Thursday, October 21, 2010

No, it's not too early for a Jonjo Shelvey song

It was time for this. No, really.

We bought the lad from Charlton
And Jonjo was his name, oh!

And Jonjo was his name, oh!

He came out strong in Naples town
Where they hunted down our brothers!
But Jonjo ran and bossed the pitch
Against those Naples fuh-kers!

And Jonjo was his name, oh!

Just 18 and full of life
We can't wait for the future!
He's Jonjo Shelvey, learn the name
Liverpool's lethal butcher!

And Jonjo was his name, oh!

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Prologue: Make me whole again

And, looking to the sky, scanning across and through the horizons, he implored the spirits that drove his emotional torment to carry him back. And, with hands clasped and knees tendered from the collapse he hoped would prove the sincerity in his request, he threw his head back and opened his eyes wide as can be. And, with the hopelessness of a man lost at sea, he opened his mouth and shouted ... "Please, lead me, again, to get angry when we lose! Lead me, again, to rejoice in victory!"

I've spent the better part of the last year falling out of love with winning and making up with losing. We adapt, don't we, out of simple necessity? I'm an Arsenal supporter and, as has been over-documented, they've made a fortune out of manufacturing mediocrity the last couple years. Top management has even strived to shout, "Hang on! We're right there, aren't we? We're competing every year. Damn close, we are. Damn close. Win or lose, we're damn close."

Maybe it's the utter lack of fight on hand in the Arsenal. Maybe it's the willingness, nay, it's more than willingness, the team's ability to roll over to an opponent defined as a higher quality simply by Arsenal's ability to act like a milk-moneyless second grader facing the school bully is best described, at this point, as a fetish.

Perhaps that's why I seem not to care. I care. Really, I do. I still get awfully fired up for a football match involving the characters, athletes and colours I've found the most attractive to my mind and heart. Though, a lot of the spirit I toss at the football nowadays can be summed by friend and fellow Arsenal supporter, Phil. Toward the end of the West Brom match ... the horrible, horrible West Brom match (it was horrible, wasn't it? right? it's supposed to be really awful when  you lose a match, isn't it? especially to 'lesser' competition, right?) ... Phil says, "I'm gonna get hammered after this match. If we lose, I'm gonna get REALLY hammered." The emphasis on the word "really" was lost on no one. With the final whistle, we blasted through Van Halen's "Panama," an uncountable number of beers and a series of air guitar riffs and rock-emphasizing air kicks. All was brought, once again, into focus. What mattered mattered. Losing a football match was certainly that which did not matter. And hey, that horrible, horrible match was fun in the end. Nasri gave us a couple of a winks and two goals. Fun, fun, fun, eh? Right? Right.

Not long after that experience, which stood as an affirmation of this attitude I'd been carrying for the better part of a year (win or lose, I still love it! doesn't mean a thing, winning, does it!?), Arsenal played Chelsea at Stamford Bridge. I thought, heading over to the pub to watch, that there really was a chance this time. I thought a page would be turning for this group of players. And, I hoped, without really admitting it to myself, that I'd be turning a page myself. WIth a little bit of hope for success, in any venture, comes an attachment to what it might actually mean to have that success. 

What did I think would happen? I thought the Arsenal would put in a performance as assured as the way I walked through that door at 9:00 a.m. I thought we'd cruise through a very hard fought win. I thought we'd carry the level of possession, and flex enough will in the final third, needed to allow me to take a big puff of air at the end of the match and cast that glare of aspersion over the masses I'd so grown to love ... but ... this time ...

I'd peer in, mustering every ounce of patented prickishness I could ... And even the dimmest passerby would be able to read, sprawled across my eyes, lips and forehead ...

"I told you so."

But no. If the travails of ol' Jim and the hoards of Liverpool supporters the world round have taught us anything, life ain't no fairy tale, kiddies. While I've been wallowing as a soul tearing its way through the endless hallway of footballing purgatory (not winning, not losing, not caring, no indifference), friends and a Club I have endless respect for have had their brains on a tilt-o-whirl for months. And the last 48 hours have been a tilt-o-whirl with a never-ending roller-coaster drop as a capper. Their plight has helped steel my focus. Their plight has reminded me of my wealth. That Chelsea loss, when we seemed to be in the passing lane for long stretches of the match, steeled my focus. That Chelsea loss, that inability to achieve what I had actually and rather stridently hoped for, reminded me of how much I had to lose. It reminded me of how much I had invested.

Winning doesn't beget caring. Caring doesn't beget wining. If I shout harder, sing more or slap another goddamn stupid ass piece of clothing with my team's colours on my body, it's not a deeper expression of caring and it sure as shit won't bring three points. Caring is in and of itself. I was finally recognizing the investment, the deep emotional investment I'd made of holding through this long stretch of mediocrity. I finally realized that investment, that huge vault that stood behind me, meant I actually did care quite a bit more than I'd been letting on. I'd peer around my shoulder and the trail I left for myself and recognize everything I left behind and how it carried me to where I was. I accepted the value in it. And I accepted how much it meant to me.

That's why I was beyond happy when I saw Nicklas Bendtner's quotes this morning. I wasn't just happy, I was energized. I was reminded. I was hella fired up, people. 

For months, and seemingly for years, quotes coming out of the Arsenal charges have focused on development. They've focused on learning. They've focused on the next step. That dulled me. It sawed off my senses. It had me looking forward to Van Halen guitar solos instead of prickish glares that reeked of "I told you so." It made me accept the process of development. It lead me to this "winning ain't shit, only macho pricks want to win, I'm an artistically aware individual who values performance over winning" mentality.

But then, this morning, I woke up, got dressed, fixed a little raisin bran, and read Nicklas Bendtner's quotes. 

I read this ... posted in Arseblog this morning:

It is quite amazing. I reckon I'm probably right to be involved in the fight on Saturday for Arsenal - and I am excited. I thought ideally that I should play one or two reserve games first, but I am in such good shape that it is not needed.
And I thought, quite simply,  HELL YEAH! Get in there, Nicklas. Welcome back and get in there. How can you not be fired up by comments like that? After emailing my collaborator here at Match Pricks, Jim, it all came into focus. "Bendtner is so ridiculously unappreciated," he said. After some rambling, he finished, "Kid's got balls, brutha. Brass balls."

My reply? 

"What was that? Sounded loud. And heavy."

"Oh, that? That's just Nicklas Bendtner's balls clanging together. He started training with the first team again."

Welcome back, Niko. Your influence is greater than people realize. 

(sidebar: for the image, I shit you not, I searched "smug" and it gave me Match Pricks favourite, Slavan Bilic.)

A few words about Peter Lim

It's 11:07 a.m. as I start typing this post, and I've been awake for seven hours, give or take a few minutes. I've been following the Liverpool court decision that has seen – at last – the end of Tom Hicks and his piddling partner in desperation George Gillett, but it has turned up one last sniveling little opportunist. Noted Lamborghini collector Peter Lim, the son of a fishmonger and the heretofore unnamed "Asian bidder" for the club, wants to worm his way into the control room by offering £320 million. It's a last-ditch attempt to sneak past New England Sports Ventures, whose £300 million offer was accepted last week. You might remember that incident, though it did happen before back-to-back, all-day Guardian live blogs of Liverpool's court case, so failure to recall all the details is understood.

Let's look at Mr. Lim's offer for a minute – and consider why every Liverpool supporter should be on his hands and knees praying to whatever god, statue, otherworldly idea or bottle of booze they prefer that Singapore's eighth-richest man doesn't finagle his way into ownership of the club. Lim is said to be worth $1.6 billion (US), and his offer of £320 million, plus £40 million to invest in new players, is equivalent to $570 million (US). Lim would like us to believe he will invest one-third of his wealth in the club without taking on any debt to complete the transaction. Without even mentioning stadium plans, he's willing to expose one-third of his fortune to just getting a hold of things at Anfield and donating a little seed money to buy, what, two or three building block players.

Those are just the startup costs, mind you. A 57-year-old billionaire sinking one-third of his life's work into merely beginning a new endeavor. Of course, building the needed new stadium would require him to invest at least two-thirds of his life's fortune, likely more, but, sure, Peter Lim only has Liverpool's best interests at heart.

And how is that $1.6 billion fortune broken down? Well, $1.4 billion comes from his 5 percent stake in Wilmar International. (Here's a bunch of business world gobbledygook about how their business works.) Lim bought that stake for $10 million in 1991 when Wilmar was a startup palm oil company. He's been diversifying into the health sector recently, so, you know, it's not like he's completely reliant upon Wilmar. He has spread $200 million around into other areas.

Like Lamborghinis, Porsches and Ferraris, as the first link in this post shows. Also, he "owns an entire 11-story block of a prestigious condominium in Singapore’s tony Orchard Road shopping district." Here's a shot from Street View of part of the Orchard Road shopping district:

A Borders! You are not a high-falutin' billionaire prepared to own the most successful club in the history of the English game and return it to past glories – while also building a modern, money-spinning stadium – if you count among your prized assets condos in a "prestigious" shopping district that includes a chain store where I've actually purchased something. At a Borders in downtown Chicago several years ago, I bought Charles Earland's "Black Talk!" album while waiting for a buddy to finish a law school class one day. Not only have I already shopped in your supposedly luxurious environs, Mr. Lim, I was doing it while a broke college kid. You, sir, are in no position to fund the purchase of the next Dani Alves.

Now, sure, if you click around through that Street View you'll find a Hermes store, an Armani, a Louis Vuitton. But look back at that Borders evidence and what else is there? A Marks & Spencer! Are you shitting me, Mr. Lim? I could stroll into Marks & Spencer tomorrow – or as soon as I could book a flight and figure out the International Date Line – and throw down cash(!) for the Autograph Leather Diamond-Punch Loafers by Jeffery-West. $103 for shoes?! You associate with this kind of commerce and think you're suited to oversee the design, engineering and construction of a 60,000-plus seat stadium with all the corporate amenities that ensure constant delivery by the truckload of giant canvas sacks with dollar signs on them?

And, of course, there's the one, widely reported fact about Peter Lim that serves as a ready joke should he continue to have anything to do with Liverpool beyond October 2010 – he owns a string of Manchester United-themed bars throughout Asia.

Give us a break, Mr. Lim. It's been an arduous campaign to oust Tom Hicks and George Gillett and their greasy, poorly financed fingers from the controls of Liverpool Football Club. Don't make us have to start all over again so soon.

Blow me, f**k face