Monday, September 29, 2008


"I'm not very happy to speak about my anniversary because what interests me in life is what is in front of me and not what is behind me"

- Arsene Wenger, a few days ago

I thought it'd be a neat idea to post from every town I've been in. It's been a struggle at times, because a lot of the times, there's not a hell of a lot of difference between one place and another. And it's such a blur that it doesn't really matter anyway. Everything's interchangeable, to an extent. 

But I happened to be in Salisbury on the 750th anniversary of St Mary's Cathedral. It was quite a do - even Rowan Williams, the Archbishop of Canterbury, was there. I caught the last half hour of it, just after the good bishop had baptised a couple of kiddies and had started on a bit of a sermon. 

It's quite an experience, listening to the sermon of the head of the Anglican Communion. Now, I'm no Anglican, but I do admire the guy. He's bloody learned. And there was this documentary once that photoshopped him in Jedi robes, and he looked a dead ringer for Obi-Won Kenobi. So, he's got an aura about him. 

When I listened to his words, I was blown away. It's a hell of a lot different from the stuff back home, where it's often just a compendium of various ill-thought prejudices and tenuously applicable biblical references. Rowan Williams actually used his brain to create a sermon which was clear, and symbolic, and soaring and touching and moving. And it was done without fanfare or trappings - just a good sermon, simply presenting. Brilliant stuff. 

It was about the symbolism of rocks and water in Christianity. About how Christ is the rock upon which all else stands, and how the living water of God can sweep us aside and take us to places we never thought possible. About how both are needed in the Christian life, and how both need to be embraced. 

Another great man, Arsene Wenger, is only living half this life. As the quote above suggests, he's perfectly happy to be swept along by the vicissitudes of life. He's less keen to look back see what he's built all his successes upon. There is danger in that. One can be blinded by promise of the future and forget the lessons learnt in earlier days (i.e. why doesn't Wenger get someone to organise the defence?)

Sunday, September 28, 2008

2-1 to the Hull

"We were not completely switched on to the level needed to win these games."

- Arsene Wenger, back on earth

You know, I hate being right.

There's something comforting knowing that someone older, smarter and infinitely more experienced has things well in control. For most of the past month, I felt Wenger was that someone. And I felt Arsenal were on the up.

And then, Hull happens. It's profoundly disappointing. It shows that when we're not 100% focused on our defensive duties, Hull happens. It shows that our squad IS too thin, that it breed complancecy, and that against supposed underdogs, Hull happens.

Clearly, we're not strong enough just yet to win the Premier League. If we're going to win it, we have to will all the games like this. At the moment, we're picking the games in which we shine.

Actually, I didn't see the game yesterday. It broke quite a long run of Arsenal games. I was grounded, which sounds sillier than it actually was. I've a horrible, nagging suspicion that maybe, I am the Arsenal's good luck charm, but I really hope not. I'm leaving England in two days, and I don't think I'll be in a position to watch the Arsenal on a regular basis. And I don't want to be the cause of our next lapse of concentration.

I wonder if Norway shows the Premier League?

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Our Defense

"What makes me happy at the moment is that we have a good combination of defensive balance and offensive efficiency... at the moment we are combining the two and it means when everyone puts the effort in we still can be very dangerous going forward."

Arsene Wenger, a bit bullish at the moment

It's a bit like that with the Arsenal. We can go games and games without conceding much and scoring freely, but then freeze up in a game we really should win. We'll miss shot after shot, our passes will go astray, and we'll concede a cheap goal through a set-piece. 

When it suits us, we do okay at the defensive part of the game. When everyone's focused and determined, we're quite good. We hustle their midfield out of the game, our defenders mark their men, and we even cope with the odd long-ball pretty well. The problem is that we don't set up to defend well, so that when our player's aren't as focused as they should be, we leak costly goals. 

Throughout the first half of the Blackburn game, I kept think it was only a matter of time before they equalised. They scythed through our midfield, they dominated set-pieces, they had chance after chance, and we didn't have enough pressure on their players to stop it. The fact that we went into the break 2-0 up was due to very, very good fortune and nothing more. It was better in the second half, when the defensive pressure from Cesc and Denilson was more apparent, but still... it was scary for that half. 

The encouraging start to the season is telling Wenger that we don't need a central midfielder in January. Denilson and Song are both improving by the game, and there's still Diaby to come back. But I disagree with Wenger. I'd still like someone experienced, either a Flamini-type who can be relied upon to hustle for 90 minutes, or a Gilberto-type who's dedicated to shield the back four. 

Because we need a Plan B in case the youngsters fall by the wayside, right? 

I'm in London again. I've seen my folks and showed them around the city. They'll be leaving tomorrow, and then, a few days later, I'll be flying to Norway. It'll be interesting. Never been to Norway before. Haven't even been to Stansted airport before, either. I wonder which will be more exciting?

Thursday, September 25, 2008

6-0 to the Arsenal

"This team can beat most teams and no matter how far we go in this competition, I will stick with them. Can they win it? Why not?"

- Arsene Wenger, keeping a lid on things

Last night, 56,632 people saw an Arsenal youth side spank Sheffield Utd silly. I didn't watch the match, but I did see the highlights just now. Which entitles me to give you three small points:

1. Turns out I'm not a lucky rabbit's foot, after all 

I thought I was pretty important; I've attended four games for an aggregate score of 11-1. Turns out I was just holding the boys back. Fortunately for the Arsenal, I doubt I'll be able to attend any more games. They'll be free to win 6-0 instead of scraping through with 3-0. 

2. Does anyone remember the 5-1 Carling Cup win against Liverpool?

Let's not get ahead of ourselves. I know it's an awesome result, and Vela has the makings of a very, very good striker, but we've to keep grounded here. It's the Carling Cup, folks. No one rates the Carling Cup. Our kids spanked Liverpool 5-1 a couple of years ago, and we're still waiting for Denilson and co. to fulfil the promise of that night. Plus, from the highlights, Sheffield Utd were very, very poor in defence. 

3. The other 4,388 Arsenal ticket holders must be kicking themselves for not attending

I'm kicking myself for not cutting short my stay in Newcastle and flying to London for the match. I saw Hadrian's Wall today and while it's a remarkable bit of masonry, it's nothing compared to watching Arsenal's golden future in the present. Think about how stupid those 4,000-odd gooners are feeling today. 

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Wenger's Mission Statement

"It was just a memo."

- Tom Cruise, to the fish, in Jerry Maguire

I'm sure everyone's read the leaked memo Wenger sent to all the players before the Bolton game. If not, it's here from the Guardian. It's a fascinating insight into the inner workings of a professional football side. Evidently, Wenger's much taken with motivational quotes and quasi New-Age movement known as team-ism. 

I've always felt that the great Wenger teams have always displayed exceptional togetherness. The early 00s team was notable in that the players had been together for three years before they emerged from their chrysalis, blinking from the splendour of their beautiful game. Vieira rejected a move to Real Madrid because he didn't want to break up the family. 

It takes time to build a great side. The early 00s side had that time. Coincidentally, the current side has had three years as well. If we're working on the same time frame, we should be buying trophy polish pretty soon. We were very close last year, and if we'd kept the team together, we would be one of the favourites for the title this year. 

But we're not. 

The crucial difference is that this side keeps changing. And it makes me wonder how much togetherness is in this current side. Hleb and Flamini both broke up the "family" without much remorse. Adebayor wanted to go the same way. And even Cesc had his flirtations in the past. When we enter a transfer season now, I'm expecting at least one of our established players agitating for a move. 

Is there a difference in the culture of the two sides? Is the lack of success and the exceptionally thin squad eating at the minds of our players? Or is it that Arsenal's inherent frugality is out-dated in this era of the morally dubious sugar-daddy? Do our players value money and instant success over working for something greater than themselves (i.e the team)?

I don't know. And what really troubles me is the idea that some of our players would just roll their eyes at the memo, screw it up and toss it in the bin. Wenger talks a good game, but how much does teamwork count when Chelsea and the Manchesters are hoovering up all the players in the world? And paying them a lot more than Arsenal can afford?

Maybe Bob Sugar was right - it's not "show friends", it's "show business". 

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

In Cashley's Defense

The road to Chelsea is paved with good intentions

- St Bernard of Clairvaux (1091-1153), with prescience so accurate it's scary. 

I'm in York at the moment. Saw the Minister and walked around the old city. It's quite pretty if you like all that Ye Olde England stuff. Like Bath, only medieval-like. I don't know. Too tired to care, really. Spent the night in Manchester listening to the dude below me snore his tonsils down his throat. 

Had a really nice afternoon in Manchester, though. Bright, sunny day lazing around Piccadilly Garden. Had a pint while watching the Chelsea vs Man Utd match. Laughed my head off at the reaction of the Man Utd supporters when Chelsea equalised. Well, laughed silently in my head, anyway - I'm not that brave. Bought a MacBook. Ate an orange. 

Guess I've got low standards when it comes Sunday afternoons. 

There's not much going on with the Arsenal. Bendtner's impressed. Eboue's showing us that Wenger really does Know. Song's cut his dreadlocks. Peter Hill-Wood escaped his minders and came out with another nonsensical comment. 

So I thought I'd say something about Cashley Cole. While in London, I read his book. And surprisingly, there was a perverse kind of logic to his actions. No one step was monstrous - it's only when you string it all together that you realise how reprehensible the whole affair was. 

To recount:

1. Cashley was in a position to command $80,000 a week in wages.
2. Cashley decided to ask for $60,000 a week, against the advice of his manager, his captain and probably most of the Arsenal first team. His reason was, ironically, that he wasn't "greedy" and that $60,000 was more than enough to play for the Arsenal. 
3. David Dein verbally agreed to $60,000 a week.
4. The board decided to counter with a $55,000 a week "final offer".
5. Things got out of control. 

There's a fair degree of farce to the whole situation. Ashley wanted to stay, and thought he was doing the honourable thing by asking for a lower amount. The board thought he was stupid and demanded an even smaller amount. Ashley didn't realise that "final offer" was just a negotiating tactic, and so he jumped over the fence to see what Chelsea were offering. 

The stupidity of that whole series of events was evident when Ashley Cole was given a one year extension at $74,000 a week. Why didn't the board have this largess one year before? 

The pragmatists amongst you would say that everything turned out well. Clichy's as good (or better than) Cole. We got Gallas in return and crippled Chelsea. And Cole's been exposed as a vain, shallow, stupid, greedy, arrogant man who gave up the chance of being a club idol for a few measly pounds. 

But the romantics amongst you (and you've got to be romantic to support Arsene Wenger) will regret that it ever came to this. Ashley Cole never intended things to pan out like this. He's still a gooner, you know, and he probably still watches the matches on TV. He could've been a living legend for us, you know. He would've been captain. He would've won trophies and led this current side to greater glory than Arsenal have ever known. 

But as St Bernie once said, the road to Chelsea is paved with good intentions. 

Sunday, September 21, 2008

3-1 to the Arsenal

We are Fabregas
And we are fabulous

- the Arsenal away stand in the stairwell after the game. 

Spent last night in Bolton. Didn't mean to; I wanted to get a bed in Manchester and commute to the game, but there's some Labour Party Convention in the city. Apparently the Prime Minister here's getting caned for banks going bankrupt, the credit crunch and all the other things that have kept me entertained in hostel lobbies this past month. 

I watched the Arsenal for (probably) the last time. Reebok Stadium is a very pretty ground, which is in complete juxtaposition to the fare on the pitch. It's got this white lattice framework that holds up four, vast arched stands. Very nice, much prettier than the corporate Emirates, I'm afraid to say. 

We played okay, I thought. You have to do alright, to win 3-1. Eboue had a really good game on the left wing. He made quite a few damaging runs in the first half, and was very effective when cutting in and driving down them middle. But we started with a midfield of Eboue, Song, Fabregas and Densilon, which was a but muddled. With Eboue's propensity to cut in from the left, and Denilson's inability to go around his marker, it made for a very narrow formation.

And it showed. 

We didn't really get into the match until after they scored (off a corner, of course). And we didn't really click as a team until Theo Walcott was brought in in the second half. Straight away, he gave us a boost in speed, width and directness. His run down the middle set up the third goal. It's amazing how his stature has grown over the past month. He's not the finish article yet, but he's very, very important to this Arsenal side. 

Yorkshire and Northumbria next. Got to see about a bus or a train or something. 

Friday, September 19, 2008

Like Lipstick on a Pig

"We expressed ourselves well tonight. We created a lot of good chances and I think we are going to improve on today. It's not the worst result but it could have been better for us."

- Alex Ferguson, putting a nice layer of lipstick on his overgrown sow

Wednesday night I spent walking through Edinburgh, desperately looking for a bar that screened the Arsenal vs Dynamo Kyiv match. No such luck. There are plenty of bars showing Champions League matches, but they all showed Man Utd vs Villareal. Turns out that Edinburgh is a hotbed of Man Utd fans.

Go figure. I thought Edinburglers had taste.

So I hunkered down at Walkabout and watched 70 minutes of the most enlightening football I've ever seen. Man Utd without Ronaldo are toothless. It was amazing to see Villareal hold a team with players like Rooney, Anderson, Nani and Tevez. There was plently of determination, work-ethic, pressing... but no invention and no creativity. Man Utd without Ronaldo are ordinary. Which explains why Ferguson was so desperate to keep Ronaldo, I suppose.

Moreoever, is it coincidence that the only two games we haven't won this season (Fulham and Dynamo Kyiv) were the ONLY two games I haven't seen? Of three games I've personally graced, we've won by an aggregate scoreline of 11-0. Someone please, please let Danny Fizsman know about my amazing abilities.

Wenger's furious about the penalty, of course, and about Kyiv hacking down Walcott at every opportunity. What does he expect? Gallas and his opponent both went down like they were pigs in an ice-rink, and Walcott got trampled like a grasshopper between a pig and his slop-bucket. These things happen in football, and a draw against Kyiv is a decent result. We haven't won in the Soviet in ten attempts.

Bolton next, on the Saturday. We love you Arsenal, we do.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Raining on a Monday

Arsenal, it's Arsenal we sing
For it's by far the greatest team
The world has ever seen.

- an Arsenal ditty, maybe one I'll hear this Saturday

There's a story about a dog, by the name of Bobby, who guarded his master's grave for 14 years. Never left his side. Died by his side. Cute story. He's buried at Greyfriars church, and it's the most visited grave in Edinburgh. Little kids gather sticks from the cemetery gardens and lay them by the tombstone. Gardeners have to disperse the growing mound of sticks every month or so, or otherwise it'll bury the tombstone. There's even a little statue of the dog (a Scottish terrier - what else?) in front of a pub by the church.

Shows what a little bit of dedication can do for you.

It's such a pretty little city, Edinburgh. It even looks good in the rain.

I've been glancing through the transfer rumours at newsnow, and it's kind of sad. There's probably only 2 or 3 players left who have the experience and the stature to be a sub at Arsenal, and who can be signed outside the transfer window. And so, they're posting increasingly tenuous links to players who I've never heard of. At this rate, by the end of the week Emmanuel Petit will be rumoured to come out of retirement to join us. Which wouldn't be too bad, I suppose - at least he's experienced enough and tough enough to boss the midfield.

If I can rig it, I may be able to duck down to Bolton for the away game on Saturday, before swinging back to Manchester. It's difficult to get a room in Bolton. No one really wants to stay there, for some odd reason. These Arsenal games are getting pretty addictive - it's so nice to watch the team live.

Oh we love you Arsenal, we do.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Read My Mind

It's funny how you just break down,
Waiting for some sign.
I pull up, by the side of your driveway,
With magic soaked in my spine,
Can you read my mind?

- The Killers, Read My Mind

I had my first haggis today. Strange, strange thing - like someone had scooped out the meat inside four sausage rolls and mashed them into a grey, unwholesome paste. It didn't taste too bad, though. Must be the extra oatmeal.

And I'm in Edinburgh. And it's raining. It's pretty when it rains - gives everything a nice sheen, envelopes the place in a mist. I think I'll like this city, once I wake up. I never knew how exhausting a 3 hour train ride can be. It's set on on two step sides of a ravine, and both sides face each other. They've got these five, six storey buildings that wind along medieval cobbled streets. It's pretty, and it's nice.

There's not much Arsenal news. So... I'll make some up. It's curious that Wenger's chosen such old players this transfer season. Silvestre instead of Senderos. Mineiro or Appiah instead of Flamini. It's a break with his chosen policy of the past three years. He's also elevated a kid in Wilshire and bought another one in Ramsey.

I'm starting to think that he thinks this is it. That this squad is good enough to win this year. That Denilson/Diaby/Song will be good enough. That Gallas and Toure can work together. That van Persie and Rosicky can keep fit enough to make a meaningful contribution.

It's very exciting, mainly because Wenger knows that he's got to deliver this year. One more year like this, and the rising pile of excrement will move into range of the ceiling fan. We're very, very impatient here at the Arsenal. We want a real title challenge.

I'm not sure what to think. If I'm a Wenger-believer, we're in for interesting times. If I'm a Wenger doubter, I'll have to think that Wenger's finally lost it. I don't know. My faith in Wenger oscillates between highs and lows. But in the midst of all this presumptive optimism, my patience in really breaking down.

Sick of waiting for a sign, I suppose.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

4-0 to the Arsenal

Adebayor, Adebayor
Give him the ball, and he will score

- the Arsenal away fans at Ewood Park, Blackburn

I'm thinking I should write to Danny Fizsman and ask for a season ticket. You see, I've seen three Arsenal games for a combined score of 11-0. In those three games, we've been lucky, brilliant and brilliantly lucky, often in the same half. This can't be coincidence. 

I think I'm a lucky charm. 

It was a lucky performance by Arsenal this time around. 4-0 can be a misleading score. Blackburn were unlucky to go into the break 0-2 down. They broke through the centre of the park with alarming easy, and Santa Cruz was scarily efficient at receiving long balls. If it wasn't for poor finishing, we would've gone in 2-2. 

That said, we DID win 4-0. Which is a lovely, lovely result. So I can't complain much. Only about the necessity of a monster at centre-half and a tank in central midfield. I'm really impressed with the way Walcott fronted up after the England match - he made nice runs, rode the inevitable tackles, and always demanding the ball. And I was impressed with Song when he came on in the second half - he looks the part as our anchoring midfielder, and he'll be awesome for us in a couple of years. 

And Adebayor - it was a nice touch when, after his second goal, he looked at the Darwen Stand (the Arsenal stand) pointed at the crowd and beat his chest. Corny perhaps, and definitely pre-meditated, but it felt heart-felt. Here's a guy who acted like a tosser over the transfer window, and who wants to make amends - at least until Barca come sniffing after him again. 

It was the first time I saw Wilshire play, as well. When I saw him step off the bus, I got a huge shock - the kid looks like a kid. Then, I realised he was only sixteen. Hopefully he's still got a bit of growth left in him. Remarkably, he did okay; the game was over by the time he came on, but he didn't look out-of-place. 

I'm at the Liverpool Apple Store right now. I really should think about buying a MacBook - it's probably just an acute case of tech lust, but they are very, very pretty machines. 

Saturday, September 13, 2008

At Loose Ends

And so, Sally can wait
She knows it's too late as she's walking on by
Her soul slides away
But don't look back in anger
I heard you say

- Don't Look Back In Anger, Oasis

I was tossing up between "Don't Look Back In Anger" and "There Is A Light That Never Goes Out" for the quote. I punted on the former because I've a sneaky suspicion that I've already used the latter. Both great Mancunian bands, by the way. 

Anyway, this one's all whiny introspection. 

I'm at loose ends at the moment. It's been about a month, and all the hostels, cities, museums, galleries, shopping malls, supermarkets, pubs, trains, trams and buses are starting to blur together. I'm at the stage when I wake up in the morning, and I wonder "why bother?".

It's the transience that's getting to me, I suppose. When you're travelling, everything is temporary. You have single serve jam, single serve tea and coffee, single serve microwave dinners and single serve friends. You meet and greet, wheel and deal, and the next morning, it's like nothing's different. It's like someone's reset the board while you've been sleeping, and it's a brand new game every day.

After a while, it gets a bit much. 

I used to daydream about this when I was younger. I used to daydream about just running away and getting lost in a place where there's no one around. I was fascinated by the 3-second memory of goldfish, and how every swim around the tank is like a brand new world. Though it would've been a really cool way to live - to have no memory and to experience everything as if for the first time. 

It's not what I expected, but that's cool. I think it's really what I need at this stage of my life. Love that line - her soul slides away - by the way. I need to do a bit more of that kind of stuff - letting things go, letting things be, letting things just slide away. Nothing I can do by dwelling on things, so what's the freaking point? 

I don't know. All I really know is that I'm getting rather guilty that I'm exploiting the largess of the good people at the Apple Store. I think Mac people are the nicest people in the world. Should log off soon.

Going to Blackburn to watch the Arsenal. Oh we love you Arsenal, we do. 

Friday, September 12, 2008

Morning Glory

All your dreams are made
When you're chained to the mirror to the razor blade
Today's the day that all the world will see...

- Morning Glory, Oasis

So, we're not getting Appiah

It's a bit deflating, that. It's even more deflating when you're hoping Appiah is the one who'll bring balance to the Arsenal. I was hoping for someone of a bit more renown, but I was willing to settle for Appiah. I was willing to settle for anyone

But now, there's no one.

Still, no point getting annoyed about it. It's not raining in Manchester. It's the third day in a row that hasn't rained. So it's going to be a good day. Just got to figure out what to do until Saturday, and Arsenal vs Blackburn. I'm looking forward to my first away match. It'll be interesting. I can't believe how no one here knows how to get to Blackburn. It's like the black hole of the north-west. 

If Nasri's out, probably Walcott and Eboue on the flanks. If Nasri's in, then Eboue on the right. Probably. Maybe. Hopefully not, but then Le Boss loves Eboue like I love fried food - we both know it's not good for us, but we can't help going back. 

Manchester is a pretty city. I was walking along the canals in south, under these enormous railway arches. There's something really impressive with brutally large architecture. It's not like modern skyscrapers which, although tall, are built on a human scale. When you're looking at a former garment factory, a newspaper print house or a railway line, you know that these buildings were built to accommodate machines, not humans. And walking amongst them is like entering a giant's world. 

I wonder if I should get a MacBook

Thursday, September 11, 2008

I hate Manchester

Fooking Walcott! He's too fooking weak, the bastard! Weak fooking Arsenal bastard!

- the Mancs at the bar, moments before the first of Walcott's three goals

I hate Manchester.

It's not a personal thing. I actually think the city's remarkably pretty - it's all red brick and glass and steel. It's an amazing rejuvenation of a city of the Industrial Revolution. The architecture is really well done. The city's small enough to walk around in, and big enough to contain everything you'd want. The pubs and bars and clubs are, according to those in the know, well good.

It's just that Manchester is where Man Utd come from. There's something decidedly sinister about being in the Red Devil's city, like I'm invading foreign territory or something. It's stupid, because I'm not normally partisan. I'd like to believe that I'm a football fan before an Arsenal fan, and that I can appreciate great football on any level. I admire Man Utd's skill, pace and tenacity. And I consider Ferguson to be a great manager.

One of my objectives in this Grand Tour of mine was to visit the homes of all the great football clubs in the world. Man Utd's one of them. But when I was leafing through the brochure for a tour of Old Trafford, I felt a horrible twisting sensation in my gut, and I couldn't do it. I didn't want to step into Man Utd's home ground. It just felt wrong.

Theo came of age last night. Three goals in a 4-1 victory against Croatia. Bloody brilliant. All three were absolutely clinical, and watching the last goal was like watching Theirry Henry again. Theo's a natural finisher - maybe the one we've been waiting for. Maybe he's the one who'll provide the goals from midfield this year. Maybe we can win it this year. Maybe.

I love Theo Walcott.

And as luck would have it, I'm only minutes away from Blackburn, where we're playing on Saturday. Might pop over to Ewood Park to see the Arsenal. I'm sure there'll be tickets available.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Shakespeare World

Lisa: Anyway, a rose by any other name would smell as sweet.
Bart: Not if you call it stinkweeed.
Marge: I'd feel very differently if someone gave me a bunch of stinkweed.

- The Simpsons, I can't remember which one.

There's something unseemly about the whole tourist industry. It hit me yesterday as I wandered around the various Shakespeare sites in Stratford. They've bought up a couple of tenuously related houses (his grand-daughter's two houses) and dressed them up as genuine Shakespearean temples of worship. They've shoved a tacky gift shop right by his birthplace (admittedly, with an amusing coffee mug full of Shakespearean insults). And they're charging admittance fees to see his grave.

I'm not sure what to make of it. On one hand, the Bard would probably have encouraged it - he was a businessman himself. On the other, there's something distasteful about profiting from a guy's grave. Maybe I'm just imposing my sensiblities onto the situation (he did part with quite a bit of money to be buried there), but it seems tacky.

I guess I want to be a tourist without seeming too touristy. It's a fine, and rather hypocritical line to take.

Went to Warwick Castle today. Yep, when they were thinking up names to call this castle, someone decided that "Warwick" was fearsome enough to deter enemies. Then again, it was once owned by a guy named Neville. It makes for a deflating experience.

What's in a name, you say? Quite a bit, especially if it's stinkweed.

Meanwhile, Appiah is trying to decide between West Ham and Arsenal. Seriously. Fuck me down and slap me silly. Have we sunkne so low that Appiah can't tell us apart from West Ham?

Monday, September 8, 2008

Misc. post about stuff

Karma police, arrest this man
He talks in maths
He buzzes like a fridge
He's like a detuned radio

- Radiohead, Karma Police, (it's a snide reference to Peter Hill-Wood, okay?).

I've only ever seen two Arsenal matches in my life, but I'm very impressed with Song. He's got a languid grace about him. He's positionally very good, and slips into defence very well when Toure goes off on his forward runs. In both matches, I didn't see him caught out once. Admittedly, he was playing against weak opposition, but he was still very impressive.

I think he's the future partner for Fabregas.

However, that's not to say we don't need someone now. Appiah, who's been linked to us on a free, would be good cover for a year while Song and Denilson get the experience needed for the first team. I'm not as convinced about Denilson, but then, I've only ever watched two Arsenal games. What the hell would I know about it?

Peter Hill-Wood said:

"If somebody came and made a really huge bid then you cannot recommend shareholders turn it down because we don't like it. We want the club to stay in its current ownership and, of course, you have some concern that someone will try to buy the club. The directors don't want to sell but we are a public company. It depends on the price."

I never get tired of saying it - Danny Fizsman needs to muzzle this guy, or at least make the position of chairman a non-speaking role.

And our Theo Walcott said after the Andorra match:

"I know how to scare any defender."

Please don't be too scary, Theo. You're such a nice boy. I'm going to name my first-born after you, if and when one comes along.

I'm leaving for Stratford today. Going to see where William Shakespeare was born. And the clouds have broken, the sun's shining, and the world is lovely and green. And it'll be this way for a day until the next low-weather trough drifts in from the west. Apparantly, England experiences what Florida experiences, only in a weaker form and a week delayed.

I hate the Gulf Stream.

Sunday, September 7, 2008

On a Sunday

The breath of the morning
I keep forgetting
The smell of the warm summer air

I live in a town
Where you can't smell a thing
You watch your feet
For cracks in the pavement

- Radiohead, Subterranean Homesick Alien, my favourite lines from my favourite song from my favourite band

Before they were Radiohead, they were called "On a Friday". Before superstardom, they were just a bunch of skinny schoolkids who wanted to play music. And every Friday night, they'd unload their gear in a pokey little room above a pub in Oxford, and play to a tiny little group of people.

I spent the best part of a Saturday night walking around Oxford looking for that pub. It was the strangest experience. I didn't even know the name of the place, so I just asked people on the street. It lead me from one side of Oxford (where I'm staying) to the other side (to The Zodiac). That place had been turned into a cinema, but a woman on Cowley Rd directed me back across town to a pub called The Jericho. She had no idea where the pub was, but a guy in the city centre directed me to Little Claredon Street. That was wrong, but a drugged-out barkeeper directed me down Walton Rd, where I finally found The Jericho Tavern.

I walked in halfway through a mixed night, and saw a couple of bands - Censored, from Nottingham, and The Brent Wood, from London. Not bad, but not Radiohead. But to be fair, back then, not even Radiohead were Radiohead.

As I walked back to the hostel, I reflected on the strangeness of it all. No one knew where I was going, apart from the last guy I asked. Each person had a different idea of where things were. But somehow, it worked. I drifted from person to person, and it was far more effective than if I was armed with a map and directions. If you're open about it, turns out that people really do want to help you. Kind of renews my faith in humankind somewhat.

I'm not sure how it happened, but Oxford's turned from a walk amongst medieval college squares into a circuit of all of Radiohead's former haunts. The lady in the tourism office thinks I'm some kind of cultural Philistine. Here I am in one of the great centres of learning in the world, and I'm chasing the ghosts of an indie rock band with way too much pretension for its own good.

What the hell am I doing here? I don't belong here.

Saturday, September 6, 2008

Nothing to do with Arsenal

I'm back from Tintern Abbey, and currently cooling my heels in Chepstow. Welsh buses are even more infrequent than Melbourne ones. Still, it's a nice looking abbey and all. Framed with rain and mist and lush, forested hills, it looks suitably mournful.

There's an air of sadness around all these moldy ruins.

It's a bit to do with the impermanence of man and how all our works will one day lie forgotten in the ground. You walk through delicately carved archways and soaring gothic pillars, and you realise how much effort went into making these things last for all time. When you look at all the monuments and flagstones dedicated to past luminaries, you start to realise how little you really leave behind. There's nothing there but a name and a touching little epiphet.

It's a bit to do with the whole futility of Welsh nationalism, how they seem to shoot themselves in the foot all the time. I'm not really familiar with their history (it's mainly pieced from Lonely Planet guidebooks and plaques off moldy ruins), but it seems a history of division and discorded, and lots of noble dudes sucking up to more powerful England lords. Even all their transportation is focused west-east instead of north-south (due, historically, to shepherds leading their flock to richer English markets). All these buildings they've built are like a monument to their fruitless, ill-guided energies.

Then again, it also might be because of the bloody rain. It always makes me melacholy and introspective. It rains 90% of the time when I'm in Wales, and 100% of the time when I'm in a moldy ruin. Often, there's dazzling sunshine when I'm in a bus, but once I'm out, it starts again. I'd quite like Cardiff specifically, and Wales generally, if it wasn't the case. It's quite a pretty little place.

Anyway, I'm off to Oxford tomorrow. And the way things are, I probably won't blog for a while. I'm too cheap to pay £1 for 15 minutes of internet. It's too much for too little. Like Wenger, I don't care if it's the market price - I want to buy my time on my terms, or not at all.

There's not a lot going on, anyway. There's an internationl match tonight (I think). My prediction's that Walcott will get a game against Andorra and score a hattrick, play against Croatia and get two more, and have a host of tabloids complaining that Wenger's been holding this kid back. Or something like that.

Friday, September 5, 2008

My Dad won something

1-0 to the CAV Table Tennis club,
1-0 to the CAV Table Tennis club,
1-0 to the CAV Table Tennis club,
1-0 to the CAV Table Tennis club!

- my Dad, to the strains of "Go West" by the Pet Shop Boys (which is also sung, without irony, by the fiercest, heaviest blokes at the Arsenal - which is funny with it being a gay anthem and all, y'know)

My Dad won a table tennis tournament the other day.

His club beat another club in a friendly competition. He was first seed, and beat his opponent. He sent me a few photos via email, and he looks proud as punch. If he keep this up, he'll be promoted to the A Grade team next year.

Made me a bit homesick. And it's only been 17 days. And it's mum's birthday next week. I'm buggered if I know how I'll cope after a few months.

I suppose it doesn't qualify as Arsenal news, but it's probably the closest to success we're going to get for a while, so I'm going to enjoy it. And anyway, as I said in my charter (it's in my first post), it's my fucking blog and I'll blog what the fuck I feel like.

Going to Oxford tomorrow. Not sure if any of the colleges are open (school started a couple of days ago), but it's a 4-star rated hostel. I'm sick of sleeping with 7 other guys who snore, stink, fart and undress in front of you.

Oh, Arsenal news. There's this article from the Online Gooner which says we need Dein and Usmanov at the Arse. Now, I'm not a fan of the board (in fact, I think Peter Hill-Wood is in need of a competency injection) and I hate how Danny Fizsman is dumping all the pressure on Wenger (yeah, like Wenger's going to ask you to borrow 30 million in this current credit climate, Danny boy), but a rich investor isn't the answer.

We've got the squad, the resources and the manager to remain solvent and 4th. Yes, we won't win anything without investment (which we don't have). But I'd rather we remain the Arsenal and be independent rather than being a billionaire's plaything. Of course, others may feel otherwise, but I don't hold with the win at all costs theory. It's just a personal opinion.

As Peter Garrett once sang, it's better to die on your feet than live on your knees. Of course, he was duly elected as a Labor MP and started towing the party line immediately, which goes to show that even the scariest looking rocker with a social conscience can be seduced by ugly, ugly people in Parliament. It's depressing watching this neutered version of him now, compared with the angry voice of Midnight Oil.

Hell, I've got to brave this rain and get to Tintern Abbey today. Why the fuck does Wales always have to rain?

Thursday, September 4, 2008

I hate The Telegraph

"It is not easy to speak English in the Arsenal dressing room. The boss talks in French when he has discussions with players and only speaks English in team meetings. I do not feel that I am in a foreign country with all the French speakers around I am not in unknown territory. I have settled in very well."

- Sammy Nasri, from an awful Telegraph story

3 points today, before I comment on the above:

1. I'm going to Caerphilly. There's a big castle there built by a guy in the Middle Ages to keep another guy out of town. I'm hazy on the details, but it's supposed to be a big, big castle - the biggest in Wales. Should be worth a look.

2. I'm changing my mind about Cardiff. Apart from the rain, it's a funky little city. It's not big, but it's optimistic. It's a child of the Industrial Revolution, and parts of it are still full of dour, working-class terraces. But it's also relatively new, in that most of the current building boom has happened in the past ten years or so. It's a bit like a ghost town at the moment, because there's not enough people to fill all the streets, apartments and funky little boutique shops, but they'll come. Build it and they will come. It reminds me a bit of Geelong and their waterfront development.

3. I don't understand how anyone can approve of Sarah Palin running for Veep. Misogynists should be appalled because she's an underqualified woman - there are probably five men who have both the experience and the genitalia to do things proper. Feminists should be appalled because she's an underqualified woman - it makes a mockery of the ideals of the "sisterhood of the travelling pantsuit". What happened to the idea that you get the position because of your abilities, and not your gender?

But onto the quote.

It's from a Telegraph article with the headline "Arsenal's French-speaking dressing room leaves Theo Walcott lost in translation". And it has nothing to do with Walcott, and everything to do with how well Nasri is settling in. The story itself is the typical fluff piece about how well a player is settling into the club. No problem with that.

My issue is with the headline. This is terrible journalism. It's misleading. It's racist. And it treats its readers with contempt. It's got nothing to do with Walcott. It suggests that the Francophones are subbing our dear little Theo, purely on language. It insinuates that these foreign players are usurping places that belong to real Englishmen. And it presumes a readership that is xenophobic, ill-educated and gullible enough to swallow this tripe.

How do English newspapers get away with stunts like this?

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Man City and Cardiff Castle

“As a Chelsea fan. I envy you. I know what it's like to suffer years of hope with nothing to show for it. But a couple of weeks before the January transfer window the speculation about which players you will sign will go ballistic and, to be honest, it's a great feeling to have the world's top players linked with your club. The thrill wears off after a couple of years so enjoy it while it's fresh.”

- SuperDad,, a comment from The Times

I've just come over from Cardiff Castle. I'd passed by it on the bus a few times yesterday, and I thought it looked interesting. It is, and it isn't. There's a 12th century castle on a motte in the middle, but the high walls and the Gothic clock tower are 18th century recreations by the 3rd Marquis of Bute. Being one of the richest men in the world wasn't satisfying, obviously.

He wanted to live in a castle.

I did the tour, and it turned my stomach. It's done up in a faux Gothic style, and it's so elaborately decorated (gilded, painted, carved, and highly polished oak panelling) that it looks a bit garish. It's looks a bit like the Cuckoo restaurant up in the Dandelong Ranges.

Please be patient, I do have a point.

There are a lot of billionaires in football at the moment. From Silvio Berlusconi to Roman Abramovich, and now to shady types like Thaksin Shinawatra and our own Alistar Usmanov, football's the trendiest acquisition for the man who can buy medium-sized African countries. They tend to buy an obscure club, inflate it with lots of cash, and then stock it with a lot of fancy players (and their accompanying bling). With Man City, Robinho's just the start. They also want Torres, Ronaldo and our own Cesc Fabregas.

The Greeks had a saying - nothing in excess. Too much of anything is bad taste. Even if you're buying the best, it starts to look a bit unnatural.

Take the Marquis of Bute's fairy-tale castle - each article is beautifully made. But with too much elaboration, it becomes gaudy. If you stockpile a room with gilded ceiling paintings, wooden vaults, oak panelling with acorns and monkeys, stained glass windows.... it looks too flashy. If he'd been a bit more restrained, and kept one feature piece in each room, it would've looked alright. But too much bling (even high-quality bling) is tacky.

The (long-suffering) Mrs Marquis of Bute slept in a separate bedroom with a separate drawing room. My tour group poked around her quarters, and they're spartan by comparison - pale green walls, a couple of wall-lamps, a carpet. I'd imagine her developing an acute visual headache in the main Gothic rooms, and then fleeing back to the calmness of her sensible Edwardian(?) drawing room.

Likewise, too many top, top players can get a bit much. Remember how we salivated when Nasri arrived? Now imagine how it would've been if we'd got Essien, Silva and Villa in the transfer window as well. Nice, hey? What about Akinfeev and Benzema in January? And Ronaldo, Vidic and Ramos after that?

Don't know about you, but if that happened, I'd be running out the room like much Mrs Marquis of Bute did in the 1700s.

Superdad (the source of my quote), has a point. Football speculation is like a fizzy soft drink. There's only so much carbon dioxide in each can. You can open it and sip, and enjoy the fizziness for the entire can. Or you can shake it up and have it escape in one enormously pleasing spurt. But if you do that, the rest of our drink is flat and boring.

That said, Wenger really should've bought a defensive midfielder. At Arsenal we like restraint, but it's not nice to live in a prison cell.

No player, no cry

So no, woman, no cry;
No, woman, no cry.
I seh, O little - O little darlin', don't shed no tears;
No, woman, no cry, eh.

- Bob Marley, "No woman, no cry"

So we didn't get anyone on transfer eve. We were good boys and girls for all the transfer window, we left out cookies and milk, and still Wenger Claus didn't arrive. It makes you wonder whether we should believe in make-believe characters who slides down chimneys and spends mega-bucks on players.

Sadly, those characters do exist, but only in Russia and the Middle East.

Man City bought Robinho. Which is funny, more than anything. Man City are building a second Roman Empire up there in the north, and Robinho is the foundation stone. The new owners have already handed a shopping list to Mark Hughes. Already, they've been ordered to get a top 4 spot, and a Champions League title in the near future. Hughes must be a little bit perturbed. Shades of Ranieri are in in the offing, and I bet the new owners want to throw big wads of cash at unsuspecting world-class managers (i.e. Guus Hiddink).

Whatever the case, I've got a feeling that, despite our paucity in midfield, it's Liverpool that's going to have to look over their shoulder. We're not a bad side, despite the weakness in midfield. We really, really need someone to do the donkey work. But Cesc is fit enough that he won't miss that many games. We will drop embarassing games like Fulham, because we're too thin to be consistent. But we're okay. We're not going to win anything, but we're not going drop out of the top 4, either.

Moreover, I think talks of a European Superleague is premature. The way things are turning out, all the best players are going to get sucked into the Premier League, so that'll be a de facto Superleague. Which, according to my friend in London, is what's happening with everything else worthwhile as well. Most of everything is relocating to London. It's hip.

And the Arsenal are there. Everyone wants to be close to the Arsenal.

I'm in Cardiff now, in Wales. Spent the past couple of days in Bath - really pretty city. It's like a Georgian-period theme park. It's situated on a bend of the river Avon, and it's ringed by hills. The whole thing's made out of sandstone and set out in grand terraced streets. The Germans bombed the hell out of it in WW2, so only a third of the original city's left, but it's still grand.

I stayed in an Italianate mansion up on Bathwick Hill, and when I walked up it at night, you could see the whole city glittering below. Bath Abbey's half made up of glass, so it lights up like a lantern. Really, really pretty city. Can't emphasize that enough.

Cardiff looks pretty ugly in comparison. It's a seaport, and has a stack of dour-looking houses in the surburbs where I'm staying. It's a new capital (so to speak) and the city centre is a construction site at the moment. And it's raining, which doesn't help.I should've spent more time in Bath, but I've got itchy feet. Now I've got to figure out what to do for 4 days here.