The Chelsea Syndrome

I can recall clear enough, even though I was just ten at the time, the day my sister and her boyfriend returned home from a football match armed with a gigantic glossy poster of Chelsea Football Club. You know the type. The whole squad including the coaches, the reserves, the backroom staff and the management neatly arranged in three rows with the front row kneeling, the middle row somehow rising above them and the back row standing tall and proud. 

I'm sure that football clubs still produce those standard set piece posters, no doubt at ridiculously inflated prices for their globally marketed fan base. Anyway, it was a present for me, though I never thought to enquire on whose initiative the present materialised, the boyfriend or the sister. I don't ever recall my sister engaging in anything remotely resembling sisterly love so I guess it was down to the boyfriend. Either way, I loved that poster and even now, some forty four years later, I can name at least a half dozen of its star studded cast. Peter Bonnetti, Peter Osgood, Chopper Harris and his brother, Alan Hudson and the bloke with the amazing throw, Ian Hutchinson. There was a Dempsey and a Bobby Tambling I recall, but it all starts to fade after that. As for the manager, it was probably Tommy Docherty, though he may well of come on the Chelsea scene some years later.

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Foul play: Joe Humphries

It was like a gift from the gods. The thorny question of giving unquestioning allegiance to a corporate monster called Chelsea FC was weighing increasingly heavy on the mind. As each season passed the whole corrupting football affair was becoming less and less tenable. So when I stumbled on the book that put it all in some kind of perspective you can imagine my heartfelt joy. I was no longer alone in my torment. At least one other human soul had come to the conclusion that something was seriously rotten at the heart of our new global religion. If there were two of us, perhaps there were more.

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What sport tells us about life

Some two years after Barnes barnstorming epic, former top notch cricketer and fellow Oxbridge graduate, decides to tread pretty much the same territory and for me he does a rather solid job. He presses many of the same buttons as Barnes exploring the contradictory nature of sport and the conflicting motives of both athlete and spectator.

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The Meaning of Sport, Simon Barnes, Short Books, 2006

I didn't want to like this book from the very start. The fact that Simon Barnes is chief sports writer for the Times was an inauspicious marker. Anything that falls under the umbrella of the Murdoch media empire is sure to be tainted. Then there was the distinct whiff of Oxbridge about the opening few chapters complete as they were with clever literary references and a liberal sprinkling of Latin, French and German phrases. To make matters worse, Barnes is one of those 'horsey' people with a total preoccupation with all things equestrian. Not exactly the sport of the proles. And when he wasn't waxing lyrical on the symbiotic relationship between man and horse he switched to his other obsession, Steve Redgrave and his five Olympic Gold medals. Rowing; another working class sport practised by millions across Asia, Africa and the inner city ghettos of the metropolises.

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Your Charity Makes Me Sick

Over the past years I have had dealings with a number of sporting charities and each one in their own way has done an excellent job in helping to develop grassroots sporting opportunities. My most recent contact has been with the Greenhouse Schools Charity, a charity that has been particularly proactive in the sport of table tennis and has been largely responsible for a mini renaissance of table tennis in London, particularly at school level. In fact, the club that I helped develop and manage over the past twenty years, London Progress, has now come under the Greenhouse umbrella and is now commonly known as Greenhouse Progress.

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Grass Roots Sport:You don't know me!

The very fact that you've probably never heard of me or thousands like me, who toil away building our respective sporting clubs to varying degrees of success, says a great deal about our national sporting media and by extension, the nature of our commodity driven society. Small local sports clubs with their loyal, dedicated administrators simply do not bring in the mega bucks. Premier League Football is the only real show in town; the gladiatorial contests of our times, and virtually everything else plays second fiddle. Tennis, cricket, golf and rugby have their annual jamborees. F1 and horse racing are always there by virtue of big money backing.Boxing gets a look in if a British boxer is involved. All other sports must content themselves with a four year outing at the Olympics if indeed they are lucky enough to be even considered an Olympic sport. Even those few sports that do capture the brief attention of the national media are only showcased at their elite level. Community football is no more successful than the pack of so called minority sport in grabbing the media lime light. The soap opera that is the English Premier League has become as much a national obsession as the other TV soap operas. It's not surprising but it's damn frustrating. Even my paper of choice, The Guardian, is totally dismissive of community sports and you would think that they might have a slightly better perspective on these things. Ironically, The Times and The Telegraph are marginally better at reporting the grassroots stuff. It's a funny old world.

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Olympic Legacy: What a Joke!

I started day-dreaming about the legacy idea way back in the year 1999 when the then Blair Government was pontificating about a Millennium legacy. I dreamed of a National walking and cycling track that linked all the major population centres with all our wonderful national parks and our delightful seaside towns. Capital outlay would be minimal. Local job creation would be considerable and it would send all the right messages for the twenty first century; environmentally friendly, individually healthy, community orientated and spiritually uplifting.Instead we got the vacuous Corporate Dome, corporately sponsored, individually mind numbing, community dumbing and spiritually alienating. It closed early to universal derision. To be fair, it told us exactly where the government's priorities lay for the new century and they did not disappoint on that count: a national economy in hock to the City of London with all its speculative greed and avarice.

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The Dialectics of Sport

The central contradiction at the heart of sport is obvious enough. It is the human dialectic; ruthlessly individualistic, tribal and competitive on the one hand, sublimely humanistic and socially co-operative on the other. Sport relentlessly reflects both poles. Today sport is nothing but a dirty commodity where clubs and athletes are bought and sold like prize cattle. Cheating, match fixing, drug taking, ruthless commercialism and of course the ugly local tribalism and national triumphalism are all the daily fare of the sporting world. Yet almost bizarrely, sport simultaneously offers the opportunity of individual personal growth, local community cohesion and on the international stage, improved global harmony. At least we like to tell ourselves it is capable of pursuing such noble goals. Mixed amongst the blind human urge to conquer, comes strange pulses of altruism and genuine internationalism. And in true dialectical fashion, even when the basest of human motives are in full flow, the end result can still somehow serve to produce something quite different: to actually enhance human welfare and, if you will forgive the lapse into metaphysics, the human spirit.

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