Friday, March 31, 2006

sprechen sie fußball?

10 weeks to the start of the World Cup Finals 2006 in Germany, and I feel duty bound to spread the word about the planet’s most popular sport’s biggest festival, so I will post every Friday until after the tournament is over.

ALL THAT HAS GONE BEFORE

One of the few drawbacks of following English club football is that you are constantly reminded of England’s success in 1966.


I am very short of posting time this week, so I will share with you this brief piece on the history of the World Cup taken from the FIFA website and follow it with links to my posts in this series up to now.

No other sporting event captures the world's imagination like the FIFA World Cup™. Ever since the first tentative competition in Uruguay in 1930, FIFA's flagship has constantly grown in popularity and prestige.

A group of visionary French football administrators, led in the 1920s by the innovative Jules Rimet, are credited with the original idea of bringing the world's strongest national football teams together to compete for the title of World Champions. The original gold trophy bore Jules Rimet's name and was contested three times in the 1930s, before the Second World War put a 12-year stop to the competition.

When it resumed, the FIFA World Cup rapidly advanced to its undisputed status as the greatest single sporting event of the modern world. Held since 1958 alternately in Europe and the Americas, the World Cup broke new ground with the Executive Committee's decision in May 1996 to select Korea and Japan as co-hosts for the 2002 edition.

Since 1930, the 16 tournaments have seen only seven different winners. However, the FIFA World Cup has also been punctuated by dramatic upsets that have helped create footballing history - the United States defeating England in 1950, North Korea's defeat of Italy in 1966, Cameroon's emergence in the 1980s and their opening match defeat of the Argentinean cup-holders in 1990....

Today, the FIFA World Cup holds the entire global public under its spell. An accumulated audience of over 37 billion people watched the France 98 tournament, including approximately 1.3 billion for the final alone, while over 2.7 million people flocked to watch the 64 matches in the French stadia.

After all these years and so many changes, however, the main focus of the FIFA World Cup remains the same - the glistening golden trophy, which is the embodiment of every footballer's ambition.

Monday, March 27, 2006

bitesize bullets



TEN TOPICS…
NO PARTICULAR ORDER…
ONE MAN’S OPINIONS…
FIFTY WORD LIMIT ON EACH…
BELATED HAPPY MOTHER’S DAY…



FEATURE : In response to a meme I see roaming the Blogosphere I’m adding yet another feature to my bitesize bullets – I’m going to reproduce some excerpts of lyrics from my favourite tunes, ones that I always found both unusual and inspirational.

TUNES : I remember robbing my mother’s copy of Joan Armatrading’s “The Key” just to bulk out my then-fledgling cassette collection back in the eighties. Ten years later, I finally listened to it, and with tunes like “Drop The Pilot” and “I Love It When You Call Me Names”, it wasn’t bad.

TRIPPED : My 8-year-old son needed four stitches above his eye yesterday after a fall. His sister was playing my keyboard and he was dancing around her but forgot about the electrical chord and fell into the coffee table. He was very brave at the hospital and is fine now.

AWWWW… : Imagine how I felt after my son said this while we were in A&E yesterday…

Me : “Wow, that’s the fourth time you’ve hit your head – I guess that’s your thing, right? Everyone has a thing!”

LittleGuy : “Yeah, and your thing is being a good Daddy.”

Goddam.


LADIES : Full marks for yesteray’s events must also go to my fiancée Sandra and my daughter RA, who were actually on the scene when he fell, and who both showed impressive calm during the aftermath. No doubt about it, I’m damn lucky to have the three of them in my life.

NEXTBLOGGING : After hitting my NextBlog button, I came to this site. Looks like a TeenBlog from the Phillippines. I wonder how Jason really feels about this quote… “jason n me hit 9 months today! ….haha..happy monthsary baby!hope we're crazy enough to go through a gazillion mor eof these..i love you!mwah!”

LYRICAL : “Find my name on your computer
Mention me in passing to your college tutor
Check my records check my facts
Check if I paid my income tax
Pour over everything in my CV
But you’ll still know nothin bout me”


Sting, “Nothing Bout Me” from “Ten Summoner’s Tales”

RENTAL : Last week I rented “Inside I’m Dancing” courtesy of Ireland’s answer to NetFlix. It’s well worth watching, with full marks in the plot, direction and especially lead-acting departments. Think of it as “My Left Foot” meets “The Odd Couple” and you have an idea.

STATWATCH : As I touched on last week, I feel the most important stat you can monitor for your blog is that for “Returning Visitors”. People drop by blogs all the time, like with Next Blogging and Googling, but the RV numbers tell you those that are impressed enough to come back.

GOOGLING : Latest phrases to lead people here include …

“pronunciation unit”

“write a boys from brazil paper”

“2 years without a shag”

“scottish stereotypes football national team kilts battle”

“scrotum waxing”

“great hiding places on yourself when flying” *


I hope they all found what they were looking for.



StatWatch and Google phrases of the week courtesy of StatCounter.com

* = from my Irish Blog

Friday, March 24, 2006

sprechen sie fußball?

11 weeks to the start of the World Cup Finals 2006 in Germany, and I feel duty bound to spread the word about the planet’s most popular sport’s biggest festival, so I will post every Friday until after the tournament is over.

This week I go over the tournament which will be most remembered by Irish fans for something that happened before a ball was kicked.


THE BATTLE OF SAIPAN

Who says it’s only religion that can divide the Irish from within?


It was one of those moments when you will always remember where you were when you first heard the news. In my case, I was driving on the M50 motorway in Dublin on my way to work when this came on the radio.

“In sensational news from Saipan, we have just learned that Irish international captain Roy Keane has been sent home by manager Mick McCarthy and will play no part in this summer’s World Cup finals.”

I was absolutely stunned. I really believed that this time we had a team, with the world-class Keane at its centre, that could go further than Jack Charlton’s men had done in ’90 and ’94. Instead we had a clash of personalities that should have been resolved behind closed doors spilling out and affecting the entire country let alone the squad.

Never before has a sporting incident divided a nation right down the middle so. You were either for Keane or you were for McCarthy. I’d even be afraid to tell you what was supposed to have happened because depending on where you were coming from you would here contrasting versions of the truth.

If a gun were put to my head I would have to side with McCarthy. He was in charge of the team as a whole, and if Keane had a problem, as team captain he should have approached him in private so they could show a united front before the rest of the squad.

Having said that, the two of them appear to have been as bad as each other when it came to failing to resolve their personality clash which appears to have gone back to the ’94 finals in the USA when McCarthy himself was captain and Keane was a young substitute.

And so in the weeks coming up to the kickoff of the 2002 World Cup finals, the Keane/McCarthy saga was all anyone could talk about. Rumours were circulating every day that Roy was at Manchester airport ready to take a flight back to Japan to rejoin the squad, but they never materialised.


Steve Staunton stepped into the breach and the remaining players were forced to embark on their tricky group which included Germany, Cameroon and Saudi Arabia without their world class skipper.

This was a catastrophic turn of events for the Irish who had done so well in reaching the finals having seen off the Dutch in the qualifying tournament. With players such as Damien Duff, Shay Given in goal, and Robbie Keane up front, plus the experienced heads of Roy, Staunton and Niall Quinn, it really did look like we could make an impact.

As it turns out, the boys in green made a pretty good stab at it anyway. Having drawn with Cameroon in their opener and gotten an unlikely last gasp equaliser against the Germans, they knew a win by two goals against the Saudis would ensure them a spot in the knockout stages, when as we all know anything can happen, and they secured their victory comfortably in the end.

That left us to face Spain in the last 16, a team which always seems to disappoint in the finals, so confidence was high. My fiancée Sandra and I booked a night in a hotel the night before the match so we could be sure of a good spot in a bar to watch the game. Once more, we relied on a last minute equaliser to keep us in the competition, and the match went to an agonising penalty shoot-out.

On a side note, I still have a scar on my leg from the moment the goal went in. Having jumped in the air in glee, as I came down my shin scraped against the side of a chair and left me on the ground in agony, while absolutely nobody around me noticed or cared and I think I must have had at least one full pint spilled on me as I lay writhing in pain!


I managed to compose myself for the shoot-out, however, and we were all gutted to see the normally reliable dead-ball kicker Ian Harte miss the kick that knocked us out and sent the fortunate Spaniards into the next round.

And of course, as many predicted, we all wondered how far we would have gone if the Keane/McCarthy bust up never happened.

As has become the norm with World Cups with Irish involvement, the rest of the tournament appeared to be nothing more than a sideshow, though this time there was a lot to capture interest.

The 2002 tournament will probably be best remembered not only for being the first to be held in Asia, but also for the success of several countries that were previously considered to be “unfashionable”.

The tournament kicked off with the highly unfancied African nation Senegal defeating the reigning champions France, who were considered invincible as they had also captured the European Championship in 2000. The Japan/Korea experience was to prove to be their downfall, and they went all three first round games without so much as scoring a goal.

Host nation Japan joined Senegal in the second phase, but their co-hosts South Korea went not one, but two better, battling all the way to the final four. Another unlikely semi-final participant was Turkey.

Honourable mention must also go to the USA, who capitalised on an amazing 3-2 win over the much fancied Portugal in their opening match to progress through to the quarter-finals where they were unlucky to fall to the Germans.


As for England, at least they didn’t fall to penalties this time – instead it was to a bizarre lob by Ronaldinho in the quarter-finals that their usually dependable keeper David Seaman appeared to allow fly over his head after a woeful error of judgement.

It was those same Germans and Brazilians that were to meet in the final in the Yokohama stadium, and though it was an error from the previously unflappable German keeper Oliver Kahn that changed the game and allowed Ronaldo open the scoring; perhaps it was the absence of Germany’s playmaker Michael Ballack that proved the difference on the day.

Whatever the reasons, Brazil’s 2-0 win secured them an unprecedented fifth World Cup title, a record which will no doubt stand for decades even if it is not improved upon. Skipper Cafu became the first player to appear in three finals and proudly lifted the trophy when all was said and done.

Back in the Irish camp, McCarthy was unable to get morale back after the tournament and suffered heavy defeats in his next two outings. Needless to say Roy Keane did not feature in either game, though having claimed to have been “tired and emotional” around the time of the bust-up, he ended up having a full recovery once his nemesis stepped down from the manager’s job.

Alas, our national team just wasn’t to be the same since the Battle of Saipan, and we have had two unsuccessful qualifying campaigns since. Now, with Steve Staunton and Bobby Robson at the helm, we can only hope for a return to the glory days.

In a bizarrely-timed twist on the morning I was to publish this post, I hear that both Roy Keane and Mick McCarthy will be applying for the currently vacant manager's job at Nottingham Forest, the club where the Corkman began his professional playing career. It seems the battle is not yet over.




Next week – ALL THAT HAS GONE BEFORE

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

from in-rage to out-rage

Shaggy XI > Omani

As part of my selection process for choosing this month’s winner of the “Shaggy” award, I first looked over the previous winners to see if there was a type of post which had been overlooked up to now.

It was then that I realized that one of the most crucial uses to which a blog can be put is yet to be recognized by my award, and I wish to put this right straightaway.

Fittingly, the author of the award-winning post himself explains precisely what I mean in his own text :
Blogging lets the powerless speak out. Potentially it is the greatest social audit ever invented. Blogs, and the community of bloggers, can hold the mighty to account and thereby prevent violence.
And so, without going on about “further ado” as much as I normally do, I’d like to award the Eleventh Shagadelic Contribution To Blogland Award to Omani over at From Bath To Cork With Baby Grace for his post “Our Lady of Lourdes : Institutionalized Contraception”.

There is no need for me to go on about the actual topic in question, for Omani does a more than adequate job of this himself.

The reason for the award is that the post demonstrates just how useful a blog can be in articulating the way some big news story may affect you personally, and at the same time put it in a whole new perspective for someone else to ponder.

Bravo, Omani, take a bow. And while I’m at it, congratulations on the England cricket team beating India today.



Previous Winners :

I > Shandi – “Who says you can’t have the fairytale?"

II > Dol – “Corporate Whore!

III > Buffalo – “Bangkok

IV > Mike Todd – “Et tu, Mike?

V > John - “You Are Not Alone, I Self Harm Too

VI > Michèle - “Toyota Pickup vs. The Monte Carlo

VII > Shan - “Panic Stations

VIII > Red Mum - “The Last Time I Saw You

IX > Paige A Harrison - “Education Is Such A Pain In The Back

X > Alan - “52 Movies, 52 Weeks - 5. Munich

Monday, March 20, 2006

bitesize bullets



TEN TOPICS…
NO PARTICULAR ORDER…
ONE MAN’S OPINIONS…
FIFTY WORD LIMIT ON EACH…
WILL 37 CANDLES FIT ON A CAKE? ...



FEATURE : Having exhausted the Yahoo Translator tool, I will now turn my attention to the “Next Blog” button which is always at the top of the page and see what I find out there. If I can’t make sense of what I see I will have to make nonsense of it.

TUNES: Currently residing in my car’s tape deck is the much under-appreciated debut album from REM called Murmur which has such tracks as Radio Free Europe, Catapult and Moral Kiosk. It’s always interesting to hear great bands’ recordings from the early days, in this case 1983.

BIRTHDAY : On March 21, 1969, I began breathing. No real plans for tomorrow. I’m not sure 37 is really an age you “celebrate”, though I fully intend to have one hell of a bash when I hit the big four-oh.

NEXTBLOGGING : My Next Blog button just brought me to this site. Can you make head or tail of what’s going on here? Looks like a teenager, probably in Australia, with an issue or six. Check out the profile tagline “Whoops – she dropped into the toilet bowl.”

LINK : This week’s link shout-out goes to GingerPixel, who was among the several bloggers I chickened out of introducing myself to at the awards last week. Thank you also for your kind words in your comments about my “1000 Words On…” essays.

RUGBY : The day after St Patrick’s Day WAS one for celebrating, as the Ireland rugby team beat England in her own backyard. Not only that, but it meant we won the “Triple Crown” having also beaten Scotland and Wales. I reckon Guinness sales have gone up a tad lately…

BUSHPRAISING : No it’s not a typo! Fair play to Dubya for distancing himself from Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams on St Patricks Day. Though he actually met him this year, I doubt the little incident at the airport was a mistake. On this one, Bush has received good advice IMHO.

SOPRANOS : I don’t want to ruin the opening of Series 6 for any fans in case they haven’t seen it so instead I will remind you of Uncle Junior’s famous joke : “Did you hear about the Chinese godfather? He’ll make you an offer you can’t understand!”

STATWATCH : Mostly thanks to the exposure it received at the awards ceremony last week, my Irish Blog “Ah Sure Ya Know Yerself” recently went through the 7,000 hit barrier and has been getting record returning visitor stats as well, which I feel is the most significant gauge of your blog’s readability.

GOOGLING : Latest phrases to lead people here include …

“origin of the word shag”

“ms. O’leary’s cow song lyrics”

“curiosity argentina 78”

“to be sure to be sure irish saying” *

“who’s irish and doesn’t know rain” *



I hope they all found what they were looking for.



StatWatch and Google phrases of the week courtesy of StatCounter.com

* = from my Irish Blog

Friday, March 17, 2006

sprechen sie fußball?

12 weeks to the start of the World Cup Finals 2006 in Germany, and I feel duty bound to spread the word about the planet’s most popular sport’s biggest festival, so I will post every Friday until after the tournament is over.

This week’s post is short as it was definitely the most forgettable tournament of them all since I’ve had an interest.


ALLEZ LES BLEUS

Noone would argue it was a great French team, many would argue it was an anti-climax of a tournament


If a clairevoyant had told me in the early on in 1998 that I would get my first dose of chicken pox that summer AND be able to take time off work to watch a world famous sporting event staged in France, I probably would have kissed him or her.

I was working as manager of a sports store at the time, and between long hours and commuting PLUS two young children to see to at home, I would have barely had the time to turn on the telly let alone watch any of the World Cup being held in France.

Unfortunately for me, my illness was to strike right AFTER the competition ended, which left me at home for two weeks with nothing but the bloody Tour de France to provide sporting distraction.

Still, missing out wasn’t such a bad thing, since Ireland had not quite qualified, missing out in a play-off to the Belgians. Also, for me anyway, it was a pretty forgettable tournament overall.

It didn’t even start with an upset as previous competitions had. Many fancied Scotland to get something out of the holders Brazil on opening day, sadly they fell 2-1. Most of the fancied teams coasted through their first round groups, with the possible exception of Spain. The most interesting thing about the first phase for me was that the USA had been drawn in a group with three countries with which they have had military trouble; Germany, Yugoslavia and Iran, and lost to all of them. In soccer that is.

Once again England thought they had a team to take it all the way, once again they bowed out on penalties, this time to their own former battle adversaries Argentina. The tournament’s surprise package were Croatia, who made it all the way to the semifinals.

The final was between France and Brazil, and here, all the real drama took place before kickoff, as the Brazilian wunderkid Ronaldo took something of a nasty turn and was announced unable to play at the eleventh hour. Their spirit clearly broken, the Samba boys were easily swept aside 3-0 on the Sunday night in the one game I was actually able to watch from the comfort of my armchair.

It was clearly a tournament best forgotten, though the French did have a team worthy of the trophy – with players like Zidane, Desailly and the flamboyant Barthez in goal, it could not be said that they won thanks to home advantage alone.

You could say that when the final whistle blew in Paris that Sunday evening, I was itching for the next finals which were to be Japan and Korea. In actual fact, it was because my baby son had picked up the chicken pox from his creche.



Next week – JAPAN/KOREA 2002 : THE BATTLE OF SAIPAN

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

what more can they tell us?

The following report was on BBC.com yesterday. Click the headline for the full story.


Scores of bodies found in Baghdad

Iraqi authorities have discovered bodies from two mass killings, taking the number of corpses found in the past 24 hours to more than 80.

The bodies of 15 bound and apparently tortured men were found in an abandoned vehicle in Baghdad's Khadra district.

Hours later, at least 29 bodies were found bound, blindfolded and buried in a south-eastern suburb of the capital.

Analysts say the killings reflect the continuing sectarian violence between Sunni and Shia extremists.



Stories like this mean nothing to us now, do they?

More than 80 people killed in a couple of days because of the tensions in Iraq.

Yesterday, for a brief moment, I actually stopped to think about it.

Eighty people.

According to Wikipedia, these are the latest approximate figures of casualties since the invasion began.

Non Iraqi civilians = at least 560

Non-US armed forces = 206

US Armed forces = 2,304

Iraqis = Officially, anything from 28,501 to 32,119 [these are a fraction of the UN estimates but we all know what Bush supporters would say about them]

It has been three years since the occupation of Iraq began.

They told us there were WMDs.

They told us there were direct links between Saddam Hussein and Al Qaeda.

They told us it was what “The Iraqi people” wanted.

They told us that it was necessary for the Allied forces to bring a stability and democracy to Iraq.

Now, the country appears to be on the brink of civil war, yet not only do we here nothing about withdrawal, instead we hear Dubya beating his drums of war in Iran’s direction.

What more can they tell us?

How can it possibly be anything we can believe?

What more can we say in return?

Monday, March 13, 2006

once more with feeling

No bitesize bullets this week, mostly because I don't have time.

Instead I will post the poem that earned me a nomination for last Saturday's blog awards so that people that only drop by to this blog can read it. Sadly it did not win, but it really was great to be nominated, no matter how cliche that may sound! Having written several poems and song lyrics over the years, it was really good to receive some kind of recognition for one of them having overcome the fear of getting them into the public domain.

The awards ceremony got me thinking about how I want to proceed with my blogging, and I am seriously considering starting afresh with a new site and a new look. In the meantime I will proceed as normal, and of course I am open to suggestions.

Anyway, here's the poem, it's based on Irish history, which being the week of St Patrick's Day, should make it all the more relevant. It's called "Ní thosaímid an tine", which actually translates to "We Don't Start The Fire", but hopefully it still gets by on poetic license.



[sing to the tune of Billy Joel’s “We Didn’t Start The Fire”]


Druid Law, high kings, Cúchulainn, bronze things
Newgrange, Celts invade, Romans stay away

O’Neill dynasty, St Patrick, snakes flee
Monasteries, Book of Kells, Vikings from Norway

Waterford settlements, Dubh Linn battlements,
Clontarf, Brian Boru, everywhere another war

Many kingdoms come and go, tuatha rule, Strongbow
King Henry, Papal Bull, English army come ashore

Ní thosaímid an tine
It was always burning
Since the world’s been turning
Ní thosaímid an tine
No we didn’t light it
But we tried to fight it

Rule of Anglo Norman Lords, rise of Gaelic folklore,
Kilkenny Statutes, fortify the Pale

Reformation taking hold, Silken Thomas getting bold,
Poynings and Penal Laws, All rebellions fail

Catholicism stands its ground, will not to the king be bound
Cromwell, Will of Orange, Boyne battle, nation torn

Food exported, landlord greed, tenants they have mouths to feed
Wolfe Tone, not alone, Act of Union from the throne

Ní thosaímid an tine
It was always burning
Since the world’s been turning
Ní thosaímid an tine
No we didn’t light it
But we tried to fight it

Dan O’Connell wants repeal, not without the royal seal,
Spud blight, Great Famine, population fell

Irish language in decline, Georgian buldings to design,
IRB, Robert Emmet, Charles Stuart Parnell

Home Rule, Dublin slums, Ulster fears a day will come,
GAA, Land League, Fair, Free, Fixity

Great War, Inspiration, GPO proclamation
De Valera, Michael Collins, War over a Treaty

Ní thosaímid an tine
It was always burning
Since the world’s been turning
Ní thosaímid an tine
No we didn’t light it
But we tried to fight it

Free State, Fianna Fáil, Elections for the first Dáil
Resolution, Constitution, Neutrality

Pull out of the Commonwealth, Economy in poor health
Belfast, Sean Lemass, Behan-Joyce-O'Casey

James Craig, RUC, Gerrymander policy
Bloody Sunday, IRA, what else do I have to say

Ní thosaímid an tine
It was always burning
Since the world’s been turning
Ní thosaímid an tine
No we didn’t light it
But we tried to fight it

John Hume, EEC, Dr Garrett, RTE
CJ Haughey, H-block, Celtic Tiger, Geldof

U2, Boys In Green, D4-Culchie-Jackeen
X case, church and state, Good Friday mandate

Teflon Bertie, Eddie Hobbs, Immigrants do low-paid jobs
Millions wasted everywhere, Young and old in need of care

Can the Troubles be ignored, with Adams-Paisley to the fore
Does it mean an end to war? Cos I can’t take it anymore!

Ní thosaímid an tine
It was always burning
Since the world’s been turning
Ní thosaímid an tine
But when we are gone
Will it still burn on and on and on…


© B Joel 1989, JL Pagano 2005

click here for a full index of my poetry and song lyrics

Friday, March 10, 2006

sprechen sie fußball?

13 weeks to the start of the World Cup Finals 2006 in Germany, and I feel duty bound to spread the word about the planet’s most popular sport’s biggest festival, so I will post every Friday until after the tournament is over.

This week I recall the one World Cup I got to see in person.


MAKING SOCCER HISTORY?

Jack’s Army had a score to settle with the Italians in ‘94


Say you get married, and embark on what is meant to be a trip around the world with your fellow newlywed by way of an extended honeymoon. What is the coolest thing they can do for you on your next birthday?

It was February 1993 at the Spartan Stadium in San Jose. The referee blew the full time whistle, and the spectators were put out of their misery after what had to be the most boring game of international football ever played, a 0-0 draw in a friendly between USA and Russia. I turned to my (now ex-) wife and said, “Happy Birthday, dear!”

Even though it was a travesty of a contest, and even though it was hardly the most romantic of occasions, she fully understood how important it was that we attend this particular game. One of the reasons we began our “world tour” in America was so that we could be there for the World Cup finals which were due to take place in the summer of 1994, and if you went to see this game between the former Cold War adversaries, you would be guaranteed tickets for whatever venue you chose.

Since it seemed that Ireland were well poised to qualify, I was certain that their games would be played in the Boston venue. Though we were both working in San Francisco at the time, the plan was to Amtrak across the country to be settled in the Massachusetts capital, where I also had family connections, so that we could be well poised to make the trip to the games in Foxborough Stadium.

The plan worked almost perfectly. We got our tickets well in advance, and at rock bottom prices. Once the draw was made for the final stages, naturally the value of the tickets soared. Not ones to be overly greedy, we sold tickets for two of the games for the value of the entire package of five to break even.

It has to be said it was quite a shrewd move by the sport’s governing body FIFA to stage the finals tournament in the land of the free. Because of the popularity of all the more traditionally American sports like baseball and gridiron football, the game of “soccer” was finding it extremely difficult to find a niche at the highest professional level.

What made this all the more paradoxical was that soccer was and indeed still is the most popular sport for America’s youth. The simple reason for that is, the game requires you to buy the minimum of equipment, just a uniform and a ball. The lack of helmets, bats, gloves or excessive padding went a long way to creating the phenomenon known as the “soccer mom”.

Despite the fact that pretty much everyone played up to the age of 9 or 10, once over that age, kids wanted to emulate the sporting heroes they saw on the TV where the world’s greatest soccer players were nowhere to be seen in America, unless you tuned into Spanish language channels. A good friend of mine who lives in California told me her son was of the impression that the sport was considered “gay”.

And so, FIFA made its decision to try and conquer this final great frontier for its pastime. Nine cities were chosen across the nation, and the one thing they could be absolutely sure of, they had the best race of people on the planet when it came to marketing.

“How to play the game of Association Football. Two teams of eleven men kick a ball around a field. At the end of ninety minutes, the Germans win.”

…is roughly how I remember one of their more amusing warm-up ads sounding. One other slogan I found particularly ironic was the one that went “USA ’94 – Making Soccer History”. The double meaning of that phrase was not lost on me – clearly they meant it in the positive nature, but since I knew so many Americans thought it was just a dumb boring European sport, I was sure there were many that would actually like to make the game history.

And so we settled in Boston, and I got a job in a sports store downtown right near the Common. I was hardly surprised that the management of the store had little knowledge of the impending tournament. They were generally more interested in how the Red Sox or the Bruins were doing. After much nagging I finally managed to persuade them to get their suppliers to send them reasonable quantities of the replica jerseys in time for the competition.

Ironically enough, the one shirt they could not acquire was that of Ireland. This was because people were selling them on the sly all over the Irish pubs around the city. I had to wonder about their authenticity, however, when on of the managers, of Irish ancestry himself, proudly proclaimed that he had bought such a shirt, and the reason the seller told him he could be sure it was genuine was the fact that it had the brand name “St Bernard” right there on the label!

Speaking of Ireland, the good news was, they qualified for the finals. The bad news was, none of their games were to be in Boston. They were drawn in a very tricky first round “group of death” with Mexico, Norway, and their conquerors from 1990, Italy, and the games were to be in New York and Orlando.

The biggest team to be involved at the Boston venue for the first round was Argentina, and it was to a couple from Buenos Aires that we sold our tickets. That left us with our first taste of live World Cup football as the group game between South Korea and Bolivia.

Once we took our seats, which were impressively close to the front row, we soon realised the cosmopolitan nature of this event. There was a drunken Argentinian chap beside us, an English couple on the other side, and what sounded like some Scandinavian men behind us. The most entertaining fellow spectators, however, were seated in front of us.

They could only be described as the “typical clean-cut all-American family”, straight out of a Disney movie. There was Dad, Mom, early teenage daughter, and a boy and another girl both under ten. They arrived just before kick-off, complete with trays of munchies. All of them were wearing the same World Cup souvenir t-shirts.

What made me laugh about them most, however, was when the elder daughter turned to her mother ten minutes into the game and asked, “Which team is which?” Remember – the teams were South Korea and Bolivia, and we were easily close enough to see the faces of the players. My amazement was doubled when the mother didn’t know, and it was tripled when she asked the father and even he didn’t have a clue.

Unfortunately, this game was an even more boring 0-0 draw than the one in San Jose a year before, though I suppose the carnival atmosphere made up for it. Next up for us was to take our place at The Kells bar on Commonwealth Avenue for the first Irish game against the Italians.

The pub was full to bursting with several having recently arrived in the States and well versed on the new breed of Irish players such as Jason McAteer. As we pounded both bottles of beer and our fists against the bar in excitement, the Boys in Green held on to their early 1-0 lead courtesy of Ray Houghton for an incredible victory over one of the tournament favourites. Once again, we had the feeling that we had won the tournament, and we were also able to banish the demons caused by those who made fun of us for not even winning a game back in 1990!

Our last two games in Foxborough both involved Nigeria. Their fans were extremely colourful, and made a carnival of the train ride there and back by forming a conga line and dancing up and down all the carriages. They were very unlucky not to get past the Italians themselves in the knockout stages, with only a Roberto Baggio penalty in extra time separating the teams.

Unfortunately, Ireland fell to the Mexicans in their second group game, 2-1 in Orlando, but John Aldridge’s late goal meant that we still had a good chance of progressing courtesy of a result from our final game with Norway.

The Irish-American manager of my store arranged to have the day off so he could come with me and MyEx to the Kells to see what all the fuss was about. He was to be amazed by the atmosphere, particularly when you consider that it was yet another 0-0 draw. The tension was created by the fact that the Mexico v Italy game was taking place at the same time, and as goals went in there, the standings in the group changed dramatically. Suffice to say, whatever way the maths worked out, the Irish had made it through yet again.

This time, we were to face Holland, and unfortunately, our bubble was to burst. A mishap by fullback Terry Phelan let them in for an opener, and with us well poised to get an equaliser, our hero of a goalie from Italia90 Packie Bonner allowed a relatively easy shot slip through his fingers for a crushing second which meant the Irish dream was over for another year.

I remember the day of the Dutch game well. It was a typical New England summer’s day, extremely hot and humid. Between that and the USA v Brazil game in the evening, I managed an hour’s sunbathing on the roof of our apartment building. With new unlikely role models like the flame-haired, goatee-sporting Alexi Lalas, the host nation were then extremely lucky to bow out only 1-0 having had an impressive first phase which included a win over Colombia, which was to provide one of the talking points of the tournament.

The Colombians were well fancied as an outside bet to go all the way, with stars such as Carlos Valderrama on their team. The defeat to the Americans, however, was to bring home the significance of this event to the general public when Andreas Escobar, who had scored an extremely fortunate own goal in the game, was shot dead outside a nightclub shortly after returning home when his team had been eliminated. Of course this had more to do with the drug culture than football, but it was still hard to believe.

Among the other surprise packages of the finals we had Bulgaria, who bravely ousted the Germans in the quarterfinals inspired by the great Hristo Stoichkov. Sweden also got to the semis with their well organized squad.

And so it came to the day of the final between Brazil and Italy, who had progressed this far despite their earlier defeat to the Irish. I watched the game in my cousin’s apartment on Comm Ave. Considering the games I had been to before, it was rather fitting that this was to be yet another 0-0 draw, but since it was a final, there had to be a winner on the day.

The World Cup final of 1994 was indeed to make soccer history in that it was the first to be decided by way of a “penalty shoot-out”. Nobody would have guessed that it would be the Italian superstar Roberto Baggio that lost his nerve first, as his kick sailed high over the bar, leaving their opponents victorious for the fourth time.

As had been the norm with every victory throughout the tournament, the Brazilian fans took to the streets for a Samba party shortly after the end of the game. They waved gigantic green and yellow flags out of their car and you would be led to believe you were actually in Rio. Bemused Americans looked on, most of them totally oblivious to the reason for their celebration.

All in all, it has to be said the USA experiment was a success. A professional soccer league was formed shortly afterwards, called Major League Soccer. Though it never professed to be able to match the home-grown sports, it successfully drew support from ethnic communities and despite a few setbacks it still exists today.

Still, I doubt the Yanks will ever fully embrace the world’s most popular game. Maybe it’s because they cannot handle seeing themselves stacked up fairly against other countries, particularly when they will have to work hard to come out on top. Sounds like a grand case of sour grapes to me. “We’re not number one? Ah, it’s a dumb boring sport anyway.”


Next week – FRANCE ’98 : ALLEZ LES BLEUS

Monday, March 06, 2006

bitesize bullets



TEN TOPICS…
NO PARTICULAR ORDER…
ONE MAN’S OPINIONS…
FIFTY WORD LIMIT ON EACH…
AND THE WINNER IS…



ENOUGH : Σκέφτομαι ότι είχα αρκετή διασκέδαση με το εργαλείο μεταφραστών Yahoo - χρόνος να βρεθεί ένα άλλο παιχνίδϊ, which is Greek to me, but should mean : “I think I have had enough fun with the Yahoo translator tool - time to find another toy!”

SCARY-ISH : Take The Blair Witch Project and Crocodile Dundee, mix well, add a pinch of Freddie Kreuger, let stand for a few years, you end up with Wolf Creek. I recommend you watch it, even if it’s only to work out how it can be “based on true events”.

IMMINENT : Have your fingers crossed for me next Saturday, as I will be in the Alexander Hotel in downtown Dublin to see how I get on in the Irish Blog Awards! It promises to be a fun night, and meeting fellow members of the Blog O’Sphere should be quite interesting…

OSCARS : What better subject to follow ones about movies and award ceremonies? Having said that, the Hollywood party holds little interest for me. I do wonder if there will be homophobic suggestions surrounding the overlooking of Brokeback Mountain for best pic, though…

STATWATCH : Since I started recording stats last May, I have recently gone over the 20,000 hit mark between my three blogs. It really is quite a buzz to get such feedback on your opinions. So what if you don’t make money from it?

TUNES : I recently bought the new Strokes album “First Impressions of Earth” and my own first impressions are these…neither it nor their last effort “Rooms on Fire” come near matching their impressive debut “Is This It?” I guess therefore it was.

LINK : I often have a thing or two to say about Irish politics, particularly matters in the northern part of the island. This week’s link shout-out goes to Julius Geezer who is never short of a word or two in defence of what he believes in. Keep the challenges coming, mate!

BUSHCRASHING : The Scotsman newspaper obtained the official police report of Dubya’s bike incident when at Gleneagles for the G8 summit last year. Apparently he was attempting to “pedal, wave and speak” at the same time. Also the officer he crashed into was officially reported to have been “hit by moving/falling object”.


PATTERN : I reckon this week’s “google phrases” (ie the last bullet) were all entered by the same person, and if so it makes for a rather alarming scenario, don’t you agree? The keywords are all genuine, I assure you.

GOOGLING : Latest phrases to lead people here include …

“horny mother in law”

“silken knickers”

“how do you shag someone”

“give a little bit of love and you get it back give a little bit of pain lyrics”

“world of odd balls”

“facing your demons”


I hope they all found what they were looking for.



StatWatch and Google phrases of the week courtesy of StatCounter.com

* = from my Irish Blog


Friday, March 03, 2006

sprechen sie fußball?

14 weeks to the start of the World Cup Finals 2006 in Germany, and I feel duty bound to spread the word about the planet’s most popular sport’s biggest festival, so I will post every Friday until after the tournament is over.

This week I relive the amazing times that were to be had here in Dublin the summer of 1990.


HOW OLÉ BECAME AN IRISH WORD

At the precise moment this pic was shot, Irish men, women and children all over the world were holding their breath.


Anyone who was alive and not wearing diapers in the Republic of Ireland for the summer of 1990 should have a World Cup story to tell. The funny thing is, a lot of them, myself included, may have trouble remembering who actually won the tournament itself!


At the time I was breezing my way through college learning much more from my job behind the bar at Gleeson’s of Booterstown than I was cracking Psychology books at UCD.

Although the pub in question had much closer ties to the game of rugby, the World Cup of 1990 which was staged in sunny Italy was to be the first to embrace the now customary global tradition of viewing major sporting encounters in a drinking emporium.

I clearly remember both John and Ciaran Gleeson pleading with their father Frank to invest in the big screen technology the minute it was confirmed that The Republic of Ireland soccer team had qualified to take part in the tournament. Oh what a worthwhile investment that turned out to be.

Allow me to demonstrate by way of a brief anecdote just how popular the local pub was as a vantage point. For Ireland’s third group game against the Netherlands, we put signs up everywhere we could, advertising that our Willow lounge was the place to be to get the best atmosphere. The fliers clearly stated that the doors to the lounge would open at 6pm sharp, so punters were advised to arrive early to avoid disappointment.

I was the lucky member of staff who was elected to man the door as the line began forming just after 5:30. People stood in eager anticipation and traded pleasantries with me as they waited and I gave them advice as to where the best seats would be once I opened the doors.

Unbeknownst to me, a hoard of regular patrons had already petitioned the four-strong management team for special treatment, and they were allowed into the Willow lounge via the kitchen. This meant that when I was allowed to swing the doors open on the dot of six, the lounge was already full to capacity! The second I realised this I was able to escape the bemused throng at the door and take my dinner break!

In actual fact, being a pub of multiple lounges, it was clear after the first group game against the aul enemy England that one big screen was nowhere near enough to satisfy the congregation. Smaller tellies were commissioned so that everyone with a pint in their hand could savour the action. Even we the barman were allowed a set on the counter so we would not miss out.

So where did this soccer frenzy come from?

When Ireland had failed yet again to qualify for the Mexico ’86 finals, and their little cousins up in the North managed it for the second time in succession, the governing body south of the border, the Football Association of Ireland (FAI), made its most intelligent and yet most courageous ever executive decision.

Realising that success breeds success, they chose to appoint Jack Charlton as national team coach. The intelligence came from the fact that Jack himself had won the World Cup in 1966 as a player. The courage came from the fact that he was not only foreign, he was English.

Finally we had a pair of eyes to look at the setup from the outside. Jack’s biggest contribution was to scrutinize the FIFA regulations regarding eligibility to play for a particular country. He noticed that so long as you could prove that at least one grandparent was naturally Irish, you could don the green jersey.

Since our Great Famine had sent people far and wide around the globe, most notably across the water to England, Charlton realised his pool of players was much wider than it first appeared. He could then pull his many strings in the English game to convince top quality players who, though not quite good enough to play for their country of birth, may still have a chance to experience international football.

And so to join our native stars such as Liam Brady, Pat “Packie” Bonner and Ronnie Whelan, we now had the likes of Tony Galvin, Chris Hughton (both from my team Spurs) and Ray Houghton to call on. Jack Charlton instilled in his new charges a confidence and a style of play which involved making up for technical shortcomings against superior opposition by harrying them like Irish wolfhounds whenever they had the ball.

This new “put ‘em under pressure” style of play brought instant success and in 1987, Ireland qualified for its first major finals tournament, the European Championships in Germany. Since I believe I have some Scottish readers, I should point out that their 1-0 in Bulgaria greatly helped our cause that year! Thanks lads! Unfortunately the luck of the Irish was not to carry over to the tournament itself, for despite bravely conquering England 1-0 and holding the USSR to a 1-1 draw, we bowed out of the tournament courtesy of the Dutch.

Nonetheless, the German experience created a whole new generation of soccer fans in the country, one that was rabidly hungry for more success when Italia 90 came along.

It seemed inevitable that we would be drawn to play England yet again in the first round, with the Dutch and the so-called outsiders Egypt making up the group. And so the nation gathered to take in the excitement of our first taste of World Cup finals action.

We thought it had all gone pear-shaped when Gary Lineker put England 1-0 up in our opening encounter. I will always remember how our equaliser transpired. Goalkeeper Bonner had the ball in his hands and as he kicked the ball out towards the forward line his face showed a determination best demonstrated by the Irish turn of phrase “go on, ye boy ye!”

A matter of seconds later, Kevin Sheedy was slotting the ball into the net down the other end. Well you would have thought we had just been crowned World champions. It’s amazing how a 1-1 tie seems completely different to the two teams and their fans depending on who scored first!

The Egypt game that followed was quite possibly the most frustrating 90 minutes of football I have ever watched. Unfortunately the Irish tactic of stifling more skilful opponents was no good as the canny Africans gave us a taste of our own medicine and forced a 0-0 tie. This meant we were forced to get some kind of result against the Dutch to make the knockout stages.

Once again we went 1-0 behind, only to equalise by virtue of the lanky Niall Quinn, as his girlfriend Gillian watched in that very same Willow lounge in Gleeson’s, I might add. I knew this because I thought I was flirting with her until I was advised that she was somewhat spoken for!

Luckily for the Irish, even though our three first round matches resulted in draws, it was still good enough to get us into the knockout “last 16” phase, when we were to face Romania.

By the day of the game in Genoa, the entire nation was well used to the new temporary Irish national anthem:

We’re all part of Jackie’s army
We’re all off to Italy
And we’ll really shake them up
When we win the World Cup
Cos Ireland are the greatest football team!
Olé, Olé, Olé, Olé
Olé, Olé [repeat Olé’s ad nauseum]


Come to think of it, I'm not quite sure exactly how a Spanish word became synonymous with the Irish team's involvement in a competition in Italy, so maybe my title is a bit misleading. The point is, we would take any excuse to sing it, unless, of course, there was a post-game interview with the mighty Jack himself, when you could hear a pin drop in any pub!

Well, I doubt anyone remembers anything from the Romania match, at least the 120 minutes of play and the first lot of penalty kicks. Only when Lupescu took his team’s fifth kick and it was bravely saved by Bonner did the memory banks kick into gear. This meant Dave O’Leary needed to slot home his effort to earn us an astonishing quarterfinal berth.

Unbelievably, as he placed the ball on the penalty spot, a kid aged around 13 caught my eye at the bar and actually asked me if I could get him a Coke. Whatever my exact reply, I hope it was polite, but I can guarantee the gist was “no, go away”. I wouldn’t have been able to get it anyway, for when O’Leary’s kick smashed against the back of the net, there were more drinks spilled than poured!

The rest of that day for bartenders like me involved hard work yet for the rest of the nation it meant drinking out in the streets waving at every car passing by, whose drivers of course were honking their horns furiously in celebration. It was an amazing atmosphere. Every man, woman and child was smiling. Even those who would treat such sporting exploits with disdain couldn’t help but join in the fun.

After that dramatic day in Genoa, Jackie’s army could do no wrong in our eyes. Faced with a quarterfinal with the host nation Italy, I think we all knew there was a good chance our run was over, and sure enough, we succumbed to a goal from another unsung hero, “Toto” Schillaci.

The Irish team came home a few days later to a welcome the country had not seen since the Pope himself had visited 11 years earlier. By taking their place among the top eight nations in the football world, these men had written themselves into Irish cultural history, and their legacy touched every player that dons the green jersey today.

As for me personally, I made a solemn vow that whatever happened I would be the fun side of the bar the next time Ireland qualified for a World Cup finals.

What about the rest of the tournament?

Well, Paul Gascoigne cried and West Germany beat Argentina in the final by virtue of a controversial penalty. That was about it really, and I actually had to look up that latter bit of information to be sure.


Next week – USA ’94 : MAKING SOCCER HISTORY?

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

my weathergirl



There are days the sun is shining
When I leave bales of hay unmade
And all the places I go hiding
Are forever bathed in shade

But when I see half empty cups
And need someone to spin me round
I know she’s there to pick me up
And turn my climate upside down

She’s my weathergirl
She’s my weathergirl
When I make weather heavy
She makes it lighter

She’s my weathergirl
She’s my weathergirl
The saviour of my rainy days
She makes them brighter

Now when the days are clear with blue skies
You can bet that I’ll find rain
Cos of the space between my two eyes
And the recesses of my brain

She'll crawl right in and drag me out
Cos she knows where my soul resides
She'll lead me back through all the doubt
A full moon to control my tides

She’s my weathergirl
She’s my weathergirl
When I make weather heavy
She makes it lighter

She’s my weathergirl
She’s my weathergirl
The saviour of my rainy days
She makes them brighter

Give me rosy glasses
I’ll look for thorns
Give me choirs of angels
I’ll look for horns
But give me a thousand words
That make me sad
It only takes her four
To make it all seem not so bad…

It’s gonna be alright
It’s gonna be alright

She’s my weathergirl
She’s my weathergirl
When I make weather heavy
She makes it lighter

She’s my weathergirl
She’s my weathergirl
The saviour of my rainy days
She makes them brighter


© JL Pagano 2006



click here for a full index of my poetry and song lyrics