In Praise of Real Journalism and Shame on the BBC

Over the last few weeks, in the spirit of rediscovering what it is a journalist does when he wants to inhabit a world in which he doesn’t belong, I have been reading Homicide: A Year on the Killing Streets by David Simon. He’s more famous for the subsequent TV programmes that came from the book, like Homicide: Life on the Streets and The Wire, but the book itself deserves high praise on it’s own terms.

For those of you who don’t know about it, Simon spent a year in the Homicide department of his native Baltimore, following around the detectives in Luietenant Gary D’Addario’s unit. For reasons unknown they allowed him to take notes on absolutely everything, from the dark banter of the detectives and uniforms and cameraderie and tensions of the squad room to the details of investigations into truly horrific crimes. One, the discovery of a young girl, raped, murdered and left in an alley, becomes the spine of the book, the moral compass around which all other cases hover and rotate. East and West side corner boys drop each other with a regularity that to the detectives almost becomes monotonous, domestic arguments turn into dead bodies and hidden evidence, while the cops make racist, sexist and any other kind of offensive joke you can think of (the use of ‘toad’ for black criminals is particularly odious) while standing over dead bodies. And yet for that, there is a hint of something noble about both them and what they do, and it’s captured perfectly in Simon’s prose. It really is an oustanding piece of journalism, and I read it in the same manner he wrote it; disgusted with so much of the job, and the way that balance and impartiality have become the ultimate goal, at the expense of searching for the heart and truth of the matter. In case it was the way his paper, the Baltimore Sun, had cracked down on unions and become the property of ‘carpetbaggers’ from Philadelphia, me with the way the current Israel offensive in Gaza has been reported, culminating in the BBC’s appalling decision to block a DEC humanitarian aid appeal for those who haven’t been left dead by Israel’s bombing campaign. Simon himself says in the epilogue to the latest edition:

There are many journalists who believe that their craft must burden itself with a nodding, analytic tone, that they must report and write with feigned, practiced objectivity and the presumption of omniscient expertise. Many are consumed by the pursuit of scandal and human flaw, and believe it insufficient to look at human beings with a skeptical yet affectionate eye. There work is, of course, accurate and justifiable – and no closer to the actual truth of things than any other form of storytelling.

Without engaging and analysing the facts, and – yes – coming to judgements based on them, how is it possible to come to any sort of valid decision? Just because everyone has the right to an opinion, that doesn’t mean all opinions are not equally valid, and nor does it mean that because a decision or opinion might favour one side, that it’s biased, or prejudicial.

In any case, to say in this instance that the BBC was keeping itself impartial and apolitical is a fallacy; to ban an ad (and if you’ve seen it it’s obvious there is no anti-Israel message in there at all) is in itself a political act, and it says that the BBC is more concerned with who they might upset than with helping some aid getting to people Gaza, the vast majority of who are just normal people trying to live, not rocket-launcher wielding bandana-wearing Hamas soldiers. It’s an act that says these people don’t matter like the people of Darfur, or Tsunami victims, and it goes hand-in-hand withthe idea that  framing all Israeli aggression as ‘retaliation for terrorist acts’ and to implicitly support the one true democracy in the area no matter what its transgressions – be they deliberately targeting schools to take out militants or the denying Palestinians access to the local water supply – is neutral, and impartial. It stinks.

Anyway, the book. Buy it, borrow it, nick it off your local drug dealer before shooting him in the back, whatever. Just make sure you read it.

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Thank Fuck for That

Last night was a strange experience. As has often been the case this season, a televised (and therefore easy to find on Sopcast) Chelsea match has clashed with a Roma home game. Normally this wouldn’t be a problem; I’d made my choice by coming out here and getting a season ticket, and goddamn it if I wasn’t going to get value for money. However this time I was very concerned about being dump out of the FA Cup by Southend, which would be the biggest cup shock we’ve had inflicted on us since Millwall knocked us out on penalties in 1995, if you discount the League/Fizzy Pop/Worthless Cup. And who doesn’t? The feeling of foreboding was palpable, and when I got a text message from my cousin saying:

‘One nil Southend. Pathetic’

 

 

all interest in the spectacle before me vanished like our ability to defend set pieces.

While the Sud kept up it’s constant flow of songs, urging the team to add to the rather good first half free kick from Julio Baptista, I was constantly checking my phone, trying to picture the scene at Roots Hall, mentally willing my team to score a goal – any goal – through some sort of Jedi mind trick. In truth it helped that Sampdoria had turned up for the game, which had initially been postponed due to a freak downpour back in October, with a similar attitude to the almost entirely absent Rome public. So while a half empty stadium was baiting Cassano and watching The Beast play like some sort of Drogba/Totti hybrid, My brain was throbbing ‘score a fucking goal you rudderless bunch of fucking cunts! This is all about ME and MY feelings of embarrassment!” in the general direction of Essex. Just before the second half started I got another text that simply said:

1-1 ‘Ballack

 

 

‘Thank fuck for that’, I replied, and at that point I zoned out completetly. ‘Oh wait,’ said my eyes. ‘Baptista has scored a wonder goal, dribbling round two players and curling a splendid finish in the far corner, before running to the Sud to take the applause.’

‘Yeah, yeah, yeah, whatever,’ my brain replied. ‘I’m busy envisaging a game in another country whose outcome I am attempting to change with the power of aggressive thought-rants.’

All I could think about was my phone. I placed my hand in the pocket where I keep it so I could grab it the instant it vibrated. I tapped it, hoping that somehow that would dislodge messages that read ‘2-1 Lampard’, ‘3-1 Anelka’, ‘4-1, referee handballs it in before wheeling away to celebrate’, I squeezed it like a stress ball and there was a permanent cloud around my vision, like I was watching the game in flashback mode. Roma could have had another three more if they’d tried, but it was as if both teams had given me the green light to forget about them altogether. Samp just gave up, while Roma lazily passed the ball about, half-trying to add to their tally. Meanwhile…..

‘FUCKING VIBRATE YOU BASTARD PHONE!’ Just done’t let us lose on penalties again. PLEEEEEEEAAAAASSEE?

It was at this point that I had a moment of clarity: this is why football clubs have us over a barrell. Despite everything that is wrong with football, everything that is fundamentally wrong with my club – the greed, the ticket prices, the ruthless commercialism, the absolute disdain with which the club holds its supporters, the ruthless expansionism into other territories selling brands like a football club is a can of Coke – here I am, in another country, at another teams stadium, with a season ticket I bought for that team in my pocket, and all I can think about it is the horrible feeling in my gut that ‘we’re going to lose this. I just KNOW it. It’s terrible.

The journey back was the same. I was of no use to anyone, my mind slipping in and out of fantasy land. Then as I plonk my phone down on the table I see it has a message:

4-1 second half class

 

 

Thank fuck for that.

An Even Longer Day (of Football)

One of the problems of being a football fan is that so much of your heppiness relies on 15 (relatively, even allowing for lower league weirdos xx) handsomely paid men who couldn’t give a flying toss about you or your life deciding whether they can be bothered to do their jobs properly, or whether their boss has any idea how to tell them how to do their jobs, or not getting soundly trounced by a team barely ever in second gear. Especially when you knew that all along that Scolari was a poor choice as manager, and boooooooooooooo it’s all crashing down around our ears.

Anyway, multiplying this feeling by three is a questionable idea, especially when you have days like yesterday: Up at half seven to go on an away trip with Lodigiani to Collona, a little town 45 minutes on the train south from Termini, not far from Ciampino for those of you who have flown into there from the UK, and finishing at half eleven after a rip-roaring Roma-Milan game that also gave me one of the best goals I have ever seen live, courtesy of Brazilian Wonderkid de jour Pato.

The Lodi experience was as ever, amusing and odd, and a bit shambolic. This wasn’t helped by a new and disgusting character who went by the name Borgo. Borgo, for those of you who have seen ID, is a lot like Gumbo, only less simpathetic. He mumbles everything he says, usually spits while doing so, walks in a permanent zig-zag motion while nodding like a smackhead and dresses like he lives in a bin. Which for all I know he does.

Large portions of the whole day were spent shouting at him for:

  • Walking into the path of oncoming cars
  • Falling asleep
  • Spitting on people as he spoke
  • Drinking all the beer
  • Not singing
  • Saying fascisty things
  • Being constantly, incessantly on his fucking phone

He’d make a great sitcom character, only no-one would believe that someone could be so obnoxious, unpleasant and thoroughly useless and still have friends. I assume they keep him around as a sort of group cat, independent enough to buy pizza and drugs and to tell people to fuck off, but not quite well-formed enough a human being to really pay attention to anything anyone says, or care either way. He also stank, and farted like his arse was an exhaust pipe: in short, he was the sort of guy you go out of your way to avoid on away trips, but when there’s seven of you on the train it’s pretty tricky.

Luckily he did his best to avoid doing what he was supposed to be – supporting his team – and slept through most of the game and had his phone glued ot his ear for some reason or another, which seeing as he didn’t say a word to anyone at the other end hard to figure out why. Maybe he was testing to see  if there was enough brain up there to damage with radiation.

For once, the game was actually entertaining too, and although Lodi lost 3-1 and finished the game with nine men, some comical refereeing livening proceedings immeasurably. One of the Lodi guys was sent off for swearing at a player who had just two-footed him from behind, while the assaulter got away with a yellow, Collona had a goal disallowed which looked suspiciously over the line to me and at 3-1 decided that the best punishment for a Lodi player being flattened in the box was an indirect free-kick. On top of this, there was a 20 man brawl which ended in one of our boys being pulled off the pitch by his own keeper in a headlock. Beautiful. There was also a lot of not paying for things, like train travel and match tickets (I can’t believe they charge for this level of football) while waving the Portuguese flag around, and an irate old man who was so incensed at the use of a metal bin as a perch to direct chants from that he tried to kick it out from under him, all of which was pretty funny. And it was a very pretty place as well.

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Not so funny was the fascist guy who turned up on his own with a Palestinian flag (not to express solidarity with the opressed and murdered peoples might I add, but just to show off his fuck-witted anti-semitism), and then sprayed some celtic crosses around the place, doing all of us the world of good. On the train back there was a lot of anger at this, partly because it reflects badly on the group and casts them all as of that political persuasion, which Simone in particular seemed annoyed about, but mostly because they want to keep politics out of the group. Borgo of course thought otherwise, the bell end. 

Simone also told us that he never pays for public transport, taking trains down to Naples and back for a laugh and declaring that ‘Trenitalia is my house’, as well as showing us just how he bunks the metro (the classic move getting of getting in behind someone else who’s put their ticket in – I think it helps he’s almost as a short as the barriers mind you), and then went into one of his classic chats about English football. I zoned out at this point, I was tired and my brain had had enough of trying to decipher the Rome dialect.

So, a brief bit about Chelsea then. I’ve managed to watch a decent amount of our stuff through various channels and I think I have a vague idea of what we’re about, and it’s not looking good. It not  just that United turned us over good and proper without playing all that great, that can happen at Old Trafford, it’s more that we seem to be spluttering and hacking in every position, and that I can’t help but see cracks forming that may never be repaired. Now having known Ray Wilkins when I was a kid, I know that he is in fact a smashing guy, but I’m not convinced he’s a good enough coach, nor do I think that Scolari’s other coaches know how to keep a team fit over the course of a long season. We looked shot to bits after an hour of Sunday’s game and we are still conceding stupid goals from set-pieces, something we hardly ever did under you-know-who. Even worse is that we can’t blame injuries for that; we had Terry and Carvalho in the middle of the back four, and Cole and Boswinga on either side. Add Mikel in front and Cech behind and we should be pretty much inpenetrable, but we’re not, with individual errors and poor organisation making previously frightening defenders look like Gareth Hall. The most damning statistic is that we’ve only won seven out of our last 18 games, which form that won’t win us any trophies, and while that doesn’t bother me a huge amount – a healthy, stable club in the long-term is far more important to me – it’s a shame to see such a talented and commited group of players underperforming so badly. I just hope those who repeatedly slagged off Avram Grant while we took the title race to the last day of the season and the final of the Champions League are happy with what our new media-friendly,  exspansive style is bringing us.

Anyway, after saying pretty much the same thing to my newly-arrived in Rome mate who’d come round to watch the match, we set of for the Olimpico batting a poor zero for two, as I believe the yanks say. You haven’t been following football if you didn’t know that David Beckham was making his debut for Milan on Sunday evening, an event so momentus even the Guardian decided to do a (rubbish) match report with barely a word said about the giallorossi. So here goes nothing. Totti was out, so they decided to not persue with the three-man triangle up front, and instead reverted back to the five man midfield that caused them so many problems at the start of the season, with Vucinic up front on his own, and Baptista providing support of sorts from an attacking midfield position. Presumbaly this was to keep the pressure up on an ancient Milan midfield, but instead it kept their even older back four relatively free of trouble, and consequently the pinged back and forth between the sides, although Milan looked marginally more dangerous. Pato in particular looks like a real player, and in the second half he proved it by scoring two goals, the second of which was just insanely good and sent their huge travelling support absolutely mental (highlights below – just before the minute mark).

That put them 2-1 up within the space of 15 minutes in the second half after going in at the break behind to a Vucinic goal, and after that it looked like they might run away with it, Pato and Kaka were causing all sorts of problems down the left, and Roma were struggling to keep hold of the ball. Then Vucinic scored, completely out of the blue, and for the last 20 minutes it was pretty much all Roma; Mirko himself could have had a hat-trick if a flashed cross hadn’t hit his heel while he wasn’t looking. All in all it was a damn exciting game of football, and perked me up no end. It was also good to see a big crowd at the Olimpico; when it gets going it’s a pretty special place.

So, three games, two losses (both spankings) and one draw. As Scolari always says in his press conferences; this is football.

Away Day (Yes I’m aware it’s been a while)

So, I have (possibly stupidly) agreed to do a little away day excursion with Lodigiani this Sunday. Turns out they want me to go with them as I bring good luck. Which seeing as I’ve only seen them win once is a bit of a stupid thing to say, but there you go.

So the schedule is this: meet at Termini for 8am. Eight fucking a fucking m. Still, they seem excited about it as it’s their first proper away trip on the trains since they came back into existence, and our man Simone seems, after a chat on messenger, to actually think I’m all right. Which is nice.

Can’t say I’m looking forward to the six hours spent struggling to understand a word they say mind you. Into the deep end I go…

Oh, and happy new year to those of you who are still bothering to read, I will try to keep updating this more regularly from now on.