XL

Lately the glasshouse whiteflies fly all around like shattered and scattered autumnal snowflakes. That’s during daylight. Not at 4.35am on a Monday morning. After just 4 hours of sleep, I departed for and then arrived at Manchester Airport, by bus and then train. I felt sleepy.

Walking through Terminal 3’s Customs they checked my toothpaste and deodorant in some kind of smear test. The need to stay fresh had to rule out that I’d joined Al Qaeda. Post-September 11th, 2001 has really made air travel irritating. My flight from Manchester to Katowice was smooth enough. Landing in Poland, I had to await the check-in desk to open. A walk outside revealed this Polish airport was closer to the Arctic Circle than the city of Katowice.

With two hours to go until take-off, I paid my bargain forty-eight quid boarding pass fee in Zlotys. Later Trip.com refunded this having not shared my data to the airline for the connecting flight. The wait was pleasant enough, at a modern and clean airport devoid of the failings of Manchester International Airport. The flight rumbled down a runway, complete with a toppled-over turboprop aircraft just in view. That positioning of a busted plane surely needs a review on TripAdvisor.

Landing in Dortmund, I walked through a crowd of Manchester City fans with shirts and things to sign. The odd Dortmund fan littered amongst them. I shuffled myself aside and watched as the reigning Premier League Champions dribbled through. Dressed in black sportswear, most of them looked like they were straight out of JD Sports. Waiting for that made me miss the bus to the city centre.

About an hour later I paid for my bus to town, and a fellow Blue who didn’t have cash to hand. European standards about card payments are so inconsistent and often inconvenient. Not that Great Britain is much better. I miss the convenience of the Wechat application in China and its ability to do anything, even issue toilet paper.

German efficiency is a phrase often banded about, with seriousness and wit. I found my apartment in the district of Funkenberg after a quick U-bahn-tram journey. A local dinner at a taverna of mushrooms and schnitzel quickly found its way to my belly before I went back for a good night of shut eye.

Having slept well, I checked out, darted to the Dortmund Haubtbahnhof at Königswall 15. I grabbed a coffee from a generic bakery chain and locked my bag away for 4 euros a day. I returned back to my locker after realising I’d locked my coffee in the locker, before crossing the road to the Deutsches Fußballmuseum. I like football. I like museums. I like Germany. The arrangement could have worked out well.

Sure enough the varied exhibits, mostly bilingual, were diverse, organised and engaging. A 3D holographic show, some nostalgia, loads of World Cup materials and a display on Women’s football feature throughout the museum but the 19 Euro charge in to see Paul the octopus encased and a sweaty Mario Götze World Cup winning boot seems excessive. England’s National Football Museum is suggested donation entry, but Germany has won four trophies to England’s one, so perhaps they’ve earned the right to price their security accordingly.

After the football museum, I had a ponder around the city of Dortmund, Germany’s eighth most populated city and noticed how many concrete and modern buildings there. In 1945, allied troops from the west flattened approximately 98% of homes, factories and other buildings of inner city Dortmund. Dortmund was Germany’s most bombed city in one night and one month. A month later the ground assault rolled through and Dortmund’s Nazi days were over.

Ballspielverein Borussia 09 e. V. Dortmund are one of Germany’s most successful and colourful football clubs. They also have handball, athletics, ice hockey and countless other sports because they’re a sports club with 145,000 active members and not just a footy club. Die Schwarzgelben play in black and yellow, resembling bees and have a fantastic fan base, even if they do sing You’ll Never Walk Alone.

Prior to the game friendly beer drinking, schnitzel and sausage tasting could be found outside the ground in picturesque settings, as well as every pub in town. The concourse in the ground was similar before, during and after City’s frustrated draw. The home team and fans celebrated their progression to the knockout stage. City took it in their stride.

The swift return to collect my bag at the railway station postmatch, followed a brusque walk to the central station. I grabbed it from the locker and went to get a sandwich for the late train at 23:30ish. The train went a whole stop, with everyone aboard experiencing a crush like stampede experience and sweating crazily. At Bochum it stopped and allowed an ambulance crew to attend to an emergency. Then another train arrived, also destined for Dusseldorf, as musical chairs started. Everyone wanted to be on the first train out.

The train arrived on Dusseldorf, close to 3am. I had a hotel booked for the next night, check in from noon. I was lucky and found a scenic spot by the Rhine until then. During my time in Dusseldorf I walked the banks of the Rhine, admired the architecture and increased my step count. Good food, great culture and a pleasant trip ended on a Thursday flight to Manchester.

By Friday, I had added one to thirty-nine and reached forty (XL in Roman numerals). A pleasant Vimto ice cream with Brahma after coffee in The Rascals Cafe (Manchester Royal Exchange Theatre) with my sister Christina took up the afternoon. In the evening I met my Mum, Paul and Kat from Shenzhen Blues for dinner and to see comedian Nick Helm at The Stoller Hall. After getting back, I walked Panda and the pleasant day ended with slumber time. A happy birthday.

Retirement.

How do! / 你好 (nĭ hăo) / Namaste / Welcome!

Dear Birmingham City,

When you withdraw a number from squad use, it is probably a good idea to have a good reason. Usually that player should retire after great service, or perhaps it honours a great player for their achievements on and off the football pitch.

NBA, NFL and other franchises may like to retire numbers for other reasons. Their game, their gaff, their rules. Football in Britain may cling to tradition and hug sponsors in ways that contradict one another, but mostly, on the whole, the home nations of Wales, England, Scotland, Northern Ireland and the other bits do a pretty good job of honouring their own.

“Well, I only ever cried over two people, Billy Bremner and Bob… [long pause] He was a lovely man.” – Sir John Charlton OBE DL (8th May 1935 – 10th July 2020), footballer (England/Leeds Utd.) & manager (Ireland)

Norwegian club Fredrikstad retired Dagfinn Enerly’s number 8. He had been paralysed in a game against I.K. Start. West Ham Utd. dropped the number 6 shirt several years after club legend Bobby Moore OBE passed away from cancer. This created great dialogue and gave attention to bowel and cancer charities. It opened up conversation for quiet men. It did positive and wonderful things. Chesterfield F.C. retired the number 14 to mark Jack Lester’s retirement from the game in 2013. Six years of football weren’t ideal for his spell as manager at ‘The Spireites’. His 24.3% may have made the club reconsider retiring his club squad number…

Dropping a shirt number is a big thing. That number will never ever be used again. Never. Even adding someone else’s name is insulting. We’re talking memorials and recognition of players’ loyal service mostly. Squad numbers, that replaced a more traditional model (of 1 through to 11 plus subs of higher numbers) came into fruition in the 1990s and soon after North American (it came from Mexico in the ‘80s) sports influenced squad numbers. With it the notion of retiring numbers came about. New York Cosmos in the ill-fortuned NASL retired number 10. A certain Pelé had worn that shirt for around 56 games through three years upt0 1977. At first glance, he barely featured for them, but had years of wonderful football for Santos (18 years) and Brazil. What he did off the field for N.Y. Cosmos was remarkable, with exhibition games in Lebanon and the Dominican Republic. He used his pull to make a statement. Edson Arantes do Nascimento played at full houses in the Estádio do Maracanã and lifted the FIFA World Cup three times, amongst stacks of domestic awards. Off the field he remains a fantastic humanitarian. That’s why baby club (founded 1970) deserved to retire that number.

On one hand, if you drop any number 1-31, it is risky. They may represent somebody’s date of birth. Likewise if you drop numbers 1-12, as they are symbolic to months. The time-honoured 1-11 should be avoided for the sake of always having these numbers and conventional related positions available for aspiring youth players. What would the supporters or families of Jason Mayélé, Vittorio Mero, Marc-Vivien Foé, Miklós Fehér, Ray Jones, Dylan Tombides, François Sterchele, David di Tommaso, Antonio Puerta, Besian Idrizaj, Piermario Morosini and Davide Astori feel about Birmingham City’s seemingly soft approach to retiring the number 22? Who exactly is Jude Bellingham?

Jude Victor William Bellingham is now subject to mockery. That’s who. He’s a 17-year-old lad thrust into the public eye and has in the last week signed for Borussia Dortmund in the Bundesliga. Jude Victor William Bellingham has buckets of potential and had been at Birmingham City from the age of 8. Like many youth players before him, and a plethora of clubs, he dreamt of playing for his almost-hometown club (the glass-making town of Stourbridge is 16km/10 miles from Birmingham).  Born after Maine Road closed, and the City of Manchester (now Etihad) Stadium prepared to open, Bellingham has bagged 4 goals from 44 games, and a few assists during his only season of professional football. His England Under-16 and U-17 record isn’t bad too. FourFourTwo magazine amongst others describe him as “50 most exciting teenagers in English football”.

Bellingham leaves, to his rear, a Birmingham City team that narrowly avoided relegation. Like sex-symbol Fiona Butler (she was a tennis player caught scratching her bare behind) he has gone far since Stourbridge. Her posters are eveywhere. Well, not her posters, but here bottom in poster form. Good luck to Jude Bellingham at ‘The Black & Yellows’, who won’t be far behind. Pun intended.

Does Jude Bellingham deserve to join other shirt numbers that have been retired? Maybe, maybe not. Future Birmingham City players will no longer be able to wear the number 22. Still, you could be at other clubs with less choice. Good luck at C.F. Pachuca (a club founded by Cornish miners in 1901) in Mexico as they have retired shirt numbers 110, 17, 20 and 1.

#99 Bradley Wright-Phillips (New York Red Bulls): played 2013-2019.

#61 Gökdeniz Karadeniz (Rubin Kazan): played 2008-2018.

#55 Five-year old Joshua McCormack passed away from cancer, and his club Rochdale Rovers took note.

#50 Filbert Fox @ Leicester City F.C.

#61 Gökdeniz Karadeniz (Rubin Kazan): played 2008-2018.

#24 Hadi Norouzi (Persepolis): played 2008-2015 (died in his sleep)

#17 Former Chairman Massimo Cellino retired the number 17 at Leeds Utd due to superstitions. New chairman Andrea Radrizzani reinstated the number. Leeds have since been promoted. Wolverhampton Wanderers loan-star Hélder Costa wore 17.

#12 many clubs use this number as dedication to fans. Such as Borussia Mönchengladbach, Lech Poznan, Kerala Blasters, Beijing Guoan, Plymouth Argyle, Guadalajara and AC Omonia. The twelfth man indeed (or woman, or boy, or girl, or other)

#10 Diego Maradona (Napoli): played 1984-1991.

#8 Avi Nimni (Maccabi Tel Aviv): played in three stints, totalling around 15 years.

#7 Stanislav Vlček (Slavia Prague): played over 7 years at the club. Shirt number on pause. 7 conditions must be met to wear the shirt. Score three goals against Sparta Prague to start the list of 7…

#4 Franco Baresi (AC Milan): played 1977-1997

#3 Paolo Maldini (AC Milan): played 1984-2009 [although his offspring may wear it if they turn professional]

#3 Naoki Matsuda (Yokohama F. Marinos): played 1995-2010

For more retired numbers, have a gander here.

In memory of #23

The late great Marc-Vivien Foé (Manchester City, played 2002-2003)