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)

Unified separatism A.K.A. Almost Everyday Shit™

你好/ Ní hǎo / Nín hǎo / Hello / How do / S’mae,

The U.K. or to give it its full title, the U****d Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland has batted above its level for many a moon. If the U.K. was a boxer, it would be Mohammed Ali in spirit but physically as tall as a five-year old Sherpa boy. Powerful nations in Russia, U.S. of A., the People’s Republic of China and India may boast population and resource, but the U.K. has one special weapon: Coronation Street.

The U.K.’s empire fell to pieces and global domination by corporations arose around the time Coronation Street actor Bill Roach was born. Something like that, I imagine. Then the U.K. let a few places go, under the old name of Great Britain, or the British Empire. Some places went from strength to strength, some struggled but overall most places opted to drive on the right side of the road, with that being the left side of course. The difference for former Empire countries and released dominions is that their exposure to the pacifying nature of Coronation Street has been undermined by something I like to call, Almost Everyday Shit.™

Almost Everyday Shit™ is something most British people have no exposure to. This is when some radical twonk, or some outlier within the genetic ensemble and base ofd Earth goes against the norm. They may stage a political upheaval, a coup, or an act of knobheadism.

Ever since 1578, the powerful ginger and then Queen Elizabeth I granted a patent to Humphrey Gilbert for discovery and overseas exploration. Britain started to steal lands. By 1913, the British Empire held power over 23% of the Earth’s population. The periods of time involved abandoned expansion plans to North America, Irish Plantations, slavery and numerous shipping companies. Britain invested heavily in sapping the East Indies, which ended up in bitter barneys with the Netherlands. Britain soon sought peace with William of Orange and the Netherlands fell into partnership. By 1720, Britain was doing quite well commercially. France and Spain were pests for many years. The battles with France at the Seven Years’ War and 1763 Treaty of Paris put shackles on the French as a rival. At the 1713-1715 Treaty of Utrecht, Spain took about two years to sign a deal to stop getting in the way. Something like that. Almost Everyday Shit™ swept across the Spanish colonies and French colonies.

By 1783, the Pacific was seen as fair game. So, Britain, having recently backed away from U.S.A. Jr. did just that and slipped a few boats eastwards. Almost Everyday Shit™ got in the way.

Just like those early British conquerers and forcers of learning English, I’m in China now and completely friendly like my forefathers. I bring with me cultural teaching and an attempt at wit, that probably falls closer to the term, Almost Everyday Shit™ – I can’t help it. I look through my goggles (beer not applied) at websites such as The Guardian [born as the Manchester Guardian in 1821], the Independent [founded in 1986 and for 8 years now Russian owned] and the BBC (a VPN is required now for the latter). Mostly all I see is Trump news, but moving away from farts, there is much more gassy news in this thing called Brexit. Firstly, I hate the term Brexit – British Exit from the E.U. because it sounds so childish. And it is. In an international market and a world experiencing division, we need more togetherness. Yet, here we have a divide and conquer move by the near right and central right of left wing. It depends who you believe. Conserve the status quo? Or, pretend it will save the N.H.S. money? Maybe even lie about it reducing immigration and asylum seekers. The whole debate was a farce of misinformation and deception. It was a bitter narrative countered by soft arguments and the British people voted to exit with a huge majority of 52% deciding the fate of all. Article 50 of the E.U. Treaty was invoked and as it stands Britain will go it alone from midnight (Central European Time) on 29 March 2019.

Frexit (where 45% voted to remain and a new vote in France is likely), a Dutch exit (51% votes to remain last time and another vote may follow) and Greenland’s loss in 1982 (where only 53% voted to leave) are all signs that globalisation is not a favoured subject, yet international relations are needed to avoid another Yugoslavia conflict or perhaps the Ukraine misplacing more territory. Almost Everyday Shit™ has been around for a while.

There can be arguments and conversations until the cows come home regarding the age of voters, a love for sovereignty, immigration concerns, those who feel left behind, a lack of integration or order, or perhaps an order that disregards traditional values and crushes innovation. General identity problems seem commonplace. I don’t see myself as English, British or European – I’m a Mancunian. An Academic, Eric Kaufman, observed there to be a strong correlation between a voter’s support for the death penalty and their selection to exit the E.U. Sorry to those who voted leave, but this parallel zealotry doesn’t speak for me. Moderation and debate have ended now, sadly. The ball is set rolling and the path of the ball could be bouncy, like a pinball, or perhaps it’ll take a strike at the end of a skittles alley. More likely it’ll leave the footballer with broken metatarsals and a desire to join a fanatical branch of the Women’s Institute. Almost Everyday Shit™ reigns supreme.

Older generations hark back to, “in my day” and “it was much better back then” – I’m sure it was much more romanticised when Spitfires and Vulcan Bombers were pouring off the production lines. Jobs, optimism and buoyancy had their arses slapped in the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s. As Great Britain downgraded to Moderate Britain, and manufacturing made way for servitude we all swapped Are You Being Served? for Downton Abbey, and in doing so, we all became servants to Mega Conglomerate – and their primary customer. Almost Everyday Shit™ became Almost Everyday Shit™. Did you question why? No, because you had an Apple iPad 9X-SUV edition with all the trimmings of a fucking all you can eat buffet. Well you made your bed and you can live in it, piss in it and crack on. Our grandparents survived the Blitz and probably spent most of it cursing bad weather. This is Britain and Britain will remain British in the sense, we all need to come together, have a jolly good knees-up and declare March the 29th our Independence Day. Like it or lump it, we are going alone, so why not have a new public holiday? An excuse to have an ale with a dollop of mushy peas on some fish and chips. Besides we can always be friendly to Europe. Spain needs our winter tourism. Germany needs our car demands. Italy needs our love for pizza and Greece isn’t a bad place to enjoy a mezze. Almost Everyday Shit™ had wars to fight.

All throughout the E.U.’s history, Albania has remained pretty much the same. Not unlike many other bitpart European nations, Albania has been largely overlooked. It is a twice rejected full member and labelled as a candidate member only. It doesn’t enjoy all the benefits. Why not? They rank higher than the U.K. and U.S.A. (by more than 60 places) in the Global Peace Index. What more does it need to do? The big club don’t want small members joining with ease. Fair enough but isn’t the union about unity? I’ve always been sceptical of the word united. Is being part of a bigger picture good or bad? Could local resourcing, local jobs and less environmental damage be a good thing for the U.K. going it alone? Will we turn to the great vast nations of India and China for a helping hand? Almost Everyday Shit™ can be strangely normal if we allow it.

I don’t care if the Union of Great Britain lives or dies. Nor do I care if the European Union collapses or strengthens. What I do care for, is togetherness and giving the people of the world a fair shot at life. To do that, to give a chance to all, requires a spot of social care and conscience. Do we have that now? Almost Everyday Shit™ is here and always has been.

再见/ Zài jiàn / Bài bài / Ta’ra / Goodbye / Hwyl Fawr

The spirit of football.

你好/ Ní hǎo / Nín hǎo / Hello / How do,

“We’ll go on getting bad results.” (Jimmy Hill)

13/5/2012

The daylight emerged between the window frame. The curtains had been positioned in a way ill-prepared to create darkness. I had slept surprisingly well despite sticking to the sofa in a slight sweat. I went to the bathroom, had a shower, cleaned my teeth and generally prepared myself for that Sunday’s sunny day. With a spring in my step, I dressed and sat on the sofa. Bhagira the cat and Fuzzy kept me company. The red laser pointer pen activated and entertained my feline friends. Eventually Dan emerged, a little worse for wear. It may have been a cal by our friend Jack Daniels the previous night, or his seemingly strenuous job delivering home deliveries for Asda Walmart, either way his eyes weren’t awake. A coffee fixed that. It was Nescafe but I didn’t care. I enjoyed the warmth and milky taste. With a new sense of alertness, my buddy gave me a lift to Kirkham and Wesham railway station.

Waiting on the platform, pigeons fluttered and the cold polished bricks of over 100 years felt very familiar. I couldn’t recall if I had been there before or if it was just the Lancashire style of old stations. The two-platform station surrounded by sealed off arches and historic sidings had an air of calm, despite the Northern rail service rattling in quite loudly. The train departed, bound for Manchester Airport. I’d exit on platform 13 of Manchester Piccadilly. There, I’d change for Levenshulme, then drop my things at my mum’s house before heading back into Manchester city centre.

That day, May 13th 2012, was a far cry from several 1990’s conclusions to the season. The Castle and Falcon Club, Manchester city centre, was a backstreet dive.  The Dantzic Street location, just off Shudehill hid it from what is now The Printworks and far more modern uprisings. The bar has long closed and the Burtonwood Ales signage has long gone. It was here following a game at Stoke City, I sat with my Dad and his partner Bernadette. Manchester City F.C. had been relegated despite a wonderful 5-2 win at Stoke City. We’d been relegated before in my lifetime, the Premier League in 1995-96

Uwe Rösler as top scorer with just 9 league goals hadn’t helped at all. City were beyond woeful and the moniker as a club that could win cups for cock-ups was born. City had looked happy with a 2-2 draw against Liverpool. They never chased the win. Rösler’s penalty and Kit Symons’s goal that day gave no pleasure later in the evening. But, for me, I did not understand relegation back then. After changing from the very familiar sky blue to Kappa’s laser blue at the beginning of 1997-98, City’s crest also changed and an air of positivity crept in. The results did not have many highs, a 6-0 battering of Swindon and a friendly 2-2 draw in a Manchester Derby as part of Paul Lake’s Testimonial

During 1997-98, Murtaz Shelia, from well-known team Alania Vladkavkaz (sounds like a fashion model?) arrived. Nothing changed. City faced Stockport County and lost 3-1. They hadn’t played their local rivals for 87 years before that day! Another Georgian player entered the fold by January in Kakhaber Tskhadadze. City slipped into the relegation zone. Frank Clark was fired. Joe Royle came in to steady the ship and try to climb up the table. Combative midfield-enforcer Michael Brown won Player of The Year, as City lamented relegation to the third tier with a bizarre friendly game against Jamaica’s national team.

The 1998/99 season was an incongruous one. It had a great climax that remains fresh in club folk-lore but few discuss the oddities of that season. The club had changed from a team of stars and names to a team of relative unknowns. 16 friendlies accommodated a huge squad and before long City’s stuttering season began to build. One player, Ray Kelly, left to play part-time for Bohemians and study in Ireland. Little old City were struggling for off the field stability. As 1999 arrived, City looked far off the promotion race. City stuttered towards the finishing line looking like they’d sneak it before being whipped 2-1 to Wycombe Wanderers at Maine Road. The play-off semi finals arrived and City visited Springfield Park. Paul Dickov’s late crucial equaliser kept City in the tie. The return leg at Maine Road saw a Goater goal, which Wigan fans argued as being hand ball. Graeme Jones had struck the woodwork but City would return to Wembley for the first time in 14 years. The 1999 play-off final is, as they say, history.

Back to June, and Xiamen Gulangyu International Football Tournament 2018 saw Murray’s F.C. finish 7th overall. Not bad from 16 teams. Our first quarter-final game was hellishly muddy and concussion didn’t help my appearances from the bench so well. Every team battled and worked tirelessly in dire muddy conditions and the eventual winners Quanzhou Spartans deservedly took their second title in as many years. It was good to play Chilean Alex, now at Kunming Turtlebar, and also teams we’re familiar with in Hong Kong Krauts and Shenzhen Lions. The organisers of the tournament certainly know the spirit of football.

Returning back to 2012, I’d opted for a hospitality package at City. The QPR game had something about it. The possibility of a title win and being there in style didn’t take much to clutch onto. I’d dreamt of trying the City hospitality for many seasons but never wanted to leave the South Stand. Now, Nat Fatorechi who I shared my seasoncard with, gave a situation where we both wanted a ticket. It wasn’t a tough investment. But now, there is another unfamiliar moment of football, England at the World Cup and in the semi-final since the 1990 edition. I wasn’t in double digits of age then and can safely say I don’t recall any of that tournament.

Fair play to Gareth Southgate. So much more than the butt of a dozen crappy jokes about an under-par golden generation. He has his head firmly screwed on in football. He looked average as a manager at Middlesbrough and dropped into the ranks of England. Unlike many who do that, he didn’t drift off or head to Spain, or punditry too often. His spell as temporary gaffer wasn’t groundbreaking (the games weren’t huge tests, except Spain where a 2-0 lead was chucked away). But, the FA appointed him and for once they gambled on fresh blood with all the qualities of a modest manager and someone who keeps the game simple. He has benefitted from the role of FA’s head of elite development. He seems to know the future youth players well and his squad selection seemed geared to building for Euro 2020 and the 2022 World Cup. Best thing out of Watford since DCI Hunt/Philip Glenister (or Ginger Spice?).

“We’re not creative enough; we’re not positive enough.” (Trevor Brooking)

Remember a game when City faced Boro? We played in our away kit at home. Southgate had his bonce wrapped up and played a blinder. We drew. They went to Europe. That’s the kind of spirit England need, and not that of Rooney or Beckham with their egos and sponsorship deals following them. Look at Messi, he has more minutes advertising per year and it never paid off. Same for tRanaldo. Graft and the kind of grinding football that Leicester City did, with flare, that’s the future in cups. And, City can learn from this England spirit.

“I think it’s bad news for the English game.” (Alan Hansen)

Good to see City links all over the World Cup. Guidetti for Sweden, Boyata with Belgium, Corluka of Croatia, and the list goes on and on. I claim any City link I can. One that stands out is Bury-born Keirin Trippier. During his time at City, Micah Richards was linked with Chelsea and Ar$enil, as Zabaleta was talked about heading to Barca. Coupled with the fact Trippier still was developing physically, he was quite far down. We had a clutch of first teamers that could play RB as an unnatural position. He had little chance. Fair play to him in his evolution at Spurs. His football formation years also featured clubs like Burnley and Barnsley. He knows the game well enough to play for many years. He has appeared for England U18s, England U19s, England U20s, England U21s, and now the senior England squad. He is capable of joining the Masters team one day and could well reach national legendary status with the chance before him now. I wonder what the away friendly game for City, against Barcelona did for his vision. Did it inspire? That came a season after lifting the FA Youth Cup with City. Good luck to him with England and in his future of football.

The Lightning Seeds wrote and released Three Lions in ’96, it had a re-write in 1998 and now 22 years later it is being played in epidemic proportions. David Baddiel and Frank Skinner must be dusting off their karaoke microphones, surely? Will 2020 or 2022 feature new pessimistic quotes to amend Three Lions as a song once again? Tout est Possible. I do get the impression that this song will not go away, regardless of any results! The Lightning Seeds, despite being Scouse are a cracking band, so I won’t complain.

 

再见/ Zài jiàn / Bài bài / Ta’ra / Goodbye