Thursday, 26 December 2013

TSP's Top 50 of 2013

Welcome one and all as we join together for the ninth year in a row to hand out the prestigious David Lee Roth Medal for my favourite song of the year.

Apart from the cavalcade of nobodies, has beens and never will bes that are about to get a run in the top 50 the major surprise of this year is that I managed to get the top 50 done inside the actual year instead of waiting until January 8.

To recap where've come from (and to look back on how many of these people haven't ever been heard of again) here are the previous eight chart leaders. Click the year for a handy link to the full countdown.

1. Kaiser Chiefs - I Predict A Riot
2. Maximo Park - Apply Some Pressure
3. Goldfrapp - Ooh La La
4. The Killers - Somebody Told Me
5. Bloc Party - Helicopter

1. The Young Knives - Here Comes The Rumor Mill
2. Giant Drag - This Isn’t It
3. Silvia Night - Congratulations
4. Lily Allen - LDN
5. Joey Negro - Make A Move On Me

1. The Hold Steady - Chips Ahoy!
2. New Young Pony Club - Ice Cream
3. The Teenagers - Homecoming
4. Arctic Monkeys - Fluorescent Adolescent
5. Jack Penate - Spit At Stars

1. Lethal Bizzle - The Come Up
2. Neon Neon - Luxury Pool
3. MGMT - Electric Feel
4. Empire Of The Sun - Walking On A Dream
5. Fryars - Olive Eyes

1. N.A.S.A - Spacious Thoughts (featuring Tom Waits and Kool Keith)
2. Yeah Yeah Yeahs - Heads Will Roll
3. Boy Crisis - The Fountain of Youth
4. Bat For Lashes - Daniel
5. Low Fidelity All Stars - The Good Times

1. My Chemical Romance - Bulletproof Heart
2. Goldfrapp - Rocket
3. Lena - Satellite
4. Keane - Stop For A Minute (featuring K'naan)
5. Paul Heaton - Even A Palm Tree

1. REM - Discoverer
2. MEN - Credit Card Babies (Stereogamous Remix)
3. The Strokes - Taken For A Fool
4. Dutch Uncles - The Ink
5. Calvin Harris and Kelis - Bounce

1. Loreen - Euphoria
2. Escort - Cocaine Blues
3. Plan B - Deepest Shame
4. Jim Noir - Ping Pong Time Tennis
5. Elton John vs PNAU - Icy Black Stare

The process is, as always, complicated. I never listen to current radio, and I don't know what in god's name 'the kids' are into at any given time, so songs are considered and shortlisted through the year based on recommendations, reviews and the Slovenian Eurovision entrant. From there I choose my personal favourite 50 songs (no, your favourite tracks aren't included. Make your own list, it's the in thing to do at this time of year) then attempt to put them into something resembling the correct order via a gruelling bootcamp where they're rated and pitted against each other using formulas so secret that Colonel Sanders would rise to applaud.

The rules are fiendishly simple, an artist or artists may have as many songs as they like on the shortlist but only two can make the top 50. No covers (although that clause was stretched to its limits last year) and the decision of the match referee (i.e me) is final.

Your host, once again, is this guy- and what a fine job he does year after year.

50. Palma Violets - 14

Goes on a bit (they tone it down live if you're interested in that sort of stuff) but it was written on the back of a bus (the #14 wouldn't you know) and sung into a mobile phone so they could remember it the next day so it's probably lucky to have even made it to this stage.

Previous entries: (1)
2012 - Best of Friends (#50)

49. Justice - Brianvision MMXIII

Instrumentalism. Coincidentally from exactly the same compilation album as...

48. Breakbot - The Beach

There's still time for you to use this as the soundtrack to a summer TV show or commercial.

47. Yeah Yeah Yeahs - Area 52

Science fiction antics in the YYY's lowest finish since that year I absurdly extended the countdown to 100 songs.

Previous entries (4):
2006, Gold Lion (#11)
2007, Down Boy (#66)
2009, Heads Will Roll (#2), Softshock (#24)

46. Beady Eye - Flick Of The Finger

To nobody's surprise it's like Oasis when they weren't much chop any more. They always had one good song per album even after disappearing up their own arses, and to Liam's credit this is his. Much to Noel's chagrin (as if he would give a rats) the score in TSP Top 50's is now 2-0 to the lesser brother.

Previous entries (1):
2011 - Four Letter Word (#17)

45. Fat Goth - Pinball Moron
Good band name, quality song title, great album cover art. Reasonable song. Warning - contains whistling.

44. Iggy and the Stooges - Burn

He sounds like he's going to topple over and cark it most of the time these days, but if you'd done what he has it would be a miracle if you were even still walking at this point.

43. Disclosure - When A Fire Starts To Burn

Effectively just the same lyrics over and over again. Won't be the last time something makes my list despite that handicap.

42. Yeah Yeah Yeahs - Sacrilege

Less sci-fi, more shouting and - without doing my maths - I think the song that ties the Yeah Yeah Yeah's with Goldfrapp for most lifetime chart entries (6).

41. Kings Of Leon - Rock City

Minor return to form, not quite their first album again but better than that gash they were serving up a few years back. Gash which to be fair I actually didn't mind until it started dominating the charts.

Previous entries (2):
2008 - Use Somebody (#46), Sex On Fire (#8)

40. White Lies - There Goes Our Love Again

39. CHVRCHES - The Mother We Share

Odds on this will become massive here in three months' time and I will grow sick of it. See Leon, Kings of (2008)

38. Birthday Suit - You Hear The Drums
This is a good time of the year for discovering which songs were just humble album tracks and nobody bothered making a video for.

37. Babyshambles - Nothing Comes To Nothing

Pete Doherty - so capable, so off his nut 24/7. I liked this track, but I'd have been far keener if it wasn't for the irony free use of the word 'baby'.

36. Iggy and the Stooges - Beat That Guy
More post-middle aged manboobery. There's a reason they're not making videos.

35. Public Service Broadcasting - The Now Generation
Well look, this is cheating a bit. After all it's not like they wrote the lyrics or performed any of them - but the concept of playing modern music over old newsreel audio appeals to me. At least with this form of music you can learn something as well.

Previous entries (1):
2012 - Spitfire (#21)

34. Pixies - Bagboy

Considering the amount of bands that I like who came back with albums that positively woofed during 2013 (some of whom have managed to swing one track into this countdown by virtue of positive feelings from the past) this was decent. Sensibly the kept the comeback to an EP instead of trying to drag it out across a whole album.

33. Sleigh Bells - Bitter Rivals

I feel that all their songs are exactly the same with subtle differences, and this is no different. Boo to them though for including an LSU jersey instead of a pro football one and therefore not qualifying for my new blog (untouched after the first day).

Previous entries (1):
2012 - Comeback Kid (#22)

32. Pet Shop Boys - Love Is A Bourgeois Construct

Good song, but the title makes me want to stab somebody with a fork. Could also stand to lose a couple of minutes.

31. The Stepkids - The Lottery

Steely Dan and their lawyers will be along any minute now.

30. Parquet Courts - Stoned and Starving

Music for stoners. Not that I'm a stoner, but it's not just the title - I know this is right up their alley.

29. Devendra Banhart - Won't You Come Over

Given that the last song he had which made the TSP50 shortlist was about John Wayne Gacy dismembering kiddies I'd have to say no, I won't be coming over.

28. Pet Shop Boys - Axis

More PSB, but this time shorter and with a less annoying title so it ranks higher. Also sounds like the theme song to 80's cop show which is in no way a bad thing.

27. Phoenix - Entertainment

If you can accept that just as Lady Gaga will never do another Poker Face that Phoenix will never again touch the heights of Too Young then they've released some quality songs in the last few years. But they'll never do another Too Young and that saddens me. Also the records show that I've never had one of their recent songs in my top 50 so maybe they're not all that good after all.

26. The Strokes - All The Time

Much like The Simpsons, The Strokes' best remains foremost in our memory even as we're constantly handed new stuff that is decidedly ordinary. For the second album in a row the handful of decent songs were almost drowned out by tremendous amount of bollocks phoned in on a wonky line.

This is a slight, sliver of a song but then again so was everything on their first album and that's one of my all-time favourites. Still, time for The Strokes to give the game away and go back to just being filthy rich.

Previous entries: (2)
2005 - Juicebox (#19)
2011 - Taken For A Fool (#3)

25. The Strypes - Blue Collar Jane

This year's entry in the "next big rock thing" sweepstakes, following on from others to have fallen off the face of the earth like The Vaccines and Palma Violets. "Next" big thing is slightly misleading considering these juvenile delinquent looking types are practically bashing out the exact same stuff The Beatles were all those years ago but with more oomphy guitars. Not such an earth shattering shock 50 years on but there's potential here.

24. David Bowie - Where Are We Now

Wistful reminiscence that surprised everybody when it came out with precisely zero prior warning just when everyone thought that Bowie had probably carked it and we hadn't been told.

23. Suede - It Starts And Ends With You

It's obviously no Animal Nitrate (what is?) but considering the record of most other bands with comeback albums I'd say they got this just about right. It was certainly better than most of the later stuff they were pumping out before splitting.

22. Kings of Leon - Don't Matter

It's almost odds on that I'll hate this by March, but it's still the best thing they've done in years.

21. Texas - The Conversation

Who knew they were still around, but if I were around the table at a pop radio station I'd argue that this was every prospect of being a hit. Maybe it already has been, I'm not listening to the radio so how should I know?

20. Phoenix - The Real Thing

19. David Bowie - Atomica

You're out of luck if you prefer "ooooohhhhh fashion!" style hits over quiet introspection at this point of his career, but this is as close as you'll get. An extra track on the extended (cash-in) version of the album, but better than anything he's done since Hearts Filthy Lesson from the Seven soundtrack.

18 - Sleigh Bells - Sugarcane
Practically the same song as the last one, and all their others, but louder.

17. Parquet Courts - Master Of My Craft

Slightly less stonery music for stoners. If there was any justice the "fuggataboutit" bit would become a catchphrase.

16. Arcade Fire - Joan Of Arc

The issue I have with Arcade Fire is that every album has a couple of belters and then a bunch of dull tracks that don't deserve a second listen. The formula was faithfully followed again this year. Also, enjoy some old mate's homemade music video.

Previous entries: (2)
2010: Sprawl II (Mountains Beyond Mountains (#9), Modern Man (#7)

15. Suede - Barriers

Presumably they're not jumping over barriers for the purposes of fare evasion, but their first new track in a decade thrashed the pants off the tracks from a decade ago (if not the ones off the first album).

14. Public Enemy - ... Everything

Modern PE = less political but actually better than you'd expect.

13. Haim - Falling

Full album not quite as good as I'd expected it to be based off their tracks from last year's countdown, but this is top shelf.

Previous entries (2):
2012 - Better Off (#29), Don't Save Me (#9)

12. The Orb and Lee Scratch Perry - Fussball

In which an elderly man blathers anything that comes into his head and makes a surprisingly good fist of it. Could soundtrack a million different highlights packages around World Cup time if given the chance.

11. Placebo - Loud Like Love

Another band who I didn't even know were still active, and if you didn't like them then you won't now but this appealed to the part of my brain that is still an 18-year-old life hating emo.

10. Yoko Ono Plastic Ono Band - 7th Floor
In which an elderly woman blathers anything that comes into her head and makes a surprisingly good fist of it. Quite frankly I love this shit and I hope that as people like this drop off the perch that the next generation after them will continue to issue batshit crazy and insane tracks of a similar nature. This is her first appearance under her own name, but she did make to #13 it as guest vocalist on a similarly barmy track in 2009.

9. The Courteneers - Money

Comes off like a lovely fusion of 70's glam rock, Supergrass and Elbow.

Previous entries: (2)
2007 - Acrylic (#91), Cavorting (#59)

8. Mat Zo/Porter Robinson - Easy

Oh hello, it's the token mass market track in the top 10. Well shove it. This reminds me of the brief period in my life where I was off my bifter every weekend. At 32 memories are about all that's left, and no doubt I'd have despised this at the time. The video is a bit cutesy, but then again so is the video for One More Time by Daft Punk and people whop off over that.

7. Neon Neon - The Jaguar

The first Neon Neon album, an improbable concept album about carmaker John De Lorean, was wall to wall gold covering a number of genres. So, even when it was announced that the concept for their second album involved some obscure revolutionary I wasn't all that concerned. Sadly it turned it to be total slop, and nothing like Stainless Style, except for this track which could easily be bolted onto that that album and lose nothing (except the concept).

Previous entries: (2)
2008 - Michael Douglas (#16), Luxury Pool (#2)

6. Public Service Broadcasting - Everest

More cheating with lyrics provided by newsreels of the past, but at least for once you'll learn something from reading TSP.

5. Cold War Kids - Jailbirds

Every year without fail there's one song that I put on my shortlist then proceed to totally forget until going through said list to whittle it down to 50. Not sure how I missed listening to this one more. I feel like there's some reason I'm supposed to dislike this band, but this is a cracker which has shot up the chart so much in the last week that it would probably be #1 if I waited another seven days.

Previous entries: (1)
2007 - Hospital Bed (#98)

4. Arcade Fire - Reflektor

Ignoring all the 'artistic' shenanigans of them calling themselves The Reflektors, launching the album via cryptic clues and playing concerts in giant papier mache heads as if they were in the crowd at a darts match, this is by far the standout track. I await another two crackers amongst 12 middling tracks extravaganza in a couple of years.

3. Daft Punk - Lose Yourself To Dance

That the next two songs were absolutely magnificent shouldn't detract from the fact that half of the songs on Random Access Memories were a bit meh. So maybe it didn't deserve the full stars, but if the rules didn't stop me putting more than two from each artist in every year I might have fit five of the tracks in the top 50.

2. Daft Punk - Get Lucky

This was hard to avoid and should have got more tedious the more you heard it, but good god what a mighty song it was/is/will be in the future. If you, like I often do, look forward 30 years and wonder what songs they'll be playing on golden oldies 2000-2010's radio then I guarantee you this will still be on high rotation. A rare example of 'the people' and I being in furious agreement....

1. Franz Ferdinand - Right Action

... but not furious enough to get behelmeted Frenchmen in at #1. Instead Franz return Great Britain to the top of the pile for the first time since 2008 (current standings - GB 4, USA 4, Sweden 1) with quite frankly the best thing they've released since Take Me Out by some considerable margin.

It's got pretty much everything you could want in an 'indie' pop/rock song including a singalong chorus and a length of just over three minutes so it never outstays its welcome. That it never charted in the UK and only made it to #38 on some sort of consolation "Indie" singles chart is quite criminal.

Previous entries (2):
2009 - Can't Stop Feeling (#39), No You Girls (#32)

And that's it from TSP Towers VIII. Abuse, suggestions for what I may still wish to listen to, legal threats and "WHERE IS [?]" via the comments please.

Tuesday, 24 December 2013

TSP's Obscure Moments in Sport #2

Remembering the relatively important moments which changed my life with the aid of the internet because I've forgotten the exact details of what happened.

#2 - Damon Hill wins Jordan's first F1 GP (1998)

Warning: During the research for this post it became clear that one of the greatest sporting moments of my childhood was actually fixed. It's tears before bedtime at TSP Towers as what has been held up as an epic moment of sporting magic for the last 15 years turns out to have finished in circumstances that even the ICC would shake their head at. But we'll get to that a bit later...

As anyone who has taken the time to peruse this list would appreciate, there are a lot of sports in the world. Some major, some regional, some quite frankly stupid.  It's easy enough to avoid the third category, or at least it was before the internet came along, but if the circumstances are right most kids will at some point at least flirt with many of the sports contained in the first two groups.

One that I should have totally avoided by virtue of growing up in a one-parent family without a father was motorsport. In the late 80's and early 90's if you couldn't play it in the schoolyard then nobody was interested. You couldn't, so like every other child at St Joseph's on Glenferrie Road I wasn't. The excitement of watching cars drive around in circles, crashing into each other every once in a while totally passed me by.

It didn't help that with the exception of two races a year in Japan and Adelaide that the entire sport took place almost exclusively in the middle of the night. Back then if it didn't happen in front of you in real time it didn't happen at all, or was confined to 20 seconds on the 6pm news and you didn't have enough time to get to understand what it was all about.

My decade with F1 started with some random gent ducking in and out of the flat I'd lived in my whole life, at 5/40 Morang Road in Hawthorn (top left).

I paid no attention to what sort of unsavoury activities might have been taking place until a few weeks later when it was announced we were moving... all the way to Flat 6 (top right of screen). In retrospect it was to nobody's surprise that this the flat of our regular mystery caller who had clearly been doing more than borrowing a cup of tea from his neighbour.

Perhaps unfairly almost all of memories of this guy were of him being a bit of a poon. He certainly wasn't violent or abusive in any form, but there was something about him which rubbed me up the wrong way. Maybe it was the way he spoke of himself like he was a master actor only to reveal that his two major appearances had been for one second in the BMX Bandits and as the voiceover 'artist' for a Red Rooster ad. Maybe it was because he got extremely grumpy when some neighbourhood prankster used a piece of paper to alter his personalised number plates to spell something 'rude'.

Maybe I was just being a horrible child, because the man did influence me in a couple of ways. For one he had been roped into the 1980's arcade game boom and took me to play the pinnies every weekend. The standard he set, and the fact that he got my mum hooked on 1942, allowed me to continue weekend trips to venues like the Fun Factory long after he was off the season.

Secondly he introduced me to the joys of Formula One, and more importantly his strange fetish for Japanese 'trier' Satoru Nakajima whose fortunes he followed more closely than seemed necessary. Maybe the voice of Red Rooster's third major influence on me was the freedom to follow terrible sporting concerns? If so I've certainly made a career out of that in the last 15+ years.

I'm not sure at which point during 1988 we shacked up with him, or when I started to take an interest, but the record books show Nakajima's only point of the entire 1988 season came in the first race of the year so there's every chance that we weren't around for that. He was a little bit better in 1989, scoring three points courtesy of a fourth place finish in the last race of the year. So depending on when we moved in, during the time we lived with this guy his favourite driver went about 30 races without scoring ONE SOLITARY POINT. It's almost impossible now considering they give points to nearly everyone for just showing up, but in those days you very much ran the risk of driving for years without winning a cracker - and our Japanese friend did just that.

Not that I was taking all that much of an interest. All I remember from that era was that the footage of Nigel Mansell's tire exploding in Adelaide a few years earlier must have been in Channel 9's opening or closing credits because it seemed like the played it every.. single.. week without fail.

Sometime in early 1990 my mum chucked him, almost certainly due to a surly eight-year-old driving a wedge through the relationship with daily "you're not my dad" speeches, and the last I ever heard from him was after he rang our new house and asked me to pass on a message that he'd called. I never did, and strangely enough the last time he was ever seen was at a Melbourne game during the 2000 season when we realised he was sitting directly in front of us and had to do a family bonding escape without him realising who we were.

If Mr Red Rooster hadn't managed to leave me with a love of Formula 1 then he'd at piqued an interest. The only thing I can remember about the 1990 and 1991 seasons is watching the Australian GP (and I'm not even sure we had a VHS to tape the other races by that point even if I'd wanted to) - yet sometime during '91 I'd acquired a copy of the Murray Walker 1990 Grand Prix Year book (if I recall correctly from a discount book stall at the Royal Melbourne Show of all places) and suddenly a great passion was stirred.

That book got a fierce belting for the rest of 1991, and after I'd read it about 50 times I'd retrospectively become a huge fan of the Leyton House lineup of Ivan Capelli and Mauricio Gugelmin and their tragic French Grand Prix where they'd came from nowhere to almost record one of the great upset wins. The comic subplot of the Life team, who failed to qualify to enter qualifying 14 times in a row before going bust, was another highlight. Tellingly my interest was more in these stories of disgrace than anything involving greats like Senna and Prost.

Being the weird child that I was (and as a pointer to the weird adult I grew into) the book, almost two full seasons old by that point, became the basis for a Formula 1 dice 'simulation' I devised based on a similar but far less complicated horse racing game I'd come up with in the past. In grade six I went on to invent a WWF themed board game which was, quite frankly, ingenious but the rules of that have sadly been lost to the ages while I could probably break out pen, paper and dice and play my F1 game again tomorrow.

Along with a few old F1 magazines liberated from op shops featuring names that will forever live with me like Joachim Winkelhock, that book was the key to everything. Many, many sheets of paper were wasted on a game that I played on and off until year seven when a) I did the typical rejection of everything from 'childhood' and b) PC gaming came along. New drivers would join obscure, actually defunct teams like Onyx, AGS and Osella on my dice based circuit. Eventually once I discovered Indycar the two circuits were merged together in a glorious motor racing superleague the likes of which has never been seen since. Meanwhile other children were playing games outdoors and making friends with each other.

Eventually the simulation got to me, and by the time of that year's Australian GP I had resolved to become a devotee for 1992 whether or not half the teams that were still 'enjoying' being rubbish in my league (courtesy of a well-designed system of bonuses and penalties depending on past team performance and engine manufacturer) no longer existed.

It was just good timing that for their second season the Jordan team had hired Mauricio Gugelmin - he of the famous 1990 Leyton House team - as one of their drivers. Having read that book so many times, and always cheering him on to points in my homemade game (which was in no way rigged because I had more integrity than the actual FIA), I had to back him and his team. From this point on I was a Jordan fan - and what a fine few years of entertainment that gave me.

The team had been surprisingly good in their first season, despite losing one of their drivers for gassing a taxi driver, and finished fifth in the 1991 constructors championship - but in an early sign that my support was practically fatal to any team they collapsed to a solitary sixth placed finish and one point in 1992.

Gugelmin scored nil, with one seventh place, 11 DNF's and a one way ticket to the Indycar league at the end of the year. Not surprisingly I suddenly developed an interest in this format, where people would often do 500 laps worth of left turns, and would stay up to all hours to watch races on Channel 10. Not only did they have my favourite driver, but they also had a killer - for its time anyway - PC game ("I'm Paul Page FROM PAPYRUS! And this is Indy Car Racing) which finally killed off my dice game.

He would eventually trump Jordan by winning a race a year before they did, and while I loved it (silently, because nobody else cared) it didn't have the same effect on me that Jordan's maiden victory would have a year later because I hadn't ridden the peaks and troughs with his team (and their classic sponsor HOLLYWOOD) like I had with Eddie Jordan and co.

We'd had relatively good times in 1994 and 1995 with the classic lineup of Ruebens Barrichello and Eddie Irvine, and while Eddie went on to bigger and better things in 1996 we were for the first time treated to one of the greatest liveries of them all. Smoking is bad and all that, but thank god for Benson, Hedges and whoever decided to adopt the gold colour scheme. It didn't hit peak quality until the next year when they went full canary yellow, but it was a start.

It was also the year that F1 came to Melbourne, much to the joy of myself and Jeff Kennett and the dismay of a bunch of crusties who looked like (and included) Rod Quantock. Much to my dismay after four years of living and breathing F1 via Channel 9's all-time great lineup of Eastlake/Jones it was the point where I discovered that there's no sport where the live atmosphere fails to match what you see on TV more.

It didn't help that I'd decided to move during the parade lap and totally missed Martin Brundle doing this pretty much exactly where I'd been having my eardrums assaulted just a couple of minutes before, but the experience was disappointing and I've only ever bothered to go twice more on free tickets.

That didn't detract from my interest though, and after two years flirting with supporting ex-Indycar star Jacques Villeneuve my heart was still with Jordan going into the 1998 season. They had just scored the signature of Damon Hill - the man who beat Villeneuve on that first day in Melbourne and beat him for the championship - fresh off a novelty season with the traditionally awful Arrows team for whom he had almost pulled off one of the most absurd victories in history before a last minute mechanical issue relegated him to second.

Hill partnered Ralf Schumacher, who I distinctly remember hating at the time but who history shows actually had reasonable results, and for the first 10 weeks of the season Damon did about as well as he had with Arrows - failing to score a point. Ralf wasn't much better, but finally opened the team's account with a 6th in Great Britain. Damon finally got on the board with two fourth placed finishes in a row before the Belgian GP, but for loyalists such as I all we could realistically hope for was a cheap podium finish here or there as Mika Hakkinen and Michael Schumacher fought out the title and the canary yellow Jordans proved about as useful as Ligiers, Footworks and Larrousses had in the past.

In all honesty I can't actually remember much of the 1998 Belgian Grand Prix itself. It certainly didn't occur to me, looking back all these years later before watching highlights again, that this great drought breaking success might have had more to do with tire flying, panel beating carnage in pissing rain than any actual skill on behalf of the team. Or that, as we will soon discover, that there were dark forces at play even in the most triumphant of moments.

I feel that by 1998 we'd graduated to four hour VHS tapes, and that would have paid off this morning as the race was stopped for an hour due to a 13 car melee on the opening corner. Gloriously the Belgians had decided to go ahead with the race without a safety car despite the fact that the circuit looked like it were a swimming pool, and the resulting "oh that's terrible, but nobody got hurt so I actually enjoyed it" paved the way for motoring gold.

Sadly the rules of the day said that any race stopped within two laps didn't count, and so instead of the two Jordans surviving and 13 drivers being eliminated it was a mere four who failed to make the restart an hour later. So in the end it wasn't really the rain what won it. Or was it? Reviewing the video of the race for the first time since that day shows that a lot of weather related luck did seem to go Damon's way.

Hakkinen spun and was taken out by another car, and Michael Schumacher tore half his car off (giving us some classic commentary from Murray) by blindly driving straight into the back of David Coulthard . They weren't the only ones to be eliminated - by lap 26 of 44 only eight cars were left and as well as Schumacher and Hakkinen, big hitters like Eddie Irvine and Jacques Villeneuve, medium hitters like Johnny Herbert and complete nobodies like Estaban Tuero (me neither) had all been forced to retire through collision damage or mechanical trouble.

With the remaining field consisting of Hill, Schumacher, Coulthard a mile back after repairs from the Schumacher debacle, Jean Alesi (one career win), Heinz-Harald Frentzen (one), Jarno Truli (none to that point), Pedro Diniz (nil) and Shinji Nakano (nothing) the BREAKTHROUGH WIN alert level was set to high. If not for one of the Jordans then hopefully for Diniz or Nakano.

When Michael committed racing suicide it gave Damon the lead, and put the two Jordans into a 1-2 battle. This was it, my modern version of the 1990 French Grand Prix. Leyton House/Jordan - Gugelmin/Hill and Capelli/Ralf first and second. That day the novelty team had been forced to settle for second place only, and with the circuit still carrying a deadly amount of water it was no guarantee that we'd even get that.

It would have been a fair bet though. You could have foreseen one piece of nasty luck (hopefully to Ralf) but two was just taking the piss. Given where the team had come from it would have been rude not to accept a Ralf win, but at this point all my emotions were invested in Damon winning - and the idea that it would be stolen in the last few laps was too much to bear.

By 1998 I'd already come to terms with the fact that I'd never see any of my teams win anything ever. The Atlanta Braves 1996 World Series win may as well have happened on another planet as far as coverage went, and it would be another seven years before I saw the Wests Tigers - who at this point didn't exist - win a premiership right in front of me. It would have been So Adam (even way back then) for it to all go horribly and unnecessarily wrong.

Somehow it didn't though, the TV coverage shows that with a few laps to go Ralf was right on Damon's tail and no doubt I expected him to confirm all my prejudices by crashing Damon out of the race, but he never even got close and the win was Damon's and Jordan's. A win I'd been waiting the best part of eight of my then 17 years for.

Remembering nothing else about the race what I do recall quite vividly was having tears in my eyes as he crossed the line to win. Having wasted so many mornings and been late to school on more than one occasion because I was watching a tape of the GP to its natural conclusion instead of bothering to feign interest in maths it seemed like an appropriate payoff.

So, all hail one a great triumph of the human spirit then eh? Well, maybe not because this is where it all goes horribly wrong. In searching for the video footage of the race I also came across the following documentary footage which reveals that the final result was actually the product of mobile match fixing:

And it was goodbye to one of the great moments of my life when I saw that. RIP 30 August 1998 - 23 December 2013. Of course Damon might have won anyway, but we'll never know because like a IPL game the result was phoned in from elsewhere.

I'm not imagining the fact that Ralf used to crash a lot, and while the results will show that he'd successfully finished five races in a row before Belgium he'd also gone out to collisions or spins seven times in 29 races to that point so there was something to Damon's suggestion other than the fact that he was trying to lock down a win - but mostly the fact that he was trying to lock down a win.

He didn't win a world championship by being stupid and he obviously knew that Ralf was a loose cannon who could bring the whole thing down, so he put a dodgy deal to Eddie Jordan and suggested that the two cars stay in formation and bank the first two places instead of letting the quicker car challenge for the lead.

Eddie, being the sensible man that he was, realises that he could very well come out of the race with nothing and bans Ralf from attempting to pass/punt both of them into the wall. These days you'd get hung, drawn and quartered for even suggesting something like that but in the good old days of F1 open cheating like this was not only allowed but almost openly encouraged. Eventually after about three attempts to get him to acknowledge, and the suspicion that he's about to rogue and do whatever he likes, Ralf finally agrees to pull the pin and do the right thing.

With the only chance of a spoiler removed, and third placed Jean Alesi much too far away to do anything but motor around and collect four championship points, there were three victory laps to be had - as long as Damon's car didn't suddenly exploded in a ball of flames which engulfed both the leading cars. He managed to pilot his way around the track unharmed, and with a replay of Murray Walker's call of the race confirming that at least for the last few laps there was no talk of the dubious dealings taking place at the time across team radio he crossed the line to win.

There were no recriminations after the race, so how was I to know it had been a swizz? If Ralf had leapt from his car and decked Eddie Jordan with a right hook there'd have been some indication that shenanigans were afoot, but the only person in any danger of being injured was the mentalist who ran across the track at the end and almost got cleaned up by our old friend Pedro Diniz.

As the winners stood on the podium in those magnificent yellow outfits (who said cigarettes never did any good?) Ralf gamely waved to the crowd, engaged in some shenanigans with everyone including Alesi and everything was alright with the world - I probably didn't need to know then (or at any time until now) that it was tainted.

In the video at the top of screen the team orders do get a mention immediately after the national anthem plays - but we can only assume that I was already running well late for some pointless Year 11 class and had stopped the tape by then. Incidentally it should be pointed out that (look away Richmond fans) it was an all-time great sporting weekend for me on more than one front because this also happened.

That morning represented the high point of my interest in motor sports, and I started to drift away almost immediately afterwards. It's a worrying trend that three times in my life teams I follow have won something major (if we count this as major, which we might as well for the sake of the story) and I've rapidly lost interest soon after. In this case walking away was actually quite silly because Jordan got even better the next year and won two races. Sure I was still watching, and was happy when they won but by 1999 I had bigger issues to deal with. For instance the time I had a teenage nervous breakdown triggered (but not directly caused by) Wimbledon losing a Premier League match 2-0 to Charlton Athletic. But I'm saving that one for my autobiography.

By 2002 my relationship with Formula One had as good as ended, and the times I did tune in usually ended with Takuma Sato smashing into a wall because he was NOT VERY GOOD AT DRIVING A CAR QUICKLY. I'd given up for good by the time Jordan scored their fourth and last win under controversial circumstances in 2003, and while the team soldiered on with rapidly diminishing returns through 2004 they were pretty much completely shot. 11 of 12 points scored in their last year came from finishing 3rd and 4th in a farcical race where only six cars, including two Minardis which by that point would have lost to a Lada, started.

Having bought a really bad second hand Renault (it made a sound like jungle drums when you drove at low speeds) I started following them from 2006, a rare time when I've successfully jumped on the bandwagon of a successful team and not destroyed them, and for a couple of years it was glorious. They shut the door at the end of 2011 and I gave up on F1 for good, maybe someday a team or a driver will come along that inspires me to follow but for now it's a case of turning on, watching for five minutes, going "ooh Vettel's won again", hoping to see a non-lethal stack or two then moving on.

But at least, thanks to the voice of Red Rooster, I got a few good years out of the sport. And for that I am now prepared to concede that he wasn't such a shit bloke after all.

Next edition - I'll probably have more childhood memories shattered by YouTube


#1 - Tim Zoehrer's comeback at the WACA (1994)

Thursday, 12 December 2013

TSP's Obscure Moments in Sport #1

A series in which, if I don't give up after one, I'll explore otherwise pointless or inconsequential moments which represent highlights in my sporting life.

#1 - Tim Zoehrer makes his comeback - Sunday 16 January, 1994.

Last Friday night, under 'heavy refreshment' at a Christmas party with the cricket on in the background one suitably pissed guest issued a challenge to anyone in the room with half an interest in cricket (and that's about where I sit these days) to compile their all-time favourite cricket XI.

Well, who doesn't love a list? The rules were set out in more detail than should have been possible given the circumstances, but the most important clause was mine - it didn't have to be the best side you've ever seen in your life, because if it was everyone would pick the same side, it had to be one featuring the players you'd enjoyed watching the most in person or on TV. Sure, you had to be reasonably sensible and not pick Dwayne Leverock but as far as I was concerned that pretty much left the field open for anybody who had played more than a handful of internationals for a test playing country.

Or so I thought. After all I wouldn't have flinched if somebody had picked Zimbabwe's Eddo Brandes based on the 1994/95 World Series Cup and his foul mouth. Democracy and all that. So, it was much to my surprise when late Monday after my side was revealed there were universal howls of derision at my choice of wicketkeeper.

The common theme was how, from all the keepers in the world from the mid 80's onwards, could I have plumped for a 10 test player from an era were Australia were, quite frankly, shit? Had they bothered to look up his record in test teams (one win, five draws, three losses, one tie) there might have been an industry shutdown as I was kicked to death. It was a double blow to the community that while Adam Gilchrist - as did everyone else - that he was booted out from behind the stumps in the Supermercado XI to make way for the great man.

What they missed while concentrating on the obscure nature of the selection was that his inclusion was actually a bit of a scam, because I'd only ever seen him play one international match on television.

My fascination with the fiery (possibly insane?) Western Australian keeper and ex-WAFL footballer began somewhere during the summer of 1988/89. Before a vigorous round of hallway cricket at a school chum's house we were flicking through some sort of book featuring Sheffield Shield scores (not Wisden, I would discover the joy of obscure players in that later) and discovered that for some unknown reason this guy had bowled an over or two in a shield game.

At that age we were absolutely baffled. The major flaw, as we saw it, was that there was no point when you already had a bunch of bowlers. In retrospect it was probably along the same lines of pisstaking as when you used to see obscure county games in Wisden where a side were trying to buy a declaration and deliberately served pies to be clouted to all parts of the ground but at the time it was hard to comprehend that somebody else would simply don the gloves for an over - probably in an end of season game - and hope to get through six balls without copping a sharp edge to the face.

Ironically he turned out to be quite a handy bowler in the end (culminating in his five wicket first innings massacre of South Australia in 1991), but at this point he'd never even taken a first class wicket. Which didn't stop me adopting him as my chosen bowler and batsman for that day's hallway test. Presumably spectacular success was had and he instantly became my favourite player. Suddenly while everyone else was frothing at the mouth over Dean Jones on television I was left scouring the paper for Shield results.

By the time I jumped on board he'd already been ditched as Australian keeper, Ian Healy was firmly entrenched in the top job and in the days before the internet and Pay TV coverage of state cricket Zoehrer might as well have been a fictional character for all I knew. How I hoped that when the Australian side left for England in 1989 that somehow Healy would be pushed aside and the great man would get a run.

It was never to be, but what I didn't understand at that age was that there was more to cricket tours than just the games shown on TV. Tests and ODIs were the main event, but there was also a whole carnival of games played against a motley assortment of county sides, minnows and teams that sounded like they’d been named by a random generator.

While Australia thrilled to the sight of Healy playing his bit in a famous Ashes triumph, our Tim was toiling away against the Duchess of Norfolk’s XI (1 run), Sussex (11), Somerset (48), Yorkshire (1*), Warwickshire (0 as an opener), Lancashire (30), Oxford and Cambridge Universities (DNB), Scotland (2), Hampshire (42), Nottinghamshire (0), Kent (32), Essex (13 and 93 while opening AND his maiden first class wicket, a Mr BR Hardie caught by Allan Border), the Netherlands (6 and 3/33!), the Netherlands again (9* and 1/32 off 10) and Denmark (8 and 1/26 off 7).

For romantic purposes I'd like to think that I followed these matches through the paper, but the reality is that even if the results were buried somewhere between lawn bowls and greyhound racing results (they probably weren't) the demolition job that we were doing on the Poms took the focus off glory clashes like Australia vs Minor Counties. Sadly for Zoehrer loyalists everywhere Heals never suffered a mystery injury in a hotel lift and retained his place in all the important games.

Not long after the tour of England I lost heart for what was a seemingly futile struggle and transferred my affections to Timbo’s big hitting teammate Tom Moody. It gave me a good three years of watching him drop in and out of the Australian side before being temporarily joining Zoehrer in the ‘where are they now’ file, then gloriously bouncing back to win the 1999 World Cup

This cowardly refusal to fight on when all hope was lost caused me to miss Tim's Viking-like invasion of England in 1993 where he seemed to balance failing miserably with the bat at every turn with cutting a swathe through the batting lineups of minor league sides at what must have been a record rate for a keeper. How I wish at the time I’d known about his 1/3 against Warwickshire, 3/23 against a clearly bemused Ireland (all out for 89 chasing 361), 2/24 against Kent and 6/128 over two innings against Essex.

Still, Healy was again (sadly) indestructible and the gates were closed to Tim. In a way he should have been pleased to have even been included in touring parties considering his antics during the 1986/87 tour of the UAE. Considering his rubbish figures with the bat on the Ashes tour it was almost inevitable that he was done for.

Then something glorious happened.. to Ian Healy. One glorious throw by portly New Zealander Mark Greatbatch bruised his ankle – and with Phil Emery still 10 months away from his brief international career - a 32-year-old Zoehrer was forced to cancel a BBQ and front up at the WACA for a glorious homecoming. His first international match since early 1987. Maybe if the game had been somewhere else their keeper would have got the call-up instead - and thus we were denied Tim Nielsen, Darren Berry or Mark Atkinson - so thank god Greatbatch's hefty arm gunned down Healy days before the game in Perth.

Time has certainly obscured some of what happened that day, and it's only thanks to the magic of the Robelinda archive for uploading the surviving footage above that we have anything to remember it by, but I remember being transfixed to the screen all day. It didn't hurt that I had a tremendous sporting crush on the early 90's South African teams.

The details of South Africa's innings are a mystery to me now, and I can only recount them courtesy of the scorecard but things started well enough for the TZ powered Australians. Glenn McGrath did his bit by knocking Peter Kirsten's block off, but Zoehrer contributed by catching Kirsten's brother Gary off Mark Waugh and stumping Craig Matthews off Shane Warne (we are also thankful to Robelinda for bring back Bill Lawry's call that Matthews' footwork was "Like a waltz with no music") as Australia restricted the visitors to 209.

At this point, back when ODIs still meant something and there were no secondary channels to shunt them off to, 209 promised a close game and a bonus early night for the eastern states where Channel 9 would have to fill with an episode of Wings or Night Court. The Australians were obviously very keen on filler programming as they turned 4-92 into a thumping defeat.

At least, with Australia about to go tits up at a rapid rate, the crowd got to welcome the great man to the crease with what I'm glad I remembered correctly as a heroes reception - including a GOD sign which even I consider a bit over the top. He joined Damien Martyn – later to figure in Zoehrer’s sacking from WA after Tim tried to biff him – but their partnership lasted all of one run thanks to Martyn being dismissed for a duck which left the Aussies teetering on the brink at 6-93.

If it had been a movie (The Surly Wicketkeeper, starring Stephen Curry) he’d have guided the bowlers through the next 120 odd runs, we’d have won gloriously and he'd have recaptured the national job until history got back on track by Adam Gilchrist harpooning him a few years later. Instead he battled to 9 in partnership with Paul Reiffel, lucky not to get run-out by the usually deadly Jonty Rhodes after giving up having down the pitch, before copping a dodgy LBW decision to another member of my all-star XI Fanie De Villiers.

With the crowd hushed by the decision you can see him briefly thinking about decking the umpire, but the prospect of losing payments in what would undoubtedly be his last international innings must have got the better of him. He walked off, Shane Warne walked on (and then walked off again very quickly after being run out for 1) and the Aussies were dismissed just 17 runs later for a paltry 126. Three days later Healy was back behind the stumps at the MCG (I’d have gone if Zoehrer had still been there) and Australia went on to win the tournament.

It was all downhill from there. Western Australia signed the young Adam Gilchrist for the 1994-95 season, and already pushed down the pecking order Zoehrer was soon sacked after only the saintly presence of Thomas Masson Moody stopped him from belting Martyn in an argument . He rushed released an autobiography said to be a master class in bitterness and recrimination (which to my shame I've still not read) then fell off the face of the earth - apparently later coaching and playing in "The Netherlands". Which was not a patch on his 1993 appearance for the Scarborough Festival President's XI where he was dismissed for naught by the great Eddo Brandes himself.

Even Phil Emery had misty eyed retrospectives written about him in the mid 90’s, while Tim got short shrift – possibly because he was touring "The Netherlands" at the time - only appearing as a bit part player in bribery scandals and as support in every single article written about Adam Gilchrist for 15 years, before re-emerging for a comedy appearance alongside Bruce Reid in a 2005 Chairman’s XI vs South Africa match (had the chairman been drinking?). A search of the Fairfax archive shows that he’s only been mentioned six times in their papers since the start of 2008, and two of them were in quiz questions. The last time anybody asked him for his opinion was January 2006, and what he's up to now is a complete mystery.

At least we’ll always have Perth.

Next edition - Motor racing magic 

Saturday, 23 November 2013

New projects

In case you're still boldly coming to TSP on a daily basis hoping for regular updates for the first time since about 2007 then you're out of luck - but if you want to see my latest project (i.e the first new one in roughly the same time frame) click here.

To say the design of the new site is rudimentary would be an understatement, but it's no surprise given that TSP is still advertising the domain which I haven't owned since the mid 2000's and which has since probably been taken over by pornographers.


Sports merchandise in music videos

Sunday, 27 October 2013

In defence of 'old soccer'

The truly unique thing about Australian soccer fans is that they’re one of the few groups to despise the history of their own sport. Yes that's 'soccer', which is what people called it before the word was outlawed as part of the drastic re-imagining of the game in this country a decade ago.

Nobody seemed to care what the game was called then (and there were far more offensive terms for it than 'soccer' let me tell you), and in most places around the world they still don't, but it seems these days that the only time you’ll hear the ‘s’ word is if somebody’s giving what’s fashionably become known amongst fans and detractors alike as ‘old soccer’ a kicking. Throw in a few references to ethnic warfare and a body count higher than the Crimean War and you’re cleared to use it, but only in a negative context unless you want the crowd to boo you.

In the blind rush to reclaim the game from 'the ethnics' the virtual outlawing of the word was taken to with glee by the same people who have gone on to ransack their entire 'terrace culture' lock, stock and barrel from Europe. The violent hatred of nearly everything that came before 'year zero' has confined not only several generations of teams, fans and players, but also a perfectly reasonable term for the sport to an historical red card. But why?

When people lament the evil that is ‘old soccer’ I know exactly where they’re coming from. They’re talking about Footscray JUST and Sydney Croatia ‘fans’ butchering each other in a car park in 1987 for reasons best known only to themselves and their grandparents, or the night Australian ‘fans’ arranged themselves in the shape of a swastika as the Socceroos played Israel in a 1989 World Cup qualifier.

What these people represented was not ‘old soccer’ but pure, white hot racism and hated. To hold them up as representative of soccer from the 1950’s until Nick Mrdja won the last National Soccer League Grand Final for Perth Glory (‘broadbased’) against Parramatta Power (‘no fans of any ethnicity’) is the laziest stereotype in Australian sport, but one which has achieved pandemic levels in the last few years.

History is obviously written by the winners, which is why the treatment of Nicky Winmar by the crowd at Victoria Park is now spoken about as a horrible chapter in our racist history but what supporters of long dead soccer clubs did in the 1980's is still relevant today. That Australian society has come a long way on all fronts in the last 20 years is undeniable, and the racism and generally horrible behaviour of the past is treated as it is from the past - unless it happened in the stands of a National Soccer League match. 

It's simple enough to lay the boots into sides which have already been nearly wiped from the face of the earth, but the truth is that by the time the NSL was (quite rightly) put to sleep the ‘ethnics’ were in the minority and very much on the run. The 2000-2001 season had just six of 16 teams backed primarily by one group, and the political parties masquerading as football clubs had been long removed the national scene and either relegated to state leagues or obliterated entirely.

The problem was that none of these 'Aussie' teams was any good, and consequently without anything more than token television coverage nobody went to watch them. Even Carlton, held up briefly as the next big thing in Australian football after making a Grand Final in their first season, failed eight games into the year. One of their final matches was delayed because nobody remembered to bring goal nets along. 

Carlton had briefly been the saviour of 'broadbased' football in Melbourne. In that first season when they'd played in the Grand Final against South Melbourne the two teams had even been afforded the honour of a pre-match parade down Swanston Street. That no more than a handful of people turned up is hardly the point, but let the record show that in one bright shining moment for 'old soccer' that Paul Trimboli got to sit in a slow moving vintage car, waving at bemused people who were simply trying to catch the tram from outside Melbourne Central.

It was also probably the only Grand Final where the winning goal was celebrated by somebody tearing off their team shirt to reveal Macho Man Randy Savage merchandise, but that was as good as it got for the NSL in Melbourne after that. Channel 7 even managed to run a positive story about the match instead of concentrating on the, ahem, boisterous (AKA bin throwing) celebrations by fans afterwards.

The NSL had always been Australia's premier competition for those who enjoyed a rotating cast of clubs. Even once relegation and promotion from state leagues had been abolished sides would still crop up and fold at the drop of a hat. Who could forget Collingwood's partnership with Heidelberg that started the season with big crowds at Victoria Park and ended with the team playing in front of empty stands at the same venue?

Though they already had the numbers by the turn of the century, the 'locals' further solidified their control of the competition in its last few years despite clubs representing 'Australia' dropping like flies. Carlton were the first to go, and the Eastern Pride (nee Morwell Falcons) also failed to complete the 2000-01 season. The Canberra Cosmos at least managed to struggle through the year before being euthanised. Preposterously the league managed to get through two whole seasons (2001/02 and 2002/03) seasons with exactly the same sides participating, but the long term prospects for the competition were almost nil. 

A last ditch attempt at introducing some buzz around the competition in its second last year by introducing a finals series where six teams would play a ten round home and away competition as well as a Grand Final came to nothing as: a) about two weeks in 75 per cent of the matches were dead rubbers and b) the only TV coverage they could get was on some obscure Optus channel which showed Homeart ads whenever there wasn't a game on. The league didn't even bother playing one game between Northern Spirit and Newcastle. That 38,000 turned up to see Perth Glory win the title said more for the long-term prospects of the club themselves rather than the league they were in.

So I'm not here to try and pretend that this was a sensibly run and professional competition with mass public appeal in all markets across the country, because as keen as I am on revisionist history that would be a terrific lie. But what is most certainly was not by this point was an ethnic war zone where ancient scores from across Europe were settled in the stands by chain-wielding teenagers on a weekly basis.

By the time the league folded in 2004 the balance had swung conclusively towards the ‘locals’ with a majority of eight from 13, and the last time fans had disgraced themselves on racial lines had been three years earlier. Somehow though, in the rush to take ownership of football out of ‘ethnic’ hands, we were suddenly pitched into an alternative universe where every match had been Pratten Park 1985 no matter who was involved.

In my experience that was anything but the case, and at the risk of being banned from attending any major football event in this country for the next decade I come in defence of the much maligned NSL and the brand of ‘old soccer’ that it has come to represent.

I’d grown up on highlights of the English game every Monday night in the days when you were grateful just to see your team in a five minute highlights package.  Every once in a while you might stumble across local highlights on SBS, but to me the references to South Melbourne Hellas on Acropolis Now may as well have been about a team playing on the moon.

It wasn’t until I’d grown up and suffered the heartbreak of seeing my side relegated from the Premier League (and worse) that I took a chance on the local game and fell in love. For three brief seasons I was an NSL aficionado, and it was magnificent.

Was it meant to be confronting that South Melbourne fans called their side Hellas? After five minutes of the first game so did I. That's who they were. Not that it was compulsory; you didn’t have to swear allegiance to the Greek flag before being allowed in. In fact, to prove how ‘Aussie’ they were the NSL made you stand for the national anthem before kick-off. Even the A-League isn't insane enough to try that.

In all this time the only ethnic rivalry I ever saw was a half-hearted Hellenic power struggle between South Melbourne and Sydney Olympic, and even then that was practically identical to the rivalry which exists now between Melbourne Victory and Sydney FC with the added bonus of better sounding offensive chants in a foreign language. Who knows what they meant, but we joined in anyway because it was fun and that's what you do when you follow a team - you adapt to their culture. New Victory fans join in the chants which have become popular over the years, we did the ones in Greek which said something horrific about the opposition fan's mothers.

The argument is obviously that it's better if a side's culture isn't 'ethnically' based and everyone can join in but that was the point of bringing in at least one 'open' side for people who were into that sort of thing. Australian football might have ended up in a totally different place if the authorities had created proper 'broadbased' clubs like the Victory and Sydney FC instead of shacking up with footy sides and instantly turning off anybody who wasn't already a Carlton or Parramatta fan. Still, at least it wasn't (as some would have you believe) Croats vs Serbs, Israelis vs Palestinians or Hutus vs Tutsis by that point.

The league itself was always going to end with a whimper rather than a bang, but having walked in just as the party was ending I found myself right at home at Bob Jane Stadium. In that last season of a rapidly dying competition the idea that a brand new league would turn away a side who had drawn crowds of more than 10,000 without a dash of television coverage seemed bizarre. It was hard to believe that the people trying to lift the game off the bottom of the ocean would turn away the club who'd have made the perfect foil to the Victory in the battle for Melbourne.

They did and it still hurts today. While nobody can argue Victory’s success (despite the belated introduction of the pretty much moribund Melbourne Heart), it hardly seemed fair that New South Wales got one club in each of Gosford, Newcastle and Sydney while there was no room the team who had represented Australia on the world stage four years earlier. All of a sudden they were relegated to playing Altona Magic instead of Perth Glory.

To be fair clubs like South hadn't done themselves any favours over the years, so desperate for anybody to pay their money at the gate that they'd let pretty much anyone in no matter how impure their intentions were. I remember standing in the Bob Jane Stadium clubhouse talking to the head of security for the club about a fan who had been banned 'for life' for some reason or another, when said outlaw fan scanned his membership at the door and walked into the ground within touching distance of the guard. He continued to go unchallenged for the rest of the season and still watches the club now.

I have no doubt that many of the isolated incidents which have now become football folklore could have been stopped if the clubs had any interest in enforcing bans or if they had access to the same sort of security and surveillance which clubs do in modern stadiums, but who knows if it would have helped when the stereotype had been well and truly embedded in Australia's psyche whether it was true or not. Play my patented NSL Superquiz and humour the next person who tells you how horrible the ethnic riots were 'back then' only to then ask them to name their top five racially based conflagrations. If they can get past Despotovski vs the Melbourne Knights you may as well declare them a winner.

How foolish it seems now to have stood under, and I think held it up at one point, a "No South, No APL" banner at the club's last NSL match against Adelaide United at Hindmarsh Stadium. Not only because the FFA made the message irrelevant by changing the name of the competition, but also the fact that we thought that we were so indispensable that the competition couldn't possibly succeed without us. The truth was that the club needed the competition more than the competition needed the club, and South nearly went out of business almost immediately after they were excluded.

Perhaps they'd have had more chance if they’d bought the licence for a team in Auckland. After all, the New Zealand Knights were admitted as the successor of a club which had attracted 950 people to its last NSL match. I suppose nobody can accuse a team with no fans of having been responsible for any crowd trouble. 

Over the years I've thought about the process that severed my brief but thrilling connection with Australian top flight soccer many times. Usually it's while I'm half-heartedly watching the A-League and going for Wellington Phoenix in an equally half-hearted fashion just because in my mind they don't represent the same people who gave us the boot. In these moments of reflection I like to think that the fact that a perfectly viable but ethnically based team was excluded was more to do with the FFA wanting to clear the decks for 'their clubs' than anything else, but the blanket expulsion of any side which had more than a tenuous connection to 'old soccer' has given rise to the greatest urban myth in Australian sports.

You can see it in any story hinting at football’s past. When it was revealed that South Melbourne was trying to buy Melbourne Heart the same themes cropped up in articles and comments alike. Mentioning the “bad old days” and “old soccer” was almost compulsory, and the insinuation was clear: the return of a side which drew much of its support from the Greek community would herald a “return to ethnic violence”.

Who exactly would this violence be between? Did I miss a brief, bloody conflict between Greece and New Zealand which would cause games against the Phoenix to end with the stadium blanketed in tear gas? It makes absolutely no sense whatsoever, and the insinuation that violence is bred purely by ethnicity is hardly compatible with A-League fans being king hit in the stands or attacking police

You wonder why Melbourne Victory fans who seem as keen as mustard for a proper local rival with more than a handful of fans can't see that instead of holding the ethnics at bay and acting like they solely own the game in this city they should be welcoming a proper rival. These are the same people who have adopted all sorts of macho bullshit 'ultra' stuff from Europe but who simultaneously perpetuate all the myths about the past while complaining about the treatment they receive from police and the media. Perhaps most of what they know about the 'evil' of the past was similarly beaten up by the press?

The NSL’s reputation gets worse every year, but how can fans behave as if the isolated violent acts in their 'new' league are somehow less offensive because there’s no ethnic background to them? A few thrown coins are dismissed as nothing much, but the behaviour of fans in the mid 90’s is still held as hard evidence against entire clubs today. Again, who are 'we' going to fight with now? Sydney FC, West Sydney Wanderers or Melbourne Victory? There doesn't seem to be any shortage of potential clashes, but if a fight happens at the soccer and it doesn't involve ethnic rivalry did it really happen?

When did it become so fashionable to put an ethnic twist on sporting violence? Imagine if 25-year-old Cameron George Frearson of Gymea had known in the mid 90’s that one day everything terrible which happened before 2004 would be blamed on nationalism. He’d have come up with a far better excuse for letting off a flare at a World Cup qualifier than "Because it creates a good visual effect when a goal is scored".

As I stood in the pouring rain watching South get thrashed 5-0 by a pub team a few weeks ago I finally came to terms with the fact that there’s no way they’ll ever be allowed back in the national competition in any meaningful fashion. Even if Heart were willing to sell, the FFA would be scared to death of a backlash from its stakeholders and would at best allow them to be called South Melbourne Heart, Melbourne United or something equally generic. 

Their league, their rules I suppose, but nearly a decade on from NSL’s death it’s time that we stopped racially profiling clubs and accept that the popular stereotypes were for the large part just that? That unfortunately soccer seems to attract a proportion of dickheads no matter where you watch it, and that the first priority should be to find these people and kick them out permanently. If clubs wither and die because they've got a higher proportion of arsehole fans than others then bad luck to them.

That the 'ethnic panic' is complete bullshit is hard to argue, but the point then becomes whether South could even do better than heart. Lacking a proper geographical reason for anybody to follow a second Melbourne club was there any point in bringing one in to start with? Probably not. Would the handful of supporters who would come back from Victory contribute to a decent following? I seriously doubt it, but if the 11,000 who turned up to see South's first match back in the Victorian Premier League (tellingly the total plummeted to just over 4000 the next week) showed half an interest in seeing the club play top level football again it would be a good start.

If you were a Heart fan wouldn't you have wanted this to happen? Sure you might have to buy a new shirt and perhaps not follow a team with the pansiest nickname in sport, but your 5000 fans plus our 5000 is a start. We'll build from there, abusing Victory fans all the way. You bring the A-League spot, we'll bring the legitimate dislike for their club. You could go on as you are now, but your club's just going to go broke and you'll be left with no other options but to either skulk back to Victory and try to ignore the embarrassingly forced rivalry of the last couple of years or to give up altogether and wait for the next fool to come along asking to be parted from his money by launching a 'broadbased' Melbourne club.

That there was perhaps 1500 South fans at that Victorian Premier League preliminary final a couple of weeks ago would seem to indicate that there's no coming back for the FIFA Oceania Club of the Century. I can certainly understand that viewpoint, but there's a big difference between playing on the largest stage in the country (where we belong) and against Northcote at at a park in Port Melbourne. 

Admittedly I'm not exactly doing my bit for the club these days, it was the first game I'd bothered to go to all season myself. What's the point in following your team through a mickey mouse competition every week throughout winter? I'd done it for a few years and enjoyed myself but the chronic mismanagement of the league (not to mention the rampant corruption) is enough to grind you down eventually. There's still life in the club, just no reason at the moment for it to be revived.

All the while as we're looking on with jealously the A-League continues to grow. Plenty of us sneered at the idea of it taking off, but it seems to be doing just that. I'm still not sure investing your money in a team is any more sensible than buying an NBL side or giving your credit card number to a Nigerian prince but the crowds in most venues are well above what might have been expected a few years ago, and other than a couple of hastily created expansion teams (as well as the Knights who were practically dead before they'd even began) most clubs appear to at least be keeping their head above water. The FFA are even happy to bail out major market clubs who fall over and help them back on their feet.

Yet while all this is happening a generation of fans sits on the sidelines waiting for a chance at redemption, looking at A-League fans waving banners that read 'against modern football' and falling about laughing at the idea that they know anything about hardship. It's fun to play the victim, and we're still doing it almost 10 years later, but the idea of once again having a team to spend my summer following is enough to make me pay more attention to the A-League now than I have in the last few years.

If we're going to be kept out please at least let it be for the right reasons, that we don't have the appropriate financial backing and have shed most of our fan base, not because of some antiquated racial notions of what European people are likely to do at a soccer game.

Sunday, 15 September 2013

Love Theme from Shame FM

This half-written post would never have been published if I'd ever sat down to finish it. In the tradition of modern TSP I'm just posting it in its rubbish form. Let the good times roll.

On 18 April 2007 (at which point Melbourne had only been shit for three games) Elle G from Cassettes & Chocolate Milk and I started the Shame FM blog. It was intended to pay homage to songs which we liked but nobody else did on a scale on 1 to 5 of these .

It lasted three posts and 11 days before we gave up, but every once in a while I hear a song or see a clip where my fingers are poised over alt-tab like that weird kid at school who used the rise of the internet to look at naked women in the middle of the school library (his name was Corey. Of course it was), and I think that it would be a worthy inclusion if I could be bothered writing a post. It's never happened yet, so here are a few examples from half written posts over the last few years.

Alcazar - Crying At The Discotheque

How I'd love to play the hipster card and pretend that I totally ignored this at the time and only rediscovered it when I found out about Spacer by Sheila B Devotion about five years later, but no. I loved this right from the start and I'm not afraid to say it online without my real name attached so it can't be used against me when applying for jobs in the future.

Shame rating: 

Cold Chisel - Choir Girl

Chisel get a fearful kicking thanks to their unintended alliance with some of the worst people in society, singing Khe Sanh at the top of their lungs while they chase an immigrant down an alleyway - but if this isn't a timeless Australian classic then I'm not here.

Not only does it reasonably cover the 'slightly contentious' topic of abortion with a dignity that eluded Two Minutes To Midnight by Iron Maiden, but for an ultra low budget video it's loaded with highlights. Witness a grinning Barnsey playing pocket billiards in a casual white suit like he's just finished slave trading in Manilla. See the late drummer in a fetching blue singlet singing his heart out while Don Walker - the man who wrote the thing in the first place - loses interest. Consider the way Ian Moss looks exactly like Doctor Turf. Find absolutely nothing of interest in the other guy.

As for the song itself are there all that many better moments than when Jimmy rips out the "she's my connection.." bit? And the "suffer little children" singalong, magnificent. Don't be fooled by people with Southern Cross tattoos on their neck, Chisel are still a mighty force - and this is up there with their best.

Shame rating: 

Falco and Brigitte Nielsen - Body Next To Body

It's not just because it's got the future Mrs. Flavor Flav in it, at this point the finest woman in the world, but it mostly is. At the risk of being labelled a pervert (again) I rate the bit where she's being groped at while walking through the tunnel at the start on a par with Gwen Stefani being hauled off to the gas chamber and a jilted bride gang leader Katy Perry as the hottest moments in music video history.

Shame rating:  (for liking the song)  (for the exposed perversion)

Mi-Sex - Shanghaied

I can see why this didn't chart as well as their earlier stuff, after all the guy who sung Com-pu-pu-pu-pu-pu-PU-PU-PU-ter Games is relegated to a secondary role behind some bloke who looks like he's just nipped out of the local RSL, slapped on a bow tie and been handed a microphone and a lyrics sheet. No wonder 'the kids' declined the options to put it into the charts in either Australia or New Zealand.

Sadly this means they missed out on an absolute belter, and it's only thanks to people who upload old clips to YouTube that it's not lost forever. Its chart success can't have been helped by the alternative lead singer's clunky attempts at getting the crowd to clap along when they performed live on Countdown but his unusual vocal stylings and the piano playing combine to create ART. Also at one point the guitarist almost forgets that he's supposed to mime and has to charge to the microphone at the last minute.

It starts well, but it ends even better. Starting from the moment he delivers the best (and possibly only) use of the word "wistful" in Australian popular music history it goes up a gear, with old mate delivering a genuinely quality acting performance in playing up to the song's lyrics about being blind-sided and cheated in love. Those who didn't rush to their local Brashs and make this #1 on the ARIA charts did Australian/New Zealand music a disservice - don't blame me, I was four months old at the time.

Shame rating: 

Shakira - Objection (Tango)
Notwithstanding its use in the worst Pepsi ad ever made, and the 'spoken word' bit that grinds the song to a half with the worst 'rap' by a white woman since Madonna's American Life this is a modern pop classic. Let's not let 10 seconds detract from something that is otherwise almost universally perfect.

The lyrics don't stand up to any proper scrutiny, but how often do they? There's even an illusion to her knockers, which is the hallmark of all great Shakira songs (both of them - that's the songs you pervert). Listen to it alongside this and remember the brief era in 2001/02 when the future of pop was based in Colombia. Much like Lady Gaga she didn't have much in the tank after the first couple of songs, but has still managed to pocket MILLIONS OF DOLLARS. She even briefly kicked the door in for other, less successful female Latino singers (double shame - I actually really like that song )

Shame rating: