Retirement.

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

Dear Birmingham City,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

#50 Filbert Fox @ Leicester City F.C.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

For more retired numbers, have a gander here.

In memory of #23

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

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