Bypassing Liverpool since ’94

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

This week Liverpool F.C. won the Premier League. Well done to them. There has been some boasting [19?] and gloating [mainly aimed at Man Utd and City]. James Milner, now a Champion at Liverpool F.C. had left Manchester City for pastures new and ended up in Anfield. He could have taken a train, car or even a ship to his new club.

Manchester by the Sea may sound like a crap funfair placed by a pond in Heaton Park, but it is actually a title of a movie by Kenneth Lonergan released in 2016. It won awards for acting and stuff like that. It has a soundtrack that doesn’t feature Oasis, The Charlatans or the Happy Mondays. Is it worth seeing? Not a clue. I’ll get round to it, but this movie set in the seaside town, first settled in 1629, of Manchester, Essex County, Massachusetts hasn’t got me yet. No hard feelings Casey Affleck.

Mark Vincent Collins, of The Charlatans, was born in Barton-on-Irwell, which is almost Manchester, but we call it the City of Salford. The Barton Swing Aqueduct allows a canal to pass over a canal. This Roman invention of the Aqueduct was modernised to become a moveable navigable aqueduct. It was a first at the time and many believe it is still the only of its kind. It opened in 1894, year of Manchester City’s naming, and remains working now Built to last by a Derbyshire firm from a plan by Sir Edward Leader Williams. A proper leader he was. So much so, few, if any have followed.

Birmingham may be the city of canals with more miles (56km/35 miles) of canals than Venice (42km/26 miles) but Manchester started the modern canal trend. The Bridgewater Canal runs from Runcorn to Leigh via Manchester. There was no river or stream. It was all dug in deep and long. Since 1761, steamboats, barges and small boats have utilised this modern canal. Used to ferry cotton goods and materials from the sea by Runcorn to Manchester and beyond, and vice versa, the canal was a great innovation. But, after over a hundred years if use it got mucky and couldn’t handle the traffic. Small ships could no longer navigate the near-impassable rivers Mersey and Irwell. The Irish Sea was an awfully long way away.

So, Manchester, faced with the problem of low rainfall, an expensive and limited railway cargo network and rivers ‘hopelessly choked with silt and filth’ (Owen, David, The Manchester Ship Canal, Manchester University Press) removed the barriers. Liverpool’s excessive goods fees had made it cheaper to head east to Hull for goods. That wasn’t good. On October the 7th, 1882 Punch magazine illustrated that Manchester’s idea to bring the sea inland was laughable, “MANCHESTER-SUR-MER. A SEA-DUCTIVE PROSPECT.” Proposals, legal matters and paperwork were underway, and within five years the ground for a new canal was broken.

ship canal

Opened a few days after completion, on the 1st of January 1894, by Queen Victoria, the Manchester Ship Canal was 58km/36 miles long. It is now the 10th longest ship canal in the world. At the time of opening it was second only to the Suez Canal (193km/120 miles) in terms of length for ship canals. Setbacks such as the lead contractor dying, harsh weather, floods (in a dry canal!), and serious money shortages, it was a miracle the canal had been completed. The Pioneer, a steamer, owned by the Cooperative Wholesale Society unloaded sugar that first day. Rouen, Normandy (France) and Manchester were connected and the Stereo MC’s weren’t around to record it.

There’s a great bleak and brown looking landscape by Benjamin Williams Leader (brother of lead engineer Edward Leader Williams) entitled ‘The Excavation of the Manchester Ship Canal: Eastham Cutting with Mount Manisty in the Distance’. Short names for paintings were evidently being rationed around the Long Depression era. The scarred Mount Manisty, Cheshire (a 30m/100’ tall hillock from earth extracted to form the ship canal) sits over the canal in present day and with its coating of trees, it looks to have been there forever. Manchester Liners used to pass this point and their ship the Manchester City, launched on the 27th October 1898.

The oldest proper canal is the Grand Canal of China (大運河 A.K.A. 京杭大運河; Jīng-Háng Dà Yùnhé or the Beijing–Hangzhou Grand Canal). It was started in the 5th century before what is known as the common era. Since then, this now UNESCO World Heritage Site, has ran over 1,794 km (1,115 miles). This Chinese mammoth of a canal is mostly improved rivers, watercourses and some extant diversions of rivers. Merchant Marco Polo, scholar Ibn Battuta, Italian priest Matteo Ricci and Scottish tea-hunter Robert Fortune went to the Grand Canal. The Grand Canal was intended for barges and not shipping.

By comparison, the Panama Canal, opened in 1914. It is 82km long and now is the 8th longest ship canal in the world. The Port of Manchester was once the U.K.’s third-busiest port. Just as the Panama Canals fortunes flagged then raised again, so did Manchester’s Ship Canal. Following slumps from the 1950s to 1960s, the Manchester Ship Canal almost faded away. Nowadays the city’s ship canal ends in Salford and is home to Media City (IV, BBC, Coronation Street, Blue Peter and CBBC), the Imperial War Museum and other leisure facilities, such as The Lowry Centre. You can still take a cruise to the sea – by way of leisure on regular excursion boats (take the Snowdrop from Irlam Locks). The Port of Manchester closed in 1982 and it wasn’t until regeneration kicked in around Salford Quays in the 1990s and then a greater rejuvenation in the decades that follows that the Manchester Ship Canal experienced a new wave of glory.

Far from the times when the Manchester Blitz saw bombs rain down on Trafford, the Manchester Ship Canal and the Port of Manchester, the sights now are much more of green banks and pleasing on the eyes. There’s prosperity around the wharfs, Detroit Swing Bridge, and the National Waterways Museum sits by the Ellesmere Port branch of the Shropshire Union Canal. There’s still a heart beat to the old ship canal yet.

Peel Holdings owns both the Manchester Ship Canal and the Port of Liverpool. Port Salford and the Atlantic Gateway may arrive by the year 2030. The locks, sluices and weirs of the old Manchester Ship Canal are far from closed yet. Ships will continue to sail under the high-level Acton Grange Railway Viaduct, as Network Rail work overhead on the West Coast Main Line, and the dramatic Queen Ethelfleda Viaduct Britannia Bridge (Runcorn Railway Bridge). The linear port has been accessible for over 125 years now and the once nick-named dirty ‘big ditch’dug by navvies is synonymous with the name of Manchester.

In memory of those who died creating the Manchester Ship Canal.

Woolly balls, Alan & Xi’an

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

Is that…? No, it can’t be. But, wait, it bloody well is. I‘ll have a gander to check. I stepped into a stationery store in Dalang, attached to the Dongguan Dalang Football Association (DGDLFA). Football culture and community has always interested me. The crest of one of the DGDLFA clubs resembled Man Utd’s badge. I’m sure any do. It’s a curse in any Asian nation that most fans follow a red team. Their flags are red, their Communist brothers in arms are red, red stars, red scarves, red packets, lucky blooming red. Everywhere.

Instead of worn old leather footballs on the central axis, this club, Dongguan Zhicheng F.C. has in place two woollen balls. Zhī (织)means weave or knit. Chéng (城) means city or wall. So, here we have it a woolly mammoth-aged club wrapped in cotton wool. On the top of the crest there are kind of lucky bells, and golden scrolls. There is a ball in pace of Salford Rugby Club’s stolen red devil. Six people fail to adhere to social distancing beneath the ball. The sixsome is an oddity in itself. Most people I know play 7-a-side in China, and sometimes, every now and then 5-a-side. There is football in the traditional 11-a-side format, which is lesser-spotted. I only know of one 6-a-side field in Dongguan. We use it regular on a rooftop. So, Dongguan Zhicheng F.C., what is this mutant game you are playing?! I was in the stationery shop, a foreigner, a rogue and an unexpected shopper. I had to investigate further.

Inside a larger, and rounder older Cantonese lady kind of sneered at me. She eventually asked what I was looking for. I uttered my crap Mandarin Chinese, “Wǒ zài kàn” (我在看). This in itself was bad, as she was clearly Cantonese. I had overheard her recording a flowing barrage of Canton dialect into her right-hand-clutched-like-a-Lego-man-mobile-phone. Can we say phone now? Most phones are mobile now. Landline phones in China are mostly ornamental, right? I could have said to her, “Wǒ zhǐ shì kàn kàn” (我只是看看。) Zhǐ shì means just/merely/only. I didn’t. We all know by now, that I was on a reconnaissance gathering mission. If anyone is monitoring me, I am buggered. Proper buggered. She said, a simple, “Hǎo de” (好的) because it was okay to look around right. It’s a stationery shop and not Area 51.

After selecting some useful stickers and highlighter pens, of various shades of sky blue, a man emerged from the adjoining office door of the Dongguan Dalang Football Association (DGDLFA). He looked at me with suspicion. There was a smidgeon of something in his eye. It could have been dust, curiosity or any other emotion. Maybe the bright yellow faded to peach coloured football shirt I wore was too loud. We looked eye to eye for far too long. I had to buckle and break the moment. The man’s square face framed in black glasses and a thick head of black hair age no emotion away. His game could have been poker. I crumpled and folded my coolness but calmly let out a dry word, “nĭ hăo” (你好). After all, who doesn’t like hearing a stranger say hello. We can’t all be Villanelle from Killing Eve. Some of us must be polite and less murderous.

After selecting some gold dust items, I went to the check-out and here the Lǎobǎn (老板/boss) chatted to me. “Nǐ xǐhuān mànlián ma?”, he said. 你喜欢曼联吗 translates to something offensive to me, and to many. He had asked, “Do you like Manchester United?” My response was calm, and to the point, “Wǒ bù xǐhuān mànlián” (我不喜欢曼联). I do not like Manchester United. It’s a fact. You can check my social media for diatribe and other denunciation of that club. There are rants, periods of haranguing and tirades that probably go back to 1982. I crossed my right hand over my chest and pointed to the crest upon my left breast. “Wǒ ài mànchéng”, said I. I love Manchester City (我爱曼城). He looked me up and down, smiled, and wearing his red polo top, with the crest that resembled Old Trafford’s footballing giants, he proudly said, “Wǒ zhīchí lìwùpǔ” (我支持利物浦). He supports Liverpool. He eventually told me in a mixture of Chinese and his good English that his team liked the badge of Man Utd. I asked him about his connection to Liverpool. None. He didn’t even watch games before the Champions League win last year.

And, that’s one of the reasons football struggles in China. A lack of clear identity. The balls of wool made me think that this team in 大朗 (Dàlǎng town) had pride on their locally known and nationally famous name of wool. Instead I left wondering why a Liverpool fan, would create a team with an almost Man Utd crest. He told me how they’d started a team from a school field in 2018 and then two teams, other teams followed. They play regular 8-a-side because 8 is lucky. I asked why their badge only has 6 people. He said the goalkeeper is not a player. I said, for 8-a-side, this still leaves his team one player short. He said there are 8 outfield players and a goalkeeper. That’s a lot of players on a FIFA regulation 7-a-side field. And, they use a size four football, not a regulation size five football. Good luck to the China national football team.

As I paid my bill, we talked international and domestic football. The excitement that the Premier League in England is returning at a time, that China will also welcome a restart to football. The Chinese Super League is set to resume soon (2020中国平安中国足球协会超级联赛). On July the 3rd, the league will be split into two groups. As China closed its borders to foreigners, the CSL upped the maximum number of players a team could have, from six to seven (throughout a season). At any one time, only six are allowed within the squad, of which, only five can play in one game. Of those five in one game, only four can be on the field at any one time. Following me? Good. Of those four, no foreign goalkeepers are allowed. Taiwanese, Hong Kong or Macau citizens are Chinese as long as they started their professional career as a player there.

Alan Douglas Borges de Carvalho, born José Bonifácio, Brazil is Chinese now. As is Elkeson de Oliveira Cardoso, but he was born in Coelho Neto, Maranhão, Brazil (which you won’t find on a map of China). The former player, Alan (阿兰), arrived from Red Bull Salzburg on 2015. The latter, Elkeson (艾克森/ Ài Kèsēn) arrived in 2013. Chinese citizenship via naturalisation has given both the chance to play for China’s national team. Ricardo Goulart (高拉特) from São José dos Campos, Brazil awaits FIFA to decide if he could play in the stages of the 2022 FIFA World Cup qualification. Aside frome Mousa Dembélé at Guangzhou R&F, Paulinho at Guangzhou Evergrande Taobao, Alex Teixeira at Jiangsu Suning, Marouane Fellaini at Shandong Luneng Taishan, Stephan El Shaarawy at Shanghai Greenland Shenhua there aren’t too many players out there that are household names. 27 Brazilians and 3 former Brazilians make up the 80 possible overseas players for 16 teams. Amongst the Brazilians, Hulk, at Shanghai SIPG isn’t the incredible one, but former-Chelsea player Oscar at the same team has a few awards to his name.

So aside from my covert quest into the local world of football, this turned into a great shop too. I found two A4 paper trimmers – also known as guillotines! Nothing says stationer like a machine with a blade named after a French Revolution beheading device. I hope the Chinese parliament and security forces don’t round me up for beheading postcards or cutting corners.

Xi’an: The Original Home of Football? Think Cuju (蹴鞠)

球迷会名称/Club name: 西安曼城球迷会 Xi’an Manchester City fans Association Club

球迷会联系方式/Club contacts: 阿圭罗的小媳妇儿 [Aguero’s Wife]

微博或其他社交媒体链接/Weibo or social media links: 西安曼城球迷会(微博名)
微信账号/Wechat account: 西安曼城球迷会(公众号)

关于我们/About us: 古称长安。长安城作为古代第一个人口破百万的国际化大都市,北濒渭河,南依秦岭,八水润长安。在这座古老的城市里,住着一群有着蓝色信仰的人们,这群人的存在给这座城市注入了新的活力,这就是我们——西安曼城球迷会。

不论你是土生土长的西安人,还是身在西安的异乡人,亦或是远在他乡的西安乡党,只要你信仰蓝月,我们都向你敞开怀抱。

Xi’an, is an ancient town, once known as Chang’an. Xi’an was one of the Four Great Ancient Capitals. Xi’an is the original starting point of the Silk Road. Emperor Qin Shi Huang’s Terracotta Army is based here. Bordered to the north by the Weihe River, the southern Qinling Mountains and known for 8 rivers, the city has great diversity and history. The sky blue and white faith of City reached Xi’an in modern times and adds vitality to a City mostly know for its great food and castle walls. Whether you are a native to Xi’an, or a visitor to Xi’an, Xi’an’s OSC opens their arms to meet you and your love for the Blue Moon. No reds allowed. 

Expect to eat: Roujiamo Chinese Hamburger (肉夹馍); Liangpi (凉皮); Paomo Mutton, beef, and Bread Pieces in Soup (羊肉泡馍); Biang Biang Noodles (油泼扯面); Jinggao Steamed rice cake stuffed with honey dates and black beans (甑糕).

Expect to see: Fortifications of Xi’an & Xi’an City Wall (西安城墙); Xi’an Bell Tower (西安钟楼); the Drum Tower of Xi’an (西安鼓楼); Mount Li (骊山); Mausoleum of the First Qin Emperor (Qin Shi Huang) (秦始皇陵); Terracotta Army (兵马俑); Shaanxi Galaxy (陕西银河); Shaanxi Guoli F.C. (陕西国力)Shaanxi Renhe Commercial Chanba F.C. (陕西人和商业浐灞)Shaanxi Dongsheng (陕西东盛); Xi’an Evening News (西安晚报); Qinqiang opera (乱弹).
Did you know? Arthur Gostick Shorrock [from Blackburn, Lancashire, England] and Moir Duncan founded the Sianfu Mission in 1892.

U.K. Twin cities & Towns: Edinburgh, Bury St. Edmunds & Birmingham

爱与和平/Peace and love

Bring Us Sunshine

To the National Health Service and all those careworkers, and keyworker, oh how you bring us sunshine!

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

Ernie Wise: Its not easy for us authors to find new words.
Eric Morecambe: Have you got a thesaurus?
Ernie Wise: No,I don’t like motorbikes.

So far, it has all been writing, links and a few photos. Today the mould is broken. Welcome to embedded videos. This isn’t groundbreaking stuff, no, this is the first justified joyful collection of clips (to date) – available in all the countries around the world that allow YouTube (or via VPN in China). Other media players are available but to be frank, I can’t understand the language.

Thinking back to comedy, and there have been times when I have lay prone or been down in the dumps, feeling low or blue, and the voices of comedy have come calling. I love stand-up comedy and to be honest, I will watch anyone, at least once, sometimes twice. If I enjoy them, I will carry on enjoying them and look out for them at every possible turn. Then there is slapstick and comedy writing. There are so many layers of comedy from silent movies to dark comedy showings to modern day images blended to satire or adapted to show the absurd.

Comedy is a kind of medicine in a time of worry and suffering. The movie Patch Adams starring the wonderful comedian-actor Robin Williams was one fine example of humour as a remedy. The film is based on the real life doctor-clown-social activist and founder of The Gesundheit! Institute, Hunter Doherty “Patch” Adams MD. This is a man devoted to finding an alternative healthcare model not founded by insurance or by the haves over the have nots. In many ways he is a doer and a revolutionist. Besides which his kids are called Atomic Zagnut Adams and Lars Zig Edquist Adams. One interesting thing his inspirational portrayal by Robin Williams, led to Bollywood filming Munna Bhai M.B.B.S. which may have in turn led to Pakistan and India director Rajkumar Hirani having ideas for his movie, or not. Munna Bhai M.B.B.S. was remade in the Tamil, Kannada, Telugu and Sinhala languages. It has won many awards, as have its remakes. The ₹1.039 billion viewing audience plus the $202.3 million audience of Patch Adams may have reached far and wide financially, but it does make you wonder if the sense and spirit of both have reached and influenced many in the medical profession. I would imagine the essence of humour and a warm heart has always been with those in the natural work setting of caring for others. It is their job. The presence of these heart-warming and movies cannot hurt none.

The best writers are the ones who really show their passion in their works. Some even cast themselves from years of heard graft and find a vehicle for their talents. Jeremy Dyson, Steve Pemberton, Mark Gatiss and Reece Shearsmith aren’t always the fashionable names of modern stardom, but as The League of Gentleman they have shocked and terrorised using dark comedy to bring a belly laugh or a grizzly ‘Can-I-laugh-at-that?’ moment. Their productions such as Psychoville and Inside No. 9 have carried the enhanced tones of their earlier work inviting newer audiences by bringing an ensemble of well-known stars to their twisted scripts. The quadruple basis of the League of Gentleman cast carry fairly diverse and long appearances. They’re grafters who have done bit parts and played key roles. Reece Shearsmith even appeared in London’s Burning as was his rite along a passage to present day; whilst his colleague Steve Pemberton, of Blackburn, has featured in Manchester’s finest comedy-drama series Shameless – as well as the brutal series Blackpool, London-based Whitechapel and Benidorm. A seemingly wide set of locations. Jeremy Dyson has had a crack at Roald Dahl’s Twisted Tales amongst many hit West End and big-screen projects.

Having looked up Mark Gatiss and the other League of Gentleman cast members, following an online episode of Stay At Home with Stewart Lee and Josie Long, I’ve found out that my favourite historical piece Operation Mincemeat, by Ben Macintyre is being turned into a movie! The director John Madden has previously worked on Mrs Brown, Captain Corelli’s Mandolin, The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel and Shakespeare in Love. Scottish actress Kelly Macdonald and Matthew Macfadyen will also star in the Mac-See-Saw Films production. A spot of sunshine for the future.

You’ll Never Walk Alone…

Eddie Braben came from Dingle in Liverpool. It’s an area that gave rise to Ringo Starr (The Beatles), Robbie Fowler (Manchester City and Liverpool striker), Arthur Askey (comedian), Gerry Marsden (singer: Ferry Cross the Mersey; He Ain’t Heavy, He’s My Brother; and contributor of The Crowd), and singer Billy Fury.

Eddie Braben had written countless wonderful lines for the duo of Morecambe and Wise. Through fall-guy Ernie Wise, Eric Morecambe would mock the “plays what he had wrote – sometimes 26 in one day”. Other great celebrities would enter the stage and screen, appearing on Christmas specials and transmitting to households all over the nation. Many argued these were the most-viewed shows outside of the Queen’s Christmas Day speeches. More than 20 million people watched on. Future James Bond star Judi Dench and all round great dame proved the draw to star on The Morecambe and Wise Show was like no other. Household names, movie stars, big names of the theatre, news presenters and more all lined up to join the cast.

“What he did for Eric and Ernie was incredible. He was the third man of the comedy.” – Sir Bruce Forsyth on Eddie Braben

Writer Eddie Braben replaced Dick Hills and Sid Green. Braben wasn’t too confident about filling such big boots and writing for what were then a very popular and successful comedy act. His specimen material started with one solo appearance with Eric Morecambe opening his jacket and telling his heart, “Keep going you fool!” And from then on, Braben added gold to the Morecambe & Wise cabinet of materials. He’d previously written for Charlie Chester and Ken Dodd, from the comforts of Liverpool, but now he had London T.V.’s finest to pen for. Hiding away from the stage itself, Braben wouldn’t elope to London. Instead he’d be home again via the train soon after filming. His methods worked and he was awarded gongs from the Writers’ Guild of Great Britain for three consecutive years over several years. In 1972 he even picked up a BAFTA. He worked tirelessly and had a nervous breakdown, recovering to pen for Little and Large, Jimmy Cricket, Les Dawson and Ronnie Corbett, amongst others. His autobiography, The Book What I Wrote, is a modest and heart-warming account of comedy and television. For a man who hated the limelight he certainly influenced the stage and screen. His 24 writing credits to just 3 tiny appearances speak volumes.

“All men are fools, and what makes them so is having beauty like what I have got.” – Glenda Jackson, in the Antony & Cleopatra sketch, Morecambe & Wise Chrismas Special

Asked, in a Roman sketch, if he had “the scrolls”, Eric Morecambe replied: “No, I always walk this way.” Eddie Braben’s writing was so very good, and the production team that were around Morecambe and Wise appeared to be ad-libbing like no tomorrow. Prince Philip once commented, “I thought they just made it up.” That was the magic of the well-written sketches, the production design and the chemistry between the two star leads. In surreal ways, Braben had Eric Morecambe and Ernie Wise haring a bed together. You can’t see the join. There was little vulgarity to it. It was far from innuendo. Just like the perceived rudeness of Eric Morecambe towards guest-stars who would appear and Eric would get their names wrong.

“Sorry I’m late, but I was digging the Suez Canal when some fool filled it full of water” – Eric Morecambe as Disraeli.

Eddie Braben’s notes and poems can be found in various books. One sweet piece is as follows:

Two cows chewing grass, on a warm sunny hillock. I thought, ‘This time tomorrow, that grass will be millock.’

Such simplicity and beauty within a few short sentences. No over-padding. No need for profanity. No need for stressing and over-writing. Such wonderful word imagery.

Lay on a bed together: ERIC MORECAMBE (as the Duke of Wellington): Would you like something to warm you up?
VANESSA REDGRAVE (as Empress Josephine): (Seductively) I would very much.
ERIC: Good, I think I’ve got some extra-strong mints in my greatcoat.

There’s only one way to end this post.

Bring us sunshine!

The Land of Make Believe

Sawasdeekhap / Namaste / Welcome!

There are videos and supposed news pieces all over the media. Us and them. Blame and hate.  No need for it. Time for togetherness and understanding. Some videos serve as propaganda for and against something or other. They are wide open to criticism and debate. How do we know the story is real or fake? They come on entertainment channels, news sources and social media. Believe half of what you see and nothing of what you hear. Don’t believe the truth.

For example, I am in a WeChat social media group called Dongguan Tube (deceptive as it isn’t round or a television channel). It has around 187 members. One member shared a video, shot facing the camera, wearing sunglasses, indoors. My first thought was that he wishes to remain anonymous. Then, I realized he used his DouYin (Tik Tik) account. That’s registered to a phone number and email address, and in turn to a national ID card for Chinese citizens or other. Then facial recognition sprang to mind. I watched his tirade, because right now, there are some interesting and some worrying self-narratives floating around the world. He claimed to be a victim of abuse by a customer from somewhere or other. To stress the point his language was careful, considerate and colourful. Now, was it true or not? I don’t know. I hope he wasn’t as distressed as he made out. There are bigger worries in life. On one hand you have a nationalistic believer in a great nation, as his right, having grown up under a strict ideology only recently influenced by the west. On the other hand, 186 people within the group could debate and argue their own opinions or views. None would be helpful. I use this as a loose example of the footage zipping around cyberspace.

There is hate everywhere. I’ve seen tinfoil takeaway boxes shaped into coffins. Many of us have seen Norwegians posting flags with stars shaped like a certain virus. Opinions, and art are okay, but how far do we go to upset people at a very sensitive time? Well it seems we go a little far, like almost all the way to the right. Hitler would probably like some of the stuff today if he had a Twitter account. I imagine Adolf would be as active on Facebook groups too, sharing some of the posts of the elected few from supposedly developed nations. That and possibly clicking on Youtube videos of dancing Germanic dog breeds.

Politicians and so called experts sling muck into an international emergency situation. Congratulations world, Covid-19 is officially a pandemic – alongside HIV which has been around for a long time on the pandemic list. Many argue that this new beastly virus isn’t the Spanish Flu that killed 50 to 100 million people over the course of three years. Most will agree that this has spread around the world almost with ease inside the space of a quarter of a year. Many fear it may be as bad as another round of the bubonic plague (still available in USA, I believe) and many argue it is just the seasonal flu. Smallpox was eradicated, measles is controlled in many countries, and tuberculosis ravages the developing world but is under great investigation. Research into every known disease and virus has been gradual and continuous since their initial understandings. Covid-19 is just a baby in a petri dish, compared with Hansen’s disease and malaria.

Meanwhile leader of China, President Xi was in Wuhan, as China battens down its hatches on imported virus cases. China reports that the cases have almost dropped away completely. Their methods to defeat the viral outbreak involved intense hand-cleaning propaganda, mobile apps, lockdowns and transport shut-downs. Quarantine in some places has lasted over 45 days. It hasn’t been perfect but it has been swift, aggressive and consumed gargantuan amounts of personal protective equipment. Some of which has been complex, psychological, and utterly heartbreaking – and totally preventable. China is no doubt battling the virus and making inroads into development of a cure – and looking at the cause, in terms of prevention. China, and any other nation battling the bug, will have no time for rumours of failed biological research as the cause – or a biological weapon dropped by a rogue nation. This isn’t time for fans of The Walking Dead or Mary Shelley’s The Last Man. Personally I prefer The Andromeda Strain, by Michael Crichton, over I am Legend (Richard Matheson’s novel was made into a Will Smith movie). Novels, like too many of the things shared in social media can be considered as fiction. It doesn’t help that the news shares lies.

Toxic newspaper and historical database of bullshit that has ruined communities and blamed innocent Liverpool fans for years, The Sun shared satellite images showing raised sulphur dioxide (SO2) levels claiming to be increased cremations (proven as wrong). The Express newspaper also did the same. Some places admit mistakes, and others just lie (5G, really?), or use sensational statistics (more deaths by snakes remember)  to blind people with mindless titles. Even Trump retweets manipulated media. He loves the word hoax so much, yet he was fooled by a hoax. A fitting yarn.

The worst thing for humanity would be a collapse of social systems, a mutation or a reoccurring wave after wave of this new virus. There could be drug resistance or sporadic outbreaks, like Zika virus and the Ebola epidemics. Superbugs are feared by the World Health Organisation (WHO) – the specialised agency of the United Nations set up to bring nations together and improve public health. The world’s economy is crashing but that will be little interest to those experiencing and battling to save lives. Money can wait. It has no use after life.

The current President of the USA (who maybe is hoping he doesn’t have the hoax virus) and many other so-called briefed experts are just like you and me. We’re all learning about this new disease and virus. The problem is there is too much white noise and too much panic. We can’t see the wood for the trees. And in once fire-ravaged Australia, then flooded, they’re panic buying toilet rolls. I should be okay, at present, I have a bum hose. Squirt. Squirt. Clean. However, I do worry, and I worry too much for family, friends and those I hold dear, because right now, we’re in an age when Presidents are unaccountable, and trigger fingers make it feel like the Wild West. There is dirt to be tossed, and someone always gets burned. Should we be more sociable or more selfish? Is it time to grab my football from the field and take it home making it game over for those playing? I think now, more than ever, let’s find a way to bring nations together and work away this mess, and then maybe afterwards look at the environment and other such global concerns. Or we could do a Trump and just look after number one. The choices are not always our own. Stay safe. Stay sane.

I’ll get off my soapbox – and at some stage write about my wonderful trekking experience around part of the Annapurna circuit from January to February.  Peace and love.

P.S. – Don’t buy The Sun

IT HAS BEEN A WHILE.

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

 

It has been a while.

 

This Sunday sees Manchester City face a fantastic team followed by a near-insufferable fanbase (and media?). At a ground with where City have suffered an intolerable period without victory, City will see no benefit in VAR, because like Old Trafford, home of The World’s Greatest Football Team TM, there are no video screens. So far, VAR and video refereeing across the Premier League has been a complete sensation and triumph over errors, giving not a single moment of controversy, some grounds without video screens may add to the scepticism that something dark and sinister is afoot…

Is it the fans or the media? They’ve won two Champions Leagues since 204/05. Domestically, the League Cup came thrice since the new millennium – and the FA Cup twice in that time, but many fans make it sound like their trophy cabinet is bursting with shiny stuff. There’s an inane sense of entitlement that even Man Utd’s fans could never have matched at their peak. And if you mention it, suddenly you’re jealous. There’s always an accusation that City fans are scared of Liverpool ‘being back where they belong’. Liverpool dominated the 1980s, fair play. I was born in 1982. By the time I had pubic hairs, Liverpool FC had faded away. If you get chance to get a word in between the accusations of City’s plastic fanbase and the empty seats, it is a minor miracle. But, on the other hand, there are many good, modest and honest fans.

Gerrard slipped, Suarez cried, the Scousers dream has yeah there are chants. That’s football. It doesn’t mean City care too much for Liverpool. Our obsessive rivals are wallowing in midtable and so laughable in their improvement on managers, year on year, that Ole ‘he scored in ’99, don’t you know?’ is going to be offered the keys of freedom to the Etihad Stadium (car park). Maybe, if and when, Liverpool F.C. lift the Premier League trophy, then many clubs will lose their banter material. Many will have to eat a big baked humble pie. Rivalry is good for the game, but sometimes these new rivalries are driven by such a few people, that they make little sense. Unless of course some fans attack a team’s bus. I mean, that’s fair game, for being a bit wary of a team’s fanbase.

Not that you can say there is a conspiracy without being accused of conspiring to consider conspiracies as the norm. There certainly is a bias in the media, dominated often by former Liverpool and Man Utd stars of old. City pundits are out there, but certainly occupied few of the ‘slag City off as often as you can’ rolls, that say Danny Mills continues to enjoy.

The BBC’s football arm of propaganda includes ​Mark Lawrenson. His expertise and commentary are totally weighted towards his former club Liverpool FC. Thankfully Alan Hansen has been sent to a farm somewhere. The so called big 6 clubs of the Premier League always get a bias over the other 14, but many favour Liverpool FC, probably attached to what they grew up on, in a way like me still wanting to drink Vimto and eat Weetabix.

Stats will tell you anything, and if you’re selective enough. The Premier League big six? Well, Arsenal, Chelsea, Liverpool, Man Utd, Tottenham Hotspur and Everton, of course. They’re the six ever-present Premier League clubs. The longest club that has appeared in the top flight? Wolves, Everton, Burnley or Aston Villa featured in 1888/89. Arsenal (last title win 2003–04)  have an unbroken attendance to the top flight of English football stretching back to 1919/20. Aston Villa (last one 1980–81) have more top flight titles than City or Chelsea. Everton (last one 1986–87) have more than Aston Villa. There are 7 Premier League clubs that have never won a topflight title – each with wonderful histories and moments. Sheffield Utd boast their solo topflight title from 1897/98. There are clubs outside the topflight with equally wonderfully and less wonderful histories. Bury F.C. need saving. Football is unforgiving in its evolution and costly to maintain. The media need to balance their act, but populism in sport has always been the way. The likes of Leicester City, Leeds Utd, Portsmouth and Newcastle Utd, all have had ups and downs. They’re seen as lesser fashionable than say Liverpool FC, or Man Utd, whose titles and winners can be seen throughout sporting media, coaching and the wider world. There’s more demand for Dwight Yorke at a speaking event than say Terry Cooke. No disrespect intended. It is just more people would have seen Dwight than Terry at the moments that matter. Proper football fans care about more than numbers and titles.

On TV and in the newspapers (not counting The Sun because it is utter toilet paper), there’s a clear framing effect, based on the way something is presented to the media viewers or readers. On top of that the confirmation bias, shows examples and skips over other bits to favour the favourite. With everyone aware of a few great moments in recent years, played over and over again, then it could be said that Liverpool FC have benefitted from a clear availability heuristic. There are few scapegoats within the Liverpool FC hierarchy as Klopp has eliminated slippers like Gerrard and made the squad his own. Jonathan Pearce said once that Liverpool were Champions-elect – in January 2019. The season was long, and City just managed to edge the title into their favour by May, despite being 8 points adrift at one stage. Had Liverpool finished on 97 any other season, but the 2018/19 and 2017/18 seasons, they’d have won the Premier League. It was a fantastic title race.

I have no problem with Liverpool FC as a spectacle. They’re a great team to watch play. They like attacking and they have more than capable defenders. There is a fair bit of youth to their squad and from time to time a local lad breaks through and you hear the all familiar noise that upsets dogs and cats across Merseyside. Klopp, as manager, is pure entertainment – and he has a charisma to match. He can be modest, direct and funny. He often tells it how it is. I’m sure Klopp recognises some fans see the Premier League as moving from an ABU to an ABL (Anyone but Liverpool) – but he also respects the media enough to give them their soundbites and shiny stories. Perhaps, Pep Guardiola could have avoided saying that Mane is a diver. Let the papers find their own words.

Are Liverpool favoured by every neutral team? Well, Everton and Man Utd won’t be backing the red side of Anfield. Manchester City, neither. That does leave the other 16 Premer League clubs, 72 football league clubs and a whole host of non-league teams (such as City of Liverpool FC, who contended Liverpool FC’s attempts to copyright their city’s name). Of course, there are exceptions. Football fans can be fickle when it comes to backing teams that actually don’t concern them. I remember reading comments, about evacuating the whole of northern England if Liverpool were to win the Premier League. Banter was being fired left, right and centre. The sky blues of Manchester have edged Liverpool FC out of the title race twice in recent seasons. Liverpool FC’s pressure of not winning a top-flight title since Kenny Dalglish’s side lifted it in 1989/90 hasn’t helped. There is weight. There is expectation. Just as City ended 44 years without the top league crown in 2012, there is so much tension.

City’s record at Anfield is abysmal. To some extent it is the new Highbury or Old Trafford of the age. A place where City have failed to win for so many years. Over a decade, in fact. In 2003, City’s charges featured Nicolas Anelka and Distin, alongside Robbie Fowler for Kevin Keegan’s laser blue City. El-Hadji Diouf and Milan Baros featured for the home team. The soon to depart super Kevin Horlock shored up midfield alongside Ali Benarbia. Peter Schmeichel finished the game in goal, his penultimate game for the travelling Maine Road outfit. Anelka bagged both goals, winning the game against his former employers in the final added minute. The home support of 44,220 were treated to a gritty game that City just about edged.

Are Ederson and Davild Silva out? Maybe. That won’t be an excuse though. Whatever the outcome, I hope that the real fans, the real diehards and those who avoid the bitterness and pettiness come out on top, win, draw, or lose. For me Liverpool FC aren’t a true rival, they’re just someone we need to compete with. Even if Manchester and Liverpool are still pissing in the Manchester Ship Canal or sending kayaks up the Mersey for a laugh, the two cities aren’t that far apart, musically, socially and historically. It all beats going to London.

I appreciate Liverpool FC as a footballing team. We now live in an age where any good football team is branded as buying success or not achieving anything despite being a terrific squad. Appreciation of football doesn’t need to come with a discrediting comment. Jürgen Klopp’s brand of heavy metal football is solid and entertaining. There’s a hunger and desire to win at Anfield. City, as Champions of England, travel as underdogs but very much capable of springing a result. This Sunday’s game will be either one hell of a game for one team – or a dull 0-0 draw.

C’MON CITY!

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

Walking on eggshells

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

“I don’t pretend to be a gentleman, but I am entitled to paint what I see.” – Interview tapes with G B Cotton & Frank Mullineux (undated) L. S. Lowry – A Biography by Shelley Rhode

Free Pussy Riots was the best banner that I ever witnessed at a Man City game. The cardboard boos shown to UEFA were a close second. Is protesting and politics at home in sport?

“Hey John, how can you be so ignorant to China and H.K.?” – someone asked me this today, in China. And like anything else political here, I replied with, “This is not the place to have this discussion and I am not prepared to carry on.” I also wanted to say that I refuse to influence people in China – and I do. It is not my job to meddle in politics and the policy of China. Of course, I have an opinion. I have beliefs but I also have the wisdom to know that you cannot tickle a tiger’s balls and expect to get away with it.

So, NBA has gone down a bit in China due to comments on social media. Politics and sports cannot be mixed these days – and certainly not on mediums such as Twitter. At a Philadelphia Sixers game versus Guangzhou Loong Lions, a fan and his wife were ejected for shouting their views on Hong Kong. The Wells Fargo Center court is located in as Francis Scott Key said, “the land of the free”. The American national anthem features something similar, right? Well, sport, has a long-winded and painful view of politics and freedom. To cut a story short, great moments of history such as the 1968 black power movement stand out in history – because they signify defiance and stand for belief. It wasn’t part of the running material and matchday programme. Tommie Smith and John Carlos have statues on the San Jose State University campus grounds. They joined in the 2008 Global Human Rights Torch Relay which ran in parallel to the Beijing Olympics torch.

Protests affect more people than you often know. They send little and big ripples, visible and invisible, left, right and centre. One NBA tweet, by Houston Rockets’ coach Daryl Morey, who retracted it, has been slammed by President Trump.

In China, Chinese sponsors have suspended their ties with NBA clubs. The TV channels have removed tonight’s games and other games from the schedules. Since then NBA Commissioner Adam Silver defended Morey’s right to tweet as he wishes. San Antonio Spurs coach Gregg Popovich backed him up, “He came out strongly for freedom of speech.” NBA fans in China are backing their country over their love for the game of basketball. Most fans here demand an apology before they carry on their love affair with America’s basketball. A huge repletion of one quote can be found seemingly everywhere, “China-U.S. relations began with ping-pong, and they’ve ended with basketball.” What President Nixon did in 1971 is being undone by a closed-shop sports league that usually puts capital over principals.

What’s the story, Mr Morey? Well, he later added a post to the affects of a desperate boyfriend who has shunned the love of his life. Basketball is huge in China. China is huge. Almost every garden, park or recreation area has a court, or two, or more. The Chinese Basketball Association believes 300 million people play the sport. I feel that is an understatement. From school bus drivers to security guards to uncles minding their grand kids, and the other more expected hoop-throwing youths, it is everywhere. It dominates ball sports here. Rugby Union played its part in Apartheid; the Munich massacre happened; LGBT rights protests surrounded the 2014 Winter Olympics in Russia; 8 nations (including China) boycotted the 1956 Olympics in Australia after Russia were suspended for invading Hungary; China boycotted two other Olympic games (’64 as China had entered the Games of the New Emerging Forces (GANEFO);’80 due to USSR’s invasion of Afghanistan); the massacre at Tlatelolco happened; but overall sport is essential to world relations. Now, NBA is thrust into the limelight (unlike South Park, removed from search histories).

As NBA has been met with displeasure, some hot heads have used stronger language and hate as their reply. That’s not on. It can’t be that way. How can we all find a common path to the future if we don’t talk? For some fashion and perfume brands, China is not a good place to trade now. Keeping quiet has more of a benefit than losing potential custom. Sport is the same. Discrimination is bad. The vulnerable, the needy and those subject to abuse because of prejudices need a voice. Colour, race, ethnicity, religion are always topics which will need sensitivity. But, on the other hand, how far do you believe in your freedom of speech? And right now, many brave souls are stepping up.

Whether with Extinction Rebellion at London City Airport, or forming a rather large Tibet flag at a French football game… even a 91-year-old called John has been arrested, complete with a walking stick. Of course, Liverpool FC faced opposition to their attempt to trademark the name of Liverpool, and also when they drove local property values down in a bid to buy the properties for cheaper later – because commercial development is where it is at. But, we must look at the other side of the conversations too. China may be huge but its 5000 years of civilisation as been invaded in many places, colonised and used as a factory. Now it gathers strength enough to speak out loud. China sings from the same hymn sheet – and mostly through pride in identity. Other countries are often divided – split and messy, yet they all like to shout about how it is done.

Sport is a great friendship tool. It bridges division and cultures. Iraq play football and could face Nepal, equally they could host Australia or Qatar. England can travel to Scotland, Sweden or Slovenia. The game of football, like basketball and other such sports can influence and deepen relations. Claimed sovereignty, national interests and cultures can be better understood. When two differences are clear, then dialogue can be heard – or silenced. Boycotts and closure won’t help every battle. Tolerance is not even enough. We must be careful in this day and age, as people, not to shout abuse and close our minds.

For me, I’d like to view Tibet first hand, and see the region. I will remain neutral. I’d like to speak about Hong Kong, but I won’t. I must remain neutral – Hong Kong is part of China – and the days of it being a British colony are long gone. This is a matter for the people of the affected regions and not the former occupants and their Union Flag. I’m here in China as a guest. A foreigner who feels foreign and is always reminded that I’ll never be local or Chinese. I know where I stand. That’s fine. It is accepted. I’m just trying to make a living and find a way to get onto the U.K. property ladder in my home country that is also far from free. I want to be like Mel Gibson’s William Wallace and say something like he did in the movie Braveheart, “I came back home to raise crops, and God willing, a family. If I can live in peace, I will.”

East and West are crashing together like heavy waves on a shoreline susceptible to costal erosion. For those of us living between the two, we have to knuckle down and work, without tickling any tiger’s testicles – and keeping the burning heat of tiger balm far away from our balls.

“I look upon human beings as automatons because they all think they can do what they want but they can’t. They are not free. No one is.” – Maitland Tapes-interview with Prof. Hugh Maitland 1970 L. S. Lowry – A Biography by Shelley Rhode

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

Plastic or Fantastic #2 Undisputable Brilliance

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

In my opinion it should be a fact that, in football, and other sports too, all overseas fans are undisputable in their brilliance. The modern game has long drifted away from the traditional working class background of football fans. Women now attend games in their droves – and rightly so. The fanbases of many clubs feature disabled fan clubs and LGTGBTQ+ (I lose track of which letters are used and for who). This is ideal. Football isn’t a man’s game. It isn’t a girl’s game. It is for everyone. Whether disabled, a Martian or from Wales, the sack of air that can be moved around as a team is for all. I love it. It is such a simple game, to watch and to play. You can be Messi or you can be messy.

The benefits are more than just commercial. If 800,000 people a season visit a Premier League game from overseas, that means many will indulge in local cultures, see our towns and our cities and feel our way of life. They will join the clubs and their future identity. To some, they will worry – and others will feel xenophobia but surely 1500 Norwegians a week at Anfield ploughing money into the club isn’t all bad. Visit Britain used Ryan Giggs, when he wasn’t busy tapping his brother’s wife, to promote a “Football is Great” campaign a few years back and the Premier League is one huge advertisement after another, with some cracking games amongst the dull ones, that sell it.

There are negatives. Half and half scarves have grown out of hands. For cup final merchandise, it is a little acceptable. For a friendly game versus a team you’re unlikely to face in a competition, it is fine. In the league, against your rivals, no, sorry, no room for half of your opponent’s name on the scarf… Yokohama F-Marinos versus Manchester City, now there is a good memento. City v Utd on a scarf. No. Never. It is bad enough having them in the matchday programme. Football tourism in huge stadia is possible and can’t be seen to destroy the traditional fanbase. Those fanbases must adapt to survive and prices for tickets need to be local no global. Some fans know more about Football Manager, Fantasy Football than reality…

TV coverage has erupted outwardly, over Scandinavia, Germany, Ireland and east, west and south. The Premier League monster has become a global competition – the true super league for global talent. Asia and Africa are joining the league coverage fronts with consummate ease. As New York watches at breakfast, China watches at supper. Social media platforms and interactive coverage allow for unparalleled levels of game coverage. Long gone are the days of trying to find City at Watford on Setanta, or turning to Teletext for a goal update. The Pink has been replaced by Twitter, Facebook and a dozen other live feeds.

Young fans may be priced out of the game, but from the pocket of overseas fans, come a bunch of middle-class and well-to-do sorts. They visit the clubs shops and they buy as much as, if not more than the local fan. These purchases are akin to a pilgrimage to Mecca City [C’mon City Football Group, buy that club!]. Those keyed up on the latest game e.g. FIFA ’98 or wherever we’re up to now, have had a virtual education. The stats have been drilled in and names memorised. There is a blurred line far unlike seeing Tommy Doyle play for Manchester City’s EDS and then make the first team. These fans learn whoever is on that game, and hero worship tends to sway away from up-and-coming players or names. That is, until they’re exposed – and then the overseas fans are wild. These Harwood-Bellis types are wearing the shirt – and close to the dream of the fan. The two can evolve together. They can share memes and tweets, and all that, in ways older generations never came so close to their boyhood heroes (sexist comment? Yep).

The mass markets are open and with that you’ll get a crowd. Inevitably, plonk enough fans together and eventually you will get a truly fanatical kind. Those who form official supporters’ clubs and actively chase the dream of watching their club and being involved in their own ways. That’s what makes me admire the overseas fans. Anyone who watches a game in bed, on the other side of the planet or gets people together to share their passion and cheer City (or whoever else) on deserves credit. Modern football is expensive – and to trek around the globe seeking a game or two – or attend an overpriced friendly featuring a handful of first team regulars, with no idea of what the game will be like, gets my hat off, and placed in the air. Hats off to you. With your worldly curiosity, cultural awareness and passion, you’re welcome at the Etihad Stadium anytime. We are stronger together. We are Manchester City.

Manchester City’s presence in China, over recent years has created a new pocket. 13 Official Supporters Clubs, up from 3 at the time of their last tour in China in 2017, are spreading the sky blue gospel. City’s website, TV and media has punched highly at their fans, with huge following increases. It engages and it supports, holding an annual meeting with the Chinese OSCs. Like Match of The Day, they engage tradition and add a modern twist of flavour. Each meeting has given a great insight into City’s China strategy and set-up. They’re in it for the long-term. What I like to do, is encourage the newer generation of City fans to watch their local teams, watch some non-league football, see any games at professional level that they can and take from it as much as they can. To understand the game and the passion of fans, sometimes it is best simply to observe with no objective. I think fans of City, on the whole, understand football very well. They follow a local non-league team or they at least ground-hop around local clubs.


“I told the Ministry of Foreign Affairs it was a matter of humanity” – Sugihara Chiune

Sugihara Chiune is sometimes referred to as the Japanese Oscar Schindler. He helped around 5,558 Jewish people escape persecution and probable death in Europe.  It was on this day, many years ago that he led with peace…


 

Next up, I’ll write about the jaunts around Nanjing, Shanghai, Hong Kong and Yokohama flying the sky blue flags… when I am awake more.

 

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

Plastic or Fantastic #1 Jumping Ahead

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

Plastic fans or overseas fantastic fans?

When it first happened, we were a little jealous. No. In fact, we were bitterly jealous. As the likes of Liverpool, Manchester Utd and Arsenal gathered overseas fans, City had no hope in hell of travelling beyond Greater Manchester. Together with other so called big 4 club Chelsea, they often dominated the pathways into European football’s top competition and commercial cash card. Terms likes ‘plastic fans’ or phrases based on the geography of where a fan came from, ‘Kent reds’, ‘Singapore reds’, or ‘Here’s another ferry from Ireland’ could be heard. Ignorant fans labelled the new followers as glory seeking lightweight supporters in a heartbeat. I know, because I used to say it and still do from time to time.

Before the Premier League was formed, history served Man Utd well, they’d won it in ’68 – as the first English club to do so. Liverpool did better beating the rest of the pack in 1977, 1978, 1981, and 1984. Nottingham Forest were a founder club of the Premier League – and have the European Cup in 1979 and 1980. Of the 22 founder clubs that season, only 12 are in the 2019/20 season of the Premier League. Like Nottingham, the other 9 clubs have had a topsy-turvy recent history. Where are Wimbledon?

The Champions League followed the European Cup. For the former, Aston Villa won it in my birth year. However, only Chelsea, Man Utd (twice) and Liverpool (twice) have managed to win it in 25 years of the Premier League. Man Utd received global acclaim on how they rebuilt a club following the Munich air disaster and capitalised on a social liberation and liberalisation in the 1960s. They cashed in on the surrounding pop culture with “Fifth Beatle” George Best and so on. Football fans and even the neutral fan could join in or follow a team beyond their own turf. They wouldn’t be begrudged their second club from time to time. It was the norm.

Real Madrid and Barcelona have appeared in the Champions League since cavemen bashed clubs over dodos. They’re almost ever presents having qualified for seemingly every edition. Barca have managed 15 straight seasons of last-16 knock-out games. Their 16 domestic league titles since 1990 has featured just four finishing standing outside La Liga’s top three. Since 2008-09 they have finished twice, three times. They won the other seasons. Real Madrid last finished 4th in La Liga’s 2003-04 season and also clinched a Champions League Place. In 1996-97 they didn’t join the Champions League –  having qualified in the edition of the season before. The Champions League rebrand of the top European Cup started in 1992, at about the same time as the Premier League in England. The global branding of Spanish football has been clear – and one rarely unbroken for Real and Barca. They bucked the trend in terms of fans following top clubs from Asia. Neither team sported red, like the flags of Singapore, China or Hong Kong’s sponsors Sharp name. But, their following was few and far between until Ronaldo and Messi arrived. Then, they banked on superstars.

In the years leading up to the Premier League, floating on the stock exchange wasn’t a bad move. Man Utd did that. City just floated – with no direction. As branding clung to fashionable stars like Beckham and Giggs, football entered a new era for City too. Financial ruin caused by off the field mismanagement and on the field turmoil. Freefall entered the blue half of Manchester with little sign of abating as one club would march to a historic treble (that people seldom hear about these days). Even City signing Chinese player Sun Jihai in the early 2000s did little to stem the flow of international fanbases looking from the east towards somewhere west of Manchester.

Liverpool have won zero of the 27 Premier League titles on offer yet have fared well in Europe during the Champions League era. They like Man Utd, have been in Europe, to the FIFA World Club Championships and European Super Cups. The International Champions Cup has featured them plenty. Exposure beyond the Pennines, Irish Sea and the Lancashire boundary has been kind to them. Man Utd have been described as a global brand – long before City lifted a Premier League trophy. Overseas tours followed the money as City spewed out close to home European numbers like Hamburg’s HSV and Oldham Atheltic away. Even Stockport County and Sheffield Utd had a crack at China – although West Brom came first, long before the Eastlands was a term.

Manchester City’s first foray into the Champions League came from a third-placed league finish in 2010/11. City have featured 8 times in UEFA’s top competition since reaching the semi-final twice, hardly enough to make a dedicated Wikipedia page on City in the Champions League. Higher league places mean higher Premier League revenue and City gave won half of the Premier League titles on offer since their first on 2011/12. Since the takeover in 2008 they’ve shot from ‘marketable lovable team seeks caring partner’ to ‘dominatrix of the year’. Back to back titles, especially considering the strengthening and determination to dethrone City’s centurion of point getters has justified some clever marketing deals.

City and Utd having a derby in Beijing could have been a big thing. It was a farce and never happened. USA had that first privilege at a later preseason. As thousands of red shirts outside the Bird’s Nest Stadium cried, shouted and shown general anger, pockets and handfuls of City fans skipped around Beijing bars, experiencing the City fan culture. A few days later, similar happiness happened in Shenzhen and the culture of Manchester – and football spewed outwardly. Shenzhen Blues and Hong Kong Blues were soon joined by 11 more groups – recognised as official supporters clubs by Manchester City. The OSC formed in 1949 and now has around 250 clubs globally, with around 20,000 registered members. It provides a direct and sometimes challenging link to Manchester City. It is officially recognised and backed by the club but remains independent. Kevin Parker has been voted as General Secretary for 20 or so years running now. He does wonders for the club in a demanding voluntary role. Alan Potter, Howard Burr, Mike Young, Christine Wardle, Karen McCormack are names that help run this ever-expanding organisation, but I don’t know their exact roles. They get mentions in matchday programmes and online from time to time but maintain quite a modest presence.

The annual membership for Manchester City’s Official Supporters Club goes far. A percentage goes to City in the Community. Another amount is made available for charitable applications by the Official Supporters Club membership. Shenzhen Blues donated around £500 to a children’s charity, A Heart For China. The membership gives a card, often a gift and the chance to apply for tickets by each branch. There are many other benefits and event support is one. One thing that as a supporter travelling from nation to nation, or town to village in the UK, means that knowing where your nearest OSC is, you can say hello. So, if you’re in Addis Ababa or Newton Heath, you’ll not be far from one. When I first moved to Dongguan my closest branch was Hong Kong Blues. I met up with that lovely branch until Shenzhen Blues became mainland China’s first branch. From then, I have met so many mainland fans and expats here on work, or just visiting and that is exactly what an OSC should be for: to bring people together.

The Premier League Asia Trophy featured in Nanjing and Shanghai and we’re not really here… we never thought we’d see this many blue shirts or this level of enthusiasm overseas. To continue this writing, I will explain why fans of English clubs overseas are fantastic – and not just plastic unlike the Leeds fan who shouted, “Our fans are from Leeds, your fans are Chinese” at someone not even born in Asia… in Perth this week. Man Utd’s 4-0 win over their bitter Pennine rivals shouldn’t have come into his thinking. Anyone the video us out there.

To be continued.

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

Farting Fair Play & Harry Hole

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


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CHAMPIONS – AGAIN (& Financial fair play)

This season has seen one of the tightest title competitions ever. I won’t write too much. I won’t laugh at Liverpool F.C. Whilst some of their fans irk me, I respect their club set-up. They abolished their connection to a bottled water supplier with alleged possible and dubious human right connections. They paid off huge debts during their takeover with no fuss from the media. Their recruitment has been wise and fitting in recent years. Not since Andy Carroll, have they had a dud player. City were regular buyers of the over-priced until recent years. The prejudism towards City’s new money and new ability to compete may have been reported by Liverpool F.C. stakeholder New York Times (NYT) all too often, but this is life. Just like the Manchester Guardian, the NYT was set up to voice opinion and create conversation, whilst seeking truths. And in true form, Manchester City responded directly with a statement. Unlike the official website of the football club, the newspaper cites sources without revealing the sources. Essentially the same as most postings of crap on Twitter. The papers ambitions of adding to over 127 Pulitzer Prizes is based on speculation – not bias.

Anyway enough about that, Liverpool F.C. have assembled a fantastic squad with their lovely Warrior kits (owned by New Balance, a Saudi Royal family investment).

The current reported UEFA investigation may be into the past, or present. Either way it doesn’t make too much sense in terms of fair play. Some clubs and national FAs have been funded by Bosch, Mercedes, Deutsche Bank and VW. How can they claim the high ground? Although some have battled bitter history and have defeated enemies time and time again.

Top versus Runners-Up Trophy winners on the money front makes me laugh. The numbers across the board are huge – and the money is as transparent as mud. Throw in them lot over the Manchester border for comparison too. Footballs backer will always have grey and possibly rainbow-shaded areas with colour coded charts of uncertainty. Who are we to judge the rights and wrongs of a sport that creates social evils, media unjust and headlines? It’s entertainment like every other industry of ‘things people watch to escape real life’. Surely, through talking an debating we’ll realise that at the end of the day, you can buy more players, buy more seats, buy more everything to get that margin of fine gains that has been in every sport since the dawn of time. The clean as a whistle UEFA and FIFA know how it goes. They must be careful not to bite the hand that feeds them. Instead of banning, or retrospective action, tidy the bloody rules up and make things more transparent. Then, us, the hard-working paying masses can get on and enjoy the bloody game every Saturday afternoon, I mean, whenever TV dictates.

State-aided funding of airlines etc, could be a weird one. How many sponsorship companies have been bailed out by governments? How many have acted as official agents of governments and done a spot of dirty work? The US Open Skies case had Etihad, Qatar-Airways and Emirates show that they were not state-aided. Also, City have previously shown evidence on paper that their Etihad sponsorship of City was directly funded by the Abu Dhabi Executive Council. So, why didn’t UEFA act?


Manchester City
Kit supplier:
Nike, UK£72 million (US$108 million) signed 2013, expires 2019 [£12 million a season] speculation that these numbers may be fabricated
Main sponsor: Etihad Airways, UK£400 million (US$652 million) signed 2011, expires 2021 [£40 million a season] speculation that these numbers may be fabricated
Sleeve sponsor: Nexen Tire, UK£10 million (US$12.9 million) per season, length unreported [£10 million a season] speculation that these numbers may be fabricated
Deals since 2017/18: Turtle Beach, Xylem, PAK Lighting, Marathonbet, AvaTrade, SeatGeek, Nexon, Tinder [loose morales?], Barclays [questionable], Amazon [bye, bye local traders], Gatorade, Khmer Beverages , Mundipharma, Rexona [sure?] and a whole host more. speculation that these numbers may be fabricated


Liverpool F.C.
Kit supplier
: New Balance (Trump supporter and owned by club owner John Henry’s close friend], UK£300 million (US$390 million), signed 2012, expires 2019 [£42.8 million a season* *once a record figure holder in 2012/13]
Main sponsor: Standard Chartered, UK£160 million (US$236.1 million), renewal signed 2018, expires 2023 [£32 million a season]
Sleeve sponsor: Western Union, UK£25 million (US$32.1 million), signed 2017, expires 2022 [£5 million a season]
Major deals since 2017/18: Standard Chartered [squeaky clean with no state backing in the middle east at all and certainly no cartel money in any accounts], Wireless Infrastructure Group, Petro-Canada Lubricants,
Tibet Water (Chinese-owned) actually ended.


Manchester Utd.
Kit supplier: Adidas, UK £750 million (US$$1.3 billion), signed 2016, expires 2026 [£75 million a season]
Main sponsor: General Motors, UK£371 million (US$559 million), signed 2012, expires 2021 [£41 million a season]
Sleeve sponsor: Kohler, UK£20 million (US$27.5 million) per season, length unreported [£20 million a season]
Major deals since start of 2017/18: Chivas, MoPlay, Melitta, Kohler, Belgium FA [an actual country’s association], MLILY, PingAn Bank, Cho-A Pharm, Science in Sport, General Sports Authority of Saudi Arabi


 

Fair Play.

And if you want to see fairness, then compare the other 17 Premier League clubs, the multitude of top level European clubs and see where we’re at. Is better marketing allowed too?

Then compare full gates, trophies since the Premier League’s inception, a twenty year sponsorship portfolio, global shirts sales, domestic TV coverage and overseas coverage, global marketing, ambition to grow the foreign market, invitations to high-value friendly competitions, added TV sales etc, pioneering eSports etc, TV documentaries… domestic and overseas investment potential.

Another thing is how do these sponsorship deals come about, bidding, tendering, slipping your mate at a good brand some plum deal and probably a spot of tax evasion.

Think about where that club invests, how their profits are used and whether they have passed the FA’s due diligence test of new club owners. Perhaps, UEFA could up the ante and set higher standards. FIFA could be involved too. It might affect them. Fit and proper ownership could then be extended to all sponsorship deals – with clubs declaring their fully visible statements to a neutral panel, or one that accounts for UEFA member associations. Tome to end the witch hunts and go on about setting a model example. Because every piece of crap that enters a paper, with “a source said this” and “an un-named official said that” ruins certain fans and gives them a weak and annoying response. Where we you when we were s4!t?

Also, how do fans of Liverpool or ManUre view FFP and how do their club frameworks see the knock on effect? Live every news article, we can all find a source here and there, but it doesn’t mean much.

“Sorry John,yes you want to make money,and want us to be an attractive catch for when the people you are slating at citeh and Chavski comes a knocking to buy your investment from you….or would you decline such offers because your such a staunch supporter of FFP?”

And, to read further Colin Savage (Prestwich OSC) at Bolts From The Blue has it spot on. It is my understanding that right now, one board, kind of preparation court has to prepare a case with recommendations. It must have solid evidence. There is also the fact that the financial fair play cases being pushed by Belgian lawyer Jean-Louis Dupont has yet to be concluded. UEFA’s slippery net is at full risk of crashing and burning. The E.U. and Belgian courts may kick it over to a court in Switzerland. Would you trust a place that hoarded gold from dubious piles of ruins arund the late 1940’s. Oh, and they only let women race and vote as late as the ’70’s. Look up the Swiss Verdingkinder and you’ll probably understand that fairness is far from a national trait. Switzerland is ranked one of the top 5 nations to export weaponry. Now look up how few factories they have capable of such a thing, and how few soldiers that they have. Don’t count the noble Swiss Army Knife. Saudi Arabia and the Ukrainian armed forces are up as much to benefit from Switzerland as UEFA is. The battle for fair play could equally take place in another nation.

If a case ever gets presented, who will it affect? The fans. Of course, the fans that nobody cares less about these days. The agents will still find ways to make money. The clubs will lose some trade and opportunity. The clubs and their hostories may be tainted. Juventus came out of their demotion smelling of rose. Ronaldo’s rape allegations weren’t treated seriously. Wayne Rooney was destroyed by papers following an affair, or visit to an elder lady of the night. The Heysel disaster saw 14 Liverpool F.C. fans convicted of manslaughter, and many more labeled as thugs. It tainted UEFA’s history in international competitions and promptly banned English clubs for five years (six years for Liverpool F.C.). Around 39 people died that day. UEFA, the Belgian police force and Liverpool F.C. continued on.

UEFA and any external independent legal team will have to consider the impact and consequences of any punishment. Just like disasters and the investigations that follow them, this will drag on. It will ruin football for the fans. It will be bitter and painful, but at least no lives have been lost – and no ruthlessly banded phrases used. Even of that club’s fans chuck potential death-causing smoke bombs at an enclosed coach full of people, or other such facial damaging glass bottles.


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You’ll never walk alone.

I disagree with any fans using the “always a victim” tagline when referring to Liverpool F.C. It is dishonest and stupid to say so. The Hillsborough disaster was a low point in football history. 96 people died. Justice has yet to be found, despite 30 years of court actions. Just like the Bradford City stadium fire that claimed 56 people, these were disasters brought about by those above and those in control of stadia and their management. It is too easy to blame fans. It is tasteless to associate the death of many in this way. I urge anyone crying the words “always a victim” to play the shocking videos on YouTube on to reach their inner humanity. Don’t be a knobhead.


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What is fair market value?

Surely, if you restrict Forest Green Rovers from buying multiple players and building a 60,000 seater stadium to allow them to grow and one day compete with the Premier League clubs, then you restrict the evolution of football. Where are the original football league clubs now? Are they all equal? Can new clubs like M.K. Dons form? Isn’t it more important to back ambition and make clubs more self-sufficient. If a club can develop a pool of 200 players in a decade, it is unlikely they will all make it. They need places to go. Partnerships and deals need to be done. Just like marketing. Sheikh Mansour and Etihad are unrelated yet it would be foolish to think the two don’t have indirect influence over one or the other. If I was Queen Elizabeth II and I owned Reading F.C., whilst I owned Weetabix, but did not manage or influence them, I’d be pleased if Weetabix wanted to sponsor my Reading F.C. club. In City’s case UEFA have already accepted fair market value for all the sponsorship by Etihad but Aabar and Etisalat remain under question.

Don’t panic. Don’t worry. As Colin Savage mentions:

“It also could be that a journalist has completely misrepresented and sensationalised what they’ve been told. That wouldn’t be the first time that has happened.”

07 AUG 2004 CITY 3 LAZIO 1 (10)

Record Matched & Unbroken

A record could have been broken recently – for the least goals scored at home. I didn’t want our record to go. 2006/07 was a bleak season but a necessary one. It produced an end of season highlights video devoid of content. Simple boredom. I remember a few good memories that season. We got to the 1/4 finals of the FA Cup and that felt pretty good at the time. We stuffed Fulham 3-1 that season, and beat Arsenal at home too. Vassell’s derby day pen was annoying. How Ball managed to stay on the field that game was beyond me. To get to May without a home league goal since New Year’s Day was underwhelming. Vassell, Samaras, Corradi, Mills, Dabo, Hamann, Ball and Thatcher were never going to produce great football. Dickov, Miller and Reyna failed to score, surprisingly but that squad had no creativity at all. Even Mark Hughes backed Pearce after the FA Cup exit.

Hudderfield Town had the chance to set a record for the lowest goals scored at home in the season. They failed. By scoring a goal through Mbenza against Ole’s Man Utd, they simply matched the 2006/07 season of Stuart Pearce’s Manchester City.

The pre-season transfer market was dull. Joe Hart would go on to be a fine signing though. Nobody came in of great note. We loaned and sold many for brass buttons and a Gregg’s pasty of two. Reebok churned out a crap set of kits. Off the field John Wardle and co were obviousy working hard but City were about as exciting as winning the Thomas Cook Trophy (which we lost that season to Porto).


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Jo Nesbo

‘I’m a stranger here, I’m a stranger everywhere’, sang Jarvis Cocker on his ballad I’m a stranger. Well, the words of that song reminded me of my most recent book in hand. The 11th novel that I have read so far, by Jo Nesbo has been gripping. It is called Police. The central character is Harry Hole. He is flawed, gritty and as far from perfect as can be. Fate has dealt him some shitty card hands. Jo Nesbø’s stories have featured in two movies, the standalone tale of Headhunters and Harry Hole’s serial killer epic The Snowman. Michael Fassbender portrayed the tall blonde in movie form, despite not being blonde. His sister suffers from a ‘mild dose of down’s syndrome’ – and every aspect of the character play is multi-layered and deep. There is black humour galore and some depth to the stories, in factual basis and an imagination, that didn’t do bad after the author left a career playing football for Molde FK. Anyway, the first book I lifted up was Headhunters, when I was staying at my Aunty Christine’s house. Then, I started with Harry Hole in The Redbreast. Since then I read the books in order, with the exception of The Bat & Cockroaches (which I picked up in Kathmandu at the poorly named United Book Shop in Thamel). Michael Connelly first published a novel in 1992, aged 36. His character Harry Bosch influenced Harry Hole, written by Jo Nesbo, and released by the then 37-year-old Nebo in 1997. Michael Crichton published a novel under the name John Lange by the age of 23. Roadl Dahl had released a book before his thirties too. He would be 45 before his well-known titles reached the bookshops. Obviousy not science but the thirties is a good time to release a book. The greats vary in age at their main publications, so I am not worried. Inspiration can be found everywhere. Fleming was 45 and he dodn’t do too bad.


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A peak too far.

Yínpíngshan and the park around it [东莞银瓶山森林公园] mark Dongguan’s highest point. It is in the eastern township of Xiegang. The mountain peak is shy of the Welsh 3000s (914.4 m) by a little way (18m, or 59 feet). The hill is sometimes referred to as Yinpingzui, just to confuse those looking for it. It is a city boundary from Huizhou’s Baiyunzhang – or under 5km from one another. The name Yínpíngshan translates to silver bottle mountain, because it kind of has a summit that has a vase or bottle-like funnel on top.

On this journey the top was immersed in clouds. The forecasted storm didn’t arrive but walking through cloud a drizzle ensured all at the summit were drenched. On the walk up peaks and summits all around the region dipped in and out of clouds, like Gods and Goddesses surveying their mortals below. An evergreen band coated the mountains with rare breaks accommodating streams and patches of open rocks. Beyond that trees covered all.

The summit of Yínpíngshan is bare and exposed. A cliff face on one side and on another a concrete pathway much like the Hilary Step on Everest, but far lower down in altitude and much more travelled. I can’t imagine the drink and snack sellers climbing so high to sell their double-priced goods. The granite looking rocks to each side of the enclosed pathway jutted out like generals on a battlefield.

On the descent we encountered a waterfall, and some dipped their feet in the rockpools beneath. What the fish in the pool made of it, I’ll not know. I’m told ancient species of Rhodoleia championii [Hong Kong Rose] and the fern brainea insignis.

To get there, there are buses from ZhangMuTou town (2&5 to XieGang Square, then 4 to NanMian village); or a a train to YinPing station; or as we opted a Didi car journey from Changping. Here! Dongguan magazine laid on a coach from Dongcheng that day too.

Going from 180m up to a height of 896m shouldn’t have troubled me. The elevation gains total around 796m and the 11.18km distance are not things that should trouble me. They did. The aches and pains of a healing foot and ankle injury and there to be seen. Battling humidity and my own discomfort were things that I expected. Almost every walk of a few kilometres these last two weeks has been uncomfortable. My flatfooted feet can be hellishly awkward at times. Living in China, where most things are made, doesn’t mean I have access to orthopaedic supports or footwear suitable for recovery. I donned my walking boots, last worn in Nepal. They fitted like an Aston Martin in a James Bond movie. As I placed them on, I even had the famous James Bond single hornpiece playing in my head.


 

“Got it.”

“Got it.” That seems to be a standard emotionless reply to many things. Whereas, in the U.K., I’d expect to hear thank you, ta, or wilco (will comply), in China it is usually just “okay”, or, “got it.” I don’t know why ot bothers me. Perhaps it is because it is a non-commital form of later or an evasive response at the best of times. If I had a finger for everytime somebody used “got it” after I put the effort in, and then later found they’d “got it” but clearly done naff all with it, I would have too many fingers to play the entire global supplies of finger-based musical instruments.


 

The world is full of bullshit.

The holidays have passed, and many “got it” messages have been received. Part of me wanted to reply, I’ve “got it” too.  For four days of the holiday, I did somewhere between nothing and miniscule activity levels. My infinitesimal adventures made Ant-Man and co look impossibly large. I did sweet F.A. because I wanted to rest my ankle and joints. The diminutive break involved watching Avengers Endgame and regretting doing so. It was okay. Just okay. A bit long. Binge-watching Who Is America with Sacha Baron-Cohen was a pleasure. Two episodes of Game of Thrones and some walking locally wrapped up an otherwise eventfree escape from work. Some planning for summer, some editing of photos, and some writing filled in the gaps. I did some paperwork too. The kind of things that are semi-important and without a deadline so that you procrastinate over them time and time again. Why complete tomorrow’s work today if it can wait until the next day? What didn’t happen yesterday, doesn’t necessarily need to be completed tomorrow either. These are the unavoidably essential and ineludibly methods used by U.S.A. with regards to climate change. The U.S.’s approach is actually too certain to be a British government model of applocation. Anyway Bond 25 was launched. No title, no plot, no song, no commitment. Proof that Brexit uncertainty and gloom is exiting and entering all walks of life. Trump would say fake news, but he does/does not buy into WikiLeaks and all that. He never used it on his campaign trail, so he would surely not now of it afterwards.


 

How does one measure a fart?

Do we measure the volume of obnoxious gas produced? Do we check its density? How long does a fart last? Do we measure it metres, yards or time? How smelly was it? Is there a scale like the Scolville scale for chilli peppers? Do we measure the volume of sound? How much pressure was released? How far does the fart blanket over a surface area? Is the fart warmer than previous farts? How fast does it rise upwards? Is there any coloration to the gas?

All the right questions concerning Brexit and Trump are to be found in the previous content of course.


 

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