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Soup of This Day #395: Would You Stand Up

MCG crowd
A Melbourne Cricket Ground (MCG) footy crowd looks pretty amorphous but you can still make out the individual voices – Photo: AsianFC, 2007. AsianFC is not affiliated with Longworth72. Image cropped by Longworth72.

Saturday a couple of weeks ago, the last Saturday for September of 2014, I sat down in front of my TV to watch the Australian Football League (AFL) Grand Final. It was set to be an alright day for me – The couch was comfortable and the two best teams in the comp had made it through to the decider – It seemed like the kind of situation whereby otherwise hackneyed cliches fit just so…

Anyone’s game. A clash of titans. Football will be the real winner.

And if you didn’t look beyond the cliches, the game delivered. Sort of – It wasn’t, as it turned out, anyone’s game – This match-up was owned by Hawthorn from early on and by half-time only a mug would have thought Sydney could get back into the contest before the final siren. The Hawks had some luck establishing their lead, but they had made their good fortune, casting it from sheer mettle. Simply, they were harder at the ball – Fiercely intense when they couldn’t get hands on it and wickedly slick when they could.

Their midfield, thought pre-match to be old and therefore slowing, swamped the Swannies, with captain Luke Hodge ably assisted in the clinches by the likes of Sam Mitchell and Jordan Lewis. Up forward too and Hawthorn were taking their chances – Accurate from set shots and ruthless in open play.

Nobody emphasised this as much as the Hawk’s barnstorming midfielder, Will Langford. In particular his third goal was a stand-out highlight – From what seemed like a certain dead ball and subsequent throw-in, the son of a Hawthorn legend (Chris Langford) punctuated his own entry into the history of the game with a freakish effort – He corralled the Sherrin the right side of the boundary before grubbering a snap from the pocket that bounced ridiculously over a despairing Swans defender.

Yep, it was high quality footy and through almost all of that broadcast I felt sick to my guts.

Not because I’m a Swans fan – I’m not and I have no particular fondness for the Sydneysiders. I don’t have any dislike of them though either – I’m a Dockers fan and so for this match I was a neutral with no leaning. Nor was it about the quality of the broadcast – Sure the commentary irked me (It almost always does) but I could have turned the sound down or just muted it out completely. I usually do the latter.

Maybe I should have done that for this game too. Then, I wouldn’t have heard the boos.

I’m on record as not liking booing in any sporting situation. Mostly though, I’ll tolerate it – I don’t boo anybody myself, but I’ll accept that others are ok with it and that therefore it will happen. Generally then, I’ll tune it out, reckoning it simply as a pantomime kind of barracking. Not fun, but not harmful either.

This game had something different though, or at least that’s how it seemed to me via the TV.

This game had Adam Goodes.

You’d think that in a fair and reasonable community, Adam Goodes would not be someone you’d boo – He’s a deadset legend both on and off the park. With an AFL’s ‘fairest and best’ Brownlow Medal (2003), an AFL Premiership (2005) and an All-Australian nod (2003) on his resume, he was justifiably selected in the AFL’s Indigenous Team of the Century.

That honour arrived in 2005. After just 7 years of playing at the highest level, Adam Goodes had earned the right to be considered one of the game’s greats. Across the next 9 years he went even further.

Since 2005 Adam Goodes has added another Brownlow (2006), another AFL Premiership (2011) and three more All-Australian nods (2006, 2009 & 2011). All told he’s a 351 game veteran, with 451 goals kicked for his only AFL club, the Sydney Swans.

He’s kicked goals outside of footy too, and not just for Sydney – He’s a natural leader on a national scale in the push for genuine recognition of Australia’s indigenous peoples – A living, breathing and footy-playing embodiment for reconciliation between his indigenous heritage and the predominantly Anglo-Saxon society Australia now has. Because of this, he is the current Australian of the Year.

Like with his footy career, Adam Goodes hasn’t rested on those civic laurels though. He has continued to to stand up on issues. For instance, last season (2013) he calmly identified a 13 year-old fan in a footy crowd who had vilified him as an ‘ape’.

That was a beautiful response to an ugly scenario. Casual discrimination is a problem in Australia and sporting surrounds are fertile grounds for it – There’s more than a bit of a Fight Club ethos when it comes to supporting a footy team – You can say what you really mean and the first rule is that nobody will talk about it outside of the stadium.

It’s a stupid, gutless rule and so Adam Goodes broke the rule and calmly called that young fan and society in general on casual racism. That simple act forced a lot of people to examine what they believed and how it impacted upon those around them, and it made a number of those people uncomfortable. Somehow that unease got translated into general ire at Adam Goodes.

The same Adam Goodes who had been on the receiving end of the racist abuse in the first place.

Go figure.

But, I’ve heard, people aren’t booing Goodes for that. The booing’s not racist, some say – Instead they argue that it’s because Adam Goodes stages for free-kicks.

And they’re partially right because he does prop for free kicks. Most modern players do to some extent and more so as they get on in their careers. They get canny. It’s not necessarily a great thing but there it is across the board.

And in the hands of the on-field umpires.

Yep, Adam Goodes is subject to the same playing rules and laws as everybody else. He gets no special footy rights for being Australian of the Year – There is no conspiracy that allows him to bypass the regular officiating. Basically I’m calling bullshit then on that argument for booing Goodes – It just feels like a convenient excuse.

For some it’s more than a feeling. Take writer and Swans fan Erin Riley.

Erin was at the MCG for the 2014 AFL Grand Final. Her Swans were playing and I reckon it was set to be a special day for her, regardless of the score.

Except that throughout the game she got to hear some of the substance that made up the booing I could hear as just a low and ugly sound. It turns out that what I heard just hinted at how low and ugly it was – She reported misogyny, homophobia and yep, racism. The former two were broadly aimed (but just as wounding) while the latter was seemingly directed at Adam Goodes – Among the hits there was even the suggestion that by highlighting racism, Adam Goodes must himself be a racist.

Although by that logic anyone suggesting that Adam Goodes is a racist for highlighting racism is therefore also racist. As am I because I’m highlighting alleged racists highlighting alleged racists highlighting actual racists. It almost sounds too stupid to ponder. Probably because it is.

Meanwhile Erin Riley turned in a piece about her Grand Final for the Sydney Morning Herald (SMH). It’s a curse and a blessing and you can read it here. You really should as it’s well written. Fair warning though, for all fine wordsmithing, it may be an uncomfortable read – If you love footy, sport, Australia or have any sort of high hopes for humanity, you’ll spend a chunk of your time during and after going through this piece despairing. Maybe, like me, you’ll get to the end of it and wonder, after all we’ve been through, just how the fuck we’re still so far away from getting it right. And by ‘it’ I mean ‘humanity.’

Because this shit happened. Let me be clear – I have no reason to doubt Erin Riley, or others who have corroborated her telling of events.

I do have ample reason to believe that what happened wasn’t rare – Mostly because of what followed the publishing of that SMH piece. It generated an awful lot of comments that were idiotic, ignorant, threatening and just plain old wrong. If it hadn’t been so offensive it might have been funny – Abusing someone from within a culture for suggesting that they’d witnessed abuse within that culture. Some might label that irony, but I prefer to think of it as a self-saucing pudding of fuckery.

It’s probably worth restating that I wasn’t at the MCG and so I didn’t hear in detail what Erin Riley heard on the day. Just the booing and that was bad enough. The rest though I have heard on other days, at footy games, at other sporting contests and throughout a lot of facets of this Australian life I live. Yep, this shit happens and this is apparently who we are.

I’m done now. When I started writing this, sad and angry, I figured on ending with a reproach to the AFL. I’m not doing that though – Instead I’m throwing this out to everyone who just loves the game. Everyone who doesn’t want to deal with politics or that heavy stuff. Everyone who just wants to watch the game because they love the game.

Hawthorn played some awesome footy but this is other shit is your game too and this is apparently who we are.

Would You Stand Up

Soup of This Day #394: You Stick Around Now It May Show

Spark-Renault SRT 01E
The Spark-Renault SRT 01E looks like it’s moving even when it’s parked – Photo: Smokeonthewater, 2013. Smokeonthewater is not affiliated with Longworth72. Image cropped by Longworth72.

Mate…

The other night I set aside a couple of hours to watch the future of motorsport – The first ever Formula E race.

This new class of motorsport mates the slick grandeur of open-wheel racing with cutting-edge electric-powered technology. It’s everything we dreamed of as kids and that science-fiction films taught us was possible.

And there’s a part of me that wants those two hours of my life back.

Because as relevant and of the future as this category simultaneously is, it’s also mind-numbingly boring to watch.

It’s not difficult to understand why, although it is easy to get blinded by the show – The cars for instance, all Spark-Renault SRT 01E models, absolutely look the goods – They have Formula 1 style aero packages, all slippery angles and sleek, understated curves. The tyres too are suitably fat and sticky, and the whole gives the impression that given enough velocity, these sexy wraiths will hold, even upside down, to the roof of a tunnel.

Given enough velocity.

Which these cars don’t have. They in fact have nowhere near enough velocity, with the entrants in the opening race topping out at around 160kph. That’s hardly fast for pretty much any modern motorsport category. That too was the upper limit – At times, while negotiating one of a number of chicanes, some cars were slowing down to below 50kph.

I sometimes go slower than that during my morning commute, but that’s because I need to slow down for school zones (40kph here in Western Australia). There were no school zones on the Beijing circuit in use for this debut Formula E race.

In truth there wasn’t much of anything on that circuit to make it interesting – It wasn’t far off being an innocuous rectangle, occasionally leavened by chicanes designed to aid energy recovery. The latter are crucial as these cars harvest energy from braking and squeeze it back into the running of the engine. They need to do this because, while the race was less than 100km and scheduled to take no more than an hour, there simply wasn’t enough juice in each car to make it more than halfway through.

This posed a fairly novel dilemma for competing teams, in that you can’t refuel one of these cars like you can a conventional petrol-powered unit – It simply takes too long to charge up the batteries and they’re not easily removable either. So the organisers settled on the best available means for turning around a car that had run out of power.

They didn’t.

Instead, each entrant had two cars. At the halfway mark of the race, there was a mandatory pit stop whereby the driver would swap cars, exchanging an almost-flat unit for a full-charged, ‘here’s-one-I-prepared-earlier’. This was handled surprisingly cleanly – Each team had to stop for a minimum amount of time, so this administrative manoeuvre could have little impact on the actual race, allowing competitors to fairly seamlessly howl back out on to the track.

And howl they did, although not like the ferocious scream that Formula 1 cars used to have. Formula E cars have a high-pitched breathy whine. A little like that imagined in this future vision from the 1992 movie, Freejack:

Mick Jagger’s fleet of pursuit vehicles sound like they might be electrical units, most likely powered by batteries. Mick Jagger’s acting also seems to be powered by batteries. Batteries that are low on charge.

This sound is strangely fitting and because of that, not annoying. If going on context, that whine may even be a better sound than what you get from the low, coughing V6 turbos of the current generation of Formula 1 cars.

So these cars look like ducks (Sexy, swooping ducks) and they quack like ducks (Futuristic, jacked cyborg ducks) – The problem I keep coming back to is that they don’t paddle like ducks. At least not healthy ducks.

This is because speed is as fundamental to motorsport as webbed feet are to a duck. For sure there are other elements that make up racecraft but speed is what binds them into a compelling package. Without that velocity, we’re talking chess-on-wheels.

Disclosure: I had a bastard of a chess computer as a kid and my views of that game may be slightly coloured in a shade of unreasonably pissed-off. Thank you Hanimex and your cunning Portachess CXG202.

My prejudices aside, chess is measured and thoughtful. It’s also slow and so it’s not a spectator sport with mass appeal. This is a template you want to avoid for motorsport.

Maybe the organisers of Formula E realised this and were keen to avoid spectators being turned off this early into the concept. That could explain the odd element they tried to inject into proceedings – With competitors given a strict and frugal energy budget for the Beijing ePrix, there was a precious five second power boost gifted to the three competitors who received the most votes in a pre-race poll.

To be fair, five seconds is not an outright distortion – Certainly not in the way the ‘Reverse Play’ button is on the CXG202 (You can switch sides when losing. I accidentally leaned on that button sometimes) but it’s still a false note and an unnecessary one too – There were other elements to promote on the Beijing track…

Stuff like the two female drivers, racing this series on merit. Yep, Formula E is how it should be in so many ways.

It just needs speed.

It will get it too, because this is truly the future of motorsport. That’s why I figure on taking out a couple of more hours of my life to watch the next race, around Malaysia’s Putrajaya Street Circuit in late November. Then in December it’s Uruguay, January in Argentina, March and April in the US, May in Monaco and Berlin, and June in London, before a whole new season with upgraded tech. Somewhere along the ride, these cars will get properly fast and compelling. It will happen and I can wait for that spark.

In the meantime, to add some buzz of my own, I’ve just dug out the old Portachess, whacked in some new batteries and taken it for a spin. Some 30 years on and it does ok – It’s hardly aerodynamic but it’s still ever so thoughtful and cunning. This time out though, with some help from my crew chief, I got to the chequered flag waved over the chequered board in first place.

…Mate.

You Stick Around Now It May Show

Soup of This Day #393: I’m Going Home To Where The River Runs Dry

John Street, Beverley
Looking back down the placid John Street, the main thoroughfare in Beverley, Western Australia. If you were to make your way down that road, in the same direction as we’re gazing, you’d end up crossing the Avon River – Photo: Longworth72, 2014. Image cropped by Longworth72.

At least a part of this post was written in the Western Australian wheatbelt town of Beverley.

I grew up there.

Technically I grew up in a lot of places, and maybe you could argue that I’m still growing up approaching 40, a fair while after the generally acknowledged ‘growing up’ period has supposed to have ended. Semantics aside though, Beverley is where I did the bulk of my formal schooling and it’s where my mum died, and so it’s where I feel like I first confronted the wonderful and sometimes harsh realities of life. That makes for a decent amount of growing up and so I credit Beverley as the nursery for adult me.

Adult me doesn’t live in Beverley now – It’s been 22 or so years since I left and I’ve been back maybe a handful of times since. That irregularity of visits is not because I think ill of the place though – Far from it – I have a lot of great memories attached to that part of the world. Those memories though, however wonderful, are a part of the problem for me.

There’s too many of them.

I can’t walk a metre in that town without being swamped by a surge of memories. They foam over me such that even the best ones can send me tumbling, the sheer volume and pace at which they cascade being too much for sure mental footing.

It helps a little if I close my eyes, but not that much – The smells and sounds are still vividly familiar. Plus, my memory is pretty accurate from when I lived there, but the local government of Beverley has moved some stuff around across the past 22 years. Too solid stuff like bins and lamp poles.

So mostly I just have to let the memories wash over me, see if I can’t stand my ground or failing that, ride the flow. Almost like I’m back rafting down the Avon River.

The Avon runs through Beverley and through most of my memories. Our house was not much more than a stone’s throw from the eastern bank of that river and so it had a constant presence in my life. I rode or walked over the main and only bridge in Beverley on the way to school or town most days – Almost all of Beverley’s businesses and facilities sit on the western side of the Avon.

Bridges though can lead to a distant experience – Sure I looked down often but mostly I was hurrying to get to the other side. At other times though, mostly weekends, I got to forge a closer bond with the waters of the Avon. Those days saw us holding a Huckleberry Finn like relationship with that river. We built cubby houses on and made of it’s banks, played a myriad of adventures through it’s attendant bushland, and even rafted down it when there was enough of a flow to satisfy the draft of some old drums lashed to planking.

That latter experience was hardly a whitewater thrill-ride though. The Avon is still fairly young when it passes through Beverley and there’s hardly any elevation drop to call on, so the flow is generally marginal and placid. The challenges then are mostly more about portaging your cobbled-together vessel across stretches of sticky grey sludge, whilst avoiding the many mosquitoes that plague the stagnant oxbows. It’s not so much a lark with adrenaline as it is a toil with histamine.

The Avon does pick up in ferocity further downstream. At Northam, roughly some 70kms to the north of Beverley by road, the river takes a hook turn towards the west and, gathering volume from tributaries, heads for a descent down the Darling Escarpment and on to the Swan Coastal Plain. The greater flow and that drop, together with a fair smattering of granite outcrops, makes for a rapid and rock filled journey. That turbulent stretch is less suited to rafting and more for agile and shallow-drafted craft.

Like kayaks.

Kayaks that don’t have me in them.

I need to disclose at this point an unreasonable fear of kayaks. I see lots of people enjoying kayaks but I can’t do that.

The very concept of a kayak freaks me out. So much so that I’ve never tried one out, not even on those calm stretches of the Avon in Beverley. This is largely because I have a traditionalist understanding of these nimble watercraft – In my mind they’re not much more than an extension of your legs – A thin skin and frame rendition of a merperson’s tail that is tightly bound to the very un-merperson-like upper torso of a regular, air-breathing human.

This arrangement is all fine and good for paddling down a river, as long as you keep the kayak beneath you. This latter requirement though surely wouldn’t be easy for me to fulfil – Kayaks have a very shallow draft and a seeming subsequent and wilful propensity to roll.

This is where it gets awkward for me. Because once the kayak has rolled, I’d be under water, still tightly locked in to the craft above me. This, for learned kayakers, is no big deal – There’s manoeuvres they can undertake that will quickly right their ship, restoring them to the air-rich environment we all like to enjoy.

I however, am very sure that I’d find a way to fuck that up, and then I’d drown.

In my defence I’d like to point out that the kayak rolling thing looks complicated. In fact in researching this piece I found a video which promised to address the common errors encountered when rolling a kayak.

That’s common errors, plural.

That there is more than one possible common error is alarming. I’m not even touching yet on the uncommon errors and it turns out I’ve already got enough to go on with. Personally, I feel like the main error I could make would be to get into the kayak in the first place and with the expectation that the bloody thing was not going to roll over on me.

Because it would and I’d be under water, trying to remember all of the common errors I should not be making. My kayak wouldn’t be offering up any help either. This is even more disconcerting – Call me weak, but I like my watercraft to ship some of the responsibility for keeping me above the surface.

That’s just not a kayak though and so I’m not planning on getting into one any time soon. I do though have a lot of respect for those who do – Seriously, it looks like they’re having fun and the professional paddlers display an astonishing ability to harness every eddy and swirl.

You get to see this skill on display regularly on the Avon, but nowhere more so than during the annual whitewater endurance race, the Avon Descent.

The Avon Descent doesn’t take place in Beverley, instead starting it’s 124km run in Northam. From there, across two days, competitors battle some serious rapids on the run down the Avon and into the Swan, finishing on the latter river and at the fringes of Perth’s greater metropolitan area.

Around half of the competitors take to this challenge with a paddle craft, such as a kayak. The rest attempt the run in flat-bottomed powerboats. Which would be ok for me except that I probably should widen my disclosure beyond kayaks…

I’m really not good with powerboats either.

I have given them more than a go than kayaks, although not by much. I have in fact been in control of a powered boat just the once in my life, during a Beverley Amateur Swimming Club day out.

It was a very short period of control and it ended with me getting stranded out on a park pond. I was in a tiny single-person bumper boat with a lawnmower engine that I’d flooded and could not get restarted, despite what seemed like everybody in the park calling out increasingly frustrated instructions. Eventually and humiliatingly, I was rescued by a pissed-off park worker.

Not all of the memories are wonderful.

I’m Going Home To Where The River Runs Dry

Soup of This Day #392: No Help From My Friends

 Eau Rouge - Raidillon
The fiercely brilliant Eau Rouge – Raidillon section at the Circuit de Spa-Francorchamps. The low point of the racing tarmac marks the crossing of the Eau Rouge stream, while the Raidillon is the right hook up the opposing valley slope – Image: Vberger, 2005. Vberger is not affiliated with Longworth72. Image cropped by Longworth72.

The 2014 F1 Belgian GP, held this Sunday just past, was a memorable race. True, the Belgian GP almost always is, due largely to the wonderful Circuit de Spa-Francorchamps on which the race is held.

That historic track, with it’s undulating curves, requires technical skill, raw speed and a fair dash of bravery to extract the best times out of it. These balancing requirements are best illustrated by the Eau Rouge – Raidillon section – A sweeping series of curves up the side of a valley, culminating in a blind switchback. It is a testing stretch of track.

The rest of the circuit is scarcely less daunting – Relatively rapid changes in elevation and tricky corners, often with little or no assisting camber mean that this is a trip that demands respect.

Add in the unpredictable weather in the Ardennes region and sometimes this is a circuit that demands lives too – Wikipedia lists 48 driver deaths, with the most recent occurring during a 2013 F3 event. It’s just not a track you can afford to take your eyes off and not just for the drivers – Usually, even sedentary spectators will find themselves fixated on the action, unable to turn away and read that book they just borrowed from the library.

The book they have close to hand because in 2014, even the buzz generated by the thrilling Circuit de Spa-Francorchamps could easily be dulled.

See, this 2014 F1 season has been at times little more than a procession, with the powerful Mercedes team sweeping almost all before them. The two silver bullet cars have been posting lap times that sometimes exceed the best on offer from the nearest competitors by whole seconds, and this engineering dominance has been comfortably translated into wins and points – The Mercedes duo of Nico Rosberg (four) and Lewis Hamilton (five) have between them won 9 of 12 races so far. The current driver’s standings have Rosberg in first with 220 points, while Hamilton is in second with 191. The next best is a distant 156.

So the Mercedes, which on paper are even more dominant on the faster circuits, should have cruised to a one-two finish at Spa. They certainly qualified in that way, easily seeing off the rest of the field by almost two seconds. All they needed to do on race day was to keep their noses clean…

And by ‘clean’ I mean, ‘not burying a part of your car’s nose structure into your team-mate’s tyre.’

Yep. That happened. On lap two.

It was then that Nico Rosberg clumsily cut back in behind Lewis Hamilton, clipping the British driver’s left rear tyre with his right front wing. The results were not spectacular but they were dramatic. Hamilton’s tyre deflated, having been punctured. Meanwhile Rosberg’s aero package was compromised as half of the offending front wing flew off.

Neither outcome was catastrophic in of itself. Both cars were a pit stop away from being ok – They would lose some time for sure, but with their pace advantage they could each make that up several times over. Whilst most team officials would be pulling out hair at having a friendly fire incident so early in the race, they would at least be consoled by the realisation that almost the whole race awaited tantalisingly ahead for a recovery.

Except that Lewis Hamilton was seemingly fuming at Nico and probably running some conspiracy theories through his brain. Maybe this was why he drove on the ragged edge with his three remaining good tyres, trying to get back to the pits as ridiculously quickly as possible.

That’s not smart race craft. The carcass of Hamilton’s deflated tyre disintegrated under the excessive speed and the unbalanced car scraped it’s way along the track, damaging the under floor aero. A punctured tyre can be replaced mid-race. A damaged floor can not. Lewis Hamilton had unnecessarily turned a molehill into a mountain.

Nico Rosberg didn’t suffer anywhere nearly as much, possibly because he kept a cool head. He did lose a bit of time having the nose structure replaced, but this cost no more than 25 or so seconds. So while Hamilton laboured along in a car that was now clearly not right, Rosberg was able to cleave through the field, seemingly undaunted but for a comical piece of natural justice…

Some of the debris from Lewis Hamilton’s wrecked tyre, bizarrely flew up off the track some laps later at exactly the right moment to get caught on a radio aerial situated in front of Nico’s cockpit. It then fluttered in the face of the German driver, who was reduced to clawing at it for a number of laps while attempting to pilot his Mercedes along at full pace. Since it was Nico’s fault that Lewis had generated the debris in the first place, this was a fairly direct piece of Karma.

Which is wonderful but not why this Belgian GP went against 2014 type and was anything but dull – It’s not what I’ll remember the race for.

Instead I’ll remember it because of what Daniel Ricciardo did.

Sure I’m a little biased from the off in this regard – Ricciardo is an Australian. He’s even better than that for me – He’s a Western Australian, nominally at home in the leafy Perth suburb of Duncraig, not much further from where I live than a lap or two at Spa.

He’s also just 25 and in his debut season with Red Bull Racing (RBR). That team has won the past three Driver’s Championships via their German ace Sebastian Vettel. In 2014 though Sebastian, and his RBR team, have been significantly off the pace. For a start they use Renault engines, while Mercedes understandably use their own brand of power plant.

The Merc unit is better. It’s gruntier, faster and has tended to be at least as reliable as the Renault product. These discrepancies go a part of the way towards explaining why Vettel, so dominant across the past three years, has won nowt in 2014. He has a scant 98 points, good enough only for 6th in this year’s title race.

The engine mismatch though is not the full story. For while Sebastian Vettel has not been able to extract a competitive package from his RB10 car, Daniel Ricciardo has mined victory from his.

That goes to the heart of why I’ll remember the 2014 Belgian GP. Daniel Ricciardo didn’t have the best car. His car was in fact quite a bit less naturally adept around Spa than the Mercedes of Nico Rosberg. In fact, towards the end of the 44-lap event, Nico Rosberg was lapping at almost three seconds faster than Australian.

Yet Ricciardo was leading with a scant number of laps remaining.

He’d got to that position by simply being the better driver. While others, such as Lewis Hamilton, lost their heads around him, Daniel Ricciardo drove his car to the smartest limits he could find, coolly eking out advantages here and there, the whole adding up to a decent lead with that handful of laps remaining.

Even that might not have been enough – Crunching the numbers at that late stage showed that, at the rate that the Mercedes pilot was closing, Rosberg would be reading the manufacturer’s serial number off of Ricciardo’s tailpipe sometime just before the end of the race. For a time it looked like we were set for a thriller – Ricciardo seemed to not be able to find more pace, while Rosberg had that commodity in spades. The German was sure to catch the Australian on the last lap, before sweeping unstoppably past.

It didn’t happen.

Daniel Ricciardo had been honestly driving to the limits of his car. Limits calculated to bring him home in first. On the very last lap, with Rosberg charging, Ricciardo pulled out his fastest circuit of the race, more than enough to comfortably hold the German at bay. And so Daniel Ricciardo got to the chequered flag first, in the process notching up his third win of the 2014 season and his second on the burst.

That’s some serious race craft from a young driver – A cool, controlled and mature display of driving at the highest level and on one of the most demanding tracks in motorsport.

Though it’s not specifically what I’m remembering about Daniel Ricciardo’s actions at the 2014 Belgian GP. What’s on the top step of the podium of my mind is what the Australian did in the room the first three place-getters wait in before the trophy presentation.

Instead of partying down and getting wild about the win, Ricciardo took a long look at the timing board showing who had done what splits throughout the race. And then he asked Nico Rosberg and third place-getter Valteri Bottas what tyres they’d finished on.

He wasn’t celebrating the win at the 2014 Belgian GP. He was working out how to win the 2015 Belgian GP.

No Help From My Friends

Soup of This Day #391: Is The Nature Of My Game

Howard Hawks and Lauren Bacall
Director Howard Hawks with actress Lauren Bacall. Bacall would go on to feature as the female lead in Hawks’ 1946 film adaptation of author Raymond Chandler’s The Big Sleep. The plot for that movie baffles many, yet it is much beloved, often by those it has confused the most (incl. me). Film critic Roger Ebert has suggested that this is:

‘…because the movie is about the process of a criminal investigation, not its results.’

I reckon Rog might be right – Photo: Los Angeles Daily News, 1943. The Los Angeles Daily News is not affiliated with Longworth72. Image cropped by Longworth72.

For today’s post I’d like to start with a visit to a court.

Because this is a sports blog that kind of declaration would normally lead into some basketball or tennis, or maybe even squash. Although that latter game seems strange to me – It’s a mystery to me why the ball doesn’t bounce like it means it..

Although, it’s not a complicated or engrossing mystery, with a bunch of plot devices driving the intrigue. Trying to work out why a squash ball dies on the rebound is not like understanding the narrative of Howard Hawks’ 1946 film noir masterpiece, The Big Sleep.

Fortunately, for this post, we’re not wholly focussed on why squash balls don’t bounce regular. I’m not saying that a squash ball isn’t going to ironically bounce on up later in this post, but I can say that we’re not on a squash court. We’re not talking basketball or tennis either. There is a mystery though and it’s got a story underpinning it that is worthy of a movie like The Big Sleep.

Mostly because that latter flick has at it’s core a series of crimes which may not have been crimes and which may not have even occurred. That’s similar to what we’re talking about on court today.

Or in court, to be exact.

Yep, we’re going to a court of law – the Australian High Court. This is because that august institution has recently featured two matters bound up in one saga – Essendon Football Club vs ASADA and James Hird vs ASADA. Together, these cases are a part of what is popularly known as the Essendon Football Club supplements controversy.

There’s often popularly some cuss-words in there as well – Both from those bound in allegiance to any of the involved parties, as well as from those football neutrals who just care about the game.

You can’t separate out the football from the @#$%ing controversy. Not with a club like Essendon FC so involved.

Essendon FC, otherwise known as the Bombers or the Dons, are a long-standing member of the Australian rules football elite. The Melbourne-based club was formed in the 1870’s and has won a record-equalling 16 premierships in either the Victorian Football League (VFL) or the subsequent Australian Football League (AFL).

James Hird is a Bombers legend. He played for them from 1992 until 2007, amassing 253 games, two premiership flags, a Brownlow medal and a Norm Smith medal. Which are wonderful numbers but Hird is worth more than that to Essendon FC – When his silky skills had left the playing arena he kept himself involved in the game, and when he took up a head coaching spot in 2011 it was never going to be with anyone but the Dons.

The final player in this controversy is ASADA, the Australian Sports Anti Doping Agency. They are a government-funded body tasked with ensuring that performance enhancing drugs do not tarnish the gloriously fair and fairly glorious world of Australian sport.

In 2013 all three of these parties collided, embraced and possibly sat in each other’s laps while standing up.

Ok so that last bit is a line from The Big Sleep and probably not literally correct for this supplements drama. It is a useful metaphor though because each of the parties seems to believe that they got worked over in the encounter.

Simply, ASADA alleged that, across the 2011 and 2012 AFL seasons, while James Hird was the head coach, someone at Essendon FC authorised and administered supplements to the players for the purposes of enhancing their performance and/or reducing wrinkles. These supplements were comprised of peptides, a type of biological molecule. Peptides can apparently be very useful in medicine – They may be used to generate antibodies, thus aiding in the fight against diseases, most notably cancer.

It’s not all upside though. A lot of this peptide stuff is still experimental and in the case of sports medicine, not wholly legal or sound. Providing peptides for an athlete is either hanging around the ethical and moral crossroads, or it’s leaving the ethical and moral crossroads, clutching a signed deal with the Devil.

Most of us have no sympathy for the Devil and so would not be lingering at those crossroads. Essendon FC though are a professional sporting club in a very competitive market. I’m guessing that it’s pretty tempting for such an outfit to think that they can ink a deal with the Devil and yet still retain their good souls. Sure there’s risk in that, but the rewards garnered from pulling one over the horned beastie are substantial. Maybe that’s a brave challenge, perhaps even a noble one. Regardless, it is a challenge that Bombers seem to have taken up.

I should try to be unclear here though – This is all conjecture.

I’m not alone in writing that – There has been a lot of conjecture around this matter. So much conjecture that it’s hard to find anybody associated with the game who hasn’t conjected their little hearts out and generally, doing so without adding any clarity to the situation.

These court hearings don’t look like they’re aiming to fix that.

This is largely because, as far as I can tell, these court cases aren’t about whether Essendon FC or James Hird did anything wrong. They are instead about whether ASADA conducted their investigation of Essendon FC and their head football guy, James Hird, in a fair and proper manner.

Yep, just like for Howard Hawks’ The Big Sleep, this show isn’t about the results of the investigation, it’s about the process of the investigation. Which is an ok approach to take because the plot for the supplement controversy, like for the movie, is convoluted.

None of the protagonists seem to be able to offer clarity either. James Hird is the exemplar of this – He’s become a sort of human MacGuffin – The Sean Regan in this football adaptation of The Big Sleep. Regan is a key to the plot of the movie, yet he is never seen and his fate is only implied at. In a similar way, James Hird has been in exile (France) the past 12 or so months and in his absence his name became just another plot device.

So it’s difficult to work out what is going on. Furthermore, when I tried to use this court business to get some insight in to what is going on, I was put off by the sight of Essendon’s key management personnel trooping to court in Essendon FC ties.

Footy club ties are an apparel oxymoron. They say that the wearer is serious enough to be wearing a tie, but not really. The Dons’ are particularly confusing in that they are striped red and black, screaming danger and not in a cool, Philip Marlowe kind of way. More in an Eddie Mars kind of way.

In The Big Sleep, Eddie Mars gets taken out by his own team, with everyone having been out-played by Philip Marlowe. I would not be surprised if that happened to just about anyone at the Bombers, albeit without the use of deadly force or Philip Marlowe.

Nobody in this @#$%ing Essendon Football Club supplements controversy is Humphrey Bogart’s supremely cool Philip Marlowe. Or Lauren Bacall’s deeply sexy Vivian Rutledge. Both of those characters come out ok in the film. By contrast, it’s difficult to see anybody coming out of the supplements controversy ok. Surely not even the Don’s golden boy James Hird can pull that act off.

He’ll try though – Hird returned from his 12-month suspension just this week, seemingly slotting seamlessly back into the Bombers coaching set-up, planning for a 2015 campaign, alongside his temporary 2014 replacement, Mark Thompson.

That sense of a smooth return, with the events of the past consigned to the cutting room floor, doesn’t bounce though. It in fact bounces less than a squash ball, which as we’ve discussed, doesn’t bounce much at all.

For the squash ball this is by design. It’s a test of skill. The higher the level of squash being played, the less the ball will bounce, forcing the better players to conjure up magic via the way that they play, rather than expecting the ball to do the work for them.

A squash ball, like the fate of Sean Regan or the question of whether ASADA investigated the right way, is mostly irrelevant to the conclusion of the story. What matters instead is whether the game is played with a true hand.

I think James Hird holds the next serve…

Is The Nature Of My Game

Soup of This Day #390: Not Trouble, Money Or Thrills

Intercolonial football match
The first intercolonial Australian rules football match. It featured Victoria verses South Australia and was played in 1879. The game and the society it is a part of have both developed for the good since then – Engraving: Alfred May and Alfred Martin Ebsworth, 1879. Neither Alfred May or Alfred Martin Ebsworth are affiliated with Longworth72. Image cropped by Longworth72.

This blog is generally a pretty gentle one. I try not to rant, preferring to write about stuff without my anger excessively colouring conclusions.

I don’t always succeed at that – My pieces have a bias anyway and sometimes it’s difficult to be gentle around absolutist concepts.

Like bumper stickers.

Not all bumper stickers – I can gently mock a ‘Magic Happens’ sticker. Nobody gets hurt by a ‘Magic Happens’ sticker, except maybe former Death Eaters and I’m almost certain that they’re fictional anyway.

There is though a bumper sticker that I see a lot of and it’s not for gentle mockery. This is because it is malicious and wounding. It has a mapped outline of Australia and within that is a slogan something like, ‘If you don’t love it, leave.’

This sentiment is aimed broadly at critics of my country and more specifically at recent immigrants.

I take this personally. I was born in Western Australia but in the grand scheme of 50,000 years of settlement by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, I reckon I qualify as a recent immigrant. I also don’t unconditionally love my country. It has on occasion done some unlovable things. Like steal children from those Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.

I don’t love that, and I hope that when I see that kind of thing that I will stand up to criticise.

I’m not leaving Australia though. That sticker is not going to prompt me into going overseas. What that sticker does prompt me to do is to suggest to it’s owner that they should fuck off instead. Maybe they can find a community somewhere that will welcome their blind and introverted shtick. I don’t think that it will be a good or happy community, but hey bigots, give it a go.

Or stay. Either way, please accept that I ain’t just ignoring your sticker.

Because ignorance don’t deserve to be ignored. Not in a bumper sticker & not in TV.

Which brings me uncomfortably to Sam Newman. I’ve been reading about how a TV presenter, Sam Newman, had exposed himself last week’s on TV. This was Australian TV, an episode of Channel Nine’s The Footy Show and I was surprised that Newman had done this but not really.

The latter because Sam Newman has form. In 2008, Newman dressed a mannequin in provocative clothing and stuck a cut-out image of journalist Caroline Wilson’s face on to it. He then suggestively fondled the mannequin, riffing the whole stunt off of an article about Wilson’s wardrobe choices.

Yep.

That was in 2008. This is why I’m surprised, because how is Sam Newman even on TV any more?

That’s a rhetorical question – I’m not completely surprised – I know how douchebags get gigs on TV – They bring in ratings. That they do it by trolling, in Sam’s case most of the population, has been irrelevant to broadcasters such as Channel Nine. The Footy Show is a exemplar of this sacrifice and not just because of Newman. The 300-game veteran of the Geelong Cats – He had football credibility once – has long been a part of an ensemble cast of douchebags. It’s rare that an attention-grabbing thought about football is left un-aired by this lot, and if it can be punctuated with some casual discrimination, preferably in lingerie, then all the better.

This formula has been in play since the show’s inception in 1994 and it has been undeniably popular. The Footy Show has been at, or very near to, the top of football programming for it’s entire run. Whether it has used it’s gutter vaudeville antics for the good of the game is more ambiguous though.

Not that inaugural host and now senior Channel Nine executive, Eddie McGuire has any doubts. At a recent celebration to mark 21 years of The Footy Show, McGuire warned the governing Australian Football League (AFL) against scheduling games in the traditional The Footy Show Thursday night timeslot:

‘…be careful programming against The Footy Show with football, because The Footy Show is the greatest gift to the AFL that’s ever been.’

The greatest gift. Not football. Not the actual sport itself. No, the greatest gift to the sport is a TV show about that sport.

This throws up a philosophical conundrum – At least for the likes of Eddie McGuire. If a tree falls at an AFL game and The Footy Show can’t dress it up in suggestive clothing and grope it’s whirly grain, was there even an AFL game anyway?

Eddie thinks knot.

A better question for Eddie to consider might be how is The Footy Show a gift? Gifts are typically free. The Footy Show is not free – It exacts a high price for it’s reckless disregard of the sport and the people who might otherwise embrace that sport.

Sure, there’s that argument that any publicity is good publicity and maybe that’s true when your target audience is people with ignorant bumper stickers. This is 2014 though and large parts of a crowded sporting market are going to look for at least some semblance of adherence to basic social standards.

I think even Sam Newman understands that. At that same 21st anniversary celebration, Newman took the time to at least try and defend the intentions of the show:

‘We take the piss out of ourselves first and then we think everyone else is fair game. Men, women, beasts. We make no apology for it. We don’t try to be malicious. We don’t try to be condescending necessarily.’

That last bit is correct – It’s hard to be condescending when you’re looking for the lowest common denominator on any matter, and then seeing if you can limbo beneath even that. So that’s true Sam, but I’m calling bullshit on the malicious bit.

Because that attack on Wilson was as malicious as it gets. There are other words for it too but ‘gift’ is not one of them Eddie. Unless you’re talking about one that sees Sam Newman’s career continuing unabated and The Footy Show not being shit-canned. That’s a gift alright for Sam, and to distort a phrase from the former Australian politician Mark Latham, that’s also a gift for the conga line of suck holes that feed off of the garbage served up by The Footy Show on a regular basis.

The show should have been axed in 2008. Had it been, the AFL would have survived, carrying on with the on-field entertainment driving the sport. It might even have thrived just a bit more, profiting from demonstrating that women belong in the game, just as they belong in life – Considered with equal and great respect.

But no.

Instead we get Sam Newman, accompanied by a stripper in a revealing nurse’s costume, flashing his genitals on TV. Because ratings.

That’s not a gift to the AFL. If it was then I hope you’ve got the receipt Eddie, because I’m not wanting to just shove this cheap and nasty present out of sight like that weird painting from Aunty Dolores*. Instead I reckon that everyone in the game, and a bunch of people outside of it, are owed an exchange.

I’m not saying we need to replace The Footy Show with the the vague and airy banality of ‘Magic Happens.’ What I am suggesting is that maybe for Sam Newman and the lads to fuck off to perform their act for a community that will unconditionally love their blind and introverted shtick. I don’t think that it will be a good or happy community, but hey bigots, give it a go.

*Name and gift fictional. I love all of the gifts.

Not Trouble, Money Or Thrills

Soup of This Day #389: Moby Dick

Keith Moon
The Who’s original drummer, Keith Moon, enthusiastically adding his voice to the fray on ‘Bell Boy’. Moon was an inexpert singer but a great percussionist – He got to utilise both skills on a recording by Merseyside giants, The Beatles. For ‘All You Need Is Love’ he played the brush drums and lay down some backing vocals – Photo: Jean-Luc Ourlin, 1976. Jean-Luc Ourlin is not affiliated with Longworth72. Image cropped by Longworth72.

I love watching Keith Moon play the drums. He crashes over them like a wave, all surges and eddies, his sticks bits of flotsam floating erratically across his kit. Here gliding and there darting, the whole with an underpinning timing that is of nature and not necessarily understood by people.

In truth, I’ve seen Moon playing only on film, for the drummer for The Who died in 1978, just 32 years into his life. By most accounts, particularly those of his band-mates, that life was as tumultuous as his timing. He kicked over his drum kit to end shows. Every show, sometimes five of them in a day. He threw hotel TVs around back when they were still big units and showed programming in wall-to-wall black and white. His signature though was to habitually blow up toilets with explosives.

Yep, Keith Moon wasn’t so much as living the rock fairytale as he was casting the script into a toilet-bowl with a lit stick of dynamite for too-brief company.

Which means that Keith Moon can’t have been easy to live with. He certainly didn’t seem easy to play with – Wracked with alcohol addiction he sometimes passed out mid-set, leaving his percussion-less band to forge on. Famously, The Who’s guitarist, Pete Townsend, had to put out a call for a replacement one time during a show at California’s Cow Palace:

‘Can anyone play the drums? – I mean somebody good?’

The Who already had somebody good, but Keith Moon had twice passed out mid-song during that gig and the second time he didn’t recover enough to make his band-mates convinced he’d be a reliable option for the remainder of the night. Ironically, the first song he’d passed out during had been ‘Won’t Get Fooled Again.’

The Who and Keith Moon did get fooled again though… And again and again and… Alcoholism is like that I guess, and it’s easy to believe, watching footage of Moon, that he could blind even himself with his talent.

Man I love watching him play.

This post is not inspired by Keith Moon though, not directly at least. Instead this piece is being written around the transfer options for Liverpool FC ahead of the looming English Premier League (EPL) season. The Merseyside giants have developed a hole in their lineup with the recent departure of star striker Luis Suárez, and now the club’s management are asking around for someone who can play that key role and yes, they mean somebody good.

Because Luis Suárez is good. Keith Moon good.

I have loved watching him play, crashing against opposition defences, all surges and eddies. That’s not necessarily unique but in washing over and around those defences the talented Uruguayan does something that few other strikers can manage – He sets the rhythm of his team, seemingly driving on their play with his own staccato timing.

The problem is that Suárez has a dark side of the Moon too. It’s not alcoholism, at least as far as I know, but it is as destructive as a stick of dynamite down the s-bend when it comes to Luis’ playing reliability.

Luis doesn’t have a great discipline record. He likes to dive. He’s also sometimes racist and he bites other players. He doesn’t always get caught out, but when he does he can face some lengthy time away from his playing kit. He’s got that now, having very publicly bitten an opposition player during the recent 2014 FIFA World Cup. The resultant ban means he can’t be around football in any capacity until November.

Which would be a big part of why Liverpool FC were happy to turf him out right after the World Cup was done. Based on the amount of indiscretions that the club’s management had tolerated, that was a difficult technical decision. For all the missed beats, you can’t just replace Keith Moon easy – After the loony drummer had passed on, The Who lost a part of their musical soul and for mine, have never recaptured that edge, despite fielding some pretty handy replacement drummers. So getting like-for-Suárez playing skill will be difficult – You can get away with it in the short-term but for a season of shows you can’t just throw out to the crowd that you need a new striker.

Scott Halpin was the name of the stand-up guy who answered Pete Townsend’s plea at the Cow Palace that night. With Townsend’s coaching and a shot of brandy, Halpin just about managed to drum along for the remaining three numbers.

Liverpool don’t need a Scott Halpin of a striker, however nerveless he might be in the clutch – They have more than three numbers to get through this upcoming season. They have whole gigs, maybe as many as 60 or more.

They don’t need another loon either, which is why I’m writing this post. Because there is a vague rumour that Liverpool are looking at AC Milan’s Italian striker Mario Balotelli.

Balotelli is certainly talented. He is more technically conventional than Suárez, and thus less of a driver for his team’s playing tempo. He is still effective though. That is, if you can look past the bit best summed up by super manager Jose Mourinho describing him as ‘unmanageable’.

Yeah, Balotelli is Keith Moon. Right down to the explosive tendencies – The Italian reportedly set fire to his house in 2011 when he and friends set off fireworks inside it. The following day he revealed a t-shirt which read:

‘WHY ALWAYS ME?’

Liverpool don’t need some of that. Instead they need some John Bonham.

Bonham was the drummer for Led Zeppelin from 1968 until 1980. Like Keith Moon he died young and from alcohol abuse. That though is the end of the comparison for while Moon was warping the timing around himself, Bonham was warping that of almost all of the rock world. There are few drummers around now that don’t take cues from John Bonham. This is in part because, while Keith Moon ebbed and flowed around the kit, John Bonham picked up a couple of sticks the size of oars and forged out a stroke or many that just drove through the surf.

He wasn’t afraid of being isolated either – Keith Moon looked upon drum solos with disdain, once decrying them as ‘boring’. Moon relied on his band, was seemingly off-key when not playing with them. Suárez too is not of a type to like being isolated – He can run at and through a defence but isn’t physically built to bring the ball to ground and to hold up play.

John Bonham by contrast was comfortable with a drum solo. He could back his band but switch to that lone role, holding up the play while his mates regrouped and set for another attack.

Liverpool need a John Bonham for that ability to carry a role but mostly they need a John Bonham because he was the best and he didn’t blow up the toilets.

I wonder if Lionel Messi can play the drums?

Moby Dick

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