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Soup of This Day #398: Nothing Else Could Set Fire To This Town

Kate Gill
Perth Glory Women striker Kate Gill driving forward with the ball against the Newcastle Jets’ defence in early November of 2014. Despite being in some hot form, Gill didn’t net in this game. It didn’t matter – The Glory won 4-2 – Photo: Longworth72, 2014. Image cropped by Longworth72.

On a Saturday, a little over a week ago, the Perth Glory Women won Australian soccer’s 2014 W-League premiership.

It was a brilliant success, although the timing of the achievement was a little off-kilter – The Glory Women didn’t get to neatly secure the feat on the pitch exactly – A draw for nearest rival Canberra United meant that the Western Australian side had an unassailable lead at the top of the table and this occurred around half an hour before Perth took on Western Sydney. Which meant that the result of that latter encounter could have been partly irrelevant.

Except all soccer games are mostly relevant and so the Glory Women outclassed the Wanderers for a five goal to nothing win. It was a pretty decent exclamation mark then to put on that premiership, the first in the Perth club’s history.

And a fitting exclamation mark too – The Glory Women haven’t just eked out this title. They have won 9 of 10 games so far this term, amassing 27 points from a possible 30. In the 6 previous seasons, only one other team has managed to at least equal that total (Canberra United, 2013/14) and they needed 12 games to get that far. No team has previously won 9 of their first 10 of the season.

Then there’s the distance to the rest of the field – After 10 games there were three other clubs vying for a finals berth and they were all tied on 17 points. One of those clubs, the Melbourne Victory, took 11 games to get that far. The closest approximation to that kind of dominance was in 2008/09, the debut season for the W-League. In that term Brisbane Roar won 8 of 10 with a draw and a loss, finishing with 25 points and an 8 point lead over Newcastle. The Roar had been sensational value for those points and that lead too, netting 27 goals while conceding just the 7.

The Perth Glory Women in 2014 have been even more prolific and almost as miserly, scoring a staggering 33 goals while giving up just 8, for an aggregate of +25. That’s 5 more than that brilliant Brissie side managed and it’s 18 more than current second-best outfit, the Victory.

There’s more: Perth’s (and the W-League’s) top scorer so far this season is Kate Gill – She has 11 successful strikes from 10 appearances. That’s one more than that Saturday’s opponents, Western Sydney, have managed as a team (10). Which isn’t to belittle the Wanderers or even Adelaide, who have scored less (7) – Those aren’t paltry tallies in a top-shelf national league. It’s more that Gill’s better-than-a-goal-a-game ratio is simply phenomenal.

The Australian national team (Matildas) striker isn’t alone either – The mercurial Sam Kerr, Gill’s strike partner, has 7 goals from just 8 appearances, while midfielder Caitlin Foord has 4 from 10. Elisa D’Ovidio and Alanna Kennedy each have 3 as well – Solid returns from an impact substitute and a defender.

This then is quality football. That shouldn’t be a surprise as, of those prolific scorers mentioned, four from five are Matildas – Only D’Ovidio isn’t and she’s no mug either. You’d be forgiven for thinking then that the Glory have bought their way to a premiership and you’d sort of be right – There was an influx of fresh and highly-rated players across the last close-season, with Kerr, Foord and Kennedy among the new arrivals. It’s probably not fair to say that team management spent big though.

The entire Glory Women program costs $240,000 per season.

I’ll try to help you digest that a bit. Tim Cahill, Australian men’s football standard-bearer, will earn $3.92m in 2014 playing for the New York Red Bulls in the US. For just one player, that’s more than 16 times the $240,000 it costs to operate one of the very best W-League outfits, studded with genuine international stars.

So the W-League isn’t exactly flush with money and the conditions for growth in that regard are marginal. Sport in Australia is seemingly an open market but only for some – It’s true that fans are free and driven to spend their hard-earned to see sport that attracts them. It’s also a true though that sponsorship dollars will follow those fans because they represent a market of potential customers. This isn’t just limited to those who pay to watch a game in the flesh either – It also encompasses those who will watch on TV. Simply, coverage of sport begets money in sport – Without coverage it’s hard to get the money.

That’s a substantial hill to climb for the Perth Glory Women and the wider W-League community and it’s about to become a decent sized mountain. This is because the Australian Government have just slashed 5% off of the annual budget for the free-to-air national and public broadcaster, the Australian Broadcasting Corporation, otherwise known as the ABC, or more colloquially and (mostly) fondly as Aunty.

Aunty is a powerful storyteller in modern Australia, unmatched in terms of depth and reach by any other media entity. The organisation is not beholden to advertisers and so viewer numbers, sometimes called ratings, are not a factor for it. Aunty is instead free to show and tell what it can about this country and it’s people, untrammelled by prejudice.

Prejudice like the dismissal of women’s sport because it’s played by women.

Yep, Aunty covers the W-League, putting a weekly live match broadcast on TV screens all across Australia, with highlights of the previous week’s games and pitch-side interviews with players and officials. They’ve done this since the W-League began, stretching from that Brisbane-dominated first term, right through this current season, highlighted so gloriously by Perth.

And that’s where it’ll likely end.

It’s up to ABC’s management team to decide where the 5% gets docked. It looks like women’s sport will be one of their sacrifices, partly because they have to sell off the outside broadcast vans they use for coverage. That’s apparently not a difficult sacrifice to make – Women’s sport could be seen as a sort of optional elective you take for easy credit, like Planetary Science 101. Sure it’s interesting, beautiful even, but it isn’t going to pay the bills and so if you need to cut back on your study-load then it’s no great loss.

Except it really is.

You see; a. Planetary Science is truly important and you shouldn’t drop it because in learning about the other planets you will be wiser with ours; and b. That’s a terrible analogy anyway because women’s sport isn’t on another planet. It’s not just women’s sport either, or even just sport – It’s us. Humanity. People being people and it’s incredibly important because half of people are women and we’re really shit at just letting them be people.

Some of whom play glorious football and some of whom might want to without even knowing it yet but soon won’t anyway because they won’t be able to even see the promotional flyer for that elective.

That’s a big and disappointing mountain to climb. Don’t get me wrong though, I’ll still have hope, in spite of Aunty’s cuts, and it’s because of those 2014 Perth Glory Women:

Such are the tight margins in women’s sport in Australia and the W-League in particular, that there is no trophy for winning the W-League premiership. Presumably that is an expense that has been jettisoned in favour of maybe buying extra balls. Or water bottles for the ball-girls. Or any one of the myriad of small details that surely get taken for granted in the men’s game.

This though was the first Glory Women’s premiership and a season of results so sublime that pragmatism needed some time on the bench.

They bought their own trophy.

It was a silver plate and as they posed with it for a team photo on their home pitch it seemed an apt marker, mostly because it seemed to reflect rather brilliantly on them, while making the men’s game and those who churlishly administer sport and it’s coverage seem all the more dull.

Nothing Else Could Set Fire To This Town

Soup of This Day #397: Our Name Is Our Virtue

Madison Bumgarner
San Francisco Giants pitcher Madison Bumgarner. Can be frugal – Photo: X Wad, 2011. X Wad is not affiliated with Longworth72. Image cropped by Longworth72.

Many years back I had a job that involved talking to a lot of academics. Mostly the conversations were short and dry because all I needed out of the exchange was verification of research activities. Almost always though it was a pleasure – Academics generally love what they do and are happy to chat about it. I particularly liked talking to those who came at their research from angles that I was unfamiliar with – This could be because their particular subject was from left-field. It could also be simply about them being based in a country other than Australia.

One time I remember having to call a researcher from a South East Asian country. I was a little nervous ahead of the call because I understood that the guy was a leader in his field.

Also because his name was Kunt.

This might not be significant to the majority of people in the world, including Kunt and the folks he regularly was surrounded by. For me though, there was a small concern that I’d pronounce that name with a hard ‘k’ and the back end of ‘bunt.’ This would be bad in Australia because I’d be uttering a word that for most is crossing the line of good taste. I rationalised though that I’d be ok and so when I got the prof on the phone I simply and safely pronounced his name as ‘koooont’ like I was a dove clearing my throat after every soft call. Surely that’d be alright I thought.

Nope.

The professor gently corrected me by pointing out that his name was pronounced with a hard ‘k’ and the back end of ‘bunt.’ I spent the next couple of minutes floundering on the phone, trying not to say his name, while he simply verified the research output I was calling about.

Which as far as I can remember was totally top-notch.

As was that produced by a host of other names in my work that could (and sometimes did) trigger amusement – I came across a Dr Death (Yes, a medico) and academics named Tuna and Onions. I’m pretty sure the latter two wrote a paper together, mirroring two thirds of a favourite sandwich of mine. There was also a Wild and a Pigeon who apparently wrote a paper with someone with a name like Foock as second author.

Wilde, Foock and Pigeon.

Say it fast and you can almost forget that at least two of those authors (and probably all three) were brilliant scientists.

That last bit is the important bit – Those names didn’t define who those people were or what they did. Instead those people gave new and wonderful meanings to their names.

This kind of thinking came to mind during the recent World Series between the Kansas City Royals and the San Francisco Giants. This was not because any of the player’s names amused me. I probably wouldn’t have noticed if they did anyway. Simply, for me this series was about classic baseball and, with it going the full 7 games, there was plenty of that to watch.

Not so for an acquaintance, who to be fair, had no more than a vague interest in baseball and even that was mostly because he’d latched on to the name of Giants’ starter Madison Bumgarner.

Taken in isolation, that name is a little quirky. It might well engender a smile.

You wouldn’t be smiling if you were facing down Madison Bumgarner in the 2014 World Series though. Because Bumgarner pitched one for the ages. Technically he pitched three for the ages – Two starts (Games 1 and 5) and one long relief appearance in the deciding Game 7. Those appearances totalled 21 innings of work and across that he scattered just the 9 hits for not much runs.

One run, in fact.

That’s a staggering ERA of just 0.43. A closer would be ok with that across three World Series appearances. Bumgarner though is a starter and for him to turn out 21 closer-like innings is just phenomenal. The stats though get even better when you look just a little deeper. There you’ll find gems like, one of those games was a complete effort and a shut-out to boot. Then there’s that, across his three appearances, Bumgarner struck out 17 and walked one.

Three games, 21 innings and Madison Bumgarner walked a bat just the once.

That bat did not go on to score.

In fact the only run tagged to the Giants’ righty was a solo blast. Yep, just one of those 9 hits scored and even then it was just one run given up.

There’s more – Bumgarner also clocked up a save. That was in Game 7, with it all on the line and the San Francisco starter Tim Hudson being benched after just 1.2. Just 2.1 Jeremy Affeldt-innings later and Bumgarner was in for a five-inning save, protecting a one-run lead.

On two days rest.

That right there is the absolute definition of a clutch performance and is a pretty good reason as to why Madison Bumgarner won the 2014 World Series MVP award. If you need another, there’s the fact that his 21 innings was 13.2 more than the next most prolific Giant (Hudson) and 8.2 more than the most prolific Royal (Yordano Ventura). And Hudson (5) and Ventura (2) both gave up more runs.

Madison Bumgarner’s name isn’t quirky anymore. I can say this and I wasn’t even barracking for the Giants in this World Series – Instead I was rooting for the fairytale Royals. I can still say this when I consider that Bumgarner’s nickname is the otherwise ripsnortingly quirky Mad Bum.

Now I want to be known as Mad Bum.

Names don’t define us. We define names. By pronouncing his handle in a way that I figured was offensive Professor Kunt wasn’t saying anything about himself – He’d done that already with his work, a spread of quality research innings. What my reading of the pronunciation did say was about me and for that I’m sorry.

Our Name Is Our Virtue

Soup of This Day #396: No Need To Run

Rawlings PM125BT
Honestly, wearing the glove doesn’t much slow down the typing rate anyway – Photo: Longworth72, 2014. Neither Rawlings or Easton are affiliated with Longworth72.

I have around 75 minutes in which to write and publish this post. It’s a Sunday night and I have to go to work tomorrow so my viable bedtime is around 10:00pm. It never used to be so early – I’ve almost always been a night person, doing my best work around about midnight.

But then I got older and tired. And then we had kids and the tired got epic. So now I follow the mantra of ‘sleep when you can’ and that means crashing onto our mattress at 10:00pm.

It is crashing that I do too – I’ve given up just sliding into bed because none of my component bits slide anymore – They jar and jam instead – and so I sort of position myself above the bed before allowing all of those component bits to just give up on resisting gravity. Most of them keep up but occasionally a joint won’t get the message in time. These lapses end in involuntary groans and only-partly sympathetic chuckles from my wife.

Because I’m not aging gracefully.

I should be doing better at it. I’ve long battled depression and exercise and diet are key for me to get on top in those engagements. I know this but my follow-through is lacking some impetus.

Because I’m older and tired. And scared. I can’t play football any more because I’m frightened of doing a knee. Apart from the pain – which would be bad – there’s the monumental inconvenience of not being able to contribute as fully as I can to family life.

My wife and boys would have words for me and they wouldn’t be nice ones.

So I need a sport in which I can maybe be a little less active. I’ve considered cricket – As an Australian I’ve long thought it is my manifest destiny to wield the willow in anger. Except that cricket requires a lot of time – Pretty much whole weekends are lost to games. This would again divert me from contributing as fully as I can to family life and yes, my wife and boys would have words for me and no, they wouldn’t be nice ones.

The two-year-old in particular would say something like, ‘I love trains,’ and that would seem to be ok except that he would frame it in such a way that he was making clear the contrast between his love for trains and his love for his Dad spending the whole weekend playing cricket.

Which means I need a game that is like cricket, but doesn’t take up a lot of time and maybe has some trains involved.

This is baseball. Except for the trains bit.

Never mind that I’m 39 and I’ve hardly ever played the game seriously. I have a glove, a ball and a sudden desire to find out if I could manage a stand-up double. I’ve watched a lot of the pros play the game – How hard could it be?

Probably pretty hard. The pros in any sport have this knack for making the exceptional look easy. Take a game of football I saw a week ago for example.

It involved the Perth Glory Women and it was my first look at them for this season. Last term they didn’t do so good – I watched maybe three or four games and spent a chunk of those outings watching passes go astray. The ability to pass accurately is a pretty good base measure for how a team is progressing and so it was apparent early on that, after the near miss of 2012/13, the 2013/14 W-League season was not going to have a Glorious outcome.

This season feels different. Partly because the squad got a pre-season make-over with the injection of what seems like half the Australian national team. That’s just the bones of promise though – The real meat has come from the results of the first four rounds:

Perth Glory Women 2-1 Brisbane Roar Women

Newcastle Jets Women 1-2 Perth Glory Women

Perth Glory Women 3-1 Adelaide United Women

Western Sydney Wanderers Women 1-10 Perth Glory Women

Yeah, that last result isn’t a typo – The Glory Women scored 10 goals in one outing away from home and in their four victories from four matches had notched up 17 goals in total.

By the time we’d got parked and through the gates at the unfamiliar Ashfield Reserve, the Glory Women had added another to that haul to lead 1-0 over a classy Canberra United outfit. That early goal though seemed almost against the run of play – Canberra’s midfield and forward units were cutting through Perth’s defence and only some stout keeping by Glory stopper Mackenzie Arnold kept her side in front.

Arnold is a great study as a keeper – She’s relatively quiet and not overly demonstrative – She is though a fantastic shot-stopper and in this game she showed off a range of skills, notably palming a fierce drive deftly over the bar and then getting down low and early to thwart a one-on-one charge.

Mackenzie Arnold contrasted with Canberra’s goalie, Chantel Jones. Jones was with the Glory last term and is a dominant presence in the area. By manner she is almost a polar opposite to Arnold, being by turns brash and moody. There’s a lot of vocal work – cajoling and directing for her backline – but there’s also some stormy attitude seemingly on the brew. On the latter front, Jones had a running battle with livewire Glory forward Samantha Kerr, which to be fair doesn’t seem like an unusual occurrence around the diminutive striker.

Simply, Sam Kerr is going to get under a lot of people’s skin.

She’s undeniably talented – A pinpoint backheel volley flick to a wide player off of a 50m goalkick was a highlight, as was the winning of a penalty after being taken down by Jones in a one-on-one break.

There were lowlights too though. After winning the penalty Kerr mockingly applauded right in Jones’ face. When the American keeper responded with some innocuous push and shove, Sam waved an imaginary card at the referee in an attempt to get her fellow professional sent off. That’s poor form.

There was some humour to be had from the interplay though – At one point Chantel Jones took a booming punt down-field. Like most keepers she used all of her penalty area, releasing the ball just before crossing the line.

Or maybe just over the line, as Sam Kerr loudly speculated in the direction of the referee. Jones’ response was just as loud but even more heartfelt and dismissive:

‘Oh fuck off.’

I’m a Glory fan but also a former keeper so fair play to Chantel there.

All of that though was a sub-plot to yet another Glory win. They absorbed the Canberran attacks and hit on the rebound, scoring three goals to nil on the day, with a brace by Kate Gill. Gill had also notched up 5 in that previous rout against Wanderers. That’s some awesome form and a decent effort at making it all look easy.

Unlike after the game on an adjacent park, where the form was not awesome and hardly anything would have looked easy. Because there I got out my new baseball glove, a birthday present from my boys. Brother of Longworth72 had his glove and my eldest, all of 6 years old, donned 1 too.

Then we played catch. For some of the time anyway. Often we didn’t get the catch bit down pat, partly because we weren’t great on the throwing component, but also because baseball gloves don’t do all of the work by themselves The wearer has to take a fair amount of responsibility for ensuring that the ball lands in the right part of the mitt, and then sticks there.

Which it often didn’t for us – Unlike for Mackenzie Arnold, we didn’t make the glove-work look easy, although we did shadow her moves by palming the baseball away. A lot.

Which hurts. Also a lot. It hurts so much that I needed an ice-pack on my left palm later that evening. Brother of Longworth72 could have used one of those too – He copped a number of too solid and stinging blows such that a gypsy palm-reader would have had no trouble scoping a novel of imminent pain off of his southern paw. The 6-year-old meanwhile was ok – He used a soft rubber ball and favoured letting it bounce.

For the grown-ups though, the pain didn’t end there. By the next day I was down to using my forearms like some sort of tyrannosaurid – Feebly waving them around as I chased Julianne Moore and Jeff Goldblum across town.

Which I guess is fitting because I’m feeling a little like a dinosaur – It’s not just the playing catch either – I might have started this post with the intent of finishing it in 75 minutes, but it didn’t quite pan out that way.

That was almost two weeks ago.

Still, this dinosaur isn’t ready to go extinct just yet – If anyone knows of a master’s team for rookies in Perth’s northern suburbs, I’m up for some baseball.

No Need To Run

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

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