the world cup is coming

I’ve just finished watching a video of the 2003 Rugby World Cup Final. What. A. Game.

Played in Sydney, the game kicked-off at 9am London time and we had to get to the pub early to get a good spot to watch. We ended up watching in The Wellington opposite Waterloo Station after trying to get into the Walkabout at Temple – I got there about 7.30am but it had been full since 4am! Such was the anticipation, and the game lived up to itKing Jonny slotting over a drop-kick (with his weaker foot) in the dying minutes of extra-time. But let’s not forget the rest of the team; they were immense.

The Wellington was full of Chelsea fans (they were playing somewhere that day which required taking a train from Waterloo) – those footy boys didn’t have a clue about rugby and my mate Neil and I had to keep explaining the rules to them as the game went along. They celebrated well though – we all did! I can’t remember much about the rest of the day…

Watching again this evening at different times during the game I was shouting at the screen, my heart was pounding, I had butterflies and the hairs on the back of my neck were standing on end. And this was a replay. What a defence we put up that day. Intense. Inspiring.

It doesn’t look like we’re going to do so well this time round though – I’d say the All Blacks and Les Bleus are my favourites to win. I’ll be impressed if England make it to the semi-finals. Hopefully I’ll get to watch some of the games in the pub – no doubt I’ll be explaining the rules to those unfortunately unenlightened about the great game here too. Less than a week until England vs. USA. I can’t wait.

let’s go nuts!

Let’s go Lansing Lugnuts that is. Last night I went to my first Minor League Baseball game. I’ve been to a couple of Major League games before, but on a nice summers’ evening it was about time to find out more about what goes on in the lower echelons of the game that has always intrigued me. When I was about 8 my uncle brought me back a Red Socks baseball and pennant from a business trip. Maybe that got it started. One of my favourite writers Stephen Jay Gould was a huge baseball fan and used the apparent extinction of the .400 batting average as an adroit metaphor in one of his books to discount the idea of evolutionary progress with humans at the pinnacle in. And of course there are the parallels with cricket.

The lower levels of professional sport rarely get heard above the din and clamour for the biggest and best teams. The FA Premiership is now the richest football league in the world and followed avidly by many fans around the world. Its transition from a league with a reputation of violence and hooliganism to one of the most marketable sporting brands in the world has come via a change in attitude and facilities. I have a vivid memory from one of my first trips to a Bristol City game in the late 1980’s (again, I must have been about 8 – I hasten to add City are not, unfortunately, in the Premiership). I needed to use a bathroom so Dad took me to the ‘Gents’ where I was confronted simply by a 10 foot wall painted black with a gutter of urine running along the bottom. The smell was ‘colourful’ as was the language around me. It was intense to say the least. How this experience has effected me later personal development I can only guess – Mum certainly didn’t approve of me going along. But the violent and abusive behaviour that once embodied watching the game is no longer tolerated and the terraces have been replaced by more manageable and comfortable rows of covered seating (and more hygienic toilets).

Apparently a similar change has occurred in the minor leagues of baseball. In the game programme was a piece about the rise in popularity of Minor League games. Season attendances in every season since 2000 have been placed in the top 10 since the leagues began and in 2006 the current record was set at 41.7 million fans. That’s more than the NBA, and more than the NFL and NHL combined, each year. Fifth Third Field in Dayton Ohio has sold out every game since it opened in 2000. But the continuing growth has come since the 1990’s and a similar attitude toward the game as has changed football in the UK. And the programme article described a lady faced by a similar toilet experience as my childhood one – it’s certainly not like that now. The emphasis has shifted toward entertainment and whilst the minor league game hasn’t changed, the crowds have. In family-friendly America this means kids. And lots of ’em.

So whilst the high pitched screaming wasn’t so good for my ears, the $9 seat in the third row along the first base line was good for my wallet and got me close to those 90 mph pitches. I have got to say though, even with my uneducated eye, the quality of play wasn’t quite up there with, say, the SF Giants. The Lugnuts gave up 4 runs in the first inning and it wasn’t looking good. But then South Bend gave up 5 in the second and from there on we cruised to victory (8-5). Highlights from ‘the game’ for me included a Lugnuts batter snapping his bat over his knee (golfer style) after he struck out with the bases loaded, and the genius sack race ‘run’ by some ‘hefty’ women from the crowd between 8th and 9th innings. I was less impressed that they wouldn’t refill my plastic beer glass when buying a second and that I HAD to have a new one. Grrr…

Regardless of the quality of play it was a good night. And seemingly the growth of Minor League Baseball is good for the cities in which the teams are located. Oldsmobile Park is leading the much needed regeneration of the waterfront area of downtown Lansing. After the game, the fireworks reflected in the windows of the old Ottawa Power Station (above) that has lain empty for over a decade. Regeneration is needed in Michigan of all places in the States, where the decline of the American auto industry has hit hard. With manufacturing in sharp decline the state and the city need to turn to alternative industries for income and regeneration. The dollars spent in the stadium are now helping to boost the local economy, and give this part of town something to build around for the future. So, let’s go nuts!

rugby (not skytower)

Bristol 15-9 Sale

I finally made it to my first Bristol Rugby game of the season last night. It was pretty old-school affair against Sale – the rain persisted down all game making handling tricky, confining the ball to the forwards which worked to Bris’ benefit in the end. Plenty of catching and driving from lineouts. Not a try in sight – though Bris’ should have scored during a period of extended possession and territory soon after half-time. In the end it was a battle of the kickers, and our new Kiwi man (after a dodgy start) kicked us to victory!

So then it was off to the pub to dry off with a couple of pints of Badger and Fursty Ferret in the excellent Upton Inn… Quality.

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arsenal vs porto

Arsenal 2 – 0 Porto

I went to the Arsenal vs. Porto Champions League game on Tuesday (tickets courtesy of Mark; cheers mate!) at the spanking new Emirates Stadium. Our view (top) was similar to that of the game I managed to get to at the Bernabau in Madrid a few years ago (bottom), but dare I say we weren’t quite as close to the action (the seats in Spanish stadium sit almost vertically on top of one another).

As for the football, it felt all very ‘continental’ and refined — a little different from the standard fare I was brought up on at Ashton Gate. Considering there wasn’t a single English player on the pitch until the last 5 minutes that’s not really suprising though I suppose. Good game, but it’s just not the same emotional experience as going to see your own team play. For one, you can look at the game more objectively; Mark with his rose-tinted Arsenal glasses on was not impressed by some of my analysis…

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another step…

So what’s all this blogging business about then? There seems to be a lot about it in the UK press these days and a lot of it about generally. My thoughts on the subject:

  1. Blogs seem to me to be the 21st century equivalent of a message in a bottle – chuck your message out across the e-waves and wait to see if anyone finds it, reads it, and then takes the time to reply. Some of them anyway…
  2. They also seems a good way just to get things off one’s chest. I end up ranting quite a lot in emails to, and down the pub at, the people I like to think of as my friends (whether they like me to think of them like that is another matter). A blog seems like a way of doing this to the whole world. The global speaker’s corner if you like (the phrase “go tell it to the pigeons” always springs to mind when I think of speaker’s corner though – maybe not a good metaphor then).
  3. Blogs are a way to meet people, to expand the network? I guess so, but there’s nothing like eye contact to foster a relationship.
  4. They provide a forum to develop new collaborations, share and develop ideas…? Maybe, but centrally-coordinated discussion groups (e.g. Comment is Free) are probably better than the distributed, open networks of blogs for that sort of thing aren’t they? [Is there any point in rhetorical questions in a blog? The whole thing is rhetorical isn’t it?].

hmmm… Well look at that! I’ve ended up ranting already. Maybe a blog is a good idea for me after all. As I’ve now set up this website I may as well see if I can slap a bit more content into it by adding my meandering thoughts on a regular basis. Subject? My Rants, whatever they might be about; something to track my journey – you join me over 25 years of the way through and I still don’t really know what my destination is (who does?), but that’s no probs ‘cos I think I’m going in roughly the right direction. As we’ve started late, it won’t matter that my first proper blog was written last Sunday…