Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Sarajevo and the captaincy

"It is a great honour for me to captain one of the biggest clubs in the world. It is a proud moment. I know it's a big responsibility but together with my team-mates, I know we have the spirit and commitment to get back to winning ways and fulfil our potential."

- Cesc Fabregas, on his appointment as the new Arsenal captain

So Cesc's the captain.

It's the right choice at the wrong time. In August, Cesc said that the captaincy would be a great honour, but in one or two years. He's got enough on his own plate, I think, without having to worry about lifting a struggling team. It's definitely a risk. But there really isn't much other option. Toure's not a vocal leader, Clichy's too inconsistent and Sagna's... I'm not sure why he's not an option, but he's not. Maybe because he's too French. I don't know.

Let's just hope it works out.

I spent the day yesterday looking at all the leftovers from the siege during the Balkans war. The guide was fifteen when it started, nineteen when it ended, and he fought in it for three of the four years. As we drove through the hills around Sarajevo, he pointed out the Serbian positions, the Bosnian positions, and that narrow wedge of disputed territory in between.

The strange thing was how innocuous the landscape seemed. The roads we were driving past where lined with houses, and gave great views of the city below. Except for the occasional ruined house or the leftover bunker, we could've been driving through suburbs of any town in the world. And excluding the four years between 1992 and 1995, I suppose they were just ordinary suburbs.

He mentioned the shrapnel holes that scarred the buildings along the way. I hadn't really noticed them before he pointed them out, but afterwards, I could see them everywhere. I could even see the Sarajevo roses that splattered the streets. It was a brutal siege, with 10,000 people killed, and the horrible thing is that world just let it happen.

The Serbians had taken positions in the hills around Sarajevo, encircling the city. The UN took control of the airport in order to get supplies through to the citizens, but because the Serbians took half of what was delivered, it wasn't enough. To get enough supplies, the citizens of Sarjevo dug a tunnel under the airport, linking with a corridoor of Bosnian control territory behind the hills.

The guide showed us the tunnel under the airport, through which the citizens could get supplies from the outside world. It started off in some guy's basement, wound 800 metres through a hunched-up, water-logged space, and ended up in some other guy's basement. Only about 25 metres still exist, and only from the exit side, but still, it's something to see. Again, it's startling to see how commonplace these things were. When you think of war, you imagine large theatres of combat and maps with coloured trianges - it's a bit confronting when you realise that sometimes things occur in people's basements.

Going to walk around the city a bit more today. It's all quite interesting, in other ways. The Turkish quarter is a tourist trap, but it's a lovely warren of twisting alleys and wooden houses. There's a park with a giant chess board and the old men line up in the morning to play with that. And then there's the Latin Bridge, where some Austrian Archduke got shot and gave the band Franz Ferdinand their name.

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