Monday, March 29, 2010

The Football Field - Where Parental Screams Come True

Swearing at football on the television from the safety of your armchair is all very well, but there’s no substitute for absorbing a little abuse yourself and getting some cardiovascular exercise at the same time. To this end, I recently took the necessary exam, and am now qualified to blow loudly on a whistle and give a stiff-arm salute without fear that my German in-laws will think I’m taking the piss out of their history.

A few dozen games giving vent to my latent authoritarian streak have confirmed what I always suspected about youth football - there’s nothing wrong with the players, just the parents who watch it and the coaches who coach it. When I played as a kid, you rarely heard from either. The parents were either absent, or quietly observant, and you learnt to tune out the odd hysterical mother until her mortified son banned her from watching. The coaches told you their thoughts before the game, at half-time, and afterwards. This was your 90 minutes of escape from the class room and parental oversight, when you had the chance to run free and express yourself with limited instruction.

Nowadays, children’s lives have to be micro-managed, while many parents and coaches think they absolutely need to be centre stage, all the time (although needless to say, it's the loud ones you notice most). To rescue football from this intrusive plague, I plan to develop a range of referee’s products that will aid in cleansing the game of its brash, loudmouthed egos who think they have the right to control every move of a child’s recreational time. They are as follows:

For the linesman on the spectators’ side of the field
*A luminous shirt that will, when pointless parental shrieking reaches a certain volume, automatically flash the words SHUT IT NOW! And (prevailing winds permitting) trigger an emission from a capsule blasting out a noxious gas that will force them at least 20 yards back from the touchline. The display will alternate with questions like Have You Ever Read The Laws Of The Game? or You’ve Never Actually Kicked A Ball In Your Life, Have You? Or, Do You Really Think Repeatedly Shouting KICK IT HARD Qualifies As Useful Advice? (I’d add some qualifying labels at the end of these too, if this weren’t a family blog.)

*A Retractable, Idiot-seeking Flag that will fly sharply backwards out of the linesman’s hand and poke in the eye anyone who claims to have spotted an offside while standing 40 yards behind the play. Or who insists on telling you that the throw-in should have gone the other way. Or who yells for a foul just because their kid fell over or got tackled. The flag will zip back into your hand quicker than the human eye can see (I have Spiderman’s people working on this), thus saving you from litigation, while disabling the irritant for the remainder of the game.
For the referee:
The pocket-sized Bench Blaster will despatch any raging coach who encroaches on to the field of play back to his or her bench with a single zap. The Deluxe Model will coat them in an adhesive substance to prevent them from standing up or opening their mouths for the remainder of the game. And the Platinum Model will implant a microchip in their brains containing a copy of the FIFA Laws of the Game. Ad slogan: The Bench Blaster - Because Sometimes A Red Card Just Isn’t Enough.

There have been many advances in the science and philosophy of youth coaching over the past two decades that I would certainly have benefited from as a teenager, but I definitely missed the memo that said shouting at kids will make them better footballers. When you shake their hands at the end of the game, you always like to tell them that they played well. But you also feel like adding, “Could I just apologise for my generation too?”

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Infidelity And Armageddon

You scratch my blog, I’ll scratch your yours – over at Sweet Sinner Gwen’s (nice title – sounds like a Marc Almond song), I’m engaged in a discussion with my newest follower (I now have a total of three, which means my goal of making this blog Bigger Than Jesus still has a way to go) about monogamy, infidelity and open marriages. It’s far more interesting than the mundane bitching you’ll find on here, so head on over and join in the fun.
Meanwhile, I bumped into an ice sculptor called Steve the other day at Café Caribou in Bethesda. He told me he’s working on an educational video for YouTube that will use a slab of butter and a chunk of ice to explain how the Arctic Circle’s ice is thawing from within, and that global warming is happening much quicker than we think. Basically, we’ve two more years before the floods come and we head to hell or the hills, depending on our preferred destination. It fair cheered me up.
After he’d outlined the coming collapse of society, we chatted about my career as a football writer. His parting words: “Enjoy the World Cup – it’ll be the last one.” Good news for the winners, though – they’ll be eternal World Champions.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Failed Examiner

The first thing some people do in the morning is swear at an alarm clock, but at least you can quickly silence the beep, and it only happens once a day. I reserve my slander for the telephone, because the chances of it being someone I actually want to speak to are around one in twenty. It’s rarely, or never, a publisher offering me a six-figure, five-book contract, or a magazine editor proposing a fat freelance deal for an article I could write off the top of my head from the safety of my desk (“Yes, we’re looking for a piece entitled 50 Things To Bitch About Before You’ve Even Left The House”). If it’s not one of my daughters’ class mates calling to find out what their biology homework is, it’s a pointless marketing survey (“We were wondering, How often do you field annoying phone calls just as you’re preparing dinner?”), or a guilt-edged inquiry about your willingness to contribute to the Veteran Fireman’s Retirement Fund, with the unspoken issue hanging over the conversation of just how rapidly an emergency response vehicle might make it your front door should you choose not to make a contribution.

You can tell a junk call because of a slight delay at the other end (they’re usually calling several people simultaneously), and the fact they always ask for my wife, whose simple surname they hopelessly mangle because it’s foreign. Mostly I hang up straightaway, but this morning, for some reason, I asked them what they wanted. I’m so glad that I did. It turned out they were from The Washington Examiner, a daily paper owned by reclusive billionaire Philip Anschutz that is occasionally delivered to our front door, at no cost and certainly not at our request. They wanted to know what I thought of it.

Here’s an example of the slant in last Thursday’s edition, which I’ve just fished out of the recycling pile. The editorial attacks House Speaker Nancy Pelosi for having the temerity to be a tough Democrat. Stop Kicking In Our Doors, Madame Speaker says the headline, illustrated by a picture of her looking like she’s about to hit someone. The main story is about a transgender aide suing Montgomery County Council under an anti-discrimination law she helped draft – the newspaper’s main front page headline ‘Transgender sues under her own law’ is inaccurate, missing as it is the word ‘aide’, while the story itself is 99 per cent unfounded insinuation. A page of ‘Crime & Punishment’, with pictures of two wannabe tough looking crime reporters standing with their arms folded, relishes both the crime and presumably the ensuing punishment by perniciously linking separate issues with headlines like Police: Illegal Immigrants Raped Alexandria Woman, and Panamanian Murderer Caught, Lived Off Federal Subsidies. Columnist Chris Stirewalt devotes several hundred words to criticising President Obama because he seems “gloomy”, a result of “the desperate spectacle of the president’s effort to impose his health care plan on a defiant electorate.” Two more pieces on the Politics pages talks of Obama being “off message” on health care, and House Democrats “working desperately” to pass health care reform, topped off with a commentary from David Freddos on What Obamacare Has Already Done For Massachusetts (everyone’s as good as dead up there already, apparently).

That’s the health care reform bill that was passed yesterday, despite all this stunningly objective journalism. So, what do I think of the Washington Examiner? I’m so glad you asked.

“You mean that crappy right wing rag you keep tossing on to my property? I’d rather you didn’t, thanks. It goes straight in the trash. Your paper’s a disgrace. It’s verging on the fascist. So even though I know it effectively means you can’t even give your shitty paper away, I’d be really grateful if you stopped delivering it and we can all make a saving on the waste paper.”

“Are you a subscriber to the Washington Post, sir?” the caller wanted to know. Subtext: “Yeah, well that’s the kind of thing I’d expect to hear from a communist, America-hating Post reader.” Though the Post is a paper I almost cancelled when it ran an editorial supporting the Bush invasion of Iraq (but I like to know the weather, and read Get Fuzzy).

“Yes, I am,” I said with as much pride as you can muster for subscribing to a daily paper. And I should have added, thanks for letting me have my say. Your call has made my day.