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.
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…
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.
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.
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.
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?
This is the nicest image of a naked mole rat (Heterocephalus glaber) that I could find. They’re just not conventionally good looking and so I’ve yet to find a sportsperson who has adopted 1 as a mascot. Which is wrong because these rodents are tough little critters – So hard on life are they that they’re the longest-living rodents and are fantastically resistant to cancer. Get naked and get mole rat – Photo: brx0, 2010. brx0 is not affiliated with Longworth72. Image cropped by Longworth72.
It seems to me like a lot of sports people have a nickname of ‘The Honey Badger’. This could just be my misperception and even if it isn’t then I’m not saying it’s a bad thing – Just that it strikes me as common.
To illustrate this I thought I’d pick out three prominent examples from the sporting world I have a view of. None of them are women. I’m not sure why this is – I don’t feel like men have an exclusive lock on being honey badgerish. I reckon that if there isn’t a roller derby jammer out there called Honey Badger then there should be as of now and you’re welcome lady.
Because honey badgers are tough. These African mustelids (Mellivora capensis) are anatomically most like a weasel – They’re low-slung, sturdy and thick-skinned. These attributes allow them to survive in harsh environments and against heavyweight predators, such as lions. An adult male lion weighs in around the 190kg mark, while a male honey badger typically tops out at 16kg. On paper then, a fight between the two is mostly going to go the lion’s way.
Honey badgers don’t read the odds though and so they’re liable to take on situations that seemingly exceed their capabilities. They’re particularly fond of aggressively approaching and messily devouring cobras and puff adders for instance, even wearing a venomous bite in pursuit of a meal. Just watch this:
Yep, the honey badger slept it off like I sleep off anti-seasick tablets.
So the honey badger has some gumption. The kind of gumption that sports people might aspire to have – They often need to disregard the odds, take a venomous hit and then get into the game. This is why the honey badger makes such a great personal mascot.
Don’t just take my word for it though – Here’s how Nick Cummins, formerly of the Western Force and the Australian Wallabies, answers when asked why he took on the handle:
‘The Badge? Oh look, yer know, long story short, basically ahh there was a documentary on National Geographic or Animal Planet, one of them Fox bloody setups and ummm, yeah I… I watched this… this thing and this honey badger was goin’ toe to toe with a… With a male lion and managed to ummm… It was underneath him – Underdog obviously, bloody on his back, clawing away, one-two and then bloody the… The big fella ummm got his canastas clawed off and… And he trotted off round the corner and fell over and the badger gets back up and I thought, what an animal yer know… That’s bloody… It’s impressive.’
Here’s the interview in full. It’s worth watching just for Nick’s bloody Australian enthusiasm in the telling, with his explanation starting at the 35s mark.
Also, canastas = testicles, in case you were wondering.
Nick Cummins isn’t wondering and neither are honey badgers. They’re less about figuring it all out and more about going in with everything they have. This approach has stood Nick well in his role as a winger playing in the elite Super Rugby format, whereby he’s been a fiercely combative player on attack and defence. The resultant commitment to the on-field objectives saw Cummins drafted into the Australian Wallabies squad in 2012 and now in 2014, he’s earned a lucrative move to a Japanese side, West Red Sparks.
Which is big, but not quite as large as the deal netted by Daniel Ricciardo in late 2013. Dan, the second of this post’s sporting Honey Badgers, is from my home town of Perth, Western Australia. Specifically, he hails from the leafy northern suburb of Duncraig, which is where both of my sons were born. He has an incredibly wide smile, also like my sons, but there the similarities come to an end, for Daniel Ricciardo is a Formula 1 driver, plying his trade in the most demanding of all motorsport categories.
I’m not saying never, kids – It’s just that you’re not ready yet.
To make it all the more daunting for the 25 year old Ricciardo, his deal for 2014 sees him driving a Red Bull Racing RB10 as the teammate of reigning Driver’s Champ Sebastian Vettel. The German ace has in fact won the past three F1 Driver’s Championships, along the way climbing all over his then-teammate and likeable Aussie, Mark Webber. That Vettel’s treatment of Webber at times crossed an ethical line is seemingly of little consequence to the German and nor did it appear to matter to Red Bull Racing’s management – He’s a racer and he won. Ricciardo then, with less than three years of competitive F1 in an uncompetitive car would surely just be more fodder for that rapacious hunger for honours.
Honey badgers though don’t shirk from the apex of the pyramid of life and they’re not out there to be fodder.
In 2014, with a series of radical changes to the cars tempering Vettel’s driving style, Ricciardo has been Red Bull Racing’s ace driver. While his German teammate has managed just two podiums in 11 races, both of them third placings, the honey-badger-inspired efforts of Ricciardo have seen him notch up 5 podiums. Those numbers too have not been down to luck – As well as out-badgering his more experienced colleague on race day, Ricciardo consistently out-qualifies Vettel in the lead-up too.
It’s not just Vettel that Ricciardo out-badgers either. Two of those podiums in 2014 have been wins, both achieved via overtaking moves on quality opponents with scant laps remaining. In the latest of those, last weekend’s Hungarian Grand Prix, Dan hunted down Lewis Hamilton and Fernando Alonso, former Driver’s Champs no less, and then picked them off with a series of intelligently brazen passes. This is the honey badger way – It’s not the victory, it’s the manner in which it gets achieved.
This leads us to the final sporting Honey Badger of this post. Lithuanian cyclist Ramūnas Navardauskas rides for the Garmin-Sharp team. Unusually for a professional cyclist (and a honey badger), he is a big dude – 6’3″ and weighing at nearly 80kg. There’s another un-honey-badger-like pointer – Navardauskas isn’t just a giant, he’s described as a ‘gentle’ one too.
He wasn’t gentle in Stage 19 of this year’s Tour de France though. As a late call-up for the race, and replacing the popular David Millar on the Garmin-Sharp Tour roster, Navardauskas tried a move that almost never comes off – He made a solo break for the line with a little over 10km to go. The odds are against solo breaks – A group of riders, such as the mass that makes up the Tour peloton, will always have the edge in cutting through the air and time after time they will utilise that advantage to hunt down escapees before the line and in such a way that sets up an en masse sprinting battle.
Honey badgers and odds though – They just don’t read ‘em, and so this cycling honey badger tore through the streets, barely ahead of the chasing pack, and aided by a crash in that chasing pack, was able to surge across the line for Lithuania’s first ever Tour de France stage win.
Vive le Honey Badger!
Which brings us almost to the end of this post. There will be no solo break to finish it though. Instead I thought I’d let it tail off with a Honey Badger sacrificing himself for the good of his most precious team – His family.
Nick Cummins left the Western Force and turned his back on the Australian Wallabies earlier this year to take up a lucrative contract in Japan. He did so for the money but you can’t fault him for it. Rugby is a wearing game and all the more so when you go at it like a honey badger. Cummins can’t do it forever and he needs to make the maximum amount of money now.
For his family.
Cummins has 6 siblings and two of them have cystic fibrosis. To make matters tougher, his dad is a sole parent and is battling prostate cancer. That’s a fight worthy of the name, Honey Badger.
Luck to ya Nick. You and all the honey badgers out there.
The hanger-like structure that dominates this photo is Glasgow Caledonian University’s Arc Health and Wellbeing Facility, home to Glasgow Roller Derby – Photo: Knwwsss, 2009. Knwwsss is not affiliated with Longworth72. Image cropped by Longworth72.
Last night I saw a tweet that asked whether roller derby should be included as a sport in the Commonwealth Games. This informal proposal drew out some conflicting feelings from me – Predominantly excitement and doubt. On the one hand, I’m thinking, hell yes, because roller derby is some kind of awesome. The part that I’m doubting isn’t roller derby.
It’s the Commonwealth Games.
Which is awkward because the Commonwealth Games are a reasonably significant sporting occurrence and as it happens they are currently upon us – This time around in Scotland’s largest city, Glasgow.
Some background might be required – The Commonwealth Games are a multi-sport festival, sort of like the Olympics. They are more exclusive than the latter though because they are only open to the nations who are, or who have at one time been, members of the Commonwealth of Nations (Formerly the British Commonwealth) and who haven’t totally annoyed Her Majesty Elizabeth the Second, by the Grace of God, Queen of Australia and Her other Realms and Territories, Head of the Commonwealth, or her predecessors.
To be accurate, it isn’t just nations who are eligible to compete – Currently there are 53 of those but there are 71 teams. The difference is explained by the inclusion of dependant territories, such as the Isle of Man.
The Queen of Australia is also the Lord of Mann. She gets around and she needs to as the 53 member states (and dependant territories) of the Commonwealth of Nations together field almost a third of the world’s total population.
Which is a lot of people, however the Commonwealth Games don’t resonate as heavily with me as those weighty numbers would suggest. As an Australian this could maybe be seen as sacrilegious thinking on my part – I grew up as an Aussie kid steeped in a culture of sporting excellence. My earliest memory of any sporting Games was that of the 1982 Brisbane Commonwealth Games, and specifically of a inspired kangaroo mascot called Matilda. For the opening ceremony a 13m tall Matilda was powered around Brisbane’s Queen Elizabeth II Jubilee Sports Centre, powered by a modified fork-lift truck and winking at the crowd.
Sidebar: The map formed by participants in that ceremony, while ‘I Still Call Australia Home’ is played, is missing Tasmania. Which is awkward*. Also, yes, Matilda is a trojan kangaroo with what now looks to be a lascivious wink. The concept of using such a vessel to infiltrate Australia’s hearts will appear somewhat ironic later in this post.
So the Commonwealth Games should be a special occurrence for me. That they’re not, that the resonance just isn’t there for me, is down to some core reasons:
The first is that, sporting wise, the Commonwealth of Nations doesn’t exactly punch it’s weight. In the most recent Olympics, the 2012 London edition, Commonwealth member states won just 179 of 962 medals on offer. The four biggest member states by population (India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Nigeria), who together account for 1.7 billion people (~77% of the Commonwealth), won just 6 medals between them.
Or between India actually. Pakistan, Bangladesh and Nigeria won nowt.
True, there were some stand-outs in there for the Queen – 56 of 302 gold medals went ‘Her’ way. Pitch a Commonwealth Games contingent from the likes of the island nation of Niue, whose total population is around the 1,600 mark, against those kinds of World’s best performances and you could argue that there is a real David verses Goliath struggle going on.
A contest between David and Goliath is something most of us enjoy. As a parable anyway. There are certainly some David’s and Davinia’s in the 2014 Commonwealth Games – Apart from Niue, the Falklands Islands has a population of not much more than 2,000, while others such as Nauru and Tuvalu have only around 10,000 citizens to choose their sporting stars from.
Nauru’s most popular sport, Australian rules football, isn’t even played at the Commonwealth Games and they don’t have a competition-standard swimming pool or athletics track.
The commensurate Goliaths though are few and far between. Mostly what we have are lower-league Goliath’s – Decent athletes to be sure, but not tall enough that a sporting slingshot between the eyes is as memorable for the neutral.
This is not the primary reason that I feel uncomfortable when it comes to the Commonwealth Games though. That dubious honour goes to the heart of the Commonwealth of Nations, and in particular how that grouping came about. A clue to this can be found in the name of the Commonwealth Games when they first began in 1930. Then, they were the Empire Games, celebrating the glory and fostering understanding of what was then the British Empire.
Australia was seen at the time as a prime example of this great cultural movement. The British had arrived around 150 years before that first Games and had in the intervening time settled and civilised this wide land.
Except that the land had already been settled for at least 50,000 years before they’d arrived and across that age had consequentially got a whole lot civilised in such a way that it’s inhabitants had forged an extraordinary kind of relationship with their lands. This harmonious enterprise was then royally buggered up by the invasion of the British, a tale sadly replicated across a number of Commonwealth nations and something we’re now tacitly celebrating via a sporting festival.
Imagine if we’d applied that ethos to other empires. We could have the Vandal Games, named for the people who were seen as so barbaric in their acquisition of territories that we remember them today as a byword for mindless destruction. Or we could have the Viking Games, honouring the Norse seafarers who raided and invaded large parts of Europe, and who, thanks to Leif Erikson, also made it across to North America. Such a Games would then involve the powerful US team, surely leading to a greater sporting spectacle.
Yep it’s all fun in the friendly Viking Games until some beserker pokes an eye out with a höggspjót and then it’s, what a heavy, pointy, ramming thing you have on the prow of your longship.
And that’s just the historical bastardry we’re referencing. Now in 2014, 42 of the 53 participating nations have laws that make it a crime to be gay. In Uganda for instance the parliament passed a law in 2013 offering life imprisonment for those found to have engaged in homosexual acts. That sentence is even on the lenient side – They were not far off making it death.
Ian Thorpe is arguable Australia’s greatest ever male competitive swimmer. At the 2002 Commonwealth Games he won an astonishing 6 gold medals. He’s also gay and so if he were to live in four out of five Commonwealth nations he’d be a criminal. Were he to live in Nauru, he’d face up to 14 years hard labour for being open about his sexuality.
Even if he’d kept it hidden he’d still have been stifled by the lack of a swimming pool.
So after some thought I’ve come to the conclusion that the Commonwealth Games is no place for the progressive and awesome roller derby. Think big I reckon, and that rules out the Commonwealth Games, because ‘thinking’ is stifled and the ‘big’ just isn’t big enough.
Oh, and @#$% you, Parliament of Uganda. Royally.
*Not half as uncomfortable as it now is looking back at Rolf Harris. Evil.
Sunset across Percy Doyle Reserve as the Perth Glory Women do battle in the twilight – Photo: Longworth72, 2013. Image cropped by Longworth72, who is very sorry about the low contrast, but hey, twilight, people.
One evening last summer I sat atop a grassy slope in a Perth park and watched a free game of soccer. It was a pretty good moment to be in – There was a breeze off of the ocean that carried away the residual heat from a typically warm November’s day in Western Australia, and there was a handy tree that dappled the glare from the setting sun. I felt pretty lucky.
True, that same tree did block the view for a portion of the pitch, but even that inconvenience became agreeable, adding a quirky subplot to the on-field drama, an element of mystery.
Not that the narrative needed any extra devices – This was quality soccer, as evidenced by the presence of a number of players who have played in their respective national teams. In spite of all of this, the easy setting, the non-existent cost and the quality of the soccer, there was not that big a crowd in residence. I figured that there was no more than 300 fans, barely enough to sparsely dot the slopes or populate the club-rooms opposite.
This low turn-out was most likely because the game was an Australian W-League fixture. Women’s soccer.
People don’t watch women’s sport in as great numbers as they do the men’s equivalent. I’m sure there are a lot of reasons as to why this disparity exists, and I’m just as convinced that all of those reasons are a load of bollocks. In spite of that surety, my advice to sports fans is this:
Don’t set out to go and watch women’s sport.
Let me explain why:
Back in 1994 I sat up each night to watch the FIFA World Cup being played in the US. It was a decent tournament, with some cracking early group games, and then some edgy knock-out contests. It was a challenge for me to watch though – Because of the time zone difference and my love of sport, I needed to survive through many nights of no sleep. This was tough – Not even the eye-watering self-designed kit of Mexican stopper Jorge Campos or the possibility of that brilliant keeper remembering he was once a striker could completely beat out the yawns. So to keep myself awake I spent the time in between early morning fixtures playing on our new computer.
That computer was a boxy desktop 486SX-33. It was less than a year old and it had a then-luxurious 8MB of RAM. By contrast, the sleek i7 laptop machine I’m currently typing on, some 20 years later, has 8GB of RAM, a lazy 1000 times as much working memory. In spite of that disparity, I can still comfortably say that the comparatively ancient 486 had software loaded on it that exceeded my wildest teenage geekdom dreams far more than my current beastie. Mostly this was down to the games, with the 3D shoot-em-up Doom and the top-down isometric real-time strategy thriller Syndicate being the stand-outs.
Syndicate was my favourite. It’s construction was relatively simple but it was smart – Buildings and landscapes were expertly and crisply rendered but only as an enhancement to the gameplay, rather than a fixture of it. There was no technical eye-candy on screen – The playable part of the game for instance utilised just 16 colours.
I hardly noticed more than a handful of those colours.
Instead, I was focussed on the control of a team of up to 4 agents – Biomechanically enhanced humans – who were tasked with gaining and then maintaining the supremacy of a fictional corporation, the titular syndicate.
In spite of this capitalistic theme, the game was surprisingly egalitarian in outlook – You could select male or female agents to be a part of your unit, with neither gender having an edge in performance. In play you couldn’t even determine who was who, as each agent was a small sprite clad in nondescript robes and armed with a utilitarian flamethrower.
Yeah, a flamethrower. For incinerating things. The game was violent and never more so than with the flamethrower. It was not a game to be played by young kids and maybe not even old kids either. It still isn’t really – Time has not softened the harsher elements of Syndicate.
I’m making that quantification current because you can still buy Syndicate and you can still play it now, albeit via a DOS-emulator. I don’t need a DOS-emulator, because I still have the 486SX-33 and it still works. I’ve kept it so that on occasion I can play Syndicate the way it was intended.
And also so that I don’t lose my status as a Rear-Admiral in the naval flight simulator Fleet Defender. That took a lot of flying hours. I sacrificed some social stuff for those hours.
Unlike me back then, Fleet Defender has now dated a lot though. Syndicate hasn’t – It’s 16 colours, inert buildings and gender agnostic assassins are still disturbingly thrilling in 2014. Because narrative – The skein that runs through the game, that transcends things like flashy moves, fast processors and super-hyper-realistic-bazillion-colour visuals.
Narrative is everything in games. If your narrative is weak then all of the embellishments in the tech universe will not save games like Syndicate Wars, the eagerly awaited 1996 sequel to Syndicate.
Because Syndicate Wars sucked.
It had more complex graphics with user-controlled viewing angles (Syndicate had had just the 1 viewing angle), interactive buildings (Oh so destructible) and more weapons (You needed them to level the buildings).
But it sucked. Then and now, and not just because the idea of blowing up buildings seems kind of wrong right now. Because Gaza, Syria, Iraq and countless other wars.
Morals aside (And there was a cartoonish quality to Syndicate that gave it some distance from an ethical reality), there was no focus on a cohesive narrative in Syndicate Wars, the whole was a scatter of ideas, of a jumble of skills in play. Those skills read good on paper – faster and flashier – but they didn’t hold together in a compelling package.
This is where we get back to women’s sport. If you’re setting out to watch it because of the ‘women’ bit then I reckon you run the risk of seeing a Syndicate Wars. What you should be doing is looking for sport and a compelling narrative to underpin it.
That is the essence of sport for me. The skills on display aren’t valuable unless there is a narrative to bind them into something I want to immerse myself in. And just like for those lethal agents in Syndicate, gender plays no part in determining the viability of a sporting narrative for me. Yes, it is the case that elite women in sport don’t generally run as fast, kick as hard or hit as powerfully as their male equivalents. The narrative though is independent of all of that jazz.
I don’t love sport for the jazz* and so gender simply shouldn’t matter to me.
It used to, that’s true. I once frowned upon women’s sport because of those perceived physical shortcomings. To be honest, I never even gave women’s sport a chance, because I was so sure that the metrics were what sport was about. I saw women’s sport as sport by women and for women, and since I’m a bloke, figured that it wasn’t for me. When I did occasionally approach it then, I had the wrong attitude.
Because I can be a numpty and because I focussed on the ‘women’ bit instead of the ‘sport’ part. Which was easy because I’m a heterosexual guy and did I mention that I can be a numpty?
This then is why I’m suggesting that we should eschew the idea of setting out to watch women’s sport. Because the narratives that make women’s sport great are the same narratives that make men’s sport great. They’re the narratives that make all sport great. It’s about the sport.
So instead of setting out to watch women’s sport we should head out there to watch great sport and sometimes, often even, it will have women in it.
Like the 2015 FIFA World Cup.
At that tournament, just like for that evening last summer in Perth and for the 1994 FIFA World Cup, there will be some quality soccer on offer. For me, I’m hoping that it will be on free-to-air TV so that I can enjoy the narrative that will be in play. There is just the one catch though…
The 2015 FIFA World Cup is being hosted by Canada. Which is in North America, and with time zones that are almost exactly as disparate for me in Western Australia as they were in 1994…
It might be time to fire up the old 486 again…
*I do love jazz for the jazz. Doesn’t matter who’s playing it, long as they’re finding the key to my soul.