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)

The Man on Brazennoze Street

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

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There’s a global pandemic on. The coronavirus and its related disease COVID-19 has ravaged the planet, taking at least 411,277 (from 7,238,611 infected) lives. Racism is being warred against too. As protestors and police get close and personal, belief and freedom are risks. Standing up against police violence, draws people into a dilemma. End or delay the battle against racism? Contribute to the spread of a potentially fatal disease? If you choose to overwhelm the NHS (National Health service). The virus doesn’t care one iota about your race. You’re ostensibly more likely to die if you are black, Asian or Middle-Eastern, so is it safe to protest? What are your thoughts? For something that disproportionately affects minority communities, that are now coming together in protest, well this could be a huge disaster. Beliefs versus risks. In my mind, I’d want to support the protests, but I’d want to support and protect the NHS too…

“We may have all come on different ships, but we’re in the same boat now.” – Martin Luther King Jr.

I used to eat at Shirley’s Café or Gregg’s bakery and get a breakfast barmcake with a coffee, when I worked on the corner of Brazennoze Street. Here I could walk down the road and see something odd. Manchester has a statue living down the road from Albert Square. High upon a granite plinth the distinct shape of Abraham Lincoln can be seen standing. That’s right. Abraham Lincoln (February 12, 1809 – April 15, 1865), 16th President of the U.S. of America. He’s been stood on Brazennoze Street since around 1986 eyeing passers-by but casting no judgement. The street runs between Albert Square and Deansgate gaining large footfall around office hours.

“You cannot escape the responsibility of tomorrow by evading it today.” – Abraham Lincoln

The square opening on Brazennoze Street is known as Lincoln Square. Few know this. There aren’t many signs and up until a recent renovation nearby, the square has largely been overlooked in favour of the more marketable St. Anne’s Square, Albert Square and the Corn Exchange frontage. The pedestrianised pathway uses red bricks so common within northwest England, and on a damp rainy Mancunian day, it isn’t a place to go looking for escape. A few saplings and trees can be seen nearby but it doesn’t feel very green or warm. Manchester, like many port cities (we have a Ship Canal don’t you know!), has links to slavery. Any city with an insurance company or a bank does. Sorry Liverpool.

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Our Lincoln, the our kid of that America, used to be stood down Platt Fields Park. The son of William Howard Taft (27th President of the U.S.A.) made it. Charles Phelps Taft’s statue was one of two gifted to England – not Manchester, as a symbol of Anglo-American togetherness. One replica ended up in London, as the capital city. The original was left in Cincinnati, Ohio where Taft Junior was mayor.

The other replica was kind of posted to Liverpool but Manchester Art Gallery put in a sneaky bis in 1918, kind of a precursor to eBay outbidding and snatched it from Scouse hands [see also Demba Ba and Steven Gerrard]. London, then went one better and brought a much larger replica of a different Lincoln statue, in what can only be seen as a pissing competition. London urinated higher. By 1919, Manchester’s Lincoln statue was added to Platt Fields. By 1986, Manchester wanted to give more prominence to Lincoln and the cause. It was moved to Lincoln Square and placed on a new plinth. Beneath it a plague reads, “The support that the working people of Manchester gave in their fight for the abolition of slavery during the American Civil War…….By supporting the union under President Lincoln at a time when there was an economic blockade of the southern states the Lancashire cotton workers were denied access to raw cotton which caused considerable unemployment throughout the cotton industry.”

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“Slavery is founded in the selfishness of man’s nature – opposition to it is his love of justice. These principles are an eternal antagonism; and when brought into collision so fiercely, as slavery extension brings them, shocks and throes and convulsions must ceaselessly follow.” – Abraham Lincoln

Manchester’s liberal values and Lincoln’s cause became as one. Britain was an ally. Reportedly even the Confederate Flag flew on some Lancashire mills during the American Civil War. Decades of air pollution and legendary Mancunian weather had left it neat impossible to read the words on the statue of Lincoln’s plaque. His Royal African Company displaced around 80,000 people (men, women and children) to America. Manchester’s statue of Lincoln is seen as a key point for the opposition to slavery. Known often as the ‘Great Emancipator’, Lincoln was part of society’s push towards progression and racial justice. Some argue he was a racist, some don’t. But, what can’t be chalked away from history are the facts. Lincoln made a difference, in far more difficult times for many, especially Africans and African-Americans. What should be taken from Lincoln’s appearance in Manchester, is that Lincoln, like many of his peers was complex character and times, which may explain why he apparently wanted to re-colonize the former-slaves, or send them back to Africa

“Those who deny freedom to others deserve it not for themselves; and under the rule of a just God, cannot long retain it.” – Abraham Lincoln

The Abolition of the Slave Trade Act came in 1807. Almost 213 years later a statue was torn down, toppled and sank in Bristol. The name Colston has long been known. Edward Colston was a 17th Century slave trader. A bastard and a blight on British history, part of the very tapestry that had built an Empire. Around 10,000 people paraded the wreckage before the statue was scuttled in the harbour. Around this time Sir Winston Churchill’s statue is London was sprayed with additional text, ‘was a racist’. Scottish streets were renamed after police brutality victims. Oxford University is a target due to its links to Cecil Rhodes (think white supremacy, colonialism and racism).

Whilst Abraham Lincoln was unsure about what to do with slaves after the end of slavery, now society finds itself at a road where one terrible death has triggered a wave of protest. There is no room in society for racism. Many of yesterday’s heroes or founders of today’s world are not good. Just as many companies has profited from the Nazi persecution of Jewish and other ethnic backgrounds, we have to embrace the atrocities and learn.

“Character is like a tree and reputation like a shadow. The shadow is what we think of it; the tree is the real thing.” – Abraham Lincoln

JAB Holdings (Reimann family) that own Krispy Kreme, Panera Bread and Pret a Manger etc have admitted to profiting under the Nazi regime. French cosmetics company L’Oréal have been tied to illegal property seizures. Barclays Bank (established 1690) has already compensated Jewish members who had their assets seized in France. If you have heard of Siemens, Bayer, Nestle, Coca-Cola, Allianz (Bayern Munich’s ground which is weird for a club once taunted as a so-called “Jews’ club” by Hitler’s twonks), Audi, BMW, IBM, Hugo Boss, Mercedes-Benz, and Volkswagen well you may have heard that they are some of the corporations that made some money from forced Jewish labour. These historic crimes were after black slavery (to and in America), yet seem to have been discussed more openly. History cannot afford to hide indifference.

“If there is anything that a man can do well, I say let him do it. Give him a chance.” – Abraham Lincoln

We’re in the 21st century yet a few idiots want to keep us in the past and destroy world relations. The less said about ‘Miss Hitler’ and Trump the better. We can reshape history and move artefacts that our forefathers and mothers saw fit to decorate cities and towns. We don’t have to be proud of all of our heritage. We don’t need to hide it all. We shouldn’t be hiding any of it. I was born a European and next year, I’ll just be British. I’m human and I am Mancunian – and for me being Mancunian is all about embracing people no matter where they come from, what they believe or who they support (even if it is United).

“Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.” – Martin Luther King Jr.

爱与和平 and love

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James (and the castles of Scotland)

你好/ Ní hǎo / Nín hǎo / Hello / How do / S’mae / Namaste / A’m gled tae meet ye,

During a recent whistlestop tour of Scotland, it was possible to admire many castles. The thing about some cities in Scotland, like Edinburgh – and Stirling, is that they have imposing castles on rocks high above the ground below.  Another such beauty of a castle is Scotland’s longest recorded stronghold, Dumbarton Castle.

For Stirling, James IV, the sequel James V and James VI built significant parts to the early 12th century rudimental castle. James III was born there, James II sheltered there – and James I gave it to his wife and mother of James II. James, the indie band from Manchester, to my knowledge haven’t played there. Sit down. The early Stewarts and Wars of Scottish Independence have significance at this location. The current commander is James Erskine, 14th Earl of Mar – another bloody James. The castle that could easily be called James (after James from Thomas The Tank Engine?) sits on 350 million year old quartz-dolerite. William Wallace, of Braveheart fame, even resided there briefly after the Battle of Stirling Bridge. Today it is mostly a Renaissance palace from around the times of 1490 to 1600, when the Royal Family pretty much moved to London, as real estate prices were reasonable back then. Since then, military digs, a museum featuring the legendary Balaclava Company and education have dominated the castle’s recent years.

Edinburgh Castle towers of Old Town. From Castle Rock, aged 350 million years, the 460’ elevation (140 m), the views from the former volcanic pipe are stunning. The only way into the castle from the east. The other directions have steep falls. Even water struggled to find a way in during the Lang Siege of 1573.

Edinburgh’s connection to a James comes with a siege to free James III of Scotland in 1482. Ten-year-old King James II watched two teenagers get executed in November 1440. James IV built the Great Hall. In fact, Edinburgh castle featured greatly in the great soap opera of Scottish royal history. The castle nowadays reflects a grander tourist feel with the superb Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo taking place in a stadium-parade ground outside the main castle gates.

Dumbarton Castle strikes out from a 334 million year old volcanic basalt plug. Settlements have been noted as far back as Iron Age forts. The 557 steps up are a challenge for today’s visitors and a face of William Wallace’s supposed betrayer is carved: Sir John Menteith of Ruskie and Knapdale.

“Schyre Jhon of Menteith in tha days; Tuk in Glasgow William Walays; And sent hym until Ingland sune, There was he quartayrd and undone.” – Metrical Chronicle, Andrew of Wyntoun (1350-1425), Scottish poet
The castle can be seen looming over the town of Dumbarton and by the River Clyde. The landscape combined with the history makes for a wonderful daydreaming experience on a passing train.

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

The bee’s knees

你好/ Ní hǎo / Nín hǎo / Hello / How do / S’mae / Namaste / Gled tae meet ye A’m gled tae meet ye,

It’s been dunky’s since a last saw ye…

Loch Awe Dalmally (159)Sometimes, some places really surprise you. Some people are wonderful, and staying in Dalmally Railway Station’s The Posting Room was one such experience. The hosts, as listed on AirBnB were Liz and Graham (Angus too). They’re ace. Graham welcomed us immediately from our train which arrived on the opposite platform. A proffering of tea and coffee, followed by some delicious courgette and tomato soup. The welcoming really was the bee’s knees.

Loch Awe Dalmally (19)Throughout the weekend Liz and Graham offered great destinations and advice about the locality. Following a ramble up to the Duncan Ban Mcintyre monument, the path swooped down to the A819 road caressing the Loch Awe’s bankside. Here a walk to view the beautiful Kilchurn Castle and Loch Awe scenery was essential. Heavy rain and a lift back by a friendly truck driver capped off a good wander. By evening hunger had arrived. Two miles up the road later: One pub meal in Ben Cruachin Inn resulted in rhubarb crumble. I was over the moon. The mains selected on visiting were something similar to the following:

SMOKED HADDOCK KEDGEREE RISOTTO Arborio rice, turmeric, saffron, garlic & boiled egg. £12.95
FILLET OF LOCH FYNE SALMON Saffron beurre blanc, asparagus & new potatoes. £16.95

The food at the Ben Cruachin Inn is hearty and filling. The local Fyne Ales equally tasty and refreshing. After dinner, the feeding of the legendary Scottish midges commenced at Loch Awe railway station, before a short ten minute journey into Dalmally for cups of tea and bed.

Loch Awe Dalmally (164)In the morning Graham delivered us more brews with porridge and some cake. If Mrs Doyle from Father Ted fame has a male Scottish counterpart, then Graham is he. That’s meant with no disrespect whatsoever. I haven’t experienced this nature of hospitality ever. A host who really cares about his guests. His partner Liz was busy with her felt studio, Heartfelt by Liz (located on the platform). Graham could be seen zipping between guest throughout the day and delivering warm pots of tea and coffee at almost every hour. It seemed everyone was invited for a brew, “On your way back, call by and come and have a brew.”

Loch Awe Dalmally (72)They go out of their way for you. Hospitality at its absolute best. I really want to revisit the station. Maybe next time I can try the Ben Cruachin room or the Rambler’s Rest – or ideally The Writer’s Retreat. The Shepherd’s Hut doesn’t look too bad too. All have great West Highland picturesque views, a stone’s throw from lochs, mountains and wildlife like the tawny owls or screeches of buzzards in the daytime. The idyllic village is a little far out from many places but a wonderful location for hiking, cycling and exploring the region. The venison burgers up the road in the Kilchurn Castle car park aren’t too bad an option. Add haggis.

Loch Awe Dalmally (144)Staying in The Posting Room was idyllic. With a great variety of biscuits, porridge, jams and brew options. A rucksack of food provisions was barely needed! The final day of two involved a stroll to St.Conan’s Kirk, a church containing a bone fragment from Robert The Bruce. The architecture is splendid, diverse and varied. The architect Walter Douglas Campbell mixed in Norman, Roman, Celtic and other styles. There are famous ship timbers and it is easy to see why it was added to the Top 10 buildings in Scotland of the last 100 years list. The Royal Incorporation of Architects in Scotland made that list in 2016. The building was built around 1881 and renovated in 1906. Beyond the church there is a great tea room outside and the author Mary Stewart once resided at the nearby House of Letterawe.

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Stonehaven and Dunnotar Castle (35)Before visiting Dalmally, the whistlestop tour of Scotland began much further east in Stonehaven. The castle of Dunnotar has featured in Victor Frankenstein (starring James McAvoy and Daniel Radcliffe), Hamlet (with Mel Gibson) and other productions. For me, it was a castle I had seen in a book. Its clifftop location, on a kind of island of rock has long stuck with me. A walk from the charming Stonehaven Harbour, passing the dramatic (and deliberately unfinished) war memorial, leads to Dunnotar Castle. The memorial on Black Hill is imposing and powerful. A line of poem can be found inside the octagonal towers.

Stonehaven and Dunnotar Castle (21)

“One by one death challenged them, they smiled in his grim visage and refused to be dismayed” – Sankey’s Student in Arms

Stonehaven and Dunnotar Castle (66)Staying with another Graham – and Sam, in Aberdeenshire, an introduction to their master Percy and enjoyed wonderful hosts. Their house at the top of a hill gave the legs some good stretching but the location was peaceful and the room more than luxurious. The monk fish and chips from the sustainability champions at The Bay Fish and Chips was the best I have had in years. They were so good, a shitehawk (a gull) dropped a bomb across the back of my navy-blue shirt with precision. It didn’t get a single chip. Back off shitehawks!


Doune Castle (37)

Following a night in Stonehaven, a night in Stirling was next on the agenda. The famous National Wallace Monument was visible from the room at yet another AirBnB place with Iona and her family. After the quickest breakfast ever we headed to Doune Castle – as seen as Winterfell, Castle Anthrax, and series such as Outlander.

Your mother was a hamster and your father smells of elderberries” – Monty Python and the Holy Grail

Stirling Castle (11)Later in the day the National Wallace Monument witnessed a 120kg man struggling up the stairs and then being thankful he had no hair to blow away, once at the summit platform of the tower. Taking in each gallery along the way on the steps down, seemed the backwards way to do it, but damned if I was going to take a break on the 246 steep steps upwards. The Guardian of Scotland and influence of legendary stories since (including Mel Gibson’s Braveheart) featured alongside exhibitions on Robbie Burns (the famous poet) and Robert the Bruce. The monument is dramatic and almost like something from J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings

From Dalmally the road (well railway) led ot Edinburgh… via Glasgow… and a route of other rained upon soggy places.

See ye efter

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