Monday, May 29, 2006

More than a game

Football is a wonderful wonderful game. It is, check out this site. Those who don't follow it should separate the business from the game itself. Its easy to play and understand; difficult to master. It's the same whether you're playing it in the street or at Old Trafford. It has no certainties and offers excitement, drama, boredom, despair and elation, sometimes all in the same game. It gives its fans focus and structure. This World Cup will see a team from Angola, where life expectancy averages 36, and Japan; life expectancy 81, playing on the same stage. It promotes racial, religious and political harmony; Iran and the USA will both be there. If they meet, like they did in France 98 (Iran won), nobody will die.

However, its not without its problems; the growing plague of celebrity football, for example. It enjoys a ridiculous media profile nowadays. It started years ago with Soccer Six, a tournament where teams from Blur and Oasis played against each other at the height of their Britpop battle. This year SKY dedicated a 6 hour telethon to it, despite there being no celebrities on it at all (the tournament included an Iranian celebrity team). Then there's SKY's summer schedule filler Masters Football, where its not unusual to hear things like "There's a goal from Willy Smith for the Motherwell Masters. Of course, he only played once from Motherwell reserves, he spent much of his career at Stenhousemuir reserves playing nearly nine times".

More recently, there's been The Match, where a team of celebrities train for a week to play a team of ex-internationals. This was followed by a charity re-run, sorry, walk through, of the 1986 Everton v Liverpool cup final. Liverpool won when John Durnin (a stalwart of all Liverpool Legends teams) scored after 89 soporific minutes. Durnin's legendary status being defined by his two League Cup appearances for Liverpool in the eighties scoring no goals.

The biggest of the lot was Saturday's Soccer Aid, teams of celebrities and ex-pros, lead by Robbie Williams and Gordon Ramsey, played in front of 70,000 at Old Trafford. Robbie's "England" team got to wear the full official England kit, like they were top professionals when surely they barely merit such an honour. Jonathan Wilkes, who is most famous for being Robbie's best mate (there's a site dedicated to him called Fansite for Jonathan Wilkes (aka Robbie WIlliams' flat mate), has a catalogue of showbiz career failures to his name and is now the closest thing you can get to a professional celebrity footballer.

The commentary, at one point, suggested that Wilkes had indeed been groomed to be exactly that in some kind of celebrity football academy. He had been a youth team player at Everton, where he played with the likes of Michael Ball. Although apparently, this was a rotund no-mark midfielder, not the bubble haired crooner your mum loves.


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