a German spy in the hospital Blackadder tried every method to try to escape certain death.

At times it would drag Blackadder almost too close to being killed until he eventually runs out of luck in the last episode.  From being the commissioned artist who goes into no man’s land with Melchett sending a couple of flares up that he is ‘lit up like a Christmas tree for miles around!’

Then there was the episode when Blackadder joins the flying corps believing that all he has to do is twenty minutes work and spend the rest of the time ‘loafing about in Paris, drinking gallons of champagne,’ with experienced French girls.

The look on Blackadder’s face as he realises that the reason why Flashheart’s flying corps are called the ‘twenty minuters,’ is because the average life expectancy of a new pilot is twenty minutes, is one of jumping out of the pan into the fire.  Again there is some element of truth  as pilots and certainly those fresh from flying school were not expected to last long.  They may have had in the words of Flashheart ‘tasty tucker,’ and a uniform so smart it’s got a PhD from Cambridge,’ but the finger of death was never far away.

So much so that like some troops who shot themselves in the foot to escape the western front, Blackadder shouts at George ‘You lucky, lucky, lucky bastard,’ after a German bomb puts George in hospital.  In desperation Blackadder sticks his leg out and shouts ‘over here, Fritz!  What about me?’

The madness of the Great war is something that Blackadder goes forth captures perfectly.   In ‘Captain Cook,’ Melchett tells Blackadder that Field Marshal Haig has formulated a brilliant tactical plan to ensure final victory.  Blackadder asks ‘would this brilliant plan involve us climbing over the top of our trenches and walking slowly towards the enemy?’  Captain Darling asks Blackadder how he knows  as it is classified information.  The response being that they have used the same plan over and over again.  Melchett madly says that the Germans won’t expect it again and will ‘catch the watchful Hun off guard.’

Incidentally the British troops were instructed to walk slowly across no mans land during the battle of the Somme.  The belief was that the heavy artillery fired previously would have broken up the barbed war and killed many Germans.  Instead they were slaughtered in their thousands.

For the likes of Melchett the Great War is more like a sporting game.  When it is pointed out about the danger and deaths, Melchett just casually brushes it to one side and likens it to his old school rugby match who won against all odds.  ‘We ducked, and we bobbed, and we wove, and we damn well won the game 15-4.’  Even when Blackadder points out that the Harrow full back wasn’t armed with a machine gun, Melchett dismisses it with the wave of a hand before instructing Captain Darling to make a note of Gunners for the Harrow full backs.

Despite the endless slaughter of men nothing much was gained.  For example when Blackadder is captured behind enemy lines, Melchett asks Darling how much land they have recaptured by looking at the plan which is the actual copy of the couple of yards taken.

Even now after twenty-eight years after the final episode titled ‘Goodbyeee,’ it is still a very moving and emotional episode.  The walls are very much closing in as Blackadder frantically tries to escape ‘Insanity Melchett’s invite to a mass slaughter,’ or in other words preparing to go over the top at dawn.

There is very much a sombre mood as we quietly count down to when Blackadder and co. get ready to go over the top.  At the beginning George is very much gung-ho believing that the big push will be worth it.  Blackadder questions how it can be worth it when ‘millions of men have died since 1914 and we’ve moved no further than an asthmatic ant with heavy shopping.’

Ever the optimist George declares it will be ice cream in Berlin in fifteen minutes whilst Blackadder declares that the reality is that they will be ice-cold in fifteen seconds in no mans land.  Now is the time that Blackadder believes that he needs to get out of the madness of the war.

There is a slow realisation from George that he is the last of the ‘Trinity tiddlers,’ who had all volunteered in 1914 fresh from Cambridge University.  Baldrick tells of the pride of how he felt joining up with a woman kissing him as he marched.  Again this would have been the feeling of those volunteers in 1914 as the country was whipped into a patriotic fever.

With Baldrick there is almost a childish quality as he realises that they have been stuck in the mud of the trenches for three years.  Suddenly Baldrick asks ‘why can’t we stop, Sir?  Why can’t we just say no more killing, let’s all go home?  Why?’

George is at a loss to explain why they just can’t pack up and go home despite his blustering that it just wouldn’t work.

Desperation sets in for Blackadder who sticks two pencils up his nose and sticks his underpants on his head pretending to be mad.  Only Melchett is onto that trick having shot a whole platoon in the Sudan for trying that stunt.  Overhearing Blackadder pretends to tell Baldrick of the story.

The reality of what awaits is still there in the air even when General Melchett declares Blackadder’s soldiers as ‘fine body of men out there.’  In response Blackadder coolly replies ‘Yes Sir – shortly to become fine bodies of men.’

Time starts to ebb away as the trio talk as though it is going to be their last night together.  Blackadder is getting increasingly agitated as he sees any chance of escaping certain death slipping away if he can’t think of something to get him out.  It doesn’t help that Baldrick is also delivering an oratory of his war poems as Blackadder cries ‘I’m sorry, but I’ve just got to  get out of here!’

Without realising Baldrick gives Blackadder a belief that he can escape the big push by calling on a favour of Field Marshall Haig. This was a promise made to Blackadder after he saves Haig’s life twenty years previously from a sharp piece of mango when they served together at Mboto Gorge.

It literally is the last throw of the dice with Blackadder thinking that he has escaped by the skin of his teeth.  Only he hasn’t after Haig’s advice is to ‘ put your underpants on your head, and stick two pencils up your nose.  They’ll think you’re crazy and send you home.’  Blackadder’s response  after Haig slams the phone down is ‘I think the phrase rhymes with clucking bell.’

Poor Captain Kevin Darling now finds himself reluctantly being sent to the front.  The huge shadow of Melchett’s driver that looms over Darling might as well be the shadow of death as he is on his knees begging Melchett not to be sent over the top.

There is an air of self resignation as the minute hand draws ever closer to the big push.  George confesses that he is not at all keen at dying whilst Darling admits that he wrote in his diary ‘bugger,’ when being driven to the front.

As the orders can be heard in the background Blackadder reminds George not to forget his stick, who responds that he wouldn’t want to face a machine gun without one.

The tension can be felt as the guns temporally stop.  Darling, George, and Baldrick think that they have been pulled out of the fire as it indicates a ceasefire.  Blackadder advises the trio that they have stopped as the Generals are not that insane as to shell their own men.  Instead they find it more sporting to let the Germans do it.

It appears that time has finally ran out for Blackadder and co. although it doesn’t stop Baldrick telling Blackadder that ‘he has a cunning plan.’  The response from Blackadder eloquently sums up his attempts of trying to get out of the trenches.

‘Well, I’m afraid it’s too late.  Whatever it was, I’m sure it was better than my plan to get out of this by pretending to be mad.  I mean, who would have noticed another madman round here?’  That comment more than sums up the insanity of the Great war and had more than a grain of truth in it.

As the whistles can be heard to tell the men to go over the top there is a realisation for the viewer that Blackadder and his friends are not going to get out of this.  Like many soldiers of the Great war there is that fear that death is only minutes away as soon as they step over the top.  To feel that trapped and fearful of being mown down by German machine guns can  probably not be described.  Hoping against hope that they somehow get through it.

The final scene even now gives you goosebumps and you can feel a lump rising in your throat as the haunting playing of the Blackadder theme sorrowfully plays out as they charge over the top.  There is the low heavy sound that could be guns as the viewer realises that Blackadder, Baldrick, George, and Darling have been killed.  A slow mist descends over the mud and barbed war before it slowly transforms to the present and a field full of poppies were Blackadder and his friends met their fate.

Some historians have tried to pour scorn on the anti-war and the futility of the First World war that Blackadder goes forth portrayed.  There are even those that try to defend Field Marshall Haig like Gary Sheffield that he was not a callous man and that inevitably there would be lots of casualties.  Although Haig cannot be solely held accountable the deaths of soldiers are not just mere statistics.  These were people who were slaughtered in their thousands.  They were someone’s son, husband, brother, Father, and friend whilst whole village regiments were almost wiped out in a senseless war.

Wilfred Owen who in one of his famous poems ‘Dulce et decorum est,’ sums up the futility and pointlessness of the Great War.  ‘My friend, you would not tell with such high zest, to children ardent for some desperate glory, the old lie: Dulce et decorum est pro patria mori.’  (How sweet and honourable it is to die for one’s country).

Blackadder goes forth captured some of the sentiments of Wilfred Owen’s poem ‘Dulce et decorum est.’  It is worth considering this especially as there are attempts a hundred years on to gloss over the mindless slaughter of the Great war.  This was meant to be a war to end all wars with the poppy not just a symbol to remember those who fell but a symbol that all war is futile.

Why the Coutinho transfer saga is more about Liverpool’s poor recruitment strategy.

With a pocketful of cash from the Neymar deal and Barcelona needing to re-build it was slightly inevitable that the Catalan club would be linked with Liverpool’s Coutinho.  It has been a move that has been mooted for the past year especially as Barcelona are re-building and require an attacking midfielder.

Of course there is the argument that the majority of teams are selling clubs, especially when Barcelona and Real Madrid come a knocking but regardless of whether you think it is good business or not, it has shone an awkward spotlight on the transfer and scouting under the Fenway group.

The problem has now been exasperated as Coutinho has now put in a transfer request.  This has led to a few believing that he should be sold for the highest price possible.

However the quality of the Liverpool squad is not up to scratch especially as it needs to improve despite finishing fourth and qualifying for a Champions league play-off spot. There are still problems with the defence with the lack of quality of the bench very much apparent last season as there were no options when Liverpool struggled to break down defensive teams.  There were no player who you felt could change the game or change the formation to test the opposition.

From a footballing point of view it does not make sense to sell Coutinho no matter the fee offered.  I imagine there might be a few people scoffing at that notion, after all every player has his price.  However Liverpool do not have the time to get an adequate replacement and will be to the detriment of the club’s progress this season.

It is a team that needs building for Liverpool to be challenging for the major honours.  Losing your best players is going to make that harder as well as questioning the ambition of the club.  After all it has been five years since Liverpool won a major trophy and even then that was the league club.

Although the years have been lean Liverpool due to its history and large support still has some stature in the footballing world.  It needs more than ever to start proving that the last few years have temporary or very soon be just a famous name from the past.

Liverpool’s first game of the new season away to Watford which ended 3-3 has shown the same old problems of the last year.  A poor defence and the inability to hold onto a winning lead with only a few minutes remaining on the clock.  The club is great in attack but there is always the sense that they are only a moment away from a mistake in defence which will wilt so easily.

These are problems that should have been rectified prior to the season beginning but swift action is needed otherwise it will be a groundhog season for 2017-18.  Regarding the transfer request from Coutinho it would probably be better if Liverpool could reach an agreement that they will let him go next season. This though would be on the proviso that the fee is acceptable and that Liverpool find a suitable replacement.

A club can only be successful if its recruitment and scouting is good.  Take Atletico Madrid for example.  They have consistently obtained quality players for decent fees and have been consistent challengers in La Liga and European football which has seen them win major honours.

Fenway appear to have a business strategy with regards as to how Liverpool sign players.  Namely signing young potential players who they hope will live up to their reputation and then selling them on for a vast profit whilst bringing in a new batch to keep Liverpool competitive.  The only problem with that is that you have to ensure that you have the right recruitment and scouting in place.  If that was the case then there would be no real resistance to Coutinho being sold to Barcelona.  The quality in the squad would already be there to cope with a loss.  Added to which there would be the confidence the scouting system would provide a more than adequate replacement.

Unfortunately the reality has been very different to the business theory of the Fenway group.  The likes of Downing, Carroll, Charlie Adam, Coates, Borini, Markovic, and Balotelli to name but a few have failed to live up to expectations and have been poor.  Even the likes of Jordan Henderson, Lovren, and Mignolet have been average and not been good enough to take Liverpool up to the next level.

The successes can be counted on one hand with only Suarez, Mane, and Coutinho being the players who have shown the quality required if you wish to compete at the highest level.  Fenway’s money has been spent on mediocrity.    It could be argued that when non-footballing individuals or people with self-interest are involved then problems are going to arise which has been the case with Liverpool.

It seems that the problem isn’t so much about Coutinho being sold to Barcelona it really is about Fenway’s scouting and recruitment strategy for Liverpool and the next direction that they take. 

Roger Nouveau – the modern fan of the Premier league era

 

There was a time when the football season ended in May and certainly in the odd year when there wasn’t a World Cup or European championship then that would be that until August.  Granted there would be a little bit of transfer speculation but it felt like a proper break away from football that come late August you would embrace it like a glass of cold water after hiking across the Sahara desert.

Now the coverage is constant that you almost wonder if the season has ever really ended.  Every day during the summer months there is the endless constant speculation of who is moving where that at times it matches the political intrigue of Macbeth.

That though is the circus that is the Premier league.  It needs to feed the hype and speculation in order to keep selling its product which is how it and let’s be honest football clubs see supporters as customers.

The money that is not only being pumped into football through television deals but spent on players is mind-blowing.  With the average player going for thirty million pounds the sense of any true value has been lost.  For Sky the billions spent on securing the rights to screening Premier league football is not just about securing the survival of the channel but about the clubs spending big so that supporters world-wide will continue to watch.  Hence the continuation of subscriptions and now in the age of streaming the reliance on overseas television rights.

Consequently it is important to keep generating the speculation about talks of Bale going to Manchester United for example or Ronaldo returning back to the UK.  With huge sums of money being spent it is meant to convince people that the Premier league is the one to watch and that Sky can provide this exclusive access.

The drama of deadline day is now something that is part of football.  At times it represents as though it is a life changing moment such as the Berlin wall coming down.  If it was watched twenty-five years ago people would wonder if it was a spoof as the coverage at times resembled Chris’ Morris’s Day to Day.  Who for example could forget the hapless reporter who had a purple dildo waved in his ear outside Everton’s Finch farm?

Football now is about marketing and rather than being a fan of the sport is more about being seen at the event.  It is more about construing an image rather than participating as a supporter.   Everything now is all about presentation so that for example Liverpool v Burnley on a cold February afternoon is a unique game to remember.  From the naff Premier league anthem, the presentation tops that both sides wear as they shake hands to the referee picking the ball up from the podium.  Gone are the days when both teams ran out and prior to kick off a firm hand shake from both Captains before tossing a coin to decide who would kick off from which half.  Half and half scarves which are wrong on so many levels are now souvenirs for the tourist who visits and will most likely not return again.

Packages are sold for tourists to sample ‘the real passionate white-hot heat of the Kop,’ that has helped Liverpool win major games over the years.  Ironically those type of supporters who are used for the posters have been priced out.  For those that have remained they are now well into middle-age and less inclined to be noisy as they once were in their youth.

The sound of seats clanking up as Crystal Palace took the lead against Liverpool in the last ten minutes was louder than the cries of encouragement than Liverpool fans as a large majority slunked off.  Previously there would be a stunned pause and a loud roar, snarling, and willing Liverpool to equalise and even grab a winner.  Now those type of supporters who throw in the towel are the first into their cars to moan about how Klopp doesn’t know what he is doing whilst incredibly questioning the players passion.

Radio phone ins and social media keep the interest and drama of the product alive.  Everybody can be an expert and whereas a similar incident from thirty years ago would barely generate a headline now a dodgy penalty is given the coverage of JFK being shot.  A soundbite or controversial comment from the manager is used to keep the hysteria and if a club is having a bad run of results well then the hysteria hits meltdown.  Rumours of losing the dressing room and the dreaded vote of confidence are mooted.

This of course encourages the expert fan who never goes the game but watches from his armchair who gets on the blower to say something incredibly stupid.  Once on the air they will preach their ignorance which of course ignites another load of angry calls which feeds the frenzy rather than any genuine debate and discussion about the game.   In other words its click bait with newspaper distributing articles or tweets knowing full well they will get hits and replies.

Part of the hype has brought a sense of entitlement amongst this new elite of supporters.  Unless their team is two-nil up within ten minutes they are screaming and slamming their prized hampers with frustration.  Of course nobody likes to get beat or drop points in vital games but if the players have given everything then at least accept they have done everything.  Besides moaning is not going to help and only makes the players more nervous.

The problem in this Sky era of football is that it has made supporters accountants who believe the Premier league is the be all and end all.  It is a remarkable achievement by Sky and the Premier league that a season of mediocrity is more acceptable than getting to a Cup final.

Getting into the top four is seen as a trophy with the money that a spot in the Champions league generates.  The money though doesn’t go into the pocket of supporters and nor does it mean extra money to bolster that squad.  A budget has been set regardless and players although ambitious will move where the money is regardless of whether the team is in the Champions league or not.  Yet supporters believe this spin that has been spun and would put a top four finish above winning the FA cup and a trip to Wembley.

Football is now increasingly about the hype and making as much money as possible from this new world-wide fan base.  That’s why clubs fly over to Australia, the far east, even the USA because there is money to be made and not because it will help pre-season training.

The International Champions cup which is currently a pre-season tournament can be seen as a future replacement or rival with the UEFA champions league.  With the money that it generated (incredibly ticket prices for the Madrid v Barcelona game in Miami  went for $5,500) it wouldn’t be a surprise if this happened.

Of course this would be by invitation only and not by earning a place.  After all despite AC Milan being a pale shadow of the team that they once were they have a global appeal and therefore can sell.  These games would not be played in the home cities but various stadiums across the globe to generate more cash and global appeal.  In turn these clubs such as Barcelona, Real Madrid, Manchester United, Liverpool, and AC Milan would in effect be the footballing equivalent of the Harlem Globe Trotters.

This is why the controversial thirty-nine Premier league game was mooted.  Forget about upsetting the balance of fairness of the competition there is more money to be had from sales abroad and the television deals that would be made as a result.  Although dropped the idea still lurks like Jaws stalking Amity Island.

The £198 million deal for Neymar wasn’t just about signing a top player or even a signal of intent of winning the Champions league but about putting PSG as a major force in the global market.  Of course it is an intent to win the major honours but the price gets publicity, courts new supporters from across the world, and therefore increases the television deals.  Added to which is the marketing appeal that Neymar brings not just in terms of shirt sales but other promotions in the interest of PSG.

Madrid, Barcelona, Manchester United and any other big names spend big simply to boost their global appeal as well as improving the team.  Signing the top players keeps that interest and makes supporters excited that the latest big name has joined their club.

Increasingly football is moving away from its community and identity that clubs had.  Slogans such as ‘more than a club,’ ‘you’ll never walk alone,’ are increasingly sounding more like a brand rather than ‘the real thing,’ that it once had.  Even St. Pauli who view themselves as very much to the left in their ideals find that the skull and bones flag once flown as a symbol of defiance, has now been marketed.  Indeed you could argue that St. Pauli has now been sold as a ‘kult club,’ for people wanting something different.

Football is far removed from the working class game that it once was.  Certainly amongst the big clubs they are a brand that can be consumed as easily as a can of coke.  Hype and money keeps it ticking over with the global fan base proving ever more lucrative.  Just don’t surprised when the only connection that a football club has with its community is the name.