Tag Archives: Russia

Germany the Authors of Their own World Cup Misfortune, but Leeds Hero Pontus is Smiling – by Rob Atkinson

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The Germans have a word for it, as they usually do. And, since the reigning champions were toppled out of the World Cup on Thursday, it’s a word that has gained a great deal of currency in the UK and pretty much everywhere else, really. Schadenfreude – the concept of pleasure and gratification arising out of somebody else’s misfortune – neatly sums up the national mood since South Korea applied the coup de grace to Germany’s limp 2018 World Cup campaign. To say that the nation rejoiced in the wake of this sensational result is not to understate the case. Even sober journalists and media types joined in the euphoric jollity. Everybody was queuing up to poke fun at the demise of the German national football team.

It’s tempting to suggest that there is some historical element in this tendency of ours to wish misfortune on the Germans. Two world wars during the twentieth century might lend some credence to this point of view; especially where our most senior citizens are concerned. But for people of more tender years, the motivation is less martial, more sporting. Put simply, most of us are just sick of Germany’s traditional efficiency in amassing trophies on fields of sporting conflict, especially as compared to the meagre hauls of the home countries. We are sick of losing to them on penalties, sick of them going on to beat the teams we might otherwise have beaten, lifting the trophies we might otherwise have lifted. And, much as we would love to see our own teams strut around a lap of honour, we’re sick of seeing them do that, too. As Manchester United would confirm, nobody loves a perennial winner. It’s just boring for the rest of us.

So, the German exit from Russia 2018 had its novelty value, but it gave us all a laugh too, with the comical nature of their defeat to South Korea. For once, their goalkeeper was not batting away our penalty shots to win yet another shootout for the Fatherland – instead, he was making an idiot of himself on the left wing as his team-mates desperately chased late goals; then he had to watch helpless as the Koreans streaked downfield to pop the ball into an empty net to seal Germany’s doom. Oh, how we laughed. It was as comical as it was richly satisfactory, with the commentators in tucks and everybody taking the mick. Days like this come around all too rarely; we have to make the most of them. And, oh boy, did we ever.

The thing is as well, for those feeling any slight twinge of sympathy for a beaten and ridiculed German team, they really have asked for this. If you cast your mind back to the game that Germany actually won, beating Sweden at the very last gasp, they proved themselves to be most ungracious in victory, taunting the Swedish bench and provoking an angry reaction. Our own Pontus Jansson was involved, leading the charge and looking as if he wanted to take on the whole of the German backroom staff by himself. At that point, it looked as though Sweden had suffered a fatal blow in terms of their World Cup chances; surely, Germany would now steamroller its way into the knockout phase. But a few days on, Germany are bottom of their group and have gone home, while Sweden finished top to progress. Germany’s display of arrogant triumphalism had earned them the bitter fruits of karma, and it seemed the rest of the world felt a deep sense of justice served.

Pontus is happy too. On his Instagram account, he observed after the German exit “Warm up done. Now let’s start World Cup!” The German view, though, is terse and chilling – “Yes, we deserved to go out. We are not good enough. Enjoy this while you can”.

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Cellino Sells Leeds Utd to Russian Oil Baron in £7.4 Billion Coup   –   by Rob Atkinson

A Russian oil field, yesterday

A Russian oil field, yesterday

NB: This article should be read with extreme cynicism after 12 noon on April 1st. 

Leeds United owner Massimo Cellino is on the point of completing the sale of his holdings in the company that owns Leeds United in a surprise mega-millions deal that will see the club bankrolled into the Champions League, a spokesperson for Eleonora Sports has confirmed. 

The shock deal has been brokered in the last seven days between oil billionaire Aprelya Pervyy and Cellino’s personal representative Avril Primero. While the share purchase price is given as “in the tens of millions”, it is understood that the total deal will be worth almost seven and a half BILLION pounds sterling, with the purchase of Elland Road, the foundation of a new triple A class Academy and the establishment of a new LUTV channel on the Sky platform factored in.

The new owners are believed to be targeting Champions League success within three years, to coincide with the club’s centenary celebrations in 2019. Financial Fair Play restrictions are “unlikely” to be seen as a barrier to success, with infrastructure investment through several specially set-up companies enabling United to compete at the top end of the transfer market.

With the deal due to be completed before the summer transfer window opens, the close season is expected to be a busy time for Leeds, with “significant behind the scenes restructuring” anticipated. Hollywood A-Lister and lifelong Whites fan Russell Crowe is confirmed as being uninvolved at this stage, but is believed to be monitoring the situation from his base in Australia. Crowe has been quoted recently as stating he is “impatient for success” at Leeds; that long wait could now be about to end. 

No further developments are expected today, but Cellino may have a statement to make as early as tomorrow, April the 2nd. 

The Tory Approach to ‘Stock Management’ in Animal Farm UK

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The three Great Offices of State as represented by the current incumbents

George Orwell’s “Animal Farm“, written as an anti-communist allegory in 1943-44 at a time when, due in part to wartime alliances, Joseph Stalin was well-regarded in the UK, remains a classic of its kind. The allegory is a versatile literary device, and in the skillful hands of Orwell it painted a bleak picture of the events in Russia leading up to the Revolution of 1917 and those developments afterwards which brought about the Stalin era. Clearly, Orwell’s target had to be one easily identifiable through the clear vision of hindsight; he had in mind what had already come to pass and was making no predictions as to any future dystopia. But history has a way of reviving familiar themes and it is hard to look at the events that have been unfolding in the UK since the ConDem alliance of 2010 seized power sans mandate – and not to credit Mr Orwell with an uncanny prescience as his work assumes a new and chilling significance.

This coalition government assumed a power it was not elected to on the back of a welter of slogans and promises; those slogans have become sick jokes, perverted out of their original bright and shiny aspect, retailed now in the bitter coin of irony and disillusion. The promises, meanwhile, lay shattered into myriad fragments, reduced to dust to be blown away by the chill wind of austerity – while the original text of vows that became lies are being erased from political web servers, lest they be waved in righteous indignation at the lumpen Untermensch and thus perhaps foment rebellion.

The 21st Century reality of Tory-fabricated propaganda in ConDem Britain is, if anything, even sneakier than the crude tactics of Squealer, the mouthpiece pig of the allegorical Animal Farm. Where Squealer teetered on a ladder with a bucket of whitewash, the better to change the sense of the First Commandment “All animals are equal” by the addition of “…but some animals are more equal than others”, the Tory revisionism is unspoken, the whitewash job more subliminal. So, the internet records are abruptly wiped and old slogans or promises such as “We’re all in it together” are simply dropped quietly, used now only as satirical barbs by those who would counter the Big Lie. And meanwhile, the MP’s get an 11% rise while belts are being tightened among the hoi polloi, the bankers get their munificent bonuses while theplebs face the “heat or eat” dilemma and present themselves at food banks – because what were previously recognised as bare subsistence-level benefits have now been heavily cut from every direction – so harsh choices must be made courtesy of the Orwellian Pigs who banquet in the farmhouse, aloof and uncaring.

Some of the repugnant individual characters in the book hardly do justice to their modern-day counterparts. At least in Orwell’s work, the pigs – on a literal level – really are pigs. The farm stock, literally, are stock – cattle, sheep, horses; the unthinking, uncomprehending functionaries exploited all these years by humans and now hoping in their trusting way for a brighter future under an administration of their alleged peers. “All animals are equal”. But, lo and behold, in modern-day Britain, real life imitates the literal level of art. The Secretary of State for Work & Pensions no longer needs to bother referring to those under his benevolent care as human beings. To Iain Duncan-Smith, they are “stock“, we hear. So our deepest fears are realised: the ruling pigs really do regard us as dumb animals to be exploited for economic success and neglected to mitigate cost – the money saved to be devoted to improving the already lavish lot of the said pigs.

“These people”, trumpets IDS in response to murmurs of mild protest, “are referred to as “stock”. So, he’s emphatic about that, he can’t see that there’s any problem with it. It’s so hard to listen to for anyone who still retains any vestigial dream of a more equal society. People in caring professions are trained not to use terms like “these people”, because it sounds so pejorative, so demeaning – as if the human beings thus discussed are in a box labelled “Problem” or “Undesirable Element”. It’s almost too horrible for words, a litmus indicator of the contempt in which this privileged man, this latter day ruling pig, holds the millions of needy and vulnerable fellow human beings currently at the mercy of his incompetent tenure in office.

The “stock” is not to be trusted. They must be kept penned up and fed on rations, lest they gorge themselves and exhaust the farm’s resources. Any gorging to be done shall be done by the ruling pigs, because some animals are more equal than others. The stock cannot be trusted to have a work ethic, and so quotas are set (we call it Workfare) and sanctions are applied to those who are unable, for whatever reason, to make their contribution. These sanctions do not apply to the pigs, because the pigs are the sort of chaps who can be trusted to work given sufficient fiscal encouragement – so it’s all about incentives there. A bushel of apples in Orwell’s book – a seven figure bonus in 21st Century Britain – if, of course, you’re “one of us”. Incentives for the few – sanctions for the masses. Carrots and sticks – the Tory pigs find it easier to rule with the latter than the former. Easier – and cheaper too.

In Orwell’s book, when through sickness or age productive work is no longer possible, the consequences depend on whether you’re stock or stockman. Faithful servant Boxer, the once-mighty workhorse, is therefore taken away when finally exhausted, to be slaughtered and boiled down for glue, amid fanciful lies about a hospital bed and a peaceful end. The ruling pigs retire to the farmhouse, don the trappings of humanity and live the high life. As a parallel, in 21st Century Britain, thousands who have been found fit for work – when they clearly are not – have either died of their condition or have committed suicide. They have become “economically neutral” in official jargon; this government don’t like to talk about people dying as a result of their policies, so have rather conveniently stopped providing statistics relating to such matters as well as making it much more difficult to uncover such statistics. But Mark Byford, on the other hand, the former Deputy Director of the BBC, was paid an eye-watering £1 million over and above his contractual entitlement because – in Orwellian terms – he’s a pig. Certainly not “stock”, anyway. The ruling animals look after their own. Some animals are, after all, more equal than others.

It’s difficult to say what the future may hold – and it may well be that we’re faced with a sort of Devil’s Alternative, looking for the least bad option the next time we go to the polls – if, that is, such quaint and old-fashioned ideas as elections aren’t done away with in the next batch of nasty little surprises the ruling pigs have for us. I am speaking allegorically, of course. But to say we’re at a crossroads is to show a huge talent for wild understatement. At the moment, official figures are being manipulated to show what the government wants us to see – if they want us to believe that the threat of sanctions, or the effects of Workfare are helping people into jobs, then that’s what those figures will say – with an utter disregard for the truth and the casual brushing-aside of any peeps of protest from those who are aware of the truth. The mainstream media, also, can be relied upon to perpetuate the Big Lie, in all of its loathsome forms – and sadly, people appear happy to swallow this bilge as long as they themselves are not directly affected by the more swingeing examples of government policy. To the despair of those who wish to see transparency in government, and the interests of all strata of society advising policy – the opposite is happening, and that trend remains on the up and up.

What seems certain is that now is no time to be thinking of a new way, or some ballot-box chicanery based on the provision of a “none of the above” option. Nothing would be better calculated to succour our current rulers than such idealistic measures; instead, what is now needed is emergency pragmatism in the quest for that “least bad option” towards the desirable end of ushering out this unscrupulous and incompetent regime. So much damage has been done already, unwittingly forecast in uncanny detail by George Orwell in the mid-forties – and in such a relatively short time – that it’s too horrible to contemplate what might happen post 2015 if Napoleon, Squealer and Co actually manage to get elected next time around. More Workfare, more poverty for those at the bottom, more ostentatiously obscene wealth for those at the top – that could be the least of it.

And ultimately, there will be many thousands more poor, sick, disabled or simply old who will die for want of fair government for all. Perhaps they will reflect as their lights go out, on the essential truth of an old Latin tag: “Qui mori didicit, servire dedidicit” (Who has learned how to die has learned how not to be a slave). For many, that might quite literally be the only way out.

World Football Must “Do a Leeds” – and Banish the Evil of Racism – by Rob Atkinson

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Yaya Toure – racially abused

Eyebrows tend to be raised, lips are apt to be pursed and there is a general air of bemused surprise when any Leeds United fan (this blogger, for instance) condemns racism.  Those who will throw their hands up in horror – rightly so – whenever they encounter a racial stereotype, seem rather less scrupulous about imposing stereotypes of their own when their cosy perceptions about United fans are challenged.  Hang on a minute, they demur – Leeds supporters are about the most racist around, aren’t they?  Well, perhaps they were, once upon a time.  But times change and the Leeds United fan culture of today is a vastly different thing to the bleak days of the early eighties.  More of which later.

The events of last week have brought the whole foul problem back into sharp focus. During Manchester City’s away Champion’s League tie against CSKA Moscow, midfielder Yaya Toure was subjected to monkey chants from the grinning morons among the home support. It’s a real problem in many parts of Europe and the one thing that’s tolerably certain is that it’s not going to go away on its own.  What’s normally needed to remedy such matters is supporter organisation into a strong anti-racism movement – which was, not incidentally, the Leeds United experience – or tough sanctions from some higher authority with something approximating to a backbone.

Toure may not have been alone in suffering this awful, unjustifiable and humiliating abuse – some sources report that team-mate Fernandinho may also have been targeted. Toure was understandably disgusted and has demanded action.  He has even gone so far as to suggest that the 2018 World Cup, scheduled to be hosted by Russia, could be hit by a black players’ boycott.  I only hope that he’s serious about that, and that he can count on the support of other black players, as this would be a shattering blow to the tournament – much, much greater today than it would have been in the eighties.  A far higher proportion of the world’s best players are black today than back then, such has been the explosive development of the game in Africa, a continent where many nations are emerging as serious football powers.  A black players’ boycott of the tournament, then, could be a way to apply irresistible pressure to fans and ruling bodies alike.  A World Cup without many of its most mesmerising stars would be unthinkable; even if it went ahead it would be so devalued as to be hardly worth winning.

Jose Mourinho has a view on the issue of a possible boycott, as he does on so many issues.  He expressed “sympathy” for Toure, but said he did not support the City player’s comments afterwards.

“I respect his opinion, but I disagree,” said Mourinho. “I disagree because the history of football was made equally by many races, and the black players have fantastic contribution to what football is.

“Who is more important: the billions of people in love with the game around the world, or a few thousand that go to football stadia and have a disgraceful behaviour in relation to the black players?

“If I was a black player, I would say the other billions are much more important. Let’s fight the thousands but give to the billions what they want: the best football. Football without black players is not the best football.”

As a football man on football matters, Mourinho’s is a voice to be respected – but in the last nine words of that quote, he basically makes the case for, not against, a boycott by black players of Russia 2018.  Just imagine if you will a tournament blighted by the kind of sickening filth Toure and possibly Fernandinho had to suffer last Wednesday night. It’s too horrible to contemplate – and what message would it send out to the billions worldwide that Jose is seeking to protect from a World Cup bereft of black talent? Endemic racism is OK as long as we’re being entertained by the football? That’s not the way to go and it’s not the example to set to the world’s children.

Mourinho then is surely wrong to suggest that those billions would rather witness a tournament dragged down to gutter level by cretins whose idea of fun is to abuse a world star by making crude monkey noises.  The best thing an organised movement of black players could possibly do is to show FIFA that the situation is intolerable by refusing to have anything to do with such a toxic affair.  Perhaps then even FIFA – a body which inspires little confidence, led by a man in Sepp Blatter who is little better than a bad joke – might consider its options, faced as they would be with a sanction of such potentially seismic effect.  They certainly should consider those options, which are practically limitless.

It’s certainly pointless to wait around hoping that UEFA might put their own house in order, something they’ve proved themselves singularly incapable of doing.  Instead, FIFA should act, and act decisively.  They should advise Russia that, unless this problem can be addressed and eliminated by 2015, an alternative host nation will be found for the 2018 World Cup – it’s that serious.  They should monitor the situation, act as advised and they should then stick to their guns.  They won’t, of course, because they are truly spineless and complacent – which is why the likes of Yaya Toure and the others like him who are subjected to this evil baiting, really have no choice but to rally together and organise themselves to take their own action.  Good luck to them if that’s the path they take.

In the early eighties the experience of being a match-going, non-racist Leeds United fan was lonely and disgusting.  The atmosphere was rancid with bigotry, skin-headed, bone-headed racists sold “The Flag”, a right-wing snot-rag, outside the ground.  It was done openly, brazenly.  Dissenting voices, when raised, brought upon their owners the risk of violence.  The club was inert and complacent.  The police sat by and watched.  It was depressingly, shamefully awful.  And then, things started to change.

Civilised, intelligent Leeds United supporters, unable and unwilling to accept the evil being dispensed in the name of their beloved club, organised themselves into Leeds United Fans Against Racism & Fascism.  Fanzines were sold expounding the voice of reason against the bigoted filth being peddled by the racists.  More decent supporters woke up to what had been going on, joined the anti-racist movement, bought the fanzines, started to raise the voice of protest against the ignorance and malice of the terrace chants against visiting black players.

Even the slumbering Leeds United itself reacted positively to the changes afoot.  Black players were signed, the first since the brief but bright Leeds career of Terry Connor. Noel Blake, affectionately nicknamed “Bruno”, loved by the Kop.  Vince Hilaire, quicksilver winger reviving memories of Albert Johanneson in the sixties, the first black player to play in the Cup Final and a Leeds hero when the Revie revolution was still new.  It was a painfully long, slow job – but Leeds United finally managed to rid itself of one of the most degradingly awful reputations for racism and bigotry, and they largely did it as an institution, by the efforts of enlightened fans supplemented by the club’s more enlightened transfer policy at a time when there was still an unofficial bar observed by the likes of Everton FC.

I’m extremely proud of the way my club tackled its problems.  The Leeds United of today bears no resemblance at all to the sick club being brought to its knees 30 years ago, dying of the cancer of racism.  The whole world has moved on, though pockets of the disease still exist at home, yet far more significantly abroad.  We now live in a time when these manifestations of hate and ignorance are a palpable shock to the system – and that in itself is a massive change for the better.  Such inhuman behaviour has never ever been acceptable, but now it’s seen to be completely unacceptable, and FIFA above all must face up to the reality of this.

FIFA simply have to act, and they have to act now.  Despite CSKA Moscow’s revolting stance whereby they’re claiming this simply didn’t take place – the club’s deputy media manager, Michael Sanadze, told Sky Sports News that “nothing special happened” – they have been charged by UEFA with “racist behaviour”. UEFA though are an organisation clearly lacking in the backbone to apply sanctions and see them through, Lazio having been punished for comparable transgressions in the past, the stadium closure subsequently being reduced to a mere slap on the wrist.

The message from FIFA has to be clear and unequivocal.  Stop the racist abuse – or lose the World Cup in 2018.  Failing that, Yaya Toure and his black colleagues – and how good it would be to think that non-black players might also support such a move – should carry with them the good wishes and backing of every decent-minded person as they seek to reduce the tournament in Russia to the well-merited status of farce.  It would be no more than FIFA deserve for what would amount to tacit support of the racist minority whose venom threatens to poison the whole football world.