It’s All About the Money, Stupid

Despite coming from a football-obsessed family and a football-obsessed country in a football-obsessed world, I’ve little interest in the beautiful game. But starting tomorrow it’ll be wall-to-wall coverage of the 2022 World Cup in Qatar. Unless I move to Mars or become a hermit for the duration, it’ll be impossible to avoid the unremitting flood of games, goals, news and views coming at me from every direction. But I’m not a total killjoy. Even I hope our home countries of Wales and England do well.

But here’s the rub: how did a country with little or no tradition of playing football, no venues to speak of and summer temperatures hot enough to melt the slap on a drag queen’s face win the bid to host the big daddy of all competitions? Record bungs and backhanders, naturally – or so it’s alleged. Associated football is drowning in the filthy lucre, the richest sport on the planet, so there’s a bottomless pit of petty cash to go around. At least some sense has prevailed and kick-off has been postponed to late autumn so players and fans alike don’t drop dead in the heat.

Setting aside the well-greased palms, there’s also the small matter of civil rights – or lack thereof – in the oil-rich nation ruled with an iron fist by an absolute monarch. When it comes to the footie, Qatar may be strictly Sunday morning kickabout but it’s in the top flight for limited freedoms for women, enforced (and sometimes deadly) labour akin to modern-day slavery and oppression of LGBT people. Of course, this won’t stop the circus rolling into town to take the Sheik’s shilling.

The beautiful game just got ugly.


PS. It now seems FIFA’s President, Gianni Infantino, thinks being teased at school for having red hair and freckles is the same as being banged up in a Qatari hellhole prison for being gay. What a prat.

Russian Pride

Russian Pride

Yesterday, Norwich Pride reached the grand old age of 10 and the streets of the city throbbed to the fabulous in their multi-coloured glory. We came, we saw, we partied along with the mums, dads, kids and grandparents. Summer is Pride season and rainbow flags have been flying across the realm. Sadiq Khan, London’s Muslim Mayor, danced across a giant flag during London Pride and even the sleepy Suffolk town of Beccles flew one from the Town Hall. It’s about inclusion, right?

Not in Russia it’s not. In Russia the rainbow flag is subversive gay propaganda opening the floodgates to kiddie-fiddlers, making ladies of the lads, lads of the ladies and bringing Mother Russia to her knees. Waving it can land you in the clink, or worse. The term ‘Russian bear’ doesn’t refer to a hairy mary bopping round a bum-bag to Abba’s Dancing Queen, and it takes a brave soul to be out and proud. And so a band of rainbow comrades employed a little cunning to get their point across at the recent World Cup. Big respect to Norwich’s very own Di Cunningham, chair of Pride in Football, who rolled out the Three Lions Pride flag at England games. I’ve read Di and her team got a bit of low-level hassle from the authorities, but as the flag was endorsed by the English Football Association and supported by the UK Government, the Ruskies let it go. No one was going to provoke an international incident at Putin’s big showcase.

More subtle was a group of activists from Spain, The Netherlands, Brazil, Mexico, Argentina and Colombia who roamed the streets, squares and subways of Moscow wearing their national kits which just happened to make up – you guessed it – the rainbow flag. Now that’s what I call a result.

Images courtesy of The Hidden Flag #thehiddenflag

 

Three Lions on a Shirt

Three Lions on a Shirt

Despite coming from a family of footie obsessives, I’m not a fan of the beautiful game, or of anything sporty really. But even I’ve been swept along by the euphoria of England’s remarkable run in the World Cup. We drank through a very pleasant sunny afternoon in a local beer garden watching England thrash Panama. In truth, it was so bright we hardly saw a thing, but the wine was cold and ambience was hot. Last Saturday’s quarter-final against Sweden clashed with the Lord Mayor’s annual parade, and his worship wisely postponed the grand procession so the great, the good and the legless could watch the match in various venues across the city. We took up pole position in the Murderer’s, a local watering hole with a dark past. Thank God for aircon otherwise the overheated punters might have fainted from nervous exhaustion. When England beat Sweden, the roar could be heard in space.

Three Lions on a Shirt

The decisive win gave the Lord Mayor’s parade an added bounce – the atmosphere was electric and the word on the street was victory. With all the excitement (okay, booze), we didn’t quite make it to the fireworks extravaganza at close of play but we did manage to take a few snaps of the crazy assortment of madcap street performers.

I am quietly patriotic, though not nationalistic. To be proud of where you are from is fine but to think you’re a cut above is not. It’s just a game, after all. Will England’s winning ways continue? I really hope so. We’ll see later on tonight.

Stop Press

Alas, England’s dreams of reaching the final of the World Cup were dashed by a spritely Croatia. The nation has gone into mourning.

They Think It’s All Over

Come on EnglandA young inexperienced England Team crashes out of the 2014 World Cup, Mexican and Brazilian fans chant homophobic abuse, Croatian and Russian fans unfurl neo-Nazi banners and finger-licking FIFA are mired in accusations of palm-greasing over the staging of the 2022 competition in Qatar, a filthy rich absolute monarchy with no football tradition and summertime temperatures in the withering forties. And so, it’s business as usual for the beautiful game. Timely then, to re-post my 2012 piece from a happier time for British sport, Rainbow Sporting Heroes…

Rainbow Sporting Heroes

Gareth Thomas and Perking the Pansies

As Olympic fever goes into hyperdrive, I was thinking about homophobia in sport, particularly the beautiful game. Even though the likes of David Beckham are in touch with their feminine side and Eric Cantona is prone to writing a poetic line or two, there are no fairies in top flight football, apparently. Why is this, I wonder? Even rugby, the butchest of sports, has the wonderful Gareth Thomas quietly waving his rainbow flag. There was Justin Fashanu a few years back, of course, but his revelation led to excommunication by the soccer establishment, misery and his eventual suicide. It was a shameful episode. More…