The Giant Slayer

fifaFee-fi-fo-fum. I smell the blood of an Englishman’. Said the giant from Jack and the Beanstalk.

It probably doesn’t matter much but if I was ever to meet the giant I would point out that the rhyme doesn’t actually work.

It would have to be either Fee-fi-fo-fun or English-mun. I would opt for the former as fum isn’t really a word so replacing it with fun wouldn’t have any impact on the construct at all. Actually come to think of it, adding fun might even improve it.

And Englishmun is worse than a non-rhyming poem.

The giant does recover it somewhat though as he successfully manages to rhyme ‘be he dead’ with ‘to make my bread’ but the beginning spoils the whole thing. In my opinion.

Even if I did tell him, I’m not sure the giant would change anything though. I hear they are notoriously difficult to persuade and he’s probably so stuck in his ways saying it the wrong way to not even realise his stupid schoolboy error.

And, of course, he’s now dead.

Slain at the hands of the simple minded, thieving Jack as he chased him down the beanstalk carrying a golden egg laying goose.

The goose which laid the golden eggs is, as we all know, a fable. To kill the golden goose, or in other words to engage in a short sighted action which destroys the profitability of an asset. In the fable the owner of the goose slaughtered it to get at the huge amount of gold which must be inside only to find it was a normal goose and thus losing any possibility of any more golden eggs.

In short, an action driven by greed.

Of course Jack was stupid to buy the magic beans in the first place. It was more luck than judgement that the beanstalk grew and he happened to end up with a magic goose and a self-playing harp. In any other circumstances the beans would have grown into a small bean plant and he and his mother would have died a horrible death as they slowly starved. Probably.

This wouldn’t make for good pantomime though. It ends with Jack and his mother living rich for the rest of their days but I find this fanciful given his stupid short sighted actions earlier in the story. The goose would have been slaughtered a couple of days later no doubt and they would sell their one or two golden eggs and live out their lives normally and modestly. Again, not good pantomime.

Speaking of pantomimes, about ten miles away from where I write this there is a sleek, modern, glass and steel office building. Sitting atop a hill overlooking Lake Zurich. Flags flutter and people quietly come and go. Its right next to Zurich zoo with its brand new mega sized elephant house and the subtropical Madagascar hot house. Crowds of people pass by the building, children excitedly skip along making monkey noises. Ice cream, hot dogs, strollers and backpacks.

Most of them pass by with only a fleeting glance towards the building. They all know what goes on behind the doors of the building but this being Switzerland most passers-by do exactly that. Quietly pass by.

It’s the headquarters of FIFA and I would contend that over the last week or so the monkey house during a red-arsed banana sex orgy would have seemed quiet and subdued in comparison.

It’s gone from bad to worse at Fifa and at some point soon I, along with everyone else, will become so weary of the soap opera we will become immune to it all. Like the church bells in Switzerland which chime every 15 minutes night and day eventually you stop hearing them.

Maybe this is what they want. Maybe they want us to just accept Fifa has the integrity of a Zimbabwean election and then get on with enjoying the world cup and ignore everything else.

The mistake they made, apart from the obvious; awarding the world cup to the great footballing nation of Qatar, was hiring Michael Garcia.

For a short time after his appointment, I actually thought Fifa were serious about wiping out corruption from within its gold lined corridors. He is an incorruptible, unbribable, bulldog of a lawyer with a broad, all access, remit to investigate the world cup bidding process. When asked by his daughter once what he did for a living he answered ‘I punish people who do bad things and break the law’.

Thats a line which could have come straight out of the script for Robocop. I like him.

So this was their mistake, before his appointment everyone was complaining about Fifa but nothing was happening. His appointment was made to address the complaints but it has had the opposite effect, the criticisms have multiplied exponentially.

Because he has done his job.

Because when the summary of his final report was published he stood up within three hours and openly said that the summary does not reflect the actual report.

Because he has the balls to stand up and say things no one else in Fifa would say out of self-interest.

He would turn up, unannounced to interview senior executive committee members and recently said that Fifa’s ethics code needed transparency and leadership.

An ethics code without transparency isn’t an ethics code.

And now he has resigned from his post of investigating Fifa because of a ’lack of leadership in the organisation’.

Fifa have now been forced to say they will publish a ‘legally appropriate’ version of the full report and I can’t wait to see what it says. To see if it sheds any light into how a country like Qatar could win the prize of hosting the biggest sporting event in the world.

I don’t know anyone at all who thinks this is a good idea, not one person. This is possibly because I don’t know any Qataris but still, it’s stupid, stupid, stupid.

Apart from being one of the wealthiest countries on the planet I cannot find any other, football related, redeeming qualities. I’m sure it’s a perfectly lovely place but the world cup? Ahead of Australia? Really?

Australia would have been perfect, summer time = winter time down there, the population will turn up in their hundreds of thousands to watch anything vaguely sporting related. Football needs a shot in the arm down under and the travelling hoards of fans would have a ball, if you forgive the pun.

No, Australia would have been perfect. Qatar, sorry to say Quataris, is just a joke.

Russia for 2018 is ok.

Aside from the current socio/political/economic issues I have no issue with Russia getting it. If the Rouble keeps dropping, interest rates keep rising and sanctions keep on getting tougher they might not be able to actually host it but giving them the chance is ok, in my view.

So absent of bribes I can’t see how the Qatar garnered any votes.

The funny thing here is Fifa have been forced to publish the whole report. It wasn’t done of their own volition, if it was respect might have slowly started crawling back up the hill in Zurich but it’s not.

Like the child who is forced to say sorry, it’s meaningless.

And even better still they have to publish the real report, not an amended version because if they did I am positive we would be hearing more from Robocop Garcia. The report might or might not contain something which is damming but just the fact they have strongly opposed its publication leads me to believe all is not right in the power halls of Fifa.

They are cornered with their backs against the wall and I for one would like to see the whole corrupt organisation, and building if needed, razed to the ground.

I once went for a job interview with a company who had some of the rights to sell television advertising broadcast during the world cup. I asked the obvious question; how long does the company have these rights and how likely is it they will be renewed? The interviewer just smiled at me and informed me the owner of the company was the president of Fifa’s nephew.

Football is the biggest sport on earth.

The world cup is the biggest celebration of the biggest sport on earth. It’s the most watched sporting event on the planet. The money generated from football is staggering. Fifa alone reports revenues of billions, not bad for a company who only are responsible for one thing which happens every four years.

Football is a sport which everyone enjoys, it’s a great leveller. It can be played by anyone, all you need is a ball. Young, old, rich or poor it’s a great game.

And it’s a real crying shame that its biggest showpiece is managed by a self-centred group of nepotistic, greedy, corrupt old men who will fight to the death to hold on to the power they barely deserve.

Fifa are slowly but surely killing the golden goose and I really really hope when the report is eventually published its incendiary and is the beginning of the end for the office just down the road from here.

Let’s blow it up and start again. Lets get the heads of each footballing nation together and create something new, take the football away from Fifa and its left with nothing. And there is nothing to stop this from happening regardless of the contents of the report.

Fifa’s reputation is so broken it cannot be fixed, it needs a complete overhaul but why would the current members vote for this. ‘I can’t wait for Christmas’ said no Turkey ever.

No, like the reports publication, Fifa will only do something when forced and the only way to do this will be to take the football, and thus the money, away from them. Then and only then will we see some sort of transparency at the pinnacle of the game we all love so much.

As for the building, it has so much glass it wouldn’t take much to create an enclosure out of it. You could even drop some magic beans in the garden and watch the giant who can’t rhyme come down and play with the committee members as they fight over whatever is left.

‘Fee-fi-fo-fum, I smell the blood of Fifa’.

It still doesn’t rhyme but even as a tight Scotsman I would pay to watch that particular pantomime.

‘He’s behind you!’ the children will scream at the committee.

I bloody hope so.

Size Matters

fork 1I have a son called Cameron.

Its a good solid Scottish name, I think it means beautiful one, or crooked nose, or something somewhere in between, I forget.

But regardless of the etymology I like it.

Cameron has a Scottish name, a Scottish dad and his very own hand made kilt but the reality is he is about as Scottish as Mel Gibson.

He’s also four years old, so minor things like nationality don’t really trouble him just now. Ice cream, Paw Patrol, getting something his younger sister doesn’t have and staying awake after nine o clock in the evening are his primary concerns.

Nationality is something he can neither spell nor say and is very very far from his mind.

But this will change at some point.

I travel a lot and meet all sorts of people. Generally after shaking hands and exchanging banal pleasantries the subject of nationality crops up. In most cases its pretty obvious, accents normally give everyone away. Its hard not to spot an Italian, German, Englishman or Frenchman.

Eastern Europe is a little bit more tricky. I have been known to call a Latvian Russian or a Croat a Serb but this is forgivable.

Well it is, once.

If you travel enough eventually you learn to spot the differences.

I used to find it hard to understand why someone from abroad couldn’t tell the difference between a Glasgow, Yorkshire, Manchester or even a Scouser accent. I knew they were different, don’t ask me what any of them are actually saying but at least I can roughly point out where they come from based on the tone of the unintelligible barrage as soon as they open their mouths.

But this was before I tried to see (hear) the difference between the Bavarians and the folks who come from Hamburg. There is a difference, it just takes some tuning of the ear to hear it. To your average German its like each are speaking different languages, to me they were all just foreigners speaking a funny, bad guy off of the war movies, language.

Only now am I sort of able to recognise someone from Hamburg or someone from Munich or understand the difference between an Austrian accent and a Berlin one. But this has taken me fourteen years of living in the Germanic part of the world to be able to do so.

Cameron doesn’t have a Scottish accent. He also isn’t really Scottish, but if he isn’t Scottish then what is he?

He has a British Passport and an American one.

If we followed the rules of national football he would be eligible to play for Scotland (me & my dad), England (my mum), USA (his mum), Taiwan (his mums parents) and Switzerland (where he lives) so this doesn’t really help him much.

I am sure at some point he will decide on a country and stick with that. Like him choosing the football team he will eventually support.

His choices right now are American or British. I say British here because being  Scottish is more a state of mind than anything else. If you hold a British passport then you could equally claim to be Scottish as much as anyone else holding a similar passport.

There is no Scottishness test as far as I am aware, you just say it and I guess you are it. I could say I was Welsh should I wish. Not sure why anyone would actually do that but I could if I was, say, mad.

What he will not do is claim to be a citizen of the world.

I have actually met some people who genuinely described themselves as this.

‘Where do you come from?’ says me

‘Nowhere, everywhere, I am a citizen of the world’ says he

‘Right’ says me. I then wander off muttering ‘wanker’ under my breath.

No, my son will be guided in such matters and he will need to choose properly.

Come September the 19th he might not be able to say, British and be done with it. He might actually have to say Scottish, British or American.

In fact come to think of it so might I.

I consider myself very Scottish. I live very unhealthily, I like whisky, I own a kilt, my dads Scottish, I support Scotland, I was born in Scotland, I spent all my childhood in Scotland and automatically say slainte whenever I toast someone with a dram. Surely this makes me Scottish?

I left home aged 16 and have been kind of travelling ever since so my accent has eroded but still. Just because I don’t pay tax there anymore doesn’t make me less Scottish…

It seems like the polls are narrowing in the run up to the referendum. The bookies still have the No campaign ahead but the momentum is definitely with the Yes campaign. Everywhere I look there are crowds of people saying, shouting, singing and graffiting Yes.

The Yes campaign are noisy to say the least but then changing the status quo was never going to happen quietly.

About a year ago, I wrote a blog bemoaning the fact there was little information about the issues at hand, the general thrust of my blog was it was generally too quiet. We needed debate, loud debate, front and center. This is such a monumental decision we could not go into it blind.

Seems I got my wish.

There is misinformation all over the place but at least people are talking about it. With such a volume of political dialogue going on I wonder what on earth people will talk about afterwards.

But this is good. This is how it should be and given the emotive nature of the decision the discussions appear to be relatively good natured. There have been some instances of eejits from both sides taking things too far but on a whole most people seem to be accepting, regardless of the result, everyone will need to get on with each other again come September 19th.

So for what its worth. From a half English expat who still considers himself Scottish, here is my last opinion on the whole affair before everyone goes to the polls.

I would be voting No on September 18th. Not because I think Scotland couldn’t manage its own affairs because it clearly could. Not even because I think Scotland wouldn’t be better off, financially, as an independent nation. It probably would. And this certainly isn’t because I am afraid of the unknown or any less patriotic than a Yes voter.

I also don’t believe the sky will fall down whether the vote goes No, or Yes. The scaremongering on both sides is just false and frankly silly.

I would be voting No simply because I believe there is a strength in Great Britain. This strength does not come individually from London or Manchester or Glasgow or even Inverness. It’s the sum of the parts which gives us the strength. As a combined nation we have managed to punch well above our weight for longer than we really should have.

Scotland by itself will be a small, maybe even prosperous, nation. I do not however accept the notion that small always equals good. I don’t accept the studies which look at Switzerland or Norway or another small, wealthy, happy country and claim this is because they are a small nimble country and then simply apply this principle to Scotland. There are plenty of miserable, poor small countries in the world as well.

Small doesn’t always mean prosperity. Its what you do, not your size which matters, or so I have been told.

Switzerland is prosperous, not because its small but because it hasn’t joined the EU, kept itself out of every major conflict there has been, kept its mouth shut when everyone around it was shouting and made sure it stayed friendly with everyone, even the bad guys. How would this sit in the minds of the average Scot?

What about Nato? Scotland would join Nato that’s clear, but Scotland would go from being a major pillar of Nato to a dependent nation of Nato.

We will provide troops and money relative to our size and capability but the whole point of Nato is that the big nations look after the small nations to eliminate the need for nuclear or military proliferation. However unlikely the situation, if push comes to shove, Scotland would be asking for help from South of the border because we would not be capable of defending ourselves.

Great Britain is part of the G8. A yes vote will effectively be voting ourselves off of this top table. I don’t know if this is good, or bad but I for one would prefer to have a voice rather than no voice at all.

An independent Scotland will be a small nation on the fringes of Europe. A bit like Iceland perhaps. Just with less volcanoes.  Now I have never been to Iceland and don’t know any Icelanders so I cant say if they are happy, sad, wealthy or otherwise. I do know though that Iceland is not foremost in anyone’s mind when world issues are being discussed or decided. I know Norway, Sweden or any number of smaller nations are also in the same boat. They don’t really have a say.

Not a proper one anyway.

Scotland as part of the United Kingdom has a voice and is listened to. Scotland as an independent nation will not, no matter how hard we shout.

Governments change, policies change, in fact everything changes given a long enough timeline. This vote is not about now. It’s about forever.

The bedroom tax will disappear, as will Cameron, Clegg and Salmond. Representation in Westminster will be there and then not be there, that’s the nature of democracy. Crossrail will get completed, the trams in Edinburgh will keep running (maybe) and North Sea oil will run out eventually. All of this I can guarantee.

Today Scotland has a voice and is a major player on the world stage because its part of Great Britain. It has a strength it really shouldn’t have on account of being part of the UK. This is something we will lose immediately. We will not be capable of intervening in world issues or anything for that matter. Even if its something we should be intervening in.

We will become a small inward looking nation because we will not have the voice to influence anything outside of our own borders. Now this might not be a bad thing for most of the population of Scotland, we might want to be a quiet nation who keeps its mouth shut and lives carefully and, potentially, prosperously on the fringes of Europe.

This might not matter to people who only think in terms of down the bottom of their street or doesn’t care what’s occurring in Iraq, Syria, Gaza but I’m not sure this is a fair representation of the Scottish people.

Scottish people as I know them want to stand up, are proud and want to shout about it. Normally very loudly. We want to be involved, we want to make a difference. I just don’t think anyone will be listening after a yes vote and we will certainly not have the capability to do anything about it even if they were.

We will have become an impotent nation in world stage terms.

Scottish people are not Norwegian and I for one don’t want to be Norwegian. They might be rich, good looking and have an average live expectancy of 150 but even still I don’t want to be Norwegian. I am proud of the heritage I have, and this is a heritage achieved as part of the United Kingdom. We simply wouldn’t have achieved anywhere near as much thus far had we been an independent nation for the last 300 years.

And I am convinced we will be doing a disservice to future generations by not allowing them to achieve as much in the future.

Anyway as I have said, this is just the opinion of a half English expat who doesn’t even get a vote. I will, along with everyone else in Scotland, be putting in an all nighter as the results come in.

September 19th is going to be ugly whichever way it goes.

And regardless of the result, I will still consider myself Scottish. I don’t care about the colour of the passport I carry and should Cameron have any sort of ability with a football he wont either.

Because the referendum might be important, the future of the United Kingdom might be hanging in the balance, a whole nation might be holding its breath but lets not get too carried away.

Football, after all, is much more important than all of that nonsense.

Woke up, got out of bed, dragged a comb across my head

archieI can’t finish this dad – he says thrusting a half eaten pie towards my face. The crust has been nibbled with perfect symmetry and its watery filling virtually gone, congealed fat lines the pastry. The excitement, the wall of noise, the music, the pageantry, the anticipation of a major upset has disappeared. A very large and excitable beach ball with a slow puncture has just had knife thrust into its heart and it lies deflated and quiet.3-0, 15 min to go.

He sits there quiet and distracted, less interested in the happenings on the pitch. A balloon floats down from the upper tier and he follows its slow progress down to the touchline, 2 goals could be scored to setup a frenzied final few minutes and he wouldn’t notice. I watch his gaze moving around, anywhere but the pitch. The fans across the stadium make conversation difficult and I find myself thinking if we leave now we can beat the queue for the train.

A normal day in the life of an underdog supporter.

The pattern never changes, always the same, the build up to the game, the excitement, the conversations, hushed at first – don’t tempt fate. Later, after a few pints, the conversation is much more confident – we can do this, on a good day we are a match for anyone, their star player is injured. Enter the stadium, well oiled, 50,000 fans singing, the music, the perfect green, the lights, it’s a heady cocktail and you join in, singing yourself quickly hoarse.

To suitably stirring music the teams stride onto the pitch and the noise goes up a few notches, handshakes all around and the children leave the pitch. Its quiet for a few seconds as the referee checks the nets and then kick off.

From that moment on we have reached the zenith and its downhill all the way. Sometimes they manage to hold their own for a time delaying the inevitable, the shouting, the foul language continues. The referee, the opposition player, the opposing fans, the linesman, anyone for that matter save the 11 players, are all wankers. It’s a conspiracy against the underdog threatening to upset the normal order of things.

Pretty soon though the first goal goes in and the shouting for a while increases – don’t drop your heads – but inevitably it dies down. The pints are wearing off, a foul taste is present in your mouth and thoughts start turning back to the real world, the one you put on ice a few hours and pints ago.

Come on son, let’s get off eh? Get the train before the rest – we might make it home for Dr Who if were lucky. He takes little persuasion and very soon we are trudging up towards Mount Florida kicking the multi-coloured flotsam and jetsum filling the streets. The noise behind you is muffled but you still keep one ear open for a telling roar – it doesn’t come.

A Jurassic sized police horse takes his attention and the game is a distant memory, easily forgotten, one to be replaced with all the future upsets he will definitely witness. Tomorrows headlines will be the usual regurgitated shite – brave hearts and worthy contenders.

Am hungry dad, can we get something to eat – he looks expectantly up at me, face blushed from the cold.

Life is tough, life isn’t fair.

If it was I would have stayed to 90mins and celebrated long into the night. I look forward to the day a man with sunglasses stuck to his nose offers me a blue or green pill. I will take the suspend reality pill, I don’t want to know that the world is a barren nuclear wasteland with machines milking us for energy. No, I want to stand and cheer as yet another famous upset unfolds on the pitch in front of me. I will take a cheating, diving, sneaky, underhand, Uruguayan-esq win over a brave valiant loss any day. I don’t even care if it’s a computer generated one, implanted in my brain to keep me a docile energy source.I smile looking down at his expectant face, crisps, juice, chocolate are running though his childish mind. I ruffle his hair and produce the cold, half eaten pie from my pocket – here you go.

It’s a hard lesson but one which he needs to learn and I run after him wailing his way onto the dirty orange train.