Adultery, When is it acceptable?

When your girlfriend encourages you to do it, that’s when. Ever since the move to Rome became concrete one of the things that I looked forward to was the chance to watch regular top-level football in another country. I’ve always had a soft spot for the Italian game ever since James Richardson stole my football heart all those years ago with his witty wisecracks and big gellati. I’d been to watch the giallorosso a few times already and almost always seen a truly shite game, bar the thrilling 2-1 comeback against AC Milan last season but always enjoyed the atmosphere; the constant singing, the passion for their club and the fact that groups of mates went together and weren’t all doddery whiny 40 year olds. In short, what it used to be like for me at Chelsea. There were even some fascists to make me feel at home. Then the chance to actually buy a ticket in the Curva Sud came up and I had second thoughts. Buy why, asked Spangles (my girlfriend, who from now on I shall be referring to thus)?

The Curva is supposed to be the place where the most passionate fans gather and sing and chant and bounce and all that. But more than that, these people really care about their team the same way I care about Chelsea. I used to hate it when people would sit in the Matthew Harding end and not join in with the singing or not look like they cared that much. Don’t get me wrong, I want Roma to win and everything and if I was going to pick a team in Italy it would be them, but they’ll never be my team, not really. I’ll never feel that level of dejection with Roma as I did when Liverpool knocked us out of the Champions League last April and I’ll never experience the unadulterated joy of getting our own back a couple of months ago. I’ll never be able to really hammer out Grazie Roma the way I used to bawl Blue is the Colour after a great win, or join in pre-match with Roma, Roma, Roma like I did with The Liquidator. What right did I have to be in front of some kid who’s wanted a season ticket in the Sud all his life in the queue? If the roles were reversed I’d be fuming.

Nevertheless, on Wednesday morning I found myself in the queue for season tickets, which went on sale at at midday at all eight Roma shops in the city and at various shops that were authorised ticket sales points. As there was one of these shops two minutes walk from the flat we walked past it on the way to the market; at 10am there were a grand total of four people outside. Contrast that with the number of people who had gone to the Roma stores the previous night to queue for tickets and I was pretty confident of getting my hands on one. I thought I was onto a winner, and come September I was going to be feeling slightly uncomfortable in other people’s territory, maybe even getting bundled every time Roma scored.

So I stroll back there at about ten past 11 and the queue has stretch to a humongous nine people, including three really fit girls. I was feeling bold and had a croissant for breakfast so I decided to ask people what the deal was, in Italian, but instead of being flirted with by three hot young things who just love shiny pates and the lived in stomach a short, portly middle-aged man pointed me to the piece of paper on the wall with a list of names on. I plonked mine at number ten and thought I’d proffer some sort of conversation, even though he had a wild stare and dribble down his chin. This is your chance to translate along with The Liquidator! Go on, get Babelfish on the go and please tell me if I accidentally offered my arsehole up to a bunch of strangers.

‘Sono di Londra.’ (this provoked a look of shock and awe in him)

‘Wow, Londra??’

‘Si, sono tifoso di Chelsea’

‘Woooooooow, Chelsea.’ (he gave me the same look, I was starting to think he was taking the piss.) Perchè sei qui?’

‘Mi ragazza è una tifosa della Roma, e nella Curva Sud ogni stagione.’ (this provoked a laugh from everyone there, I just realised I’d told everyone I was firmly in the position of ‘bitch’ in my relationship.)

‘Lei è Italiana?’

‘No, mezza Italiano e Inglese. Abito sulla Via ***** ****.’

Buono eh? Before I’d let myself get too far over my head I slipped my iPod on and made myself look like I was listening to the most totally happening and latest London sounds, when in fact I was listening to the Buzzcocks. As the minutes ticked by and midday inched closer to us with everyone fell into a nervous silence, worrying about whether they were going to get a ticket or not. The three girls’ cheery chit chat died out and was replaced with cold, hard and stony stares at the door, broken only when one of their mother’s came over to hand them the money, before being shooed off as soon as she tried to strike up a conversation. Nothing like an uncool mother cramping your style around tall sexy strangers I suppose. While the girls were basically on their marks by the door, the rest of the group switched between stalking the pavement, sitting on their scooters and peering in expectantly through the doorway, blocking it for people coming in to buy fags or scratchcards. The dribbly guy kept looking at me.

Halfway through More songs about Chocolate and Girls by the Undertones I was barged into by number one on the list, a tall (well, shoulder high on me) and rather fat guy who had no idea he’d even walked into, as though everything in his vision had become blurred around his target; the counter in the shop. He had a mildly disconcerting stare that wasn’t dissimilar to Javier Bardem in No Country For Old Men. I was half expecting him to passive-aggressively toy with the girl in the shops’ life, fuck knows what would have happened if he hadn’t have got the five tickets he wanted.

By now everyone was practically twitching on the spot. It was taking ages to every person, partly because everyone was trying to get tickets in the central section (no chance), or with their mates, and also because the woman dealing with the ticket queue was arse-clenchingly slow. All we could think about were the people at the Roma shops being dealt with quicker and more efficiently, whizzing through customers while we watched this poor thing struggle with the buttons, the forms, the money, everything. Fifteen minutes later we were still only halfway through the tiny queue, with the silly cow stopping midway through serving the hot girls to help an old lady choose a notebook. ‘Jesus woman, what’s she gonna write on it, her will? Make her wait!’ I would have said if I had the balls and the language skills. Then a woman came in for some photocopying, and another came in for a wallet…. Meanwhile the man on the other till just stood there and watched, laughing, enjoying our anxiety, like the massive twat he was. ‘Anyone for the Curva Nord?’ He laughed from his big crusty gob. Very fucking funny, look at us cracking up over here, you bullock headed tosser. Yeah, so I was tetchy about getting a season ticket to a club I don’t support, so what?

A full forty minutes after opening sales we got down to me, the tenth customer. My knees were wobbling with exasperation and we had been joined by a couple of Lazio fans, who clearly have never had to worry about not getting tickets for anywhere. I was expecting a horrible strangled conversation where I try to explain that I want to be *here* and she looks at me blankly, horrified by my missed definite articles and wrongly gendered sentence cappers, while the one poor chap behind me suffers the coronary he’s been threatening since plonking himself practically up my backside. Instead less than 30 seconds later I have a ticket in my hand and weird feeling in my stomach. I feel a bit dirty that I cared so much, that I got swept up in the desire for a place among the ultras, the flags and the general rowdiness. So here it is; my season ticket for the Curva Sud at Roma.

I can’t wait for the new season.


Italians and Their Cars; No 1 of literally 000,000s

Italians have a weird relationship with their cars; No matter how small a place is, how congested the roads are, how much a threat climate change is, there  isnn’t a place in the world that they won’t take their car with them if they can. Take Rome, for a particularly convenient example. Here is a city with 2.7million people living on top of each other, with huge congestion problems and parkng problems so bad they’re digging underneath historical monuments to build underground car parks. It has very decent transport links during the day (at night it is a very different matter), with buses, trains, trams and tubes taking you all over the city and the surrounding areas. In our part of town there is nothing you can’t get to within walking distance, be it bus stops, a metro station, a train station, supermarkets, shops, bars, restaurants – you name it, we’ve got it. And yet despite all of that, and the fact that you can’t walk these days without finding some sort of threat to Italy’s climate on the immediate horizon, they remain wedded to their four-wheel polutomobiles. Presumably because the wine is good. This, combined with their collective tendancy to drive like maniacs makes Italy’s roads interesting, to say the least. Take a look at the picture I took from my balcony today, for instance.

Creative road use

Creative road use

Now, these cars aren’t waiting for a green light, they’re parked. Parked on a two lane carriageway which frequently sees young men proving just how big their cocks are by racing down it on their motorbikes/scooters/silly little FIAT thingies, straight through the main crossing. So what you do is park you car right in the middle of it. Of course. Or, you do what this little cheeky chappy did;

Thinking outside of the box there Gianni, buono.

Thinking outside of the box there Gianni, buono.

You just slam it onto the pavement. Capito? But more than just being a hilarious manifestation of the Italian tendancy to disregard pretty much any rule there is, this attitude make Rome one of the most dangerous places to live in the world, especially for me. This time last year there were 36 deaths on the roads in a single weekend, with many of them alcohol or drug related. More than eight pedestrians per 1,000 are killed or hurt in Rome every year, a meaning I’m 10 times more likely to be killed by some coke-addled sunglass wearing tosser than in London and 20 times more likely than some haughty Parisian bint addicted to pill sandwiches. The BBC article from which I took most of my facts also has this cheery little anecdote;

The Vatican, criticising what it calls the “collective madness” on Italian roads, issued a document cataloguing “Ten Commandments” for motorists, which boil down to showing respect and compassion for others on the roads, and never failing to stop in case of an accident.

As though a hit and run isn’t enough of a disgusting thing to do without making sure you’re not late for that really important meeting with Claudio down the gelateria. ‘Mi dispiace ragazzi, must dash!’

One of the basic causes of the horrifying slaughter on Italian roads is that there are more cars per inhabitant in Italy than in any other country in Europe – 680 per 1,000 population. In Rome, for example, the figure is even higher – 2.4 million cars for 2.5 million inhabitants.

Apparently the figure could be skewed by the huge number of dignitaries and fat cats with massive car pools at their disposal, but even if you take that into account, and the fact that we don’t know if he hasn’t bothered to check whether the number of cars is just for the city or includes the suburbs (upping the population to four million) or not, that’s still at least one car for every adult, most of who think nothing of rattling around the place pissed out of their heads or coked up to their eyeballs. Or both.

Meanwhile the night time drink driving is exacerbated by the fact that trains and buses simply don’t run late enough, which is a recipe for disaster, especially in the summer when all the nightclubs relocate some 15 miles away at the beach. The roads therefore get jammed up with young people driving while mortal, which wouldn’t be a problem if the police enforced the current limit of 0.5g/l (0.2g/l for bus drivers), but the number of random roadside alcohol tests is piss poor compared to the rest of Europe; the police ran a campaign last year aimed at doubling the number of such tests from the current 500,000 to one million per year, compared with eight million in France. One sixteenth the number of test that France carry out. A country that practically injects wine into babies as they’re slinking their slippery way from their mother’s pudenda.

I could take these statistics and attitudes and talk about how quickly drink driving became something that just is not done in British society, but I can’t be arsed. Steve Coogan says it much more effectively than I can;

The search for work

Currently I am jobless, which having been made redundant twice in four years as a professional journalist, isn’t exactly a new experience. The most important thing to do when you’re not working is carry on finding things to do, and if they earn money then all the better. Over here this is even more true than at home, because I can’t sit in bed drinking tea and watch Frasier re-runs on Paramount, but thankfully I’m not short on things I need to be getting on with; Getting some kind of paid employment or regular freelance gig is top priority, only just beating out learning the language well enough so I can actually talk to people who I’m not buying ham from.

Today I need to ring a man from a TV Company called Press TV, who broadcast in English to places in the Middle East and are looking for English language journalists to do three freelance reports a week. This involves a screen test which I may or may not have to take; when I spoke to Mr Sacchi the producer in my best written-down-on-a-notepad Italian he explained that they had already given a screen test to a girl (surprise surprise) and they were waiting to see what kind of response she got before asking for any more. However they are looking for researchers to work alongside these reporters so I should keep in touch. The vast majority of this conversation was conducted between him and my girlfriend, who I had handily placed on standby should he become too incomprehensible for me. He seemed keen on hearing from me again and told me that I should call Lorenzo, the first point of contact I made and thankfully someone who I can converse with in English. As a contigency I also sorted myself out some work at one of those bars that is always filled with Brits and the Irish; not ideal, but it’ll do while I sort out something better.

However, should neither of those options not come through with the goods there is another possibilty that I spotted in the jobs section of Wanted in Rome. See for yourself.


Show business journalist needs personal assistant for office on beach front at Focene beach Fiumicino. Swim and sun between work breaks, wage negotiable, previous assistants have become famous. Tel. 0665088152.

Now I don’t know about you, but I don’t think that our hero is looking for an overweight, balding Englishman to join him for pool-based frolics do you? Now I would put this out to a reader survey, but seeing as the only people reading this blog regularly are me and my girlfriend it would seem like a pointless excercise. So here goes. Should I;

a) Ring him and enquire about the job? After all he does need a journalist and it’s only your prejudices about Italian men all being slimey olive skinned sex pests with short man syndrome that’s making you think he’s after a niave and pert teenage girl looking for her first break.

b) Ask about the job, then after he tells me to sling my hook get my girlfriend to ring him up and put on her most husky, flirtatious voice while asking for an interview in between chatting about underwear?

c) Stop imagining him chilling out poolside (in swimming trunks so tight pubes are sprouting from the top and sides, stroking his slightly greying chest hair while drinking a cocktail just brought to him by a tanned 80s caricature), living the life of riley and move on?

d) Ask him if we’re swimming and sunbathing between breaks, when does any work get done?

e) Tell him I’ll take one for the team as long as it’s our little secret?

Answers in the little comments box please.

My Tea Soliloquy

Like any good Englishman, I love a good cup of tea. In fact the patriot in me dictates that should I love a bad one too; for it is the concept of tea, not just it’s execution, that bring me such happiness. I love the way the boiling hot water slowly soups into that gorgeous hue of pitch brown while it quickly fills the cup, with the clouds of delicious brew that rise from their papery prison celebrating new-found freedom by bounding joyfully to every edge of the cup.

Like almost every uniquely British triumph (curry, the ingredients for Christmas pudding, democracy, Gianfranco Zola) you came from somewhere else, only for the nation to clasp you to its busom and declare you a national treasure. When the pasty white european milk enters and mixes in perfectly with the dark exotic leaves you are a symbol of racial tolerance – or the pillaging of Africa and India by the British Empire, whatever – in a  world full of hate and when you address my taste buds in that way you do, the combination of oral masturbation and dunky biscuit mastication brings me unadulterated joy, whether it’s a morning kick-start with toast and Marmite or an evening wind down cuppa. You’re as essential as a bacon sandwiches, fish and chips and chunky roast potatoes but you won’t make me obese like them, and it’s obvious that you piss all over fucking coffee, whether it’s that instant-mix mud or fiddly faffy poncy toss that the mediterranean caffein addicts gulp down four times a day. Like all great things you are an essentially simple beast, with layers of complexity hidden within.

You could call this a eulogy, but you’d be wrong, because tea is not dead. Nor will it ever die, not while there is an Englishman like me out here to drink you.

And just so you know, we’re talking about proper tea here. You know, tea that tastes like tea, and that has milk added to it. Not Earl Gray, which should be renamed Earl Barrett such is its shitness, or those horrible herbal piss waters that besmirch the name and very notion of tea. Understood? Great. Now you can join me in prayer, Lord of the Dance style;

Tea, tea, wherever I drink thee,

You remind me of my home country,

You’ve a milky brown face,

And you’re nothing less than brill

In fact you’re completely fucking skill


Things Fall Apart

It’s often said that Britain is a broken country, with transport problems that are worse than anything in Europe, a NHS that’s at breaking point, rampant immigration bursting the nation at the seems and a political class disconnected from the public. Britain, we’re told, should take it’s queues from super efficient Europe, where public money is spent properly and people engage with their political processes in an educated, enlightened fashion. This is bullshit. I can tell you right now that in Italy, nothing fucking works.

For instance, everytime I nip out to the cashpoint to get some money I end getting fucked around by at least one of them; they’re either broken, refuse my card or tell me my pin is invalid (it isn’t). Usually this involves me screaming at the machine ‘YOU FUCKING PIECE OF USELESS FUCKING SHIT! GIVE ME MY CUNTING MONEY’ to the shock of everyone in the queue behind. My girlfriend is right this second trying to work out how to pay her taxes online, a process so complicated it’s encouraging Italians to choose the traditional option; just don’t bother. Then there’s the metro A-line, which will be shutting at 10pm because of the new C-line they’re building – every day until 2010. In Naples the streets are piled high with rubbish because the Comorra has control over of all the waste disposal contracts, meaning that toxic waste is being dumped any old place. Even democracy itself is on the verge of eating itself; with cruise ship crooner look-a-like Silvio Berlusconi trying to push through a law that renders himself completely immune from prosecution as long as he remains Prime Minister. Within the same legislation he has proposed a banning of wiretap evidence unless used against recognised members of organised crime syndicates (thereby collapsing a couple of pesky lawsuits against himself) and the prosecution of any journalist and media outlet who publishes the transcripts. NIce eh? And as if this wasn’t bad enough, how about the racist, facsist and deeply unconstitutional act of fingerprinting Gypsy children as part of a national census?

However, at least over here there is an ingrained interest in politics and activism at grass roots level; the casual erosion of civil liberties that is happening under the current Labour government has raised barely more than a few sniffy letters to the broadsheets, but over here Burlusconi’s actions warranted a demo in Piazza Navona, a huge public square, complete with speakers, politicians, journalists and intellectuals. The crowd shushed itself so it could listen to poetry. Seriously. Hell, even I showed up to lend my support (and to write a piece about it for the Guardian, which showed up some four days late).

The event was organised mainly by the Antonio Di Pietri and his IDV (Italy of Values) Party, and if he did set it up as a way of focussing anger with Berlusconi into votes for him, he made a pretty good show of hiding it. Never have I seen a politician so reticent to make himself the main act at a political rally. We got there a little bit late and as punishment we ended up round the side of the stage, with a lovely view of the scaffolding and people’s heads as they shoved past us, but neither that nor my relative lack of language skills didn’t stop me from recognising that there were some very impressive public speakers on display, including Di Pietri himself. It was absolutely heaving and boiling hot, not that nice when you’re tightly packed in with your (somewhat sweaty and smelly) fellow man. We were right up against the lame tape barrier, with a  huge space behind us that was completly empty apart from coppers and Caribinieri hanging around looking bored. As the day went on this dam started to leak and in the end the police gave up trying to stop people flooding in.

a good journalist gets there early

Note: a good journalist gets there early

‘This is real democracy here, not what is happening in government’ said Di PIetro. ‘What is happening here is a crime of political extortion… all of Berlusconi’s first actions were about protecting himself. He is killing the political process for his own ends.’ The crowd, festooned with IDV and Communist Party flags, roared their approval and continued to do so from one speaker to the next; Moni Ovadia, a Jewish musician who was born in Bulgaria but settled in Milan with his family in his early childhood brought the house down by comparing democracy to a plant that needed taking care of while a popular crime novellist called Andrea Camilleri compared his cupboard to the Crypt; ‘it has more skeletons.’

But the day wasn’t really about the speakers (which is just as well given my hazy grip on Italian), it was about the people. It was good for me to see a range of political opinions that weren’t just thinly veiled excuses for racism, or homophobia, or expressed by the daubing a swastika on the wall of a trainer shop. There are people here who are bothered that their Prime MInister is a man who owns a substaintial chunk of the nation’s mass media and the blatant way he’s taking the piss out of democracy, who don’t like to assualt Romanians in the street and who don’t twitch at the eyebrow at the meerest mention of the homos. They expressed this the only way they know how; by getting a permanent marker out and scribbling it amateurishly onto a big piece of card, or maybe one of mamma’s bedsheets. Preferably like so;

Nope, not even my Italian speaking Girlfriend knows what this means

Nope, not even my Italian speaking girlfriend knows what this means

Or thusly;

'Anto, it's hot but we're still here.' Bless.

'Anto, it's hot but we're still here.' Bless.

The standout moment of the day was Sabina Guzzanti’s hilarious rant at pretty much everybody, including the current Minister of Equal Opportunities, (the seriously hot but rather dim Mara Carfagna, who doesn’t like the gays at all) who she accused of only getting her position in Berlusconi’s cabinet ‘by sucking his cock’. However the highlight must surely have been her statement that; ‘In twenty years time I want to see the Pope in Hell being tormented by gay devils,’ which I can’t help but think must have come from a stoned session watching South Park: The Movie. It’s also a peculiarly Catholic way of showing off her anti-ecclesiastical politics; why, if you don’t believe in the dogma of the church, would you want to see the Pope in Hell? Surely that would confirm that God is Great, Beelezebub exists and that we should all get down on our knees and renounce our sins, lest we swim in a lake of fire for all eternity. Surely she meant in that twenty years time she’d like to see the Pope rotting in a coffin, slowly disintergrating into nothing like everyone else on this planet? Now that would be a victory for petrified aetheists everywhere, I’m sure you’ll agree.

Most of the day’s speeches focussed on the actual issues, thankfully. One of the biggest ones, pointed out during a fantastic speech by journalist Marco Travaglio, is that due to electoral reforms brought in by Berlusconi in 2005, over 1.5million Italians who voted for left wing parties have no political representation, and on top of that the sheer brazenness of the government’s disregard for human rights and the judiciary is a threat to the constitution of Italy. Di Pietro garnered himself some rapturous applause when he said; ‘when there is a democratic emergency, we all have to take a stand’, but it remains to be seen if a country where in conspiracy theories are rife, distrust of authority is total and corruption in high places is expected, even tolerated, can be roused to force change. I’m certainly not holding my breath.

Vieni a provarci se ti credi abbastanza duro!!

It’s easy when you live in a country where you don’t speak the language very well and don’t have many friends, to become a bit of a hermit and spend your days looking a porn or playing online poker, your self-esteem dribbling away from you with each passing pump. This is a bad idea. You need to get out and about and experience your new environment, meet new people and all that bollocks. So a couple of weeks ago my girlfriend took me out to Trastevere (about 15 minutes walk from the Vatican) to meet a friend of hers who speaks pretty much fluent English. ‘He’s bringing a few friends with him,’ she said. We met him by the River Tiber with his mates; three quite hot girls and one male friend.

Now like most people I like to pay lip service to not judging people by the way they look, but really that’s bullshit. If someone’s walking around all in black, with platform boots on and smothered in foundation and mascara I’m just as likely to think ‘looks like a tit’ as I am at someone wearing a shit pair of gold trainers and rocking the latest variation on the Euro Mullet. However, this young chap didn’t belong in either of the style brackets I’ve hastily constructed. He was wearing English style jeans, a shirt that only reveals itself to be a Burberry number when the sleaves are rolled up (they were), Nike Classic trainers and a tight fitting baseball cap, which gripped his shaven head in a manner not unlike a when a cartoon character – lets’s say, Daffy Duck – gets a plunger stuck on his skull. My first thought was ‘plastic football hooligan’, simply because they are even easier to spot than they are in England. Back in the UK, every knob with an attitude problem has got some kind of hoolie gear on, but in Italy, and particularly in Rome, they really stick out. This is because your average Roman dresses like he’s a hairdresser on a night out in Preston; ripped distressed jeans with silver or gold things emblazoned all over the arse, pastel coloured t-shirts with wacky logos and the aforementioned gold abortions on their feet. Just think Cristiano Ronaldo and you’ll know what I mean. Meanwhile the boys of the Curva Sud have a fetish for English hooligan gear – and English hooligans. Every Roman football fan has heard of Chelsea, West Ham and Millwall, and their opinions of all three of those clubs is stuck firmly in the terraces of the 1980s; upon revealing that she had a Chelsea fan boyfriend, an acquaintance of my girlfriend’s immeditely asked ‘Lui è un Headhunter?’ in an expectant fashion. Around where we live, near where the Tuscolana and the Appia Nouvo (the two main roads leading south-east out of the city) meet, I have seen five different people wearing Chelsea merchandise – three of them wearing the full tracksuit. Frankly I don’t think it’s a great coincidence that there’s a fascist youth club near by, but regardless of the supposed politics of both sets of fans, there is a respect and admiration for those London clubs with a big hooligan reputation.

Suffice to say the boy – who we shall call Daniele Daia – didn’t disappoint. The first thing that struck me about him, apart from the wannabe way he dressed, was his English, which was pretty much perfect, right down to the way he said ‘sorry?’ when he didn’t quite catch what you said. This was despite having never even visited England, which led me to presume he could have only learned the language via repeated viewings of Green Street.  My predictable response to his question of ‘who do you support?’ was enough to get him in full ‘banter’ mode. ‘I’m a MIllwall fan!’ he loudly proclaimed, mock-cowering beneath me, half-expecting some kind of violent response, or at least a joshy kick in the bollocks. Instead I looked at him in the only way I knew how; perplexed, embarrassed and completely unsure of what do with myself. However, that didn’t stop him from mining for great tales of clashing with Tottenham thugs on their manah, or making old ladies cry in provincial supermarket car parks while throwing shopping trolleys around and bouncing up and down like a caged chimp. ‘I like to fight after the match’ he explained to me, with an expectant glint in his eye, before doing that weird shoulder shuffle that wannabe hardmen do that’s supposed to be almost putting up your dukes but actually looks like you’re about to break out into the robot, Peter Crouch style.

Despite me offering nothing particularly interesting for him to latch onto he persisted; first with the ‘I also support West Ham United hahaha’ before launching into a cring-inducing ‘I’m forever blowing bubbles’, then by calling LIverpool fans animals and talking about how he hated Man United. ‘I was there when those Manchester hooligans tried to take our cafe,’ he said, in what must be one of the lamest hooligan boasts of all-time. ‘but they weren’t proper fighters, they just wanted to attack women and children.’ As someone who during his short career has had more than enough hooligan thug memiors plonked on his desk, this sort of self-mythologising balls is easy to spot. Just scanning Suicide Squad, the memiors of an octogenarian tosser from Burnley called Andrew Porter will give you a fair idea of what I mean; From ‘Fair play to Carlisle, they came and had a go’, to ‘There were 10 of us and 120 of them, but we still gave it to ’em’, or ‘why are we getting banged up when muggers and rapists (you can almost hear him whispering ‘blacks and pakis‘ at this point) are being let out after two days and given £10,000 for good behaviour’, to ‘he was coloured, but all right with it’, most of what they say is exaggerated beyond any notion of reality, with thinly veiled hints of racism underneath. I doubt that any English ‘lads’ would brag about trashing Barry’s Greasy Spoon, mind you.

We manage to get ourselves sat down at a bar next to the river and he progresses onto bragging about his drinking exploits. ‘I’m an alcoholic’, he announced loudly. By this point I wasn’t sure if he’d mistaken me for a 15 year old teenage girl hanging around the swings in a park. ‘When go out I love to drink as much beer as I can, you know? Getting drunk and falling over the place. You need to drink like a man if you fight after the match like I do.’ An amusing comment in itself, made more so by the fact he was waving a pink cocktail around. Herbs and little wooden umbrellas all over the shop, you might say. I just about managed to keep a straight face, but the missus had to turn away for fear of spitting her sea breeze right in his face. ‘You know, normally I like beer, but it gets really gassy, so I like to drink these instead.’ I’m sorry, but HAHAHAHAHAHA. And then Hohohohoho for good measure.

By now the sheer disappointment in his face was obvious. Here I was, an English football fan, with a shaven head, who supports Chelsea, and I don’t like to punch people or stab them in the arse while driving past on a scooter? What a fucking pussy. All of which is true. At the end of the night we shook hands, but the sparkle in his eye had gone. I was the equivalent of Fergal Sharkey singing ‘A Good Heart’; a pansy, a sap, a sell out. How could something that was once so great become so wet? In my own roundabout way, I’d managed to spread my own disillusionment with English football abroad.

Football Clubs: It’s a thin line between love and hate

‘This must be your dream job, I bet your dad must be really proud of you,’ is the first thing that almost everyone said to me after they found out that I was working as a writer for official publications Chelsea Football Club. To nodding heads and blank stares I’d point out that the money was terrible, the people above me had no idea what the fans wanted from their publication, didn’t care what they had to say and had less of an idea of what made a good magazine, and that the stifling lack of creativity was not doing my writing or my career any good. The response was the same almost every time; ‘Still, Chelsea eh? Must be your dream job. And what happened with Mourinho eh? You must know something. Go on, tell us.’

It’s easy to see why people would think that working within the club you’ve passionately supported for the best part of 15 years would be the sort of job that would make your family proud, especially if they’re near enough all Chelsea fans, but the reality of the job is something very different indeed.

The first thing to bear in mind is that we as magazine staff didn’t actually work for Chelsea at all, in that we weren’t paid by the club. In fact we were employed by a publishing house who was contracted to produce all Chelsea publications, including; the Chelsea magazine and programme, the yearbook, media guide, staff newsletter, youth cup programmes and anything else that the club decided we were doing, usually at the last minute. At the same time, the publishing house had a contract with the Football League that we had to fulfil, which meant that in the week leading up to the Carling Cup final I was sub-editing a truly appalling Henry Winter article on Joe Cole for the programme that began with this opening gambit; ‘If the ball could talk, it would flirt with Joe Cole.’ I don’t know about that myself, but I’m sure the ball wouldn’t flutter his eyelashes in quite the same coquettish fashion as lover man here. Amusingly it was subsequently revealed in The Independent that he was so outraged by my ‘censoring’ of his article that he demanded that his name be taken off it. I can imagine the Nazi look-a-like bashing his leather-gloved hands on his desk in piss-boiling Fuhrery, but if anything he owes me a pint for making his love letter readable.

Godwin\'s Law does not apply
Godwin’s Law does not apply

The other problem with having two bosses is that while we were based in the same offices as the rest of the media department in the Shed End, we were only part of the ‘Chelsea Family’ when it suited them. For instance, if there was a piece of extraneous marketing bollocks that was needed to be done, it was plonked on our desks in the middle of a double deadline day, but when it came to tickets for the Champions League final, which the club was paying to take staff out to, we got; ‘ooh, sorry, you’re not Chelsea employees. You can’t come.’ As it happens the club reversed their decision, only for the mag staff to be told that they had to stay in the UK so they could produce all three play-off final programmes. Thankfully I had left by this point and made my own plans to Moscow.

Consequently there was a feeling of detachment from what was going on at the club and this translated into the work that we were doing for them. It didn’t help that there was practically no creativity or freedom of expression permitted in almost any of the stuff we did. Now for the club to want an element of control over what after all was their output is understandable, but the level of implicit censorship from on high only contributed to us making a really, really bland product. The head of editorial, who checked the pages before they went to print but would frequently add in pieces of atrocious grammar and unnecessary hyphens – central-defender anyone? – would so often hamper the process by making the most pathetic changes to copy, so much so that anything at all that could be considered criticism of the club or players was scrubbed out. Even in match reports players were ‘unlucky’ to miss and open goal from two yards out and almost any mention of red or yellow cards was strictly forbidden, let alone diving or incessant barracking of referees. The letters pages, which had been a great source of dialogue between the club and supporters in Bridge News and Onside, the scruffier but much more informative magazines that preceded the shiny and glossy newer publications, became little more than propaganda sheets, informing its audience how great Chelsea were in every way. It was a strategy that led to an awful lot of correspondence ‘arriving by stork’. Don’t even get me started on our style sheet, that read; ‘Inter Milan not Inter or Internazionale’ and ‘Sporting Lisbon not Sporting or Sporting Club De Portugal,’ or the time we were told not to run a story about a run in aid of Cancer Research because they weren’t CLIC Sargent (Chelsea’s official charity partner no less) and therefore a ‘rival cancer charity.’

Because of all this what Chelsea produces is a sanitised product that patronises its audience and discourages discourse with supporters, something that I had heard numerous times before I joined and something that I quickly found out wasn’t a concern for the club. They don’t care if the supporters like it or not, as long as they can try and sell the latest toss from Samsung (the Tech page, that only featured reviews of products from club-affiliated companies, was a particularly shameless example of this) or the Megastore. Reading it gives you an idea of how much the club has changed in the last five years; instead of talking to its existing supporters directly they’re trying to lure new fans with big pictures of star players as part of their global strategy. It’s a disconcerting but all too predictable shift in priorities.

The most extreme example of this was Jose Mourinho’s departure from the club. That day I had to dodge numerous TV and radio crews on the way to the ground, but once we made it into our office it was almost as if nothing had happened. We were completely insulated from anything that was going on outside, any questions about what had happened were blanked, with our only communication coming via the official club press release. My phone was ringing off the hook with people wanting to know what was going on, but if anything I had less idea than them – at least they could see what the news was reporting. Essentially we were told by the club: ‘shut up, you don’t need to know what happened. Oh and can you beef up Avram Grant’s CV for us? He’s the new manager. Cheers.’ Grant himself of course had been introduced to the club in somewhat bizarre circumstances. After being plonked in what football hacks like to refer to as an ‘upstairs’ position, we were given a shot of him and José laughing and joking like old friends for our Big Pic feature, which was to be accompanied by six lines of text. Unfortunately for us there was one problem; any mention of his role at the club was STRICTLY FORBIDDEN. Something of a signal there, methunk at the time.

\'Watch my back would you hombre?\'

'Watch my back would you amigo?'

Soul crushing for a writer it though it may have been, I did get an insight into the level of hubris that infests the club; what’s known as the ‘Chelsea Bubble’ surrounds the media department, shielding its inhabitants from the outside world and sucking the sense from them, as well as bouncing on all creativity and individual thought like a bad The Prisoner parody. To give you an idea of just how seriously they take themselves, they sent round an email to all employees about the new head of media that read;

‘I am delighted to announce that Steve Atkins will be joining the club as Head of Media [note the capping up of job titles] in June…
‘Steve is currently Deputy Press Secretary at the British Embassy in Washington…
‘Steve will be a fantastic addition to our team as he brings with him a wealth of experience from Washington dealing with complicated issues and the most high profile personalities at a strategic, pro-active and reactive daily media level. That makes him ideal for Chelsea where we face our own daily and longer term challenges.’

Football club in loss of perspective non-shock. What on earth they need someone who has dealt with the international press and politics on the world stage to tell Martin Samuel that he needs to keep his half man, half wookie trap shut and that no Brian Woolnough, you can’t ask about Player X’s kiss-and-tell scandal is something only they can answer. Suffice to say we weren’t allowed to ask.

Working for your club can be a pretty disillusioning experience, especially if your club is one that has become more of a corporate brand than a football club and drifting further away from its core support with each passing season as a result. That’s why I fucked off to Rome to live with my girlfriend and am writing a blog, like every other twat. Welcome, and before you ask, no I really don’t know what happened with Mourinho. Ask Brian Woolnough.

(This article first appeared on Pitch Invasion, but obviously is better here, and is also available in Portuguese. Yes, really.)