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Euro 2016 - A Satire


UEFA EURO 2016

  So here we are again. End of another football tournament, which truth be told, wasn’t a ‘classic’ by any stretch of the imagination - most games often had late goals, no goals, or own goals. The keener eyed readers amongst you may actually point out that there were very few own goals in these Euros, removing a lovely football metaphor for anyone who has heard of “Brexit”. But much like BBC and ITV pundits, this article has taken on the more informed view that facts matter little as long as one speaks in the football truisms that Alan Shearer and Phil Neville are so well versed in. 

Traditionally, the “winner” of the tournament is usually considered the team to emerge victorious in the final and gets to lift the shiny cup in front of all the photographers. This outdated view no longer applies to the Euros, a tournament held together by the storylines of the various underdogs and their triumphs against the more established international teams. 


Don’t get me wrong, Portugal are worthy winners. They deserve congratulations for somehow winning the entire tournament, despite even their best intentions. Not winning a single football match within the first 90 minutes wasn’t evidence of their lack of cutting edge, but rather proof of how much they enjoyed playing football. Coach Fernando Santos even lamented the fact that group stages didn’t also have extra time; thankfully, UEFA have decided that instead of expanding the number of teams in the tournament, the next edition will instead feature expanded matches that last 120 minutes rather than just 90. If Albania vs. Ukraine doesn’t seem like 120 minutes of fun, I don’t know what does. 


Where do we start? Let’s start with the man of the moment, new Portugal assistant manager, Cristiano Ronaldo. His tactical nous masterminded a famous victory - one looks forward to him continuing this player/manager role that he has already perfected. His selfless side was also exposed during this tournament, as he only took more shots on goal than seven of the 24 teams playing in this expanded competition format. His ‘outburst’ after the 1-1 group stage draw against favourites Iceland was misunderstood as criticism, when he was in fact outlining Portugal’s strategy for the rest of the tournament. “Iceland didn’t try nothing, they just defend, defend, defend, they had two chances and scored a goal, it was a lucky night for them. We’re frustrated, they didn’t try and play. It’s why I think they will do nothing here. In my opinion, it’s a small winning mentality.”

Neutrals all around the world were desperately cheering the biggest of tournament underdogs, England, to succeed in this tournament. Having gotten out of the group stages, Roy Hodgson was able to exceed all expectations, and was desperately unlucky in what was a close fought game with pre tournament favourites, Iceland. England are definitely a team for the future - one must only wonder how they can replace one of their most successful tournament managers, who led the team so ably in both Brazil and France. His tactical nous and game management really came to the fore in game that will last long in the memory of neutrals. The press, for obvious reasons, could not stop talking about the plucky underdogs, whose very qualification was a surprise given their failed attempts in the past and the apparent shortcomings of their manager, and how they almost defeated the pre-tournament favourites Iceland. Sadly though, football doesn’t always reward the deserving. 


This tournament was not just an opportunity for countries to either boast their prowess at football or pretend like they have never played the sport before; it gave individual players the big stage in which to showcase their talents. Pundits and other experts continue to blabber on about the usual players: Griezmann, Ronaldo, Bale, Kroos and so on, but for me, the best player was definitely Joe Hart. Although he has been blamed for his individual mistakes, no other goalkeeper came close struggle to match Hart’s style and grace in goal, particularly when almost saving free kicks. The one other player who has a realistic and credible claim to the man of the tournament award will come as no surprise to you I hope; Tamás Kádár from Hungary. The timid, clumsy defender epitomized the Hungarian team and spirit, and was one the main reasons that they were able to concede 6 goals in just 3 games. Undoubtedly, this was one of his better tournaments and Kádár should look back on it with pride.


Sweden, or rather Zlatan, as they are now known as, also played out of their skin. Zlatan’s only clearcut chance all tournament on goal was blazed gloriously wide, reminiscent of Fernando Torres in Chelsea heyday. Much like this tournament, neither Sweden nor Zlatan really fit into this article but I fear that an article without Zlatan would simply not be worth reading. 


Rivalling Sweden/Zlatan for recognition as the biggest overachievers of the tournament was a monumental challenge - but it was one that Belgium were ready for. After the underwhelming performances in recent years, Belgium’s success in this tournament was a welcome change. Although they were easily one of the top three most gifted sides, they graciously chose not to defend against Wales to try and make the game more of a contest. Critics may argue they would have benefited from some tactical coaching, or at least some time on the training pitch together as a unit, but that is simply not the Wilmots way.


Which reminds me (on a completely unrelated note), that we all owe Monsieur Platini and his UEFA chums a big apology. His critics cynically accused Platini of courting the smaller nations by opening up qualification groups, and warned of both the ethical and footballing consequences. Whatever alleged corruption charges they have had to deal with, and for all the slander they received in the press, one can confidently conclude that expanding the tournament to include more nations had absolutely no adverse effect on the quality of football on display. Quite the opposite in fact; as viewers of the nail biting 1-1 Ireland - Sweden football epic can attest to, the Euros was an even more enthralling spectacle than usual. These Euros had the added advantage of intimacy- never before has a regular fan truly felt like they definitely belonged on the football pitch, probably in the starting XI of half teams, and arguably the star striker that Austria was calling out for. 


This article would also be remiss if it did not recognise that one of the best teams in the tournament, Russia, could not have set the tournament on fire the way that it did had it not been for its glorious fanbase. Rarely has a major international sports event such as this taken place amidst such heightened security concerns, and the always helpful Russians took it upon themselves to increase security at stadiums and in cities.  After their looting in Marseille cheering in Paris, Russian striker Arterm Dzyuba reassured his fellow patriots that “This is not a street fighting championship, this is football” and that they could therefore continue to enjoy the Euros in their characteristically good natured fashion. Marseille was clearly unprepared for any potential violence, so the contributions of Russia’s trained professional hooligan squad and England hooligans regular supporters were especially welcome. One Russian MP, understandably proud of the diplomatic progress and improvements to safety that Russians were contributing towards, boldly told supporters “well done lads, keep it up.” Rumour has it Marseille will soon offer him a a key to the city, if for nothing else but to give police offers a day off.


Given how the Confederations Cup is less than 11 months away and soon after the World Cup itself, both hosted in Russia, this tournament has given them the right time to build their confidence and restructure their thinking. By overcoming their difficulties, namely that they have no head coach, and that their federation is facing dire financial difficulties, this team was successful in redirecting attention back onto the pitch. Certain fans will always be unreasonably demanding. It was left to Vladimir Putin’s spokesperson, an expert in anti corruption measures and understatement, to offer a strong defence of the Russian footballers caught celebrating in a Monte Carlo nightclub days after exiting the Euro group stages as triumphant participants. Having done their nation proud, they chose to celebrate in the best way possible, spending more than 500,000$ on champagne at next Italian manager Flavio Briatore’s nightclub. Unfortunately, luddites will always criticise - yet as Putin’s spokesperson so eloquently remarked, “If it [conceited disgrace] was done by the soccer players themselves, let God judge them.” One waits with baited breath then for Mr. Putin’s verdict. 


Alas, I can ramble no further as the tournament has now ended.  The one lasting regret that all fans have, and can’t escape, is never finding out what Will Grigg can really do when he's on fire. But fear not - football will begin in August again, and I can’t wait to see what he does for Real Madrid next season. For those too restless and still eager to waste the rest of the summer, I highly recommend the Rio Olympics. Having been one of the lucky few to have been given the script for the tournament well in advance, I can only suggest that the organisers have some surprises planned as to the winners of the 100m sprint, tennis doubles, and long jump. Until then, au revoir!


Euro 2016 - A Satire

#PrayforBoston

PrayforbostonI read about the bomb blasts at the Boston marathon after reading a Facebook status updates, a friend had just a symbol, profound and conveyed every emotion with that one little emoticon :(
The USA Today has some very graphic images of the incident and as you watch it your frustration turns to anger to dismay. When did it become okay to kill people enjoying their life, triumphing their pain as they finished the marathon, who gives anyone the right to take away the feelings to elation and replace them with despair or anger. When did innocent children and young college kids and athletes become collaterals for such dastardly acts of violence. What happened to the rules of war, to crime and punishment.
Mahabharata has a story about Ashwathama. A the war at Kurukshtera nearly ended and the Pandavas defeated the Kauravas, Ashwathama as one last resort, shot the Bramhastra - the equivalent of nuclear weapon. Arjuna shot his Bramhastra in reply. If the two did not take back their weapons, the end of the world was certain. Krishna asked both of them to retrieve their weapons, upon which Arjuna did but Ashwathama refused. Since Arjuna had taken back his weapon, Ashwathama was asked to point it to only one person and save the humanity. In blind rage to bring grief to Arjuna, Ashwathama directed the weapon towards the unborn child of Abhimanyu and Uttara, Arjunas grandson from his beloved martyred son. Everyone was aghast at the cruelty of Ashwathama. As punishment, he was asked to give a diamond that was embedded in his forehead and was his source of power. He was also cursed to never die until the world ends and they say he still roams the Himalayas nursing his never healing wound on the forehead hiding from everyone, never dying and paying the price of his deed. Some say the sitings of Yeti is Ashwathama.
This is the worst possible punishment, to never die and suffer everyday in physical pain and mental agony of a deed that cannot be undone. May the perpetrators of such meaningless violence get an exemplary punishment.
Pray for Boston!
#PrayforBoston

Being Brave!

Today I learned that I am adopted. The news was quite unsettling and took me by mild surprise. Over the years, I have mulled about the possibility that I was indeed genetically different from the others in my family. But such thoughts of differing lineage came more from moments of boredom than anything else. It was never because I doubted that I was truly loved. At the Hensons, we don't shy away from saying how much we love each other. We don't hold back displays of affection either. Hugs, a tousling of your hair, pats on the back, these are rather common. My days are peppered with many moments of joy. So, to be honest, except for some curiosity about my origins, I didn't really care to talk about this new found revelation with anyone. There will be time enough for that.

It was in passing that I had overheard mom speak on the telephone about how quickly times passes and how fast I had grown. She was discussing our plans for the evening and how I may not enjoy it as much. I refer to her as mom. I guess I could call her Mrs. Henson what with me being adopted and all that. But, I really love her. She is the kindest and gentlest of people that I know. And she is so even under duress. When most people would think it natural to react unkindly. She was very proud of me she was saying on the phone. That made me feel warm and tingly inside. I don't quite remember my early days, but there is this faint memory of smiling faces peering at me and sounds of people fawning over me. I remember feeling welcome and protected. Everyone wanted to hold me. I was light at a few months old and was picked up often. I don't think they would be quite so eager to do that now. I have shot up like a weed they say. I turned seven today. 

Now dad (Mr. Henson?), on the other hand is your man's man. If he is not indoors with a beer in his hand watching football, he is outside working on his never-ending list of fix-its. Some of them being broken by yours truly. I love watching his fingers at work. For a man his size he can move them with suprising dexterity. He doesn't let me come too close to him while he is working though. He often cautions me to stand back so that I don't get hurt by heavy tools and hardware dropped on the ground. "Okay, this is going to get loud" he would warn me before turning on some of his tools. Sometimes, he would notice me watching him and say "You would love to help me, wouldn't you?".  I don't think I will ever be able to do these things. But I know that the sounds of someone at work will always remind me of him.

The pitter-patter of a little feet running towards me rouse me from my reverie. I brace myself for the impact as I feel Katie's tiny hands squeeze around me. She has her familiar grin etched on her face when she puts her face close to mine and says "Katie go play ball. Come Tom". She knows I will not say no like how mom and dad do sometimes. I like lounging in front of the telly but playing with Katie trumps much of what I like to do. "Tom love Katie. Katie love Tom" she likes to say. She runs out of the kitchen door and I find myself racing to keep up. She can move fast, this little one. No taller than a couple of feet she has learned to climb over things and disarm all the child-proofing in the house. I like to keep a close eye on her . If we are not playing with a ball in the backyard, we find ourselves chasing butterflies. And that's what we do today. She can barely jump, but that does not stop her from trying to grab them in flight. I  run behind her but I don't jump at the butterflies for fear of hurting them. When we are exhausted, we fall on the grass and stare up at the clear blue sky. 

"Alright guys, we are heading out" mom calls out, thwarting us from dozing off. We are bundled into the mini-van and dad says "Off to the park we go!". As we cruise along the neighborhood I notice the flags all around and realize why we are going to the park. And that makes me nervous. All those people, the loud music and the fireworks! Oh no! not the fireworks. I have never been very fond of them. While they look all pretty and nice, the loud pops startle me and I have this fear that the sparks will land on me and burn me. It has never happened, but the fear persists. I usually huddle close to mom and dad and sometimes close my eyes. Katie on the other hand, loves the incendiary display. I wonder if she is foolishly brave. I like to think that I am the brave one. When we reach the park and find a spot to set our picnic mat, Katie and I start running around. It's hard to find much space with all the people milling around. 

While the adults are busy greeting friends, Katie and I manage to slip past the trees, towards the lake where it's quiet and open. And we find fireflies! Katie squeals in excitement and tries to catch a few. She follows one that is flying low and, before I realize, she is at the edge of the lake. As I rush towards her, she lunges towards the moving light, loses her balance and screams when she hits the cold water. I look around in panic as I see Katie bobbing in the water. Katie can't swim and neither can I. I see the fear in her eyes as she splashes in the water, trying to grab on to something. I don't see anyone around. Through the trees, I see that everyone has turned towards the flag while the band plays a deafening tune. I try to attract some attention but no one hears me. I am scared. I don't know what to do. My eyes meet Katie's terrified ones. Just as I see Katie's head go underwater, I find myself leaping through the air and diving into the water. God it's cold! And dark. I seem to working on some kind of instinct. I stare hard through the sting of the water and see something shiny. That must be Katie's belt buckle. It seems forever as I reach towards the shiny object and grab hold of Katie's dress. I reach under her and push her towards the surface while moving towards land. Suddenly I hit the side of the lake. But my feet still aren't touching the bottom. Katie's weight pushes us down under the water again. It takes everything I have to push her back up. My body aches as I am kicking my feet furiously. I can now hear Katie fearful screams. She tries to climb on me, pushing me down. I feel us begining to sink again. When I finally give up and relax, I feel the weight on me is gone. Is this how it ends for us I wonder? As my eyes close, I feel strong hands grab me and pull me up. It's dad. As I am laid down on the grass I see that mom is clutching Katie to her chest. I think I smiled.

After a quick visit by the paramedics at the park, the next day, we are back to our old selves. News of my heroics have made the rounds. I have noticed people stopping on our street and pointing at our house. Mom showed me a picture of myself in the paper. I don't really like the attention. "You are going to get a bravery award today!" she says all excited. I know my protests will be in vain. 

Come twilight, we find ourselves making our way towards the town hall. There seem to be quite a few people gathered and I find myself subject to those flashing light bulbs again. We are made to go up on a stage. While I nervously look around I hear the Mayor say my name and something about courage. Then the Mayor calls me forward and places a shiny medal around my neck. There is loud clapping as the mayor looks at me and says "We are so proud of you Tommy!". Then Katie hugs me and tries to see what's on the medal. Mom bends downs, inspects the medal and says "Katie, do you know what this says?". "It says, To Tom, from the city of Middlesby, for his selfless act of canine bravery!"

Being Brave!

Euro 2012: A Satire

Euro 2012Following the conclusion of another football tournament, it is time to begin writing about what is arguably the easiest article in the world. With but a few Google searches and conducting only minimal research, I would be able to bedazzle you, the reader, with various numbers and statistics that make me sound clever. However, such articles seem less of a way of showing off knowledge but rather makes for a good bedtime story, or perhaps may even work as a cure for insomnia. On the other hand, I could become an ‘expert’ and safely sit here and tell you what has already happened in the tournament and act all smug and superior as though I knew what was going to happen all along. But it should be noted that unlike certain animals I could mention (Lin Ping the panda, Funtik the pig etc.), all my predictions in this tournament were accurate including and especially Greece’s 1-0 win over Russia and Italy’s 2-1 win against Germany. So as it turns out now, I was totally on the right track all along, but that is no surprise as after all, I am an expert on the subject.

 

Although the best team of the tournament is usually the team that wins, (Spain for all of you still living in caves), I am going to go with the slightly more surprising choice of Netherlands. It is true that they failed to get out of their group and did not register a single point as they lost all their games, but it cannot be argued that they played clinical football as a team, and really rose to the occasion. Spain have a lot to learn from the way the Dutch missed every single chance that they got, whilst Germany in particular could do well to copy some of the defense blunders that were undoubtedly perfected on the Dutch training ground. Another heroic team worthy of mention would be Northern Ireland. Their beautiful and intricate short pass play was a sight to behold and a joy to watch. I think, that most, if not all the people would agree, that they would have been worthy champions. Few teams have been able to set tournaments alighting in such a fashion, although, New Zealand at the 2010 World Cup come to mind.

 

This tournament was not just an opportunity for countries to either boast their prowess at football or pretend like they have never played the sport before; it gave individual players the big stage in which to showcase their talents. Pundits and other experts continue to blabber on about the usual players: Iniesta, Xavi, Ronaldo, Balotelli, Pirlo, Ozil and so on, for me, the best player was definitely Kostas Chalkias. The fact that most people won’t even know who he is is simply a testimony to his vital importance for the Greek team. No other goalkeeper conceded 7 goals, and those who came close struggle to match Chalkias’s style and grace in goal. The one other player who has a realistic and credible claim to the man of the tournament award will come as no surprise to you I hope; Stephen Ward from Ireland. The timid, clumsy defender epitomized the Irish team and spirit, and was one the main reasons that the Irish were able to concede 9 goals in the tournament since he made crucial mistakes in each game. Undoubtedly, this was one of his better tournaments and Ward should look back on it with pride.

 

Judging teams and players is always subjective, and whilst there are experts (such as myself) who know exactly what they are talking about and are rarely wrong, I am aware that several readers will disagree strongly with some of my ratings. In fact, it is possible that some may even believe this article is a joke! Rest assured, this is a perfectly serious article and all the players and teams that have been commended deserve a great deal of respect and maybe even awe for carrying out their jobs in such a macabre fashion. The tournament has now ended, but thanks to some of my friends in the CIA, I can safely tell you that the next Euro Championship will take place in France, and it will happen in 2016. Hopefully, the standard of football will remain completely abhorrent to ensure that the spectator really gets his money’s worth. Until then, Adios!

Euro 2012: A Satire

Unchained - A Short Story

She was pretty. Of course she was pretty. She kept telling herself this every day. Often, it sounded hollow. But the truth is that the frequent affirmation helped her from falling into depths of desolation. When she was a child it wasn't quite like this. Children are nice that way. Acceptance comes naturally to them. Her best memories of companionship were from her early grades. Things changed somewhere between the fourth and fifth grades. Suddenly, the fact that she was of a darker skin and not a conventional beauty seemed to matter. Exclusion from cliques was the norm. Some, who were 'buddies for life' found her less interesting. And others, acquaintances of sorts, looked straight through her. It's a good thing she liked reading and being outdoors. Isolation from her friends had forced her to be more adventurous. Nature hadn't yet indicated to her that she did not belong. And a good book? A good book took her places that she couldn't otherwise visit. It was an arrangement she was comfortable with. But such complacency was too good to last.

High school was really hard. Even though she expected harsh times it did nothing to dull the pain. Even the boys, who generally ignored her seemed to get in on the incessant bullying. It was hard enough when a handful of them directed malice towards her but when the numbers grew, she felt broken. The silent tears at night on her damp pillow provided some relief. But the sun would rise again and bring with it another dreadful day. No amount of steely resolve helped her keep her chin up. What was once strides of strength, with her head held up high, were now listless drags of meek submission.

At first she just ignored the barbs. They will tire and stop she told herself. To her horror, her tormentors seemed to increase in number. Being compared to writing board, the very ground she walked on, unclean simians and villians from mythology slowly cracked her armour. She was a source of inspiration for novice poets who wrote glorious gems like:

"There she walks, sweaty and stinky,

dragging her butt, fat and bulky,

Oh she's not coming this way for sure?

Run!, save your senses from torture."

It takes a special person overcome taunts like these. And she felt special no more. Something had to give. Her 'friends' kept their distance for fear of being painted with similar strokes. They wouldn't get intentionally splashed with muddy water on rainy days by speeding cars. Or half eaten food thrown at them. Her sessions with the guidance counselor although helping in venting, did nothing to stop the tide. One can only hear 'be strong' so many times. And it was her word against the many. Perhaps she should have asked her parents to 'help' the school like many others did. But deep down she knew she couldn't burden her family to stop what they viewed as 'a little teasing'.

She had hoped that in the world of grownups, she would find acceptance or at least, left alone. When misfortune is your best friend, such hope is ill-placed. It is human nature it seems to thrill at the despair of others. Her workplace had it's own share of jerks. While in school, her achievements were her own. But here, credit-hogging and brown-nosing seemed rife. Being pretty and a glib tongue made a better case for getting raises as opposed to improved efficiency and results. And the name-calling, though hushed, continued. New paeans were being composed in her honor. She feasted on her lunches by herself. She walked home all alone, her books feeling heavier in her hand with each passing day. She missed the respite they used to provide. These days she lets out sighs of relief as she cuts her body to let out the pain. She is thankful for the long sleeved clothing that hide her scars. They are her prized possessions. The sight of which could make her tomentors close-in like on a wounded prey. Through the dirt stained glass in her tiny room she looks out. The dark hollows in her eyes glisten as she begins her sobbing. "Please stop.." she whimpers into the night.

---------

Here she stands today. On the ledge of a high bridge. Thinking of the steep ravine below her intensifies her breathing. She is terrified of heights. She couldn't bring herself to look down for fear of backing out. Deep down below she can hear the rushing waters encouraging her to take the leap. The wind was strong and kept blowing her hair on her face. She almost loses her balance in an attempt to tame them in place. She looks straight ahead into the distant horizon making out the silhouette of the mountains. Even the clouds seemed to have a message for her. What does one think when one does something like this? Besides the thought of not wanting to do it? She thinks of her mom. It was funny how she always thought of her during moments of extreme joy and sorrow. She missed her reassuring hugs now that the miles separated them. Her mom would have had none of this and would have tried to dissuade her from entertaining such audacious thoughts. "Oh mom" she thinks. "You would never understand. I have to do this". Then holding her breath, with the sounds of a thundering heart, she leaps.

The wind rushes past her face as she plummets through the ravine. She had her hands crossed across her chest, her fists tightly clenched. She hears a scream of terror and realizes it's coming from her. She can see the boulders down below, quickly rushing towards her with an open embrace. Just when she thinks her body's going to smash against the ground, she feels her legs being yanked from above. And up she goes, this time, whooping in joy. She lets it all out. A sea of frustration gushes forth from her lungs. And when the bungee cord finally brings her to a gentle swing, she finds herself with open arms rocking with nature. She finds herself thinking of the kind eyes and gentle smile of the instructor above. And then she knows. Everything would be alright.

Unchained - A Short Story

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