Tramps like us (and we like tramps)

Born to Run is one of the great rock songs.

Speaking about the song in later years Bruce Springsteen said that he wanted to make it a combination of Elvis, Dylan and Spector.

And he succeeded.

The song is awash with raw energy and beat poet caricatures driving into a wall of sound.

Bruce has written better songs in his time, but I’m not sure he’s made better records.

But to even speak of words like “better” when it comes to music can be fatuous. Reducing it to the sterility of a balance sheet.

So let’s not say there’s a “better” version of Born to Run out there. Let’s just say there’s a different one.

Frankie Goes To Hollywood were a Liverpudlian band formed in a world where Thatcher’s Britain was intent on punishing those it disliked and distrusted. Their “enemies of the people”.

Frankie were huge at the time, but are now a footnote in the history of popular music (Although maybe it’s the footnotes that define popular music more than anything else?)

And they covered Born to Run.

Their version opens with a spoken exchange based around the Thatcherite ritual of the bored young man heading to the local “dole” office to sign for unemployment benefit and being met with the banal tyranny of equally bored bureaucracy.

“I’m sorry I’ve left me card at home”

“Well you’re late as well, that’s three times on the run. If you’re late again the supervisor said we’ve gotta put you on daily signing”

Then singer Holly Johnson declares a defiant “Ha!” and the song begins.

“In the day we sweat it out on the streets of a runaway American dream
At night we ride through the mansions of glory in suicide machines
Sprung from cages out on highway nine……”

And it sounds ridiculous in this context.

Johnson may as well be speaking in tongues so far removed are the words from his everyday life.

Producer Trevor Horn throws everything at the recording, but never achieves either the Spector Wall of Sound or the confidence and bombast of the Springsteen version (There’s a different argument to be made about how such bombast made Springsteen’s other “Born” song so misunderstood by many. I mean, if you’re going to use a song as a singalong anthem for packed stadiums while having the Stars and Stripes draped large behind you it seems somewhat churlish to complain that people are missing the “irony” of the lyrics).

But back to Born to Run.

We only have to listen to Bruce’s version to know that he’s going to get the girl, get the car and get the future he’s dreaming of.

Holly Johnson doesn’t want the girl, can’t conceive of the car and knows he has no future.

Springsteen is driving toward the sun because that’s where he rightfully belongs. Johnson is flying too close to the sun because it’s the only way of forgetting who he is for one brief moment of time.

Bruce is bound for glory, Holly is bound to lose.

So let’s not speak of which version is better. Let’s just say that one version of the song is a celebration of escape and the other is a failed attempt to manifest a world where the word “escape” has meaning.

So where do the Whitecaps come in all of this?

Was it actually Bob Lenarduzzi playing saxophone on the original recording?

Sadly no.

But it seems some of us are destined to follow the “Bruce” teams of this world. The Real Madrids, the Manchester Uniteds and the Seattle Sounders. And some of us are destined to follow the “Frankie” teams.

The teams that live in an imperfect world. Who fail more often than they succeed and who, even when they do succeed, do so in an ephemeral way.

They are not dynasties destined to rule for years, but rebels who storm the castle for one night before being banished to the hills once again.

The footnotes in the history of sport (But footnotes who help to define us).

So, when the Whitecaps return, all we can really ask from them is that when they do fail, they fail bravely and gloriously. Dreaming of what can never be.

Just like Frankie did.

 

Time Added On

Toward the end of Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey the astronaut “Dave” experiences Time as a series of jump cuts. Scenes flashing by devoid of any kind of narrative structure. He is eating a meal, he is watching a glass of wine fall to the ground, he is laying on his bed.

Life in the lock-down can be a little like that.

We move from place to place wondering less about where we are and more about when we are. “Was it yesterday I went to the supermarket or last Friday?” “Why have I lost track of regular meal times?”

And that’s a reminder that Time only seems linear because we try to make it so.

Like fishing vessels adrift on an endless ocean we throw out marker buoys to create the illusion of progress.

The religions of the world have tried to solve the problem of understanding Time by adding circularity to the linear. With their Passovers and Easters and Ramadans and May the Fourth’s and so on and so on ad infinitum.

But those of us who only experience these events as secular points of vague interest are  forced to turn to the only true religion of the modern era.

Sport.

For every sport there is a season and each new season is a reassuring marker buoy to be noted and logged.

But, now that even sport is gone, what is there to give us anchor?

We can no longer make sense of Time because Time doesn’t make sense. Or rather, our senses can’t make sense of Time without the filter of all the “static” events we have carefully manufactured.

Our reality is only comprehensible when viewed through the filter of our illusions.

Gradually though we are creeping back toward the normal, or the “new normal” at least, and we will once again find ourselves secure in the footholds of schedules and tables and team sheets.

We will once again live through Time and not in it.

The last few weeks will no doubt change the way we think about many things. But will it also change the way we think about the way we think about many things?

A Moment of Quiet Reflection

In lieu of me writing anything this week I thought I would share a few of the aphorisms of the largely forgotten “first philosopher of football” Hosel Altobolf  (affectionately known as “Hippo” to his few close friends).

Altobolf died at a tragically young age, but his collected works are still as relevant today as they were when he first penned them while watching construction workers playing hastily arranged games of soccer during their breaks from building Vienna’s Centralbahnhof in the late 1860’s.

I hope they provide at least some solace and guidance in these strange times.

“Even the inverted winger must take the wider path from time to time. Just as we must accept there are moments in life when the longer road is the one that will lead us to our ultimate destination.”

“The wise player knows that the defensive wall is not an obstruction to the free-kick but a guide. And so must we acknowledge that the obstacles we perceive in our lives do not exist to thwart us, but to act as signposts to be followed.”

“The additional time at the end of a game is both finite and infinite. Determined yet indeterminate. All time is thus.”

“A goalkeeper who is unaware of his true position in relation to others will always be beaten. We can only live the successful life if we are aware of our true place within society.”

“The defensive midfielder does not aim to destroy attacks but to create them. To create our true selves we must first destroy the “other”.

“A set piece is a moment of calm and clarity before the resumption of chaos. We must strive to make each morning our own unique set piece.”

“The False Nine can only reach his full potential by being true to the role. We can only reach our full potential in life by being true to ourselves and shunning the labels imposed by others.”

“There is neither honour nor glory in the injured player who refuses to be replaced. He simply weakens the whole. There are times in life when we must accept our own inability to act and rely on the good deeds of others.”

“A player is defined as much by the passes he does not make as those he does. And so in life, the actions we do not take carry equal moral weight to those we do.”

“The wise player knows that he always has more time than seems possible and less time than seems necessary. We must live our lives in the same knowledge.”

All of these (and more) can be found in Altobolf’s seminal work “It is always/never a game of two halves”. Which, though difficult to find, is well worth seeking out.

An Open Letter to September 2020

Dear September,

It’s me, April. I’m writing to you because I’m heading your way and I’m eager to know what the world is like where you are.

You probably know by now that over here we are still self isolating, social distancing and all those other phrases that have become everyday parlance by now. Do those things still exist there? I’m sure they do, but I hope they’re not as all encompassing as they are where I am.

I’m sure you’ve also heard that there are no sports here. What about there? I’d like to think there will be sports to watch when I get there and I’d like to think that people can go and watch them. Be a part of a crowd again.

But I won’t get my hopes too high.

Some sports here are talking about June as a time to be back up and running (pun intended!) but that seems wildly optimistic to me. Especially given how things are in America right now.

What is America like there?

No wait. Don’t tell me. I don’t want to know.

Are your sidewalks still scarred with duct tape? Measuring out the distance between us all?

And what about the bars and restaurants? Does it feel “normal” to walk into a bar there?  Or has our new normal just become the normal everywhere now?

One of the things I’m most looking forward to when I get there is being able to look back at where I am now and seeing how it looks from your vantage point. A new perspective  never does anyone any harm right?

But what would be even better, although I’m sorry to say this is something neither me nor you will be able to do my good friend September, would be to read the historians of the future.

What will they say about me in fifty years time? In one hundred years time? What will they say about you? Or will the two of us just blend into one? What if we’re not as momentous as we feel we are? Indistinguishable and unimportant within the arc of the story?

The Rosencrantz and Guildenstern of the whole affair.

Is it too early to say which way the dice will roll from where you are?

Will people turn in on themselves and hide from the world and the “other”, or will they turn away from the system that led them to this? Maybe when I get there I will have a clearer idea?

I suppose the whole thing is fascinating in an “interesting times” kind of a way. A worldwide experiment that still has a long, long way to run. But let’s just hope that me and you are in the placebo group!

Anyway, I have to go now.

I can hear May begin to stir somewhere downstairs and he will be knocking at my door before I know it. All disheveled and weary, but with the light of the summer to be bursting out of his eyes.

Between you and me September, I’m dreading the moment when I have to sit him down and tell him about the world he will find out there. But what can you do?

Sorry for all these questions. I’m sure you have your own troubles to navigate, but stay safe and I’ll see you sooner than you know.

I really hope we can catch a game together when I get there.

Your friend,

April.

A Pandemic Diary

Sunday Morning-  Took a brisk walk to a popular local park to grab some pics of all the people gathered there so that I could then shame them on social media. I was shocked by how many idiots (Covidiots I now call them!) were there and it was almost impossible to maintain my social distance while I was taking my photos. Some of them even had the temerity to blissfully film their experience as if it were a family vacation. People!

Sunday Afternoon- Intended to go to Save On Foods for grocery items but the line up was at least ten people long and I’m not prepared to waste my valuable time like that no matter what the situation.

Sunday Evening- As there are no Whitecaps games right now I have decided to return to Football Manager and have taken charge of Tottenham Hotspur (I have to be better than Mourinho!). It’s been some years since I played the game but it shouldn’t be too difficult to get back into the swing of it.

Monday Morning- Went to Whole Foods for my essential morning croissant and was appalled at how lax they are in enforcing the “15 items only” rule in the so called express lane. Those rules are there for a reason and part of me wished that Jeff Bezos was as strict with this policy as he is with not allowing his warehouse workers to take bathroom breaks. Come on Jeff! Put your foot down here too!

Monday Afternoon- Went to the liquor store and discovered a line up of at least twenty people. But these are exceptional times and I was happy to wait my turn.

Monday Evening- I think it would be easier to fill out a visa form to become a performance artist in North Korea than it is to understand the new FM game! Eventually I handed all duties apart from selecting the match day eleven to my staff and can now concentrate on developing my team. It’s disappointing how many of them already seem to be plotting against me but I am confident I can win them over.

Tuesday Morning- A most distressing incident happened to me on my morning walk. A frail old lady ahead of me was using one of those walker contraptions that seem to be very popular with people her age when she suddenly stumbled and fell into the road. The strict social distancing guidelines meant that I was unable to physically help her up but I did take the time to sit on a nearby bench and shout both encouragement and advice to her.  But after about ten minutes it became clear she would be stuck there for a while so, in one final gesture of goodwill, I tentatively kicked her walker a little closer to her head and wished her good luck. I didn’t hear exactly what she mumbled in reply, but I can only assume it was her heartfelt gratitude.

Tuesday Afternoon- I have now mastered the art of slaloming down the street avoiding all other people to ensure the correct social distance is always maintained. I’ve also taken to speaking inner commentary to myself as I pretend to be a slower version of Alphonso Davies weaving his way through a series of hapless defenders. Perhaps I should try to put some of these commentaries on Twitter? They do seem to be very popular.

Tuesday Evening- I have always liked Son Heung-min as a player. But it goes to show that you don’t really know anybody until you meet them because he has been the lead instigator in trying to turn the rest of the Tottenham squad against me and if it were not for the intervention of Harry Kane (clearly a gentleman and all around good guy) I would be fearing for my job. It has been a solid if unspectacular start to the season but I am confident that once the players and the fans (who, bafflingly, also seem to have issues with me) get to know me and my style of play then all will be well.

Wednesday Morning- I use to get quite disturbed by strange dreams, but in the current situation they represent my only meaningful chance to travel anywhere outside a two block radius of my home. So it was nice to spend some time at Disneyland last night, even if the trip did end with me sitting helplessly at the front of the Space Mountain ride as it hurtled into the roof of my childhood home. How fascinating the human mind can be!

Wednesday Afternoon- Spent a few hours unsubscribing from all the companies who have sent emails telling me how they are dealing with the Covid-19 crisis. It was great to take time doing something really useful and it’s nice to know that I won’t be one of those people who look back at the lock down and wonder why they wasted it doing nothing important.

Wednesday Evening- Tottenham’s home form has been poor and the players are still constantly complaining (apart from Harry Kane who told me today that he appreciates how I have helped improve his game) but a 3-0 home victory over Juventus in the Champions League feels like a corner has been turned. We will be moving up the table before we know it!

Thursday Morning- I was furious to find a stranger sitting on my favourite park bench this morning! I appreciate these are trying times for everybody so I said nothing. But we surely have to maintain some degree of social order and respect if we are to get through this? I trust my look of contempt sent him home a chastened man.

Thursday Afternoon- I really enjoy it when the sirens sound on my street at seven o’clock each evening and we all get to bang pots and pans to support our wonderful health care workers. But I fear there has been a subliminal side effect because, on my afternoon constitutional today, I found myself standing by the side of the road and involuntarily applauding as a fire truck loudly announced its arrival at a quite significant house fire. I can see how the fleeing inhabitants may have taken offence at my cheers, but was there really any need for such terrible language?

Thursday Evening- The impressive victory over Juventus was followed by a dispiriting 2-0 home loss to Bournemouth which was then followed by a crushing 4-0 defeat at Anfield which, mea culpa, was not helped by me accidentally putting striker Lucas Moura in goal. Even Harry Kane was disappointed in me (although he remained a model of civility throughout). With crushing inevitability the board announced that I had been fired with immediate effect. But I am not disheartened! This is all part of the learning curve of being a top coach and I am already applying for other positions and am hopeful of landing the current vacancy at Southampton within days.

Friday-Slept all day.

Saturday Morning- These are the days that I really miss going to the Whitecaps game and seeing all my friends. The guy outside the stadium who shouts at me to tell me when to get my ticket out. The security guard who tells me to calm down when I feel a player isn’t tracking back properly and even the beer server who asks me for ID every single time even though she clearly remembers me. I hope to see them all again soon.

Saturday Afternoon- Read through my first few diary entries and am convinced that this was a good idea! It gives a real insight into how people today are feeling and will hopefully be of real use to future historians. Maybe I should go by the pseudonym Lil Pepys?

Saturday Evening- I have been unable to land any of the top jobs and I can’t help wondering if Son Heung-min has been spreading lies about me. Eventually I was forced to accept the coaching job with bottom tier team Newport County. I have no interest in them as a club, I don’t know any of their players and I certainly don’t want to live there after the bright lights of London. My introductory press conference was a desultory affair as a local hack asked me about my style of play and ambitions for the club. I responded with cliches and  indifference and he seemed dissatisfied. I know how he feels! Perhaps I should delete the whole thing and start again?

 

Whither the Whitecaps?

Economist Joseph Schumpeter’s theory of “Creative Destruction” posits that Capitalism consistently revolutionizes itself from within.

Mutating by destroying what was once powerful and emerging into something new.

The horse and carriage becomes the car. Cable TV becomes the streaming platform. The telegraph becomes the rotary dial phone becomes the smartphone.

Those who prospered from the former are cast aside in place of the new lords of the latter.

And so on and so on and so on.

But the destruction we are living through now isn’t “creative” at all. It’s a vandal breaking into an art gallery and taking a hammer to all the paintings.

And what some politicians like to call a war is really a hostage situation that pays no heed to Schumpeter’s bleakly optimistic view of how society functions.

None of us really know what our worlds will look like when this is over, what will return and what will fade away. Nor do we know what will then seem important and what will not.

After all, at this exact moment it seems inconceivable that anybody will ever again call for the defunding of a public health service, or object to paying the taxes that keep that service in robust health or even shrug with indifference at the multi-million dollar corporations that treat evading tax with ill disguised indifference.

At this exact moment it seems inconceivable that the workers who have helped keep the skeleton economy going will be granted less acknowledgement and respect than those who make their living through brand name endorsements and YouTube followers.

The social good over the social influence?

Yet, in Daniel Defoe’s A Journal of the Plague Year, his account of the Bubonic Plague sweeping through London in 1665, when the curfew is lifted he writes

“I can go no farther here. I should be counted censorious, and perhaps unjust, if I should enter into the unpleasing work of reflecting, whatever cause there was for it, upon the unthankfulness and return of all manner of wickedness among us, which I was so much an eye-witness of myself.”

People will always go back to being people.

But will sport go back to being sport? Will soccer go back to being soccer? And will the Whitecaps go back to being the Whitecaps?

It seems curiously typical of the Whitecaps that, at the very moment they seem to find a degree of competence in how the club is run, the world dissolves around them. But perhaps they got there just in time?

Their communications throughout have been on point and on tone (Imagine a Black Mirror world in which the old regime were dealing with this crisis and shudder).

And so, for the first time in a long time, it feels as if the club is moving in the right direction.

Yet perhaps it feels flippant to be speaking of such things in such serious times?

But if the last few weeks have taught us anything it’s that we need distractions. Be it a man with a mullet wrestling with tigers and with his inner demons, TikTok’s of dogs in the bath, or simply piling on celebrities who genuinely believe we want to see them earnestly singing very bad songs.

Mindfulness is admirable. But a full mind can sometimes become a heavy mind with a need to be emptied.

So, when our doors open again, sport will continue to be important because it isn’t important. Soccer will continue to be relevant because of its irrelevance and the Whitecaps will continue to matter because they don’t really matter at all.

 

Oh Whitecaps, Where Art Thou?

A Max Crepeau reflexive save
Not standing for the the accursed wave
A penalty shout, an offside call
I miss them all, I miss them all

A referee in need of glasses
Russell Teibert’s backward passes
A careless gap in a defensive wall
I miss them all, I miss them all

The wins the ties, the brutal losses
Jake Nerwinski’s hopeful crosses
A forward who can’t help but fall
I miss them all, I miss them all

A journeyman with two left feet,
A well timed and sarcastic tweet
A melee that becomes a brawl
I miss them all, I miss them all

Yordy Reyna’s legs like pistons
I much prefer to social distance
The line for beer that seems to crawl
I miss them all, I miss them all

Though quarantine may lead to purity
I yearn for the touch of BC Place Security
A cold and broken washroom stall
I miss them all, I miss them all

An In-Beom Hwang goal celebration
Appeals much more than isolation
A decision that’s too close to call
I miss them all, I miss them all

The supporter’s flags as they’re unfurling
A game delayed because of curling
These things held me in their thrall
And I miss them all, I miss them all

I’m sick of Crave, I’m sick of Netflix
I want corners and I want free-kicks
I can watch no more of Better Call Saul
So I miss them all, I miss them all

An Ali Adnan shot that’s blasted
The joyful shout of “You fat bastard”
A misplaced pass, a nice through ball
I miss them all, I miss them all

When they return I’l be more forgiving
For what’s a life without the living?
And what’s a foot without the ball?
I miss them all, I miss them all