When Footballers Were Gods

There is a touching scene at the end of this powerful BBC documentary about Brazil footballs stars Pele and Garrincha were the now aged Garrincha walks his little baby boy.  His wife has left him, his career has long been over and all he has to look forward is more alcohol and an early death.

Watching the doc is like being inside a really cool museum.  You feel history come alive here, but not just ordinary history, but the history of godlike footballer who could do no wrong and set angel fluttering in their wake on the pitch.

They really were gods, Pele and Garrincha, but each in their own distinct way.

Pele was John Lennon – cool, refined, charming, innovative – while Garrincha was Johnny Cash – addictive, morose, brilliant, self-destructive.

In the end, I seemed to care more for the street guy, Garrincha, rather than the elegant Pele.  This from someone who grew up worshiping.

There’s something in the tragedy of Garrincha that speaks to the tragic human condition. Something in his life that seems more real and authentic.

Pele suddenly emerges as an opportunist, with fewer scruples and morals than I imagined.  His taste for dictators leaves me to wonder about a man that transformed football into an art and religion, yet, who seems to have little patient for the little fella.


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Thoughts at 2am

635497720246065742-AP-Washington-School-Shooting(Photo, www.wtsp.com)

There were shootings yesterday at Marysville-Pilchuk High School here in the state of Washington.  Two young students are known to be dead.  Four others seriously injured.

Wide speculation focuses on the boy’s recent tweets and whether he internalized anger over his Native American status.  “He was not a monster” those who knew him say.

And so now we observers are left to wonder.  Why did this happen?  How can a seemingly ordinary, perhaps even popular boy (selected to be prince at the school’s homecoming events) whip out a gun in the school cafeteria and start firing?

We may wonder whether we live in a violent society.  More so than other societies.  Violent video games.  Violent sports. Violent movies.

Everywhere the violence of violence.  And so we get Ian Terry’s photo above.

Gun control laws may be a good place to start, although we may fetishize such strictures as a panacea.  Gun laws will not entirely eliminate guns from society; they may make it difficult to obtain them but not impossible.

Or we can focus on high school and its hothouse environment that may, directly or indirectly, breed violence.

Anyone who’s graduated from an American high school knows that they are not the most conducive environments for tolerance, compassion and decency.

They resemble lawless jungles often, with hierarchies and unwritten rules and injustice and humiliation and pain.  Always pain.

No one gets a Nobel Peace Prize for surviving American high schools.  We do get a graduation ceremony, some quaint but dull messages scrolled in our yearbooks and the faint but odd feeling that high school will never entirely leave our guts and souls.

It seems every high school and every graduating class experiences some kind of calamity – in my day, it was a suicide.  Today it is a shooting.

Once students turned death on themselves.  Now they kill others before committing this act.

And so we enter  new territory, where the trouble young man (why is it always a male?) commits the heinous crime – murderous revenge.

New calls for gun control will emerge again, then die down as the incident enters history and foggy amnesia, until a new shooting takes place and the cycle starts all over again.

It’s a quiet epidemic, this high school angst-cum-murder treadmill, so it will not get the attention of Ebola’s spread, yet it may be just as preventable.

There are no classes in high school on how to live, how to deal with frustration, how to face fear and loathing and disappointment.

Until we as a society face the causes of such horror, then we shall be always swimming in its ugly tide of mayhem and shocking violence.

Yes, let’s start with ridding ourselves of all the millions of guns around.  Then let’s offer some needed advice to students, or their parents, or teachers.

We don’t have to kill our way out of our pain.

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Dim Lights of Man United

The movie, “United,” about the great Manchester United team of 1958 that on February 6 of that year, suffered a terrible airplane accident that killed several great players and snuffed out a fantastic club.

There is little football action, a lot of off-pitch drama and the kind of sappy music that tugs at our hearts and, once in a while, sneaks into our souls.

I confess I didn’t watch the whole movie, skipping through most of it, but I did find myself at the end watching the actor playing Matt Busby, the manager, speaking to his players before the FA Cup final in 1958 that the team lost, 0-2.

As I watched I thought about the present team.  On Sunday MUFC plays Chelsea at Old Trafford.  In years past, when Sir Alex Ferbuson was in charge, when crazy Jose Mourinho would come calling with this brash Chelsea team, he paid respects to the club.

Now, now, he doesn’t even think about them. Not even for a second.  So banished are they from his mind and his concerns that Man Utd might as well be invisible.

Which they are.

So I put out the bad thoughts from my head, the expected loss to Chelsea this Sunday by watching a BBC documentary on Bobby Charlton, or to quote Louis van Gaal, “Sir” Bobby Charlton.

It’s not the greatest doc in the world, not even necessarily a good one, but it does have some touching moments, particularly during the Munich air crash.  You feel for these start athletes, pampered, over-paid and over-sexed as they are.

The players really suffered in the accident.  Bobby escaped with his life.  He was still a teenager then.  Humble yet a lion on the pitch.

Yet, the present came stalking back to me.  I think about this Sunday’s game and I feel and weep for this great club now sitting on the edge of oblivion.

To lose 0-2 or 0-3 would be a kind of strange victory, so downgraded is the team.  When Sir Alex was about to retire he could have chosen Jose or, better yet, Pep Guardiola to take over the club.

Instead, he chose David Moyes, who loves football, but golf more.  He wrecked the team and when i was too late finally he was removed.

Then marched in “Sweet Lou’ and his crazy philosophy.  And what does he believe?  That you win a game by pressing and thinking and defending with half-men.

It’s like watching the Munich air crash all over again, but in slow motion. It’s ugly and brutal, and nobody should be forced to see it.

But we all must this weekend.  The worst tragedy of all.


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Making Fighting Fun: Flour Wars!

00c-flour-war-in-spain-ibi-in-valencia-01-01-13(Photo, 02varvara.wordpress.com)

Okay, you have nothing to do but kill some time.  You’re in Greece. It’s the Carnival season in Greece, during Easter, and you decide to go to the seaside village of Galaxidi where  residents (and outsiders!) blast each other with colored flour.

Apparently the tradition started in 1801 as a way for Greeks to give the finger to their Ottoman rulers.  Galaxidians painted their faces with ash originally but that eventually became flour.

Folks dress up like cartoon characters and residents put plastic sheets over their houses during Clean Monday when the battles rage.

It’s not easy to remove the stuff, but it’s fun.  Letting off a little steam?  Just having fun?  Or is it just another  fetishization of war?

Take your pick.  But participants do seem to have some fun.  Now all those starving homeless folks in Athens must wonder why all that good flour is being wasted.

And not just Greece but Spain, the United States and other places that these Flour Wars take place.

Maybe a flour war between Ukraine and Russia might de-escalate the tensions there.

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Some Hitler Cream with Your Coffee?

B0h-QkYIMAE6F_y(Photo, slate.com)

The piece and photo in Slate is very clear:  Swiss company made small disposable creamers with the photos of Adolph Hitler and Benito Mussolini on them.

And they claimed they made a mistake!

Okay, let’s get this straight.  Someone designed the creamer, adding the names of Hitler and Mussolini and then claim that this was a mistake?

I love Switzerland.  I was once in love with a Swiss woman, for a few years, but since then I married a wonderful woman and next month I am having a child.

And for many years I always seemed to dream of Switzerland. Maybe it was the mountains.  Maybe it was the tidy people. Maybe it was because it’s small and manageable.


But this?  How can offering cream with Hitler and Mussolini ever have even been conceived, let alone designed and printed and then distributed to the public?

Didn’t someone along the way have the decency to put a halt to this nonsense.  Why not photos of Pol Pot, Joseph Stalin and other world-renowned butchers?

Someone’s idea of a joke, but who would laugh?  What’ so funny about it?  Is Swiss society so inured to reality, hiding behind their imposing mountains in a kind of paradise, that they’ve lost touch with reality?

Your guess is as good as mine.

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As the World Turns, Bitterly

Armée_de_l'Air_Rafale_C(Photo, Wikimedia Commons)

The world has always been a dangerous place.  Think of one period in history that was not somehow preoccupied by worries and war?

Even during the Victorian era, a time of so-called prosperity and peace (at least in Europe), there were sweeping changes taking place as Europe and North America industrialized themselves, leaving many communities wrecked and changed.

Today, the world becomes dangerous for entirely different reasons.  Much of it is the result of the collapse of America’s supreme domination that began in 1945 and ended with its invasion of Afghanistan and Iraq beginning in 2003.

Today, the United States and allies confront the Islamic State, a terrorist-centered new “nation” that seems impossible to get rid of.

We send it military equipment to help Kurds fighting IS, only for some of that to be picked off by IS.

In Ukraine, the months-old conflict between Russia and Ukraine simmers on.

Now added to that list is growing tension in the eastern Mediterranean between Cyprus, Greece and erstwhile enemy Turkey.

In Estonia, Russian spy planes are intercepted by NATO jets.  Is Russian President Vladimir Putin seeing a little bit of lebbensraum (living space) for his nation, as did Adolph Hitler did for Germany?

Disputes between Vietnam, Philippines and China grows over rights to sea passages.

Existential threats have become real ones and no one really knows what to do about them.  American President Barack Obama seems holed up on his White House bunker.

Who leads the world now?  Catholic Pope Francis?

It’s easy to get a bit melancholic, but the point is not to close our eyes to the dangers but to face them head on with humble confidence and courageous strength.

As the world escapes these dangers by focusing on the latest Apple product, we should be reminded that the world has always courted danger and suspense, and we should not think we are above history.

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Man U Dying Slowly

22hughes1-master675(Photo, Paul Ellis/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images)

The photo says it all. There’s Louis van Gaal, manager of Manchester United, looking rather forlorn as his team ties West Bromwich Albion last Monday (October. 20, 2014).

The photo, by Paul Ellis for Agence France-Presse and Getty Images, published in the New York Times today, speaks buckets about the state of the club these days.

Sir Alex Ferguson is no more, and so is the club.  Against WBA, it managed a breathless tie.  Now comes Chelsea, Manchester City and, after that, Arsenal.

How will Man U fare against league leaders Chelsea and second place Manchester City?  It will lose to both, but the hope is that at least it will be a contest.  With Arsenal, the club has a chance, although with Danny Welbeck now playing for the London club, it might be another defeat.

Man U can no longer perform like it used to. The days of dominance are clearly over, the only question remains is how and when the new leader will come in to at least right the ship.

Will the club have to wait another 20 or so years for a savior?

When last year we trotted on how David Moyes, the Sir Alex replacement, was above his head, few believed us. When we wrote that effective chief executive Ed Woodward was above his head and shoulders, few cared.

By early Spring, Moyes was out and by summer, Woodward was on a disastrous shopping spree that several hundred million dollars of new signings but which has meant hardly any real improvement on the team.

As the Times article by Rob Hughes notes, the van Gaal team sits only one point above the same point last year as under Moyes.

It would be too much for the American Glazer family to sell the team to a more astute set of owners, that won’t happen for some time.

So long as Woodward can charm advertisers, marketing revenue will continue to climb.  But at some point, even that will stop when the club will be recognized for its moribund state.

So the rest of us fans must endure watching the animal slowly and painfully die, and not be able to do anything about it.  I still get goosebumps thinking about the old glory days and how far gone they are.

They won’t come back.  Not for a long time.  What to do meanwhile?

I’ve taken up American football. I tried switching my support to City, to Chelsea, to Liverpool, to Arsenal, even to Everton.

None worked.  It’s a disaster.

How very, very sad.

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