Less and Less of Luck, and More and More of Failure

..spreading back up the arm/Earlier and earlier (Philip Larkin, As Bad As A Mile)

No sooner had the old one burst but a newer, stronger mockney bubble has Frank Lampard in its malignant, sentimental embrace. It’s not just Barcelona who won’t have him:

He has been offered to us (Barca), Milan, Inter and Real Madrid. Basically all of the big clubs. But none are interested. We are the same as those clubs are, we’re looking for a player who is more creative and has a greater technique than Lampard. So it looks like he will go nowhere.

There it is again, that peculiar bleak gravity that tugs at the golden generation and prevents them from rising above the cultural mediocrity they’ve had to grow up within. Bad news for England, I think: a refreshed, revitalised Lampard would have been quite a bonus. But now for the same old, same old.

Diego Forlan won’t be returning to the Premiership: reports from Spain connect him with a move from Villareal to Atletico Madrid, where he will step into the shoes of Liverpool-bound Fernando Torres. This is a real shame, as Forlan had just begun to recover his confidence at Manchester United when he was defenestrated; even at his lowest, his enthusiasm and determination brought him love rather than contempt. Manchester City in particular, with whom he was linked, have become second-wind club for many a blown-out player. But I mean it’s a shame for us: I suspect he, rather than Torres, has made the right decision.

Many of today’s papers are discussing the possibility of David Dein returning to Arsenal as part of any takeover. It might well happen, but the same sense is there around this as with Lampard of the caravan having moved on. Arsene Wenger is the best manager in combined terms of effectiveness, economy and “sheer wonderful football”, but he can’t choose all of his colleagues, and some of them clearly aren’t up to his level. At present they are corroding his handiwork like so many neglected leaking batteries, and real damage is being done.

The Premier League’s plans to celebrate 120 years of English League Football by playing season 2008-9 with 1888 rules and equipment have been stymied from an unexpected source: the medical profession. The problem is with the old-style leather footballs that would have to be used: in wet weather they can become waterlogged and far heavier than the regulation weight (the regulation weight, contrary to popular opinion, has changed little over the years). A waterlogged ball would still have to be headed:

A London neurologist, Professor Andrew Lees studied the case of Ray Kennedy who developed Parkinson’s Disease soon after helping Liverpool win three European Cups. He concluded that Mr. Kennedy’s illness could have been detected 14 years before he was diagnosed at the age of 35. It is also known that Jeff Astle died at the age of 59 from brain injuries caused by repeatedly heading a football in his 20-year career. Ballistic engineers at the University of Glasgow demonstrated that they soccer ball can approach a speed of 80 mph prior to impacting with one’s head. It should also be noted that Billy McPhail, a player with the Glasgow Celtics in the 1950’s, wound up disabled with pre-senile dementia and died in 2003. Other football players of note was Celtic player Jimmy Johnstone who, in 2002 was diagnosed with ALS (Lou Gehrig’s disease – Ed); former England manager Don Ravie-ALS; Derby’s Rob Hindmarch-ALS and Middlebrough’s Willie Maddren-ALS. A 1992 Norwegian study found that 35% of active soccer players in that country had abnormal brain scans, and another study in that country of retired professional players found one third (33%) of them had brain atrophy or a shrinking of brain tissue that resulted in behavioral and cognitive problems. The study concluded that the damage was directly related to repeated heading.

However, Match of the Day will press ahead with their plan to film each 2008-9 game with one Edwardian “Prestwich 4” silent film camera and five minutes’ worth of black and white nitrate film as there are significant cost savings involved.

Nigel Reo-Coker does seem likely to leave West Ham after all, and, one way or another, find himself under a non-mockney regime, good long-term news for England. Manchester City manager in waiting, Sven Goran Eriksson, has ordered an approach be made to the midfielder in a bid to scupper Reo-Coker’s also-promising potential deal with Martin O’Neill at Aston Villa.

And lastly, this inexplicable and bizarre tale from the vaults. What happened to Jock Stein’s knighthood?

Government files dispel the myth that Stein was refused an honour because “he was not the right sort”. Rather, Harold Wilson feared the award would give the impression his government condoned the behaviour of Celtic players who took part in a game remembered as one of the most shameful episodes in Scottish football history.

The documents were not due to have been opened to the public until 2030, but were released following an appeal to the Scottish Freedom of Information Commissioner by The Sunday Times. They include detailed correspondence between government departments, which reveal that the failure to honour Stein, who was the first British club manager to win the European Cup in 1967, was more to do with civil service foot-dragging rather than a deliberate snub.

They reveal that Willie Ross, the Scottish Secretary, lobbied hard to have the Celtic manager knighted and that he believed it was anti-Scottish, rather than class, bias that denied Stein the honour. By the time Whitehall officials accepted Stein should be recognised, Celtic had taken part in a notoriously violent world club championship tie against Racing Club of Argentina in which four of their players were sent off for violent conduct, and their recommendations were rebuffed by Wilson.

One thinks of how Ramsey’s England got past France and Argentina in 1966 and wonders if this was excuse enough. But at least England can put it all behind them next January, when the FA modernizers’ dream team of Clifford, Woodward and Boothroyd start their Euro 2008 preparations.

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