Thursday, April 21, 2005

15. Malaise

"Man, being reasonable, must get drunk; the best of life is but intoxication,"
- Lord Byron

"Always remember, that I have taken more out of alcohol than alcohol has given me,"
- Winston Churchill

"To alcohol! The cause of - and solution to - all of life's problems,"
- Homer Simpson

"Dude, you're seriously sloshed,"
- Some guy in a club last night

A brief respite from all things football, thank heavens for that. We can't all be Nick Hornby-like in our footie obsession eh (and what an unhealthy obsession it is considering he supports the Arse).

Right, it’s a Thursday afternoon, and a goodish Thursday it is, a public holiday and those things always come in handy when you're in need of a bleeding hangover to get over. Right now it feels like there's a tiny munchkin bashing a sledgehammer in my skull, he's a nasty bugger him; bash, bash, bash, he goes, evil 'lil git. I've lost all taste in my tongue, I'm suffering from blurred vision, and I'm close to typing like 3 words a minute here. I hear happy birds singing their happy songs yet there are no birds in sight. I'm stuck at some dingy corner at Starbucks, though I know for sure that there are no dingy corners in the Starbucks universe. I feel like the plane of existence has somehow shifted, and I've been thrown into some warped Lovercraftian alter reality where there are nasty tentacled things lurking in the nether regions of the earth, or wait, that could've been those twats circling round the bottle the whole night hoping to scum off some drinks.

Yes, yes, after yet another alcohol-fueled night of revelry and massive destruction of brain cells and the like, I had an epiphany of sorts. Ah, those divine and priceless moments of self-actualisation when the secrets to life as we know it is just one more drink from being revealed. Thus on and on we drink, in pursuit of knowledge that thus will ensure the preservation of the human race. Ah, yes, I'm talking shit now. I do realise that, but somehow, I'm unable to stop myself. Surreal man, it's like I'm floating out of my body right now and kinda hovering over this unshaven red-eyed dude typing with sloth-like ferocity on his laptop. It's kinda blissful really, like my pure subconscious mind has finally freed itself of it's decrepit host and is rejoicing in it's freedom away from the dastardly thoughts that inhabit the waking mind. As I observe my mortal coil below me, I feel like asking him the question that has plagued the minds of men since the dawn of time (or at least since the advent of alcohol), is the price you're paying now this very moment worth that fleeting moments of joy and bliss that you felt (or thought you felt) last night? And am having the sinking feeling that this won't be the last time I'd be asking that poor sod the very same question eh.

But nevermind that for a bit, there are some life lessons to be learnt. Not very relevant, but I have to somehow console my wasted self that last night wasn't all for naught. The lessons for today are:
1. Guys stand a better chance of hooking up with chicks if they're in the company of other chicks (preferably babes) themselves. It's always pathetic to see a bunch of guys standing round a table to themselves without a girl amongst them hoping to score. We all know that unless they look like the cast of Ocean's 11, it'll never happen. And is it just me or are there just too many single guys out there? What the heck happened to the three girls to every one guy ratio?
2. Guys should never ever, and I mean ever, dance with other guys in a circle on the dance floor or anywhere else in a club for that matter. It's just too pitiful. Even in my drunken state, I felt my heart weep tears of sorrow when I saw a bunch of hopeful looking dudes pulling off their dirty dancing moves, with each other, on the dance floor. Undoubtedly they were thinking that when the chicks got a load of them grinding each other they'd all go googoo gaga. Erm, nope. The opposite reaction is more likely. As in gag gag pukerama.
3. It's very rare indeed that girls who go out to clubs are looking to hook up with guys. They're either with their boyfriends, girlfriends, or just looking for a good night out. Alternatively, they may be looking for their next customer. When they're genuinely looking to hook up, it's always with a nice rich expat who one day they believe will take them away to some far off country with milk and honey to live a sitcom-like existence (laugh track playing in the background optional).
4. It's never the same getting high without trance music leading the way. Ah, PvD and Chicane...where art thou in clubs these days?
5. Alcohol drives men to turn miraculously into immortal warriors of heaven and earth who make all quiver in their presence. Well, at least they think so, right up till the point they get their asses kicked and thrown out of the club that is.
6. Drinking to drown your sorrow is a load of crap, it just multiplies it tenfold and leaves you to turn into a weeping emotional pulp. It's never a pretty sight.
7. Driving home when you're loaded is no way to go. Especially when you're going home alone.

One last thing, I would like to say sorry to an absent friend whom I miss very much. Sometimes people do stupid drinks when they're drunk eh, so be patient with them yes? It was just one of those nights. I think we're all allowed at least one or two moments of insanity when intoxicated.

And with that, this writer quietly rests his case for (or against? I can't remember) getting sloshed. Till next time, remember that the first drink's always with water, the second without, and third, ladies and gentlemen, the third tastes like water.

Sunday, April 17, 2005

14. Interlude

Will get on with that rather excruciatingly labourious essay on USA '94 in a moment. But first, let's hear a word from our sponsor. Well no actually. Just wanted to comment on Chelsea's progress in the Champions League and the overall football season so far. Well, since we're on the subject of football anyway. Actually am writing this to kill time as I've somehow found myself stranded in Starbucks cause is bloody pouring outside. Worse still is the fact that I can't go for my Sunday evening kickabout. It never ceases to amaze me how the weather always conspires to prevent a guy from having his one and half hour's worth of exercise for the day. The whole day the weather's just so fine and dandy, and just 5 minutes before you're due to go, slam bang it starts to bloody pour. This rant can go on, but let's leave that at that eh. Also, it's wishful thinking on my part but perhaps by me writing something about football, it'll somehow cause a ripple in the space time continuum that'll inadvertently lead to sunny skies and a happy game of Sunday football for all. Yes, it makes no sense, heck, it's insane actually...but let's give it a shot here.

Anyway, back to more rational things. Am of course elated that the Blues are doing well, a team that's I've suffered much with through the Gullit, Vialli and Ranieri eras. What a game against Bayern. Lampard's been playing brilliant, as is Drogba (still am unsure if he's worth that 24 million pounds though). Am also delighted for Liverpool. Well done. I've always been a fan of Benitez and the way his sides play. And in Xabi Alonso, they have a gem of a player. They really played a horribly inept Juve off the park. Liverpool under Benitez have the potential to do well next season and good luck to them. But not too much luck eh for the semis.

Honestly though, this year's Champions League has been plenty poor fair. Perhaps the absence of Barca have something to do with it, but the games on show in the latter stages haven't exactly been an advert for exciting attacking football. The best attacking sides are out, meaning Arsenal, Real Madrid and the great Barca. What we've seen is more pragmatic approach that's winning out, as supremely demonstrated by the great AC Milan. And even the English teams are doing well, albeit with a more continental approach to games (and yes, I'm left to eat my words after comments made in an earlier post). And look, another important fact to note is that I've been writing this piece for a good ten minutes and it's still bloody pouring.

My thoughts on the football season in Europe? Chelsea worthy winners of the EPL for their girt and consistency, Arse and Barca the most entertaining teams to watch, AC Milan the best team in Europe by a mile (though the best team doesn't necessarily win it eh), Gerrard the most overrated player (Xabi Alonso being the more cultured and effective performer), Real Madrid the team in most decline (the great Zidane no longer has the legs or the will to do his usual magic) and the best players? I'd say Totti (still phenomenal for Roma, not always so for Italy), Shevchenko (best striker in the world at the moment), Henry (he's always up there, genius), Lampard (consistently consistent), Xavi (together with Deco brilliant in the middle for Barca), Cech (soon to replace Buffon as the best keeper in the world), and of course there'd be the defenders; Terry, Puyol, Gallas, Ferreira, Zambrotta and the ageless Maldini.

My hopes for the rest of the season? Well, Shearer to win FA Cup with Newcastle (though I hate the bugger, he deserves that much for practically carrying them all these years). Chelsea to meet Milan in CL finals. May the best team on the night win that one. Gerrard to stick with Liverpool, he owes them that much for all his inconsistent displays this season. That, and the fact that he's no good for Chelsea (would prefer some one like a Totti or a Xavi).

Wait, miracles happen. The heavy rain has abated. The field's probably like a paddy field now. Bugger that, am going anyway.

Tuesday, April 12, 2005

13. Magic - Part 2

World Cup Mania Hits the US, Sorta

That year the World Cup was held in the US of all places. This was a nation where people knew football as a game where oversized men in body armour and tights (a lethal combination if any) ran around trying to dismember one another, where the foot is used only sparingly in relation to the ball (which, coincidently, is not round at all), and where games can drag on for three hours. Talk about overkill eh?

To most Americans, footba-err, sorry, soccer, was a game played by women and kids from Planet Surburbia. Grown men were supposed to only play sports where the aim was to maim and kill their opponents (though not necessarily in that order). Americans love their games fast and furious, high scoring with plenty of drama. They love their overpaid superstars, lap up all the nasty off-field activities that their heroes indulge in (and in some cases, way too nasty, see Shaq's turn as a budding actor), join in all that endless trash-talking and chest thumping going about (is it just me, or is there something homo-erotic going on when tall, muscular men in shorts scream "Who's your daddy???" at one another?). They also hate their blind refs who always making dodgy decisions against their teams, hate even more those dodgier owners and their motives. But most of all, they love the concept about winning ugly. All you have to do is watch any American sports movie ever made to catch my point. It's always the underdog who triumphs over infinitely gifted opponents, it's always the small team who rises up and beats the big team. Heart rules over all.

Shaq expresses his delight in getting nominated for the Razzies.

Now surely, soccer can't ever match any of that? It's more of a sissy's sport right? None of that trash talking and violent contact that Americans so crave. Right. To be fair, Cantona had yet to show the world his kung fu prowess via his infamous No Shadow Kick move on a Crystal Palace supporter. And we were then not yet enlightened with the sight of the angelic and innocence-personified figure of Wayne Rooney having a gentlemenly discussion with the ref. No Martin Keowns doing his best baboon impressions yet either. And definitely no Paolo di Canio helping the ref out in perfecting his fluttering swan dive ballet routine. But if the Americans wanted winning ugly, all they had to do was to watch how Argentina went about their business to get to the finals of Italia '90 (they duly did their part by losing to the Germans in what must be the worst finals seen in World Cup history). Or more recently, look at how Greece won the European Cup. Blind refs? Heck, just watch any other EPL game over the weekend and you'd get plenty of those. Dodgy owners? Don't even get me started on that.

Anyway, the indifference of the American public was just another interesting element to add to the pre-tournament drama. Sure their interests were perked (thanks to the marketing overdrive), but it was more because they were curious about why the whole affair was such a big deal. How could a sport that existed outside the Big Three (baseball, American football and basketball) generate so much interest and excitement? There were also serious apprehensions from the participating teams concerning the humid and sweltering conditions. And of course, those ever over-rated moppets (otherwise known as England) didn't even qualify this time. If it was any consolation to them, a Gerrard Houlier managed France didn't do no better.

England pose for their team photo.

Enroute to the tournament, every football fan's favourite Brazil were having problems of their own. A mischievous little forward named Romario threatened to disrupt his team’s preparations all because he couldn't get the window seat on the plane. They did however have a skinny little 18 year old called Ronaldo waiting in the wings. But Brazil's problems were nothing compared to the talented Dutch, who just about argued with everyone over everything. The Germans came as the defending champions and pre-tournament favourites, the midfield dynamo Matthaus still powering them. The previous competition’s defeated finalists Argentina was still being captained by one Diego Maradona (and what a competition he would have, for all the wrong reasons). They also had the great Gabriel Batistuta leading the line for them. And finally, Italy, the Azurri, came with a big reputation but with typically stuttering results. Their beleagured manager Arrigo Sacchi seemed as confused as the fans themselves over Italy's tactics. But if there was one player that Italy could turn to to lead them to victory, then it would have to be a diminutive pony-tailed Buddhist who had just been recently crowned World Player of the Year. He wore the infamous number 10 shirt, and his name was Roberto Baggio.

Next: The Group Stages

12. Magic - Part 1

First Love?!

I fell in love for the first time during the summer break of ‘94. And what a summer it was. The weather was hot, the birds were singing, and the world was still a small but grand place. I was still a teen then in my second year in the university, and it would be my last year that I could call myself one. The summer would be a long and welcome break after a semester of trying to keep up the grades (and failing miserably) at school, there was much to look forward to. The time was as ripe as any to finally discover this strange and wonderful thing.

Sure, there were the normal crushes in high school, you know, those fleeting moments when you're a teen that you really think that you're in love (rather than it just being a chemical reaction brought about by those raging hormones). That the girl in the school bus, or a classmate from tuition, or that co-worker from your summer job, or wherever else. Heck, I was pretty much sure I was in love with Laura Palmer (played exquisitively well by Sheryl Lee) from Twin Peaks. But nothing like absolute love, a love that you just know will last you for a lifetime.

What is it about first loves that thinking about it gives us warm fuzzy feelings? It’s just like how we remember great friendships from our childhood, or that very first kiss that all other kisses would be inevitably measured up against (and always hopelessly fall short), or even that exhilarating feeling of going sledding for the first time on a perfect winter’s day. It’s funny how those memories will always remain with us, never to be dimmed but instead, enhanced by time and age.

Well I can tell you now that love for me was not kindled through looking into the eyes of a girl who you just knew was your soul mate for the first time, unfortunate as that sounds. Yet kindled it was, without rhyme or reason, by only the other thing that can turn grown men to pitiful whimpering creatures, this little thing called football. It was found during the month of the World Cup, and like all great love affairs, it ended in heartbreak and anguish.

This is an annoyingly long essay about my memories of USA '94 that is going to be of little or no interest to anybody but myself. It's mostly written on the wave of the good vibes and that little bit trepidation being felt at the moment concerning Chelsea's run in to the season. The League Cup is in the bag, the title's more or less there, and there's Bayern Munich in the 2nd leg coming up tomorrow morning. This feeling of anticipation mixed with anxiety reminds you of why you love the game so much, and why people can be so passionate (some to ridiculous lengths) over this simple sport of sweaty men kicking lumps out of one another. But of course, were Chelsea go out to Bayern and blow the title by losing all their remaining league games, I may feel differently. Bloody hell. But as it is now, am loving every minute of it. With that caveat in place, onwards we go.

Next: Divine Ponytails and those bloody English