Thursday, September 25, 2008

Next to Nothing (Again)

Fifa and Uefa both seem to operate under a code that shows no actual attachment to reality. This is nothing new, sporting bodies are nearly always reactive, hardly ever being brave enough to take the lead by instigating reforms in advance of obvious problems. Today Fifa took the low road once more by fining the Croatian FA a meager $28,000 for racist behaviour by their fans towards black English players at last months’ WCQ. 28 grand - yeh that will really help to stamp the problem out! Measures that actually censor fans footballing experience, such as banning fans from attending home games, playing offending nations home matches in outer Siberia, or actually doing something proactive like, I don’t know, expulsion from competition those countries that continually offend. But no, that sadly would be doing something; Fifa actually released this meaningless statement today: (you can hear the concealed laughter from the Croatian FA, their fans would sadly utter more offensive comments.)

"Racism has no place in football. Fifa is determined to continue broadcasting this message around the globe and deploying all of the means at its disposal to eliminate this form of discrimination."

I would like to advise Fifa (and Uefa) that the removal of racism with a paltry fine of $28,000 is nowhere near eliminating discrimination by all of the means possible. It is in fact, doing basically sod all.

Sunday, September 07, 2008

A Very English August: Golf Part 1

One of the pleasures of any return to England is the opportunity to play some golf, on an eclectic choice of courses, with a mate and crucially, whilst not spending a small fortune for the privilege. The contrast between how golf is played in Japan to England is at its widest when emptying the wallet in the clubhouse before the round. In Japan, it can be an ideal way to lighten to the load in your pocket, in England; you usually leave the course with a few notes still wedged in the leather.

The other big difference between the two experiences is how your legs feel at the end of 18 holes. In Japan it is almost universally the case that you are pampered with luxury, a buggy chauffeurs you to every shot, a mid-round break allows for the chance to eat some lunch, loll around and restore energy for the back 9. And finally, the glorious, emersion into a hot bath allows you to re-live/re-invent selected highlights of the day whilst soaking those weary limbs. In England, you don’t really get any of this, certainly not on the golf courses I often play. The up-side is you can squeeze 36 holes into one day, which is impossible in Japan. And that is usually where the problems start.

Due to such small trivialities such as my wedding, I have not had the chance to play much golf this year in Japan. It has hard to justify spending a week’s household on 18 holes when other more matrimonial costs are floating around. So once I had arranged the days with my English golfing mate, Tim, I was eager to plunge straight into a day of 36 holes as compensation for my year’s near total abstinence. This plan only had two small, almost insignificant problems: 1) The English summer weather would have made Noah feel at home and 2) My body is just not used to this kind of punishment. Golf on the Wii hardly prepares you for squelching through and in, an English golf course. By the end of the first day’s play I felt, and looked, as though I had just gone around Cape Horn in a holed dingy.

We had decided that our first day’s golf would be on an old favourite, Burgham Park GC near Morpeth in Northumberland. With a 2 fore 1 golf voucher to reduce the day’s play to 18 pounds each, it seemed a convenient way to begin the golfing part of my holiday. Unfortunately I was wrong. We got soaked; my joints stopped operating around the 22nd hole, my rainproof shoes leaked and eventually sank into the sodden course, and my score that after 6 holes was pretty damn hot, dissolved into the nether regions, only fleetingly being spotted in near earth orbit. Burgham is a beautiful parkland course which played like a Venice links course on wet day.

The next day, we thought we would head off to the coast in search of drier land. The conundrum of golf in England is that you have to choose between the following (Hobson’s) choice:

a)Play a links course, more likely to be drier because of the wind, and so even more likely you will be hitting into/out of/around a swirling coastal gale. End result - a difficult round.

b)Play a parkland course, more likely to have reduced wind, and so even more likely your underfoot will be marshland and your ball/feet/hope will sink two feet into each fairway. End result – a difficult round.

After just about avoiding trench-foot on Wednesday, a links course was agreed to be the more drier option. I had been itching to visit Seahouses GC on the Northumbrian coast for some time now. Seahouses, is a traditional Northumbrian seaside holiday town that is dominated by caravan parks, amusement arcades, biting winds, grey beaches, arctic seas and a lighthouse. It does, however have two saving graces, a magnificent array of high quality chippies (no this is not an oxymoron) and an old, short (in yards) par 67 links course. Just the job after the previous day’s treacle slopping…

The wind was as benign as it would ever be on a north-eastern summer’s day; the footing was reasonably dry and the course enjoyable to play. There were three highlights of the round:

1)Despite being given very clear instructions as to where to tee off for the 1st hole, neither Tim nor I could recall the conversation that had taken place only 2 minutes previously and, so we just teed off and hoped for the best. (I got par).

2)The 5th and 8th holes start parallel to each to each other, but to reach the correct green, you have to crisscross the other holes’ fairway. I stood on the 5th tee aimed left(ish) and was quite happy to be roughly in the same direction as the green. Tim aimed right. I reached the green in 3 and so did Tim, the only problem being he landed on the 8th green. He hadn’t realized that the holes were in fact not just two long straight holes…

3)The 10th is a shortish par 3 which involves hitting an exposed long iron over a pond and on a slightly sunken green. Tim went first and stopped his ball 6 feet from the hole. I followed and ended up 7 feet adrift. We only then noticed an old man had stopped to watch both are shots. For that brief moment, whoever he was, must have thought we knew what we doing on a course. We both missed birdie however…

Seahouses turned out be a great antidote from the previous day’s exasperation and so we headed off home confident that Wednesday’s woes was but a minor hiccup in the golfing week. Sadly I was wrong. Not just a tiny bit, but Betamax kind of wrong…

Entrance to Burgham Park GC

Tim teeing off on the 13th at Burgham Park.

The 18th at Burgham GC. Amazingly Tim and I played this hole well on both rounds!

The view from the 10th, just a long iron over the hidden pond. Seahouses GC

Two fine tee-shots! The 10th, Seahouses GC

The bunker-dominated 8th. Seahouses GC.

Friday, September 05, 2008

A Very English August: Introduction

As an exiled (to be fair it is my own choice) Englishman, one has at times bristled and become sensitive about despairing remarks concerning the mother country's summer climate. Often, one has been forced to listen to crude terminology dismissing the English climate (food, sports teams, female attractiveness...) as something to be avoided like a lonely Yorkshire Moor pub on a moonlit night. These remarks have been spouted from various nationalities, American, Dutch, Canadian, Kiwi, Ozzie even the odd native has been known to offer a comment or two. Usually it is met with a withering (at least that is how my memory records such discourses) put down and a long winded defence extolling the excellence of the English summer climate that goes something like this:
It doesn't always f***ing rain you know!
Often this starts me off on a comprehensive rant about how Hollywood depicts dear olde England in its pictures. You know, every town has a red double-decker, old fashioned red telephone box, accents that are either Dick Van Dyke cockney or David Niven posh....I could go on, but I can already hear the sirens....
Sadly, and regrettably returning to my original point, my defence of the glorious English summer is about as accurate (and water-tight) as the national football team's back four. I have just returned to Hiroshima after spending four and a half weeks in the beautifully scenic North East of England and I saw the sun exactly twice - for about 15 minutes each. That was perhaps the coldest summer I have ever experienced, windy, gloomy and at times bloody chilly. The only saving grace was despite quite a bit of rain, my standard belief in the English climate was born out:
It didn't always f***ing rain!

The Result...(eventually)

The Result: 2-2
The Pitch: A dust ball
The Heat: Very uncomfortable
The O.M: He played about 15 minutes.
The 2nd O.M: He scored the first equaliser.
The Match: Enjoyable, end to end with plenty of chances.
The Final Analysis: A draw was a fair an just reflection of the action.
The Medical Report: Surprisingly the old body held up rather well, with few next day aches.
The Post Match Meal: Excellent, headed off to an izakaya/okonomiyaki - combo establishment.