ALL CHANGE.

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

August 2020 has seen a few new components to my life. A new apartment. A new place of work. A new kettle. A new model bridge in the balcony garden. And finally, like Star Wars, a new hope. Moving from Changping to Songshan Lake and Dàlǐngshān (大岭山) was relatively straight forwards.

The new apartment sits over the line of the township borders. I live in Dàlǐngshān but I work in Sōngshānhú district (piànqū / 松山湖片区). Dàlǐngshān Zhèn (大岭山镇) is part of Sōngshānhú but these days Sōngshānhú is a very high-tech centre within the 6 townships that surround Sōngshān lake itself. Shilong (石龙), Chashan (茶山), and Shipai (石排) aren’t really that close to the lake area but they’re part of the district. The lake area is mainly surrounded by Dàlǐngshān, Dàlǎng (大朗) and Liáobù (寮步). Sōngshānhú as a town has grown from 2003, from a simple high-tech park to the mammoth green living space around the lake that is now. Huawei and many other tech giants are here. It has a railway station on The Dongguan West to Huizhou railway and will soon join the subway with three stations in Dàlǐngshān on the line 1 route (东莞轨道交通1号线/Dōngguǎn Guǐdào Jiāotōng Yī Hào Xiàn), and one at Sōngshānhú itself. The new line opens in 2022, so I won’t get too excited right now. The subway Line 3 will also have 4 stations in Sōngshānhú but that hasn’t began construction.

The new job has been welcoming, well-paced and full of encouragement. I am confident that this is a new start with great potential. Two former students are following me from grade 3 at St Lorraine Anglo-Chinese School to the new Tungwah Wenzel International School (TWIS). I’m sure that they will enjoy their grade 4 class – and I will have to work hard as their Home Room Teacher to ensure that they do. Between various conference calls, meetings and introductions there has been good coffee and ample time to down tools to think of a plan of action. I am terribly excited about the coming semester. Even amongst these COVID-19 times there is a lighthouse and beacon when we look in the right places.

Dàlǐngshān town isn’t far away, and in the relatively short time since I first went to Dàlǐngshān, the place has grown and has modern districts, several branches of Lauren’s Pizza and even a Walmart. There are universities and amongst the Guangdong Medical University is just over the road from me and DG University of Technology (东莞理工学院) isn’t far off. The lake has one large section that is completely free of cycles and cars. There is a parallel cycle route below a highway and under a cooling tree canopy. Cycling around the rest of the lake is a must. It is a great spot for tourism with backdrops of Huawei’s impressive European-style town and numerous picturesque places along the way. Lotus leaves, lush green sprawls, flowers and bird call should be abundant. Around the many tranquil pathways, you can see Tai Chi, yoga, dates holding hands and families flying kites. I can’t wait to hang up my hammock sooner or later.

“I feel invigorated.” – Those were my words spoken to a new colleague on Friday. The evening was finished with a leaving day drink for Calum from Murray’s F.C. He’s only moving to Shenzhen but felt the need to arrange a leaving meal and drinks. I didn’t attend the meal as all new team members of Tungwah Wenzel International School were treated to a splendid buffet meal at the stylish Dongcheng International Hotel (owned by Tungwah/Donghua group). Even the coach journey was on a Tungwah group coach. They own factories, gardens, estates, hospitals and schools. They’re a sizable group and well-known in this region. Between the blooming peach and plum trees of Dongguan, the group’s assets aren’t far off. The ministry of optimism within my head is thankful for such a great opportunity. My only regret is not buying a crane from the car park exhibition at the Dongcheng International Hotel. Dahan Construction Machinery have some great pieces, ideal for placing hammocks within.

There are plenty of places within a short cycle ride now. Tongsha lake and the parks around it are just a stone’s throw away. Dalingshan Park is between here and Houjie. I’ve already cycled back to Irene’s Bar for a sandwich. There’s much to see and do in the area that I have yet to explore. On my doorstep, I will find the Tongji Bridge (通济桥 Song Dynasty, 920-1279) and cross that bridge soon. It will help me forget my worries. That’s the literal meaning, I believe.

“Quite apart from its meaty content, we believe we have found a real dramatist” – Gerry Raffles of Theatre Workshop speaking about Shelagh Delaney’s play A Taste of Honey.

Every story should have a beginning, an end, and some middle parts. There should be a plot, a setting with characters, some form of conflict (because something must happen), and a resolution (the smooth end). Some books carry the resolution or conflict over a series. That is life. Some things drag on. Others happen and fade away. There is no one-size-fits-all story to life. There will le a logical following and flow to a story because they must run smoothly to allow the follower to tag along. British dramatist and screenwriter Shelagh Delaney (who featured on album cover Louder Than Bombs, by The Smiths) intended A Taste of Honey to be a novel. It is a very famous play now. The drunken working-class single mum of Helen, and a daughter called Jo have spread from the monotonous 1958 skyline of a desolate Salford to London’s West End, Broadway, BBC Radio 3 and the Royal Exchange Theatre amongst other places. Peter, the wealthy southern lover of Jo’s mother Helen and a black sailor called Jimmy feature alongside a camp art student called Geoffrey. It is a complex and heavily questioning piece of drama. Class, gender, sexuality, and race are dissected which for mid-twentieth-century Britain was highly risky. The stars have followed the play with Stockport’s Sally Lindsay, a cluster of soap TV stars and Dr Who extras, Joan Ann Olivier, Baroness Olivier, DBE (born 28th October 1929) and notably Dame Angela Brigid Lansbury DBE joining the productions. A certain Billy Dee Williams (Lando Calrissian) has also featured on the stage for this production. From Salford to Home and Away to a Galaxy far, far away…

But, right here, right now my story at Dongguan’s Tungwah Wenzel International School has just began.

The Mancunian Way, Dongguan

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

“I feel so extraordinary; Something’s got a hold on me; I get this feeling I’m in motion; A sudden sense of liberty.” – New Order’s song True Faith.

I’m patriotic towards the U.K. in a way. I sing praise and fly the flag for great people, wonderful history and fantastic places. I know that the story of the U.K.’s history has often been brutal, cruel and deserves little love. Even within the 21st century the U.K., as it moves away from a colonial and European past, and becomes less connected, yet more dependent on overseas trading and manufacture is and always will be a wonderful country. It’s my home. I was born in Manchester, England. I don’t call myself English. I’m British, when I choose to be. I’m Mancunian always. I have Celtic blood in me from my Irish and Welsh great grandparents. My roots are clear and free. But this tree doesn’t cling to the past and history. This tree wants to expand and be watered by different skies. For me tradition and culture are important but understanding and freedom to choose your own pathway are far more intrinsic to living. This tree is currently sat on its arse in Changping, Dongguan. Today’s and yesterday’s rugby and football have been washed out by Dragon Boat rains. I have some free time.


Today, I want to show a gallery and write a little about the culture of Dongguan and China. I’ve been here for the vast majority of the 2308 days now (11th February 2014). I believe many great days have passed and many more will follow. That’s why I am right here, right now. I arrived and didn’t feel too much way of culture shock. Around me a reasonably established cultured expat community threaded amongst the fabric of the local workforces and people of Guangdong.

“Because we need each other; We believe in one another; And I know we’re going to uncover; What’s sleepin’ in our soul” – Acquiesce by Oasis.

Since, I arrived I have seen Dongguan grow and grow. It is now classed as a Megacity. It seemingly will never stop growing. There are skyscrapers and apartment blocks skimming the sky in every single district of Dongguan. Whereas in 2014, I’d notice dozens of these mammoth constructions and many more sprouting buildings, now I am seeing hundreds and hundreds of established communities and hubs here, there and everywhere. I used to consider Nancheng and Dongcheng as the central axis of Dongguan. Now the townships of Chang’an (home of Oppo), Changping and the ever-growing former fields of Songshan Lake (home of Huawei), and the sprawls of Liaobu town could easily be seen as central areas. The arrival of the Huizhou to now West Dongguan Railway Station (soon to be Guangzhou East) or 莞惠城际轨道交通  /莞惠线 Guanhui intercity railway has added to rapid growth. As it joins the short-named Pearl River Delta Metropolitan Region Intercity Railway System (珠江三角洲地区城际轨道交通). That’s more than 65 railway stations in close proximity to Dongguan. Like all of the Pearl River Delta, this city is growing fast – and going places.

 

When not hopping on 200 km/h (124 mph) railway systems, I have ample opportunity to meet great people. Dongguan‘s community is largely migrant with people coming from all over China and the world beyond. International jet-setters with lives here, include Serbians, Kiwis, and even Scousers. They can be found in some of the office places, factories, bars and restaurants throughout the city. Playing football with Brazilians or Russians, or cycling with Dongbei people is possible or a spot of chess at Murray’s Irish Pub with Ukranian opposition. Anything goes here. Drinking homebrew at Liberty Brewing Company (曼哈顿餐吧) in Dongcheng after playing tag rugby with Tongans, South Africans, Germans and Malaysians makes me realise how lucky I am. This is a city that is tidying up and beautifying itself at an alarming rate.

Throughout the 6.5 years of life in and around Dongguan, I’ve slipped up and down ginnels, seeking out the new and old. There have been trips to pizza joints in obscure areas, Dragon Boat races watched, Cosplay events attended and English competitions observed. Dongguan, like Manchester, has a heartbeat that shows anything is possible and if it isn’t here, you make it. You can make something new, or your bring something to the party. You can sit and complain about people taking your photo or saying, “wàiguórén” (foreigner/外国人) or you can show the people around you, your worth.

This week I was asked by the Dongguan Foreign Bureau to teach them. Sadly, I cannot fit their demands into my day. I’ve bene lucky to narrate advertisements, wear watches for model shoots, test-drive new bicycles and play with new robotics before they reached their target audience or global factory floors. Daily life has been far from mundane here with oddities and pleasures as varied as can be. What’s around the next corner? Well, visas are quicker and easier to get, despite more rules and demands. It seems far quicker than when I first arrived. Sometimes, I doubt that I have done everything right, yet it seems clear and simple. Just a checklist. This week I received my medical report back. Now, I need just a few other items for the 2020/21 visa… That’s progress.

Bridges have been made and links that could prove lifelong. The west and east have collided in bizarre ways often forming a touch of the unique. There has been colour, rainbows and diversity amongst the traditional and the common. There have been flashes of light and inspiration. There have been days when solitude has been sought and there will be more, no doubt, but one thing I find, and have found throughout my time here, people are just that. Just simple down to earth, regular people going about their days, looking for peace and good opportunities to survive or better themselves. There are more cars and less bicycles, which shows that some people’s bank accounts and credit-ratings have improved. Quality of life needs balance, and with that the subway/underground system of Dongguan is projected to change from one line to seven lines.

Words can say how thankful I am for my time here. I am enjoying life in different ways to others, and being who I want to be, when I want to be. I’m selfish or I’m sharing. I’m open or I am closed. I read or I watch. I write or I dictate. There are times to slip unseen, and times to lead an audience. It is good for the mind to be bored or alone. I truly believe that’s where creativity lies. It sits there waiting to be tapped and delivered to paper, computers or other outputs. I can wander from craft beer breweries to model car clubs to fusion and western food restaurants with ease and all of the time remain connected to modern and old China.

There is plenty of ugly in Dongguan, just like the rest of the world. To quote the 18th century French phrase, “ne saurait faire d’omelette sans casser des œufs“:  You can’t make an omelette without breaking eggs. Humans must learn from the stains and damage we have caused to our planet globally, whether disease or pollution. We can’t give in. Our cultures, our pride and our people need to fight on and find solutions. Just as #BlackLivesMatter, all lives matter – whether human or worm or bug or panda. Life must find a way. Dongguan is radically changing its energy consumptions, factory practices and the way its environment is being respected. This is good for all. Maybe, I should really put my words into action and finish studying towards the HSK (汉语水平考试 Hànyǔ Shuǐpíng Kǎoshì) course for the Chinese Proficiency Test.

 

Dongguan has gone from a place with a handful of limited cinemas, to those with the IMAX, vibrating seats, private screens and many of the latest releases from the west. KTV bars make way for baseball batting cages, ten-pin bowling, archery cafes and all the latest crazes. The great thing is that with Wechat (born 2011), Alipay etc, you can leave your wallet behind and pay swiftly with ease using these simple electronic methods. Gone are the days of using equations and haggling to get a taxi a short distance. Piles of services are available via your phone, including electrical bills, water bills and Didi (driver and carshare service) is one such saving grace.

During these COVID-19 pandemic times, your phone provides your health code, advice in travel, guidance on health services and help. Dongguan’s local services for healthcare, private insurance and banking are on your fingertips, rather than a a few hours out of work. Life can be as fast or as slow as you wish. In 2010, Dongguan was named a National Model City for Environmental Protection and greenways, green belts and other greenery followed. There are hundreds of parks now, over 1200… it is easier than ever to stay healthy.

There is culture around us, old temples, modern pagodas, relics of time and shells of history. Dongguan’s landmarks are a tad tough to visit now. The Cwa humid subtropical climate here is far above the reported average annual temperature of 22.7 °C (72.9 °F). The rainfall is typical of the land below the Tropic of Cancer now. It is raining cats, dogs and occasionally elephants. Wellingtons and umbrellas are common sights these days, rather than the Dongguan Yulan Theatre, GuanYinShan (Budda mountain), Hǎizhàn bówùguǎn (海战博物馆 Opium War Museum) or Jin’aozhou Pagoda. Even a trip to my local coffee shop, Her Coffee, is like a swim in a river. It is blooming wet lately. As a Mancunian, I feel at home.

I’m here for education – to both teach and to learn. This city has hundreds of educational institutions, even Cumbria’s St. Bees are opening a school here. I’ve heard there are around 550 primary schools, 480 kindergartens and several universities now. To bump into a teacher amongst the 21,000 plus teachers is not unusual. Although it seems every second teacher works for one of the many Eaton House schools here. I’ve heard Tungwah Wenzel International School (TWIS) in Songshan Lake is one school to really watch. Like its neighbouring Huawei school, it is massive with around 1,000,000 square metres of surface area. I’ve seen the modern sports gyms, performance space and technology labs. It uses the latest gadgets and networking. It really is 21st century over there at Songshan Lake. Although Huawei have a German-style train-tram zipping around, piping back to older days. Dongguan University of Technology(DGUT; 东莞理工学院) is one of universities in the area meaning that you can educate beyond your teenage years here. It really is a place to learn. Watch out Oxford and Cambridge! Maybe that’s why Trump is always bad-mouthing China’s growth?

From eating chicken anus, to two weeks of quarantine in XiHu Hotel, Dongguan has given me more time to turn the contents of my head to words. Now that I am ready to publish a novel, I need a publisher, but how to do this during a pandemic? I haven’t a clue, but I know one thing, the challenge will be tough and worth it. Nobody ever climbed a mountain to sit at the top and look down without seeing another mountain, right? At the end of the day, the sun sets only to rise again. Dongguan faced lockdown impeccably and other challenges, just as the world did and does. Chin up, keep going and let’s crack on.

Last night, I ate Korean barbecue with great people to celebrate a treble-birthday, followed by proof that I am terrible at ten-pin bowling and awoke today feeling optimistic. The world is often reported to be going through a pandemic-sized recession. As the world sailed a wave in 2008 and Dongguan grew from that recession, I will everyone to go on. Manufacture a bucket of optimism. Just like the strings of New Dawn Fades by Joy Division, there is darkness but remember these famous lines: It was me, waiting for me; Hoping for something more; Me, seeing me this time; Hoping for something else. In 2008, low-tech industry switched to the high-tech. Boomtime arrived. Chances are that one in five phones around the globe were made in Dongguan. Is your phone Vivo, Oppo, Honor or Huawei? It was probably made down the road from me. So, Dongguan is closer than you think.


Manchester isn’t any place I will visiting in person for some time, so it has to come to me via playbacks of Oasis gigs at Maine Road and the written word. Over the next few months, I plan to read the following Mancunian-connected books:

Hell is a City – Maurice Proctor; The Manchester ManIsabella Varley Banks; Passing Time – Michel Butor; Magnolia Street – Louis Golding; Fame is the Spur – Howard Spring; Lord Horror – David Britton; The Emigrants – WG Sebald; Cold Water – Gwendolyne Riley; The Mighty Walzer Howard Jacobson; Manchester Slingback – Nicolas Blincoe; Vurt – Jeff Noon; A Man’s Game: The Origins of Manchester City Football ClubAndrew Keenan; Mary Barton – Elizabeth Gaskell; Cranford – Elizabeth Gaskell; North and South – Elizabeth Gaskell.

“I was thinking about what you said; I was thinking about shame; The funny thing how you said; Cause it’s better not to stay” – The Last Broadcast – Doves

Kippax, Red Devils & Dreams

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

The day before I was born (27th October 1982), Manchester City beat Wigan Athletic through two Paul Power goals. Three days later they beat Swansea City by two goals to one at Maine Road in the football league. Denis Tueart scored the first whilst Asa Hartford scored what would be the winning goal. Fast forward some years to 2020, to Dongguan city, China, during the sleepy stuffy hours of May the 4th… and a kind of nightmare.

I’ve been to many football games and the majority have been at Maine Road, The Etihad Stadium and one at Manchester City’s other home ground of the 21st century (Oakwell, Barnsley). There have been some great memories over the years but today I awoke from a surreal nightmare and felt I was back in 1996, really annoyed by City’s loss to Barnsley. The dream I recall, was an odd one. I was walking into the lower tier of the almost-new Kippax stand. Up some steps and into the beautiful atrium of the ground. The bright greens of the field, the darker Kippax blues and the sky blues of the stands, with much cheer and optimism. Alan Ball had been fired not long before and club legend Asa Hartford added Scottish steel to the rocky City’s manager hotseat.

barnsley home 1996 to 97 progI remember the game well for an exciting 21-year-old called Jeff Whitley stepped onto the field for his debut. “Officer” Dibble returned to goal in a game that saw my favourite player Uwe Rösler wasteful. Steve Lomas had put a chance on a plate for him, but I guess the advancing Barnsley goalkeeper had done his maths well in advance. City fell a goal behind due to some calamitous defending but restored the game through a Steve Lomas cross turned in by Nigel Clough (son of Brian). Bald left-back defender Frontzeck hugged the hell out of Clough as he pushed him away. Later on, young debutant Jeff Whitley gifted Barnsley the winning goal opportunity and Trinidad & Tobago striker Marcelle now had two goals. It was a mistake. We all make them. I’m certain Jeff Whitley came back a better player because of that moment.

I can recall rolling up my matchday programme and heading to The Clarence pub with my Dad, struggling to keep up with his pace and half-understanding his anger at the City team. I was a spotty thirteen-year-old kid with curly hair and no appeal to the opposite gender. Different times, different hair. The Kippax had been bouncing with atmosphere but at times it had been so quiet, silenced by the visiting team and their strength over a disjointed City squad. From my dream I had all that, and the Manchester United fans laughing at me in school the week after. Even the Stockport County fans in Reddish Vale School enjoyed a laugh at my expense. I don’t recall Clewsy the lone Blackpool fan having a dig at me though.

“City, well, quite simply in a state of turmoil.” – host Elton Welsby, Granada Goal Extra, September 7th, 1996

The 1996/97 season was a drab affair. As it was Asa Hartford would step aside as caretaker manager for Steve Coppell and then Frank Clark. Uwe Rösler would bag 17 goals that season and take the club’s golden boot. City would finish 14th and spend the following season wallowing in the Football League First Division once again as Barnsley gained promotion to the Premiership. Manchester City weren’t always that bad, sometimes they were worse, and sometimes not bad, and now they are amazing. Nor was the Kippax so quiet at times, despite the crap football.

Manchester City 1-2 Barnsley / Division One (New) / Saturday 07 September 1996. Attendance: 26464. CITY 1 Andy Dibble / 2 John Foster < 53’ Rae Ingram / 3 Michael Frontzeck < 75’ Gerry Creaney / 4  Steve Lomas / 5 Kit Symons / 6 Nigel Clough [Goal] / 7 Nicky Summerbee / 8 Jeff Whitley / 9 Paul Dickov < 75’ Martin Phillips / 10 Georgi Kinkladze / 11 Uwe Rosler  Barnsley Watson, Eadon, Appleby, Sheridan, Davis, de Zeeuw, Marcelle [GOALS 2], Redfearn, Wilkinson, Liddell, Thompson – subs Regis (81’), Bullock(unused), Bosancic (unused)

The new Kippax stand had been opened by club goalkeeping legend Bert Trautmann in October 1995. It would stand on the former ‘Popular side’ of the field opposite the Main Stand of Maine Road until 2003 when it faced demolition due to Manchester City’s relocation to the then City of Manchester Stadium. Back in 1956, the ‘Popular side’ became known as the ‘The Kippax’ at what many called ‘The Wembley of the North’. Money from the FA Cup final win (that same year), featuring Bert Trautmann, gave the ‘The Kippax’ a roof to shelter from the very Mancunian weather. This vocally active and huge terrace of noise was well-known in football for many, many years. Unlike other famous noisy football stands, this ran goal-end to goal-end, much like the players upon the pitch. The passionate Kippax stand gave name to the fanzine, King of the Kippax. The Kippax name came from Kippax Street behind the stand itself. Kippax though, is a parish village within Leeds and Yorkshire. It was called Chipesch back in Domesday Book of 1086 and later sometimes spelt as Kippeys, Kypask and Kypax. City’s stand could have been named after kippers. The word itself may relate to ash trees.

“One of my first memories was we played Twente in the UEFA Cup and when we scored, it was utter bedlam. Arms and legs going everywhere. I ‘d never experienced anything like it before.” – Sean Riley, Failsworth, Manchester Evening News

As kids we used to play football with tin cans, bottles (glass wasn’t unusual) and any other rags we could boot around. Think of the back of the old Kippax as a kind of nursery or kindergarten. Following standing areas being outlawed, so too were tin-can football stands. Instead new VIP areas and executive boxes found a home over areas once known for hide and seek and tiggy-it games. The new three-tier stand was full of seats and at one stage the highest football stand in England. Utd fans loved to sing about City being a massive team because of the highest floodlights in the land and then the highest stand.

“When we scored everyone would charge around but it felt like you always ended up back where you started. That’s how it felt to me anyway. Night games were just amazing. Those cup runs we had in the 70s, it was absolutely rocking. Unbelievable atmosphere.” – Brian Houghton, Droylsden, Manchester Evening News

As Manchester City moved to bigger things, the Kippax nickname carried over to the new stadium, with the East Stand sometimes being referred to as the Kippax. The familiar Kippax seat colours filled the now Etihad Stadium from day one of the 2002 Commonwealth Games. The old and new Kippax stands at Maine Road witnessed Rugby League Championship play-off finals, League Cup finals, Charity Shield games, David Bowie, Queen, Oasis, The Rolling Stones, and even religious meetings.

“It was just an assault on the senses. It was always packed, everyone was always pushing and shoving. Some people didn’t even bother going to the toilet, they just went where they stood. But it was the atmosphere that drew you there, it really was incredible, unlike anything we have now.” – Kevin Parker, secretary of City’s official supporters club, Manchester Evening News

City were always the main tenants at Maine Road but a certain Manchester United called Maine Road home from 1945–1949. Old Trafford having been bombed by the Germans (and possibly Uwe Rösler’s granddad if you believe the t-shirt) made Man Utd homeless. So, City being City offered the use of Maine Road. During the 1947/48 season, the Reds set a record of 81,962 at a Football League game, against Arsenal. Probably fair to say, in the post war years, many fans would have gone and watched their rivals and City fans would happily have watched anyone at their home ground.  And then in 1956–1957, the ‘Heathens’ soon to be known as ‘Red Devils’, came knocking and played three out of four European games at Maine Road. City had floodlights. United didn’t.

City’s Hyde Road, Maine Road and Etihad Stadium were or are all in Mancunian districts. Old Trafford, on the edge of Salford Docks, may have a Manchester postcode is in the Metropolitan Borough of Trafford. It isn’t in the City of Manchester or the City of Salford. However, Greater Manchester (formed 1st April 1974) mixed some of the ancient county boundaries of Lancashire, Cheshire, Derbyshire and even Yorkshire (Saddleworth way) to give Mancunian flavour and togetherness. Maine Road, like Old Trafford had remained a reasonably easy place to access and football was the draw for red or blue for many years. Geography used to be the biggest debate between City and Utd fans, before City were founded in 2008.

Heathen chemistry? Matt Busby had experienced City as a player and would go on to manage United over successful years. Apparently, he hated his team being called the ‘Busby Babes’ and wasn’t too keen on ‘Heathens’ so he stole Salford rugby’s nickname (which was given to them by the French press in 1934: ‘Les Diables Rouges’). Even though Barnsley F.C. are known as ‘The Tykes’ or ‘The Colliers’, but for me ‘The Reds’ of Yorshire will always be known as the ‘Red Devils’ because of that 1997/97 game – and a few bad nights’ sleep at 7 Days Inn in China (owned by current Barnsley F.C. Chairman Chien Lee).

“Buster will be the first British £10 million pound player.” – Alan Ball, as Manchester City manager after signing Martin Phillips

I blame last night’s dreams on Martin “Buster” Phillips. Why? Because yesterday, with Murray’s F.C. we had a 6-a-side tournament on a rooftop field, with only 18 players. As the games went on, they slowed down dramatically. The 32°C heat plus 100% humidity and direct sunlight didn’t help. During a break Alex from Spain and Lucho from Argentina were asking what we called someone who couldn’t score in front of an open goal. I said, “in Manchester, we call them Buster Phillips.” Sorry. Dream well.

Identify yourself.

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

Identity is a simple enough word. Defined as the fact of being who or what a person or thing is. It can also be used as a different noun to mean a close similarity or affinity. There are mathematical definitions, but I’ll leave that for someone else, and somewhere else. The words origin has evolved since early Latin to Late Latin and fits well within present day English. 

Late 16th century (in the sense ‘quality of being identical’): from late Latin identitas, from Latin idem ‘same’.

Identity is something that we all engage throughout life. We identify as being X, Y, or Z. Whilst those who study and compile dictionaries identify themselves as lexicographers, some of us who just love words, are more like word friends. Samuel Johnson Jr. was America’s first noted Lexographer. The former school teacher was around at the same time as a certain British lexicographer Dr. Samuel Johnson, yet they were not related. They were both teachers who shared a passion for words and have greatly influenced the modern landscape that we use. Two different Johnsons, each with versions of dictionaries that have lasted long into our times, in their effects and contents.

Social media sweeps over the internet now. Some would believe it to be positive, others like a rash. Some tribes embrace one platform such as Twitter, whilst others are wondering if MySpace is still around. With that we’re seeing more and more identity displays. Social groups can link together – or stand alone. These electronic identities can be seen, from outside, as dangerous, thrilling, friendly and/or useful. Personality can hide behind a mask or it can jump around, stamp its feet and make a song and dance. An age of electronic expression is sweeping from primary school kids with little phone-watches to adults with seemingly and endless amount of broadband allocation. Some revel in the labels of their electronic identity, whilst others find it disparaging and caustic.

Much is made of identity, whether it is gender identity, social identity or employment identity. Social castes, social levels and classes – they’re all going to influence you, right? Do you relate to those around you in a psychological level that is instinctive or free-thinking? How does nature and the weather affect you? What did you learn and did someone else learn this the same way? Are you idiosyncratic? Does your identity serve you good purpose?

What is an identity? Well, look inwardly. How do you see yourself? How do others view your self-image? How do they view you? How do you feel about your individuality? Are you a leader or a follower? Do you feel comfortable tucked away in the shadows or prefer an open stage with an audience? What condition is your self-esteem in? Intact, flagging, failing or absent? And, how do you adapt? Does your identity evolve with new interests or stay fixed on a one-way road? Do you tend to run against the flow of traffic? Do your aspirations tie in greatly to your character? Is your head full of dreams? What do you believe? What do they tell you to believe? What do they say and how does it affect you? Take a look at your ethnicity and those who surround you. Do you feel comfortable? Do you belong? Where do you fit in? Don’t forget your past.

Take some time to self-reflect. It isn’t always easy. So, why do so many people judge others? Only when you are fully self-aware and fully self-conscious can you understand yourself, but that doesn’t mean your parameters are copied and pasted onto someone else. Map and define what things are inside your head each day. Does it follow a pattern? How tall do you stand today? How did you get so confident? Why do you shy away? Who best represents you? Do circumstances call for you to be different? Or, should you run away screaming with hordes of like-minded fear-filled faces? How would you best end these sentences?

I am…; I want…; I need…; I must…; I have…; I cannot…; I like…; I hate…; I love…

How do you explore? Is not knowing something or not knowing how something will be, a sign of weakness? Is showing emotion a sign of self-confidence and strength of demonstration to others? Pride: an achievement or triumph that you have earned or something to be modestly squirreled away as a lonesome memory? Ready for flight or stand up and fight? A touch of foreclosure or hide away and show little interest?

For me I collectively identify myself as a Manchester City fan, a diehard but not someone as devout as those who travel to every away game or cup game. Logistics and life have dealt me a hand that does not allow such things. I’d also like to travel more but I am no traveller. Far from it. I like exploring and have ambitions to see Madagascar, Iceland, the Faroe Islands, Indonesia and New Zealand. Other places are on my to do lists, but not so concretely. It is what it is. I’ve travelled and some will say I have seen many places, but I know many more people who work and travel, yet here I stand, static in Dongguan, China. I’d say that I am political and have principles, but my notions can often find themselves silenced. Values and ideologies can take a backseat when dealing with bigger powers. We must all be pragmatic and a realist when the optimist and pessimist aren’t around on our shoulders.

With Murray’s F.C. and other expat groups, I float in and out like a butterfly as and when I feel comfortable – often welcome yet not sought after. I can be an outsider even amongst fellow outsiders. I will always help, when possible, and like people to know that I am available for consultation or small get-togethers but that doesn’t mean I’ll shy away from every barbecue or team meal. I can switch between hiking groups and reading clubs with ease, if I wish. I don’t try to be someone that I am not, and I try not to be anyone but me. There’s a touch of drifter, searcher and guardian in there somewhere. When needed the resolver and the refuser can enter the room. I dislike social stigmas, yet I can understand if someone perceives me as different.

I know my writing persona is like those of usernames in silent online virtual reality rooms. We can all blend, chop and change in our e-masks. Over the years my blog has slipped between diarist, weather reporter, psychological councillor, cry of help to essayists. My views may detract or add to wider discussion. For me expression is an outlet. This tapping on the keyboards is a vent. It is both constructive and freeing. I feel confident enough to write things that may be uncomfortable for family members of friends – but less comfortable when it comes to that of my employer and place of residence. Still, I am not preaching or trying to cause upset. Yesterday’s views may even change to tomorrow. I believe the Welsh call it Malw Cachu (to talk shit).

If I don’t misrepresent myself, or obscure my identity to win your bank account, then frantically hitting the keys on this laptop will serve reasonable purpose. I do, however feel, that offline my personality is less exciting than the one I can identify with on here: words – they really are beautiful things. Words mean something. They are to the writer as paint is to an artist. They’re endless unwritten poems, thoughts and ideas. Mind, body and self can escape through words – or words can equally help my mind, body and self. How do you identify with this interaction?

This last weekend, I joined Huizhou Blues for a one-day tournament at Bromsgrove School in Mission Hills. We lost to a Media Team on penalties in the final of the 8-a-side football competition. I’d managed ten minutes of football in the first game, before being subbed off. We won that game. Later I came on in one game, assisting the all important sixth and seventh goals in a 7-0 win. For the final I played just over 25 minutes. I couldn’t sprint too much, but my troublesome calf muscle didn’t hate me for the effort. Playing on a smooth grass field did help. Great food was had during lunchtime at a Hong Kong restaurant next to Mission Hills Eco-Park – and tucked behind their western restaurant, The Patio. Catching the sun on the final day of November and being slightly red on the head was the only drawback. It reached around 25ºC that day with quite high UV levels.

This week in Dongguan, you’d look at people and think that it’d snow here soon. One of my class students has three layers of jackets over his shirt and sweater. Some teachers are wearing scarves. I’ve seen woolly gloves and mittens already. Today’s low is 10ºC (at night). The morning temperature sits around 13ºC and the high today will be 19ºC. Whilst the day is sunny, there is certainly a lot of wind around. Humidity is really at its lowest at this time of year. For me, I think it is the most comfortable time of year here with regards to the weather.

In the last seven days, I’ve eaten at Japanese and Korean style barbecues. The Korean style barbecue edges it for flavours and combinations of food. The Japanese barbecue that I ate at with Cian and Leon, certainly had good meats and the Kirin beer wasn’t too bad. It certainly helped when watching Man City at Newcastle Utd. There has been Dongbei food, Guilin rice noodles and Hunan foods. Sometimes I look at my diet and think that it cannot get any more diverse. The lunchtime selection of toasties that I’m making certainly add to that.

In the last week, we’ve held sports days at school, involving countless practices of a routine for the opening ceremony which the students expertly forgot. They didn’t get it wrong. They just carried on marching by the tables of the school leaders and foreign teachers – and completely ignored what they’d practiced. In a way, I was proud. A good mistake is made better when they all collectively realised and instantly laughed about it. This week’s P.E. classes will involve kite flying and frisbee throwing. No set routines.

I’ve considered some evening walking up the odd small mountain here but it seems all park gates close and are locked at 6pm. Those without gates are much further away shich makes returning late at night a tad difficult.

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

Mum.

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

To quote Salford’s Jason Manford, his autobiography is called Brung Up Proper: My Autobiography. Without the words my autobiography, that’s how I feel. I feel ‘brung up proper”. My reasoning is simple. My mother did a great job. Now let’s drop the word mother and never use the American word mom. Mum, that’s what I call her. That’s who she is. Always will be. Dad and Mum in spring 1982 did something that my imagination will not entertain a single thought for. About 9 months later, out popped me. Dad’s second successful sperm. Asa won the race in Dad’s previous marriage. Good luck at winning a race now Asa, I’m faster and fitter! I think. Anyway, here I was and Mum, previously known as Elaine became a mam, not mom. We’re not American.

Mum and Dad divorced before I was old enough to dash Lego away. Although, I last bought a Ghostbusters Lego set three years ago, so that’s no barometer for my life. Anyway, somewhere in my infant years at New Moston Primary School, I found out life was not going to be all happy families. I suddenly had no father at home, and Mum was left to carry the burden: me.

Mum juggled hard and cooked reasonably well. I grew. New shoes always found my feet, even if I was a titleholder at breaking those shoes soon after. Some of those pairs of shoes managed a whole week without damage. Once? Weekend Dad was there as often as he could be, but Mum was always there to pick up the crying boy waiting at the window all day. Mum would ensure I could see wildlife in the park and chase around for me, when I stumbled over fences to look at dead birds on forbidden embankments. The dangers that I encountered only made Mum more of a great guide. With my endless energy, I’d launch myself over the sofa into the walls and no doubt give Mum occasion to talk with the Social Services. Those awkward moments probably followed Corn Flakes mixed with washing-up liquid in the toilet bowls and peaceful baths in the sink.

Mum, accompanied by my boyhood companion Pup the wonder dog and Basil the cat (until he ran away, probably through ear trauma) raised me. The many days getting me to focus at schoolwork gave me somewhere to channel my energy. In 1988, my sister Astrid arrived and we’d all share the affections of a great mum.

After Mum’s circumstances changed, we ended up moving from Warbeck Road in Moston to Range Street in Clayton. Here life became a little more tough and bumpy. I started at Clayton Brook Primary School and encountered some bullying. I can’t recall too much of life there, just a few summer sports day events and my first task writing a list of words beginning with the letters st. That and the maths books being too easy.

Almost as soon as my arrival at Clayton Brook, life moved us over to Levenshulme. Now with a younger brother in Paul. Mum completed studies via the Open University and enjoyed many tough years working for the Citizens Advice Bureau, initially on a voluntary basis before going fulltime. Mum’s social studies course has served her well ever since. Her love of cacti, succulents, and the garden is in full bloom. Sometimes some stitching is evident amongst her growing hobbies. Mum has travelled more and more, even going overseas to Cyprus and Malta. What’s next for Mum? The world is still her oyster. My Mum is brilliant – and she can go anywhere and do anything she likes, especially with her own powerful mind.

Mynah interruption

This writing was begun on the 20th of June. However, I am continuing now, a day later, due to writer’s block. The writer’s block in this situation being a mynah bird. It dropped into a class yesterday and following some commotion, ended up bunking at my place for the night. The playful bird nibbled my ear a few times and released its bowels on my shoulders more than a few times. We talked, we laughed, and we played but thankfully today I have been aware that the school gardener is the owner. Some pesky students let it out of its cage. All’s well that ends well, right?

“In the information society, nobody thinks. We expected to banish paper, but we actually banished thought.” ― Michael Crichton, Jurassic Park

Anyway I think considering I lived in there locations before I hit puberty and struggled at university, the fact that I am not a street cleaner or serving French Fries in the American eMbassy is testament to how Mum has always been a great friend for me – and put up with my teenage and youthful mishaps for far too long. She has listened to my problems, given great advice and acted as a great example. Also, Mum likes good music – and that has influenced me greatly. Without James, REM and Pulp, Led Zeppelin, Scottish-born Finley Quaye, and others my life would be less colourful. Mum let me watch London’s Burning on a Sunday night, passed my regular 9pm bedtime from an early age. Other comedy shows and a few great movies were permitted from time to time. Mum braved rains and flooding to see Ghostbusters 2 with me at The Roxy Cinema in 1989, took me and my mate Neil to Blackpool, and gave me Jurassic Park and Congo, to date my two favourite novels.

“It’s hard to decide who’s truly brilliant; it’s easier to see who’s driven, which in the long run may be more important.” ― Michael Crichton, Congo

Mum let me hang out with Peter and Dan. At times there was trouble and the odd broken thing or two, but throughout we formed unbreakable friendships despite testing their resilience from time to time. These friendships gave stability to my life. Mum encouraged us all. That’s how I ended up at university and ever since then I have been trying to be independent and pretending to grow up. If I ever crack this life, it will because Mum helped me to do it.

 

Meanwhile, after a great friendly tournament managed by Aaron and Murray’s F.C. last weekend, we had a game versus a Korean team midweek. Both dates were roasting. 90% humidity and mid-30s temperatures do that. Work has been going deep into injury time. By that, the last few kicks of the game of work will involve exams – and I need to prepare one final science paper and then mark it. Next week is my final student-facing week. Summer awaits soon after. Kind of. Well, after Friday the 12th of July.

Aaron, of Murray’s F.C. and general Dongcheng fame, mentioned his mate had some goods impounded on their way from Oman. The customs rules for importing or deliveries to China state: anything marked as ‘Made in China’ cannot be sent to China. Good look returning things to China. When I told Aaron the story of some of my unrecived parcels to China, he said how I’ve had some interesting and weird times. Spot on. It is an odd place. Especially, to send a parcel.

In closing, I want to wish everyone a happy Shaun Goater Day. FEED THE GOAT.

 

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

Namche Bazaar (is the place to find me)

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

Yesterday I played 7-a-side football with my new team Dongguan Raiders F.C. Sporting our bright pink kits we had another victory. Our team has played three games this last week with two wins and one midweek friendly training game against Murray’s F.C. Our team has Chinese, Italian, Serbian, German and Ukrainian players – alongside the token Mancunian. On Saturday, I also joined Murray’s F.C. in our game at Zhuhai against the Guangzhou Phoenix team. We won 8-2. It now means a draw or win against Zhuhai, in Dongguan at the month shall be enough to claim the inaugural Guangdong Super League. Football shall move into the sidelines for me now. I have 88 days to train for my debut Spartan Race. I opted for the killer 13km Super option. That involves 25 obstacles too. It is a challenge. Am I ready? No. Will I be ready? I’ll do my best to be. The trekking in the Himalayas tested me mentally and I feel that anything is possible. The arrival of the next challenge is always welcoming. After that, I’ll need a new challenge. Suggestions please. Of course, I’m still looking back on the time spent in Nepal…


31st January 2019

One week of trekking was to completed today. The walk from Kharikhola, via the Karila Pass (2730m) to Paiya (2730m) started with a reasonably steep climb up towards Bupsa Danda. Here made for a good brew stop and somewhere to enjoy the view. From Kharikhola’s Magar people to panaromic views of valleys and looming landslides, to Sherpa settlements and the Bupsa Danda village itself, heaven could easily have been placed on this spot of Earth. The hilltop is delightful.

From there the trail is up and down, but really gently. In fact it is the closet to a day’s walk being flat on the entire wander so far, and later to come. It feels like deception. At the end of the walk, we settled down a for a night’s sleep in a lodge. Here we met a trekking nurse who volunteers in Nepal, having retired from work in Germany. Her partner and guide, from Nepal spoke German and they were accompanied by several porters. We spoke at great length about porters and guides leaving Nepal for better opportunities. He seemed quite aware that many Nepali people are trapped in Qatar. Political and visa issues have been a problem. He mentioned the reduction in porters has resulted in an explosion in the mule population. The destruction to the pathways in two years was clear to me. A country ravaged by natural disasters, civil war and political turmoil now had to contend with horse-donkey hybrids smashing up a great Himalayan trail.


1st February 2019

Leaving Paiya that morning we headed towards Surke. At Surke, Livia, Srirang and Ishwor went up to Lukla for supplies. We carried on up the pathway to Phakding (2610m) passing waterfalls, frozen streams and increasing numbers of lodges and houses. Around the sacred villages of Ghat, large boulders cast shadows over the pathways beneath. Some sported sproutings of trees and the odd leafless giant. Almost every rock had faces of lichens and bedcovers of moss. Beyond every short mountain towered ridges of snow-capped peaks. Eventually the trail met the main pathway from Lukla towards Everest Base Camp. Here we noted a huge difference in footfall. More people, more often. Now we were in the home straight. The business end of the greatest most popular and well known Himalyan trail. Also, those we passed by on their way up had some similarities. Most looked fresh and clean. Some had minor altitude exhaustion, having arrived a few thousand metres up at the modern and recently legendary Lukla airfield.

Under grey skies we plodded onwards. The pathways seemed to level on this day, and we stopped for lunch at a Sherpa family’s lodge. Reading the family’s walls of certificates and talking to the owners was quite interesting. The owners’ son is a pilot based at Kathmandu – on rescue helicopters. They regularly see him flying overhead. Their daughter is also overseas in Switzerland in the hospitality sector. Mountain people seldom leave the mountains, it seems.

From the moment we passed Surke to the upper levels of Phakding, the numbers of stupas, gompas, murals and mani stones seemed to explode. This region is known as extremely sacred. The Nepal version of the Etihad Stadium in Manchester. Many prayer wheels had been turned, so much so that my fingers became dirty from the dust. The clear signs of mules everywhere to be seen. The most obvious being the pathways under repair.

The modern looking Sherpa Guide Lodge was our stay that night in Phakding. We paid 3000NPRs for a shower each, twin room and food wasn’t much more on top. I’d seen this pine-looking wood and clean-cut brick building under construction two years ago. We were the only guests this time. The daughter of the owner was in charge. The next day she was due to head to Kathmandu to see her parents. The walls featured awards and commendations of her father’s achievements, photos of their family lifestyle and traditional prayers from Buddhism. It was a pleasant place to eat Dal Bhat number nine. The views of the near-Alpine looking region sat outside in total darkness. The roar of the river drifted away as I slipped into a deep untroubled sleep.


2nd February 2019

Phakding to Monjo (2835m) wasn’t too far. A few hours to the gateway to the UNESCO World Heritage Site that is Sagarmartha National Park. Having a gander at the monthly tourist record really shows how few people explore outside of the peak seasons (March-April & October-November). It also makes me feel like peak season may be a tad too busy to enjoy the freedom of the great trail.

As you enter the Khumbu subregion it isn’t hard to see why the Lonely Planet guide ranks it as the sixth best region to visit globally. This patch of northeastern Nepal has mountain scenery at every turn. Colourful Danfe birds resemble pheasants. The national bird can be seen amongst a whole host of colourful birds, mountain goats, musk deers, and other wildlife. The colourful guesthouses fell away as we entered the park, having paid our 3000 NPRs and a deposit of 1000 NPRs for a new tracking GPS card. Good idea. Less lost people in the Himalayas. Over one of the Dudi Kosi river’s many footbridges and we pass through Jorsalle (2740m), stopping at the last hut overlooking a river below. Here some yummy foods were required. The final hike upwards after luch would be near brutal. Over another bridge, we crossed down onto the river-accompanying pathway, up to some steep scary steps, and then to the final bridges looking up at the Namche pathway. Up the valley, Everest, Lhotse and a face of mountains hid away in clouds. We wouldn’t be seeing their beauty on this day, but Oasis sang, someday we’ll find a brighter day.

The Dudi Kosi river flows from the Mount Everest massif, just east of Gokyo Lakes and flows south, beneath Namche Bazar before heading west of Lukla. It was the same river heard during a night’s sleep at Phakding. Each bridge over the river seemed to always be occupied by flowing mule caravans. They were a bit pongy.

One last push, up the brow and around into the horsehoe-valley of Namche Bazaar (3441m), some energy was needed. Posters for the last edition of the Tenzing Hilary Everest Marathon and stickers offering all manner of expedition group, from nations so numerous the writing and logos blurred into a mesh of hieroglyphics. The downhill marathon is held every May 29th. Count me out. The maximum entry is 250. I’ll let those who want it, have a crack.

Over the last few hundred metres of walk, we met Nawang Chhiring Sherpa. He said that his lodge, Mt. Kailash Lodge, was free to stay at as long as we ate our meals there. He wasn’t pushy and seemed quite welcoming. As he guided a Taiwanese couple up the hill, we talked a little with them. Maria now had Mandarin-speaking company. An easy decision, and in hindsight one with zero regret. We would spend a total of two nights there on the way up and one on the way down. We’d recommend it to everyone too. Srirang, Ishwor and Livia joined us for the second night. The room wasn’t too cold too. Dal Bhat TEN was yummy with a crunchy prawn cracker on the side.


3rd February 2019

If ever I run away to get away from it all and not tell anyone where I am heading, then Namche Bazaar is the place to find me. I’d consider it the picture-perfect position to retire too. This morning, after a full belly, we had coffee and hired some thick down jackets. Following that we enjoyed a leisurely stroll up to the Everest View Hotel. The first of our altitude acclimatisation days was neither taxing nor boring. With lunch at the Everest View Hotel we peered through limited gaps in the clouds at Everest itself, Lhotse and Ama Dablam. To the east the tips of Thamserku (6623m) permeated from the drifting clouds. We’d walked by the sprawling grass runway of a near-silent Syangboche Airport and by yaks patrolling the high pathways. Through snow-lined fields and up a ridge to the mansion-like stairway of the grand hotel.

Thamserku is one of my favourite mountains to observe. Thronged by trees until around the 4000m mark, it was littered with snow and rocks thereafter. It has two almost identical peaks that resemble little horns. It is bulky and broad. With throngs of cloud circling high up, it is very atmospheric.

Excitement seemed to erupt from nowhere. Here I was looking up at vultures! Actual vultures gliding over away from dark cloud, towards gaps in the lighter cloud. Very much like Pterodactyls flying in a Jurassic Park movie, their broad wingspan effortlessly glided into the thickening clouds. Almost as soon as the elation began, it was over. The descent to the Sherpa Life Museum was swift and easy. The museum itself was interesting and full of photos. The colourful way of the Sherpa people is finely illustrated – and it also includes a mountaineering room with photos of those who have scaled summits throughout the region.

The charm of Namche Bazaar is multi-layered. West of the village is Kongde Ri (6187m) and other rolling hills around the basin of the village. Thamserku (6623m) looms to the east. The horseshoe-shaped village sits across many layers. It is almost as if someone carved the land to face the sun at sunset. Through the village centre sits recently renovated water features and statues. The eyes of the stupa face in four directions with helicopter pads in almost every direction. There are buildings of old rock, and timber structures amongst inconspicuous and understated concrete builds. The unobtrusive nature of man in the elements of nature and the rhythm of life is throughout the grounds. Cows and stray dogs walk the narrow passages. The silk road feels more short-gauntlet and less mammoth-journey here. Around 2000 people live here at the busiest point of year, yet during deep to late winter it feels sleepy and at rest. Save for helicopters and freight cargo flights, little sound of machines can be heard. Dal Bhat XI sat in my sleeping belly, ready to power the next new day.

#7 KHARIKHOLA 0900 – PAIYA 1730: ~ 7km.
#8 PAIYA 0900 – PHAKDING 1730: ~ 10km.
#9 PHAKDING 0800 – NAMCHE BAZAAR 1630: ~ 7km.
#10 NAMCHE BAZAAR – EVEREST VIEW HOTEL & GENERAL WANDER: ~ 10km

 

To be continued…

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

 

 

The spirit of football.

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

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

13/5/2012

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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