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)

Optimistic Toddlers?

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

The cure is coming! There will be an end to all of this! The miraculous rays of hope are out there and all across the planet scientists are scurrying about, digging deep for elements and combinations. The manufacturing of the optimistic cure for COVID-19 is deep under way. Do you believe that we’ll win? The future if humanity may be riding on it, but we’re a species who can create great things. Anyway, you’re onto a win. I guarantee it. You have already done something wonderful today. Now, go and find someone and make them smile from ear to ear.

Science has constantly been like a toddler asking too many questions. It looks. It makes an assumptive comment that may in turn resemble a loose understanding. It is a bright toddler though. It then goes to ask its toddler peers. The little toddler grows up far too fast and then starts to collect bits and bobs. Before long it has a Filofax of data. The toddler is now enrolled and fast-tracked into school. Between the extra piano lessons after school and the pre-school Latin classes, our toddler is rampant for knowledge. Soon enough, this toddler is taking tests, is full of excitement and thinks he or she has found the meaning of life. They’re on to something. The latest edition of Children’s BBC’s Play School is released with our toddler’s work to date. It isn’t National Geographic but this kid is really onto something. They’re already rewriting Sherlock Holme and other toddlers are literally tearing the first toddler’s work to shreds. There are bits everywhere. Some of it has found its way into nappies and diapers and cracks that shouldn’t house a kid’s work. This toddler stands out though and is a modern exemplar of the highest standard. Other toddlers and older students can’t compete or find a way to headbutt this toddler off their highchair. The toddler is the epitome and personification of the New Scientist-reading U.K. government right now. They are lining themselves up for either the Nobel Peace Prize or the Oscars. Any flaws or shame will be avoided by glossing over the unsmooth surface and painting over any cracks. A win for ‘the science’ at the very least.

COVID-19 is the new Brexit. These are the defining annoyances of the 21st century for those who are British or inferior. Right or wrong? Emotions are real in the moment, and right now many people are struggling with their minds. This COVID-19 is an annoyance that has been here on Earth for the blink of an eyelash and seemingly won’t go. It will. Just remember that so many people over the history and sands of time have been in utterly dire moments with horrible situations right in their face. What did they do? Something, surely? We’re still here.

The U.K.’s dealings with the COVID-19 cannot be collectively described as horrifyingly abysmal with a dash of utterly extreme rotten hard luck. Boris Johnson, ever-present during so many key moments has led from the front. He didn’t use private healthcare, so BUPA and his care plan wasn’t troubled one iota. He went full state service and utilised the very NHS he has always loved. He and his party have been consistent in telling hard-truths at both daily press conferences and within the Houses of Parliament. Thankfully none of the Conservative party members’ friends have benefited from this outbreak and no deals or contracts have been slotted their way like a croupier would in a bent casino.

Financiers are going extinct too. No matter your belief or state of mind, compare yourselves to others. It is natural to do so. Where are they? Where are you? How are they feeling? What do they have? What don’t you have? Look around you, what’s missing? What’s there and there for you alone? Who is with you? Who is truly alone? What help mechanisms are there? Who started out with nothing and still has most of it left? Be optimistic. Be energised. Be inspired.

There hasn’t been any gross ineptitude by the incomparable leadership of this government. There will certainly be movies made and speeches replayed for the next 70 or so years, about the defining hours of the year 2020. It isn’t the Great War, or World War II, but it will be remembered for the few. Those great few who gave their all and opened the treasury wide open to eliminate social and financial divide. As always, the nation obsessed with calling other nations corrupt is tendering left, right and centre to bat away any claims of British exceptionalism. This is a nation that resolved a growing homelessness crisis and stabilised the care home industry at the right time.

The virus and its associated disease COVID-19 rocked up to these secure island shores of Britain and was left floundered by a questionnaire. All the flights from struggling third world and developing nations such as Italy and Germany were halted. Instead Britain went on the offensive supplying help overseas and partnering with countries in need. Red Nose Day after Comic Relief after Children in Need was not needed. British aid was bolstered by fair-trade loving tax paying corporations and syndicates. “Help!”, they cried overseas in foreign lands. Britain dug deep and exported ‘the science’ and the world was grateful. You could feel bad because other nations and people have it better. Don’t. Don’t look over the garden fence at what they have. Don’t assume they’re better than you. Think on how good or bad things used to be. How can you get back to that? It could be much worse, right?

The concern of the everyday normal people running England has been overwhelming. The openhanded and transparent display of sharing ‘the science’ was praised globally by China, the W.H.O. and the successful President Trump, currently running away with a sweeping presidential campaign. The rise and accomplishment of near-100% testing within the U.K. was credit to Matt Hancock’s half hour of power. As he deputised for Boris Johnson, who was allowed a free weekend away from the spotlight (as thanks from the adoring nation), he practically rebuilt Public Health England so well that Wales, Scotland and little Northern Ireland came begging for the recipe. Even the Isle of Man came knocking. It has been so refreshing to see the love and admiration of down-on-their-luck types on their rags to riches rise into politics and their effect on the population.

Seeing how good it is over there in Switzerland or Sweden and how bleak it is here with you, that’s ony going to erode your mind. Those negative moments will multiply. Forget it. Kick the self-torturing in the dick and move on. Do we always deserve a raise in salary of someone else gets one? You be your judge. Fairness isn’t for everyone. What about those around you who didn’t get a pay rise? What about those who have no opportunity to get a pay rise because they haven’t even got a job? So, your flights and lifestyle changed. It hurts. Did you die? No. Did someone you love get hurt? Hopefully a big no. Be thankful COVID-19 didn’t enter your house. Wait a minute! Be thankful that you haven’t had it worse.

Thankfully hijackings of scientific methodology and terminology has been avoided. The general public have been treated to an open and clear display, free of patronising speech and overbearing experts with words longer than attention span. The steady messages have been clear. NHS workers: Stay alert at home safely and save protected lives or something like this or that: stay at home in order to protect the NHS and save lives. Whilst other nations scramble and scratch to replace their liars, their dealers of death, their wasters, their corrupt and their tyrants, Britain stands firm with reliance and love for the very institutions set up to make us one. Without the traditional household names of Virgin, Epson, Reliance, Yahoo, Facebook, Unilever, Coca-Cola, Kellogg’s, Ebay and Delta, we’d really be up a creak without a paddle. Many companies have been on hand to rescue the faltering National Health Service.

Perceptions are tools. Flip a switch to off for pessimism and bang the button of optimism. With that your emotional state will shine. With a little extra focus on what we have as being good, we can focus on how to make things better – and with that share to others on how to improve ourselves as people. As a species we have excelled and have dominated the planet, but now we’re of the mind that we need to bring balance to the world around us. Is it too late? That depends on the contents of your glass. If you look back five years, ten years and twenty years, you’ll see changes and adaptations. It may seem like the road ahead out of COVID-19 road or over the plastic seas is impossible, but look back at the journey, and we’ve got far. A few more steps and new things shall be possible.

For example, just look how far little 126-year-old Manchester City have progressed in 5 years, 10 years, 15 years and 20 years. Yes, there was investment but that’s professional football. Okay, no wins of the Champions League, but that’s work in progress. Look how far that they have moved. That’s motivating and inspiring for City fans. Now compare that to Leicester City, Manchester Utd., Real Madrid, and so on. But, keep in mind City were in the third tier of English football as recent as May 1999. Now it is 21 years later. So much is possible over the next 21 years.

Independent experts have been using their bias and brown paper envelopes globally to distance themselves from independent and pure nations. Within the broader cultures of the planet Earth, we’ve learnt much in recent months, and science, it seems, is s collection of lies spun by flat-Earthers and know-it-all-types alike. A beautiful British common-sense approach is all you need to bat away the virus that refuses to play cricket. Just wash your blooming hands to the tune of ‘Happy Birthday’ and all will be fine.

In 2017, I went to Nepal, I walked for many days and didn’t get close to my aim. I returned in 2019 and surpassed my now-based-on-experience-aim. In 2020, I returned to Nepal with a realistic aim of exploring new areas and setting no target for dates and times. It was all about new steps and progress. A bit further, a bit more, and a bit less worry. I may not want to climb every mountain or walk every trail, but I do want to be in a better place tomorrow than today. I’m sure as COVID-19 cures and treatments come about, humanity will be there too.

This week:

Three students entered the classroom of class 3F. Their eyes barely visible as small pools of dark pigmentation above their pale blue facemasks. Their long hair hung too low to be considered a maintained fringe. They greeted with hellos, as if the events of recent months hadn’t happened. Each had hand gel sanitizer strapped to their bags. They shuffled to their desks and sat quietly, awaiting the arrival of further peers.

The new term is well under way, albeit a wee bit later than planned. Around seven weeks of online teaching, and home-schooling was now at an almost end. For most. One student, in Taiwan and a further student in Japan cannot return. The border is closed for overseas visitors – and my student in Taiwan has valuable family time at this time of international emergency. It has been a disruptive period of a few months for students and teachers alike. Thankfully, much is salvageable with some crammed lessons, adapted revision and continual efficient planning. As my colleague Nick is trapped in Serbia, I will take his middle school classes twice a week, otherwise my timetable is not too dissimilar to last semester. The usual seven classes a day has been adapted to eight classes a day for the poor old hard-working students. Morning exercise is earlier in the day and mealtimes are allocated into slots to allow reasonable social distancing.

The reality of social distancing is rather different. As schools in France resume and 70 or so cases of COVID-19 have been linked to them, students elbow for space in corridors and staircases here. I type this having heard passers-by in the road expectorating throats from their mouths onto the road by our school I truly worry about complacency. Masks are being relaxed outside now and inside many places people are far more laissez-faire about wearing personal protective equipment. Yes, China has the virus in a suppressive state, but cases are emerging every now and then. The perfect storm only needs the right level of guards being dropped for COVID-19 to continue its survival unhindered. Personal protection equipment seems to be on the way out here. Is that good or bad?

There is no cure. There isn’t a valid vaccine, but big pharmaceutical companies, nations and leading scientists are working around the international clocks, together or separately, in order to find that final cure. The breakthrough will bring major amounts of money to many – and if available to all, hope for a brighter and more free future. Humanity has had a huge wake-up call to come together yet many are drifting apart. There’s a change coming. We can either sit back and watch it crumble or dig in deep and do something wonderful. Stubbornness and blind faith will only get us so far. Now is the time to manufacture some optimism and stoke up the fire of positivity. The world is a wonderful place, full of great people and during COVID-19’s reign of destruction, it is not a time to lose hope. There is no cure – at present. One day there will be. Right?

On the plus side, this week, I’ve played football for two hours (with great people) and I’ve just finished reading the Jack Reacher novel titled Blue Moon, written by Lee Child. Between the frantic handwashing, panic, worry and speculation, it isn’t easy to find time to switch off, but years of procrastination have prepared me well for…