One game of football Sainsbury’s prefer you don’t think about this Christmas

Sainsbury's saccharine Christmas ad
Sainsbury’s saccharine Christmas ad

It was with some interest that I watched Sainsbury’s much-hailed Christmas ad.

Depicting the game of football between German and British troops on 25 December 1914, it shows soldiers acting in a conciliatory, noble, sporting fashion during a time of war. It shows that our similarities are greater than our differences. It shows that the great game of football can bring even the most implacable foes together.

Sainsbury’s, of course, would not be so crass as to use that most poignant moment to sell spuds or cut-price bevy. It isn’t doing that. (In fact, I am not going to use ‘it’ to describe Sainsbury’s, even though it is grammatically correct; I am going to use ‘they’ to humanise this multi-billion pound company. Make Sainsbury’s more cuddly for you.)

Kind and caring Sainsbury’s, as the main plank of their corporate social responsibility strategy, are using the advert to get you to go into their stores to buy a bar of chocolate, the profits from which will go to the Royal British Legion.

Sainsbury’s have been roundly praised for their ad. Why? Well, it gives the viewer a warm glow about Our Boys. It also, in turn, softens Sainsbury’s image, and puts them on the moral high ground.

You come away thinking – Sainsbury’s: they really are there for the lads fighting in World War One. What, on the other hand, are Lidl doing for the boys in the trenches? Fuck all, that’s what. On that basis, I shall never shop in Lidl again – despite their chocolate being rather tasty and reasonably priced.

(You’ve guessed it, people. I shop at Lidl. The customer service is dreadful but the cheese-crusted rolls are DAYYYUUMMM! And 25p a pop. On the other hand, their broccoli never seems to go off, which is inexplicable and not a little troubling. But very cost effective.)

Typical fun-loving Lidl customers
Typical fun-loving Lidl customers

Where was I? Oh yes. Sainsbury’s Xmas ad. What did I think?

I thought it was too long, I thought it sugar-coated war (literally) and it made me feel a bit sick. But on the credit side, you have to admit that Sainsbury’s have adroitly chosen which game of football to tickle the British public in its emotional G-spot.

Because they didn’t choose QPR’s stirring comeback to salvage a 2-2 draw at Stoke City earlier this season – magnificent though the Super Hoops were that day under the inspirational and saggy-faced leadership of Harry Redknapp. They didn’t even choose John Terry crying in the rain after the 2008 Champions League final (an image that, six year later, still gladdens my heart and prompts me into prolonged bouts of hedonistic consumerism).

John Terry crying in the rain
John Terry crying in the rain

But there was one game of football which could have made the cut. And no doubt it was a close-run thing.

This game of football was also well-publicised.

It was also informal – no one really cared about a winner.

It was also during a time of war. But the players were not participants in the war. They were children, having a kickabout. On a beach.

Remember those boys? The Palestinian boys on the beach? They got killed by Israelis who mistook children having a kickabout for murderous, foaming-at-the-mouth jihadis. An easy mistake to make and one I’m sure we have all made on the beach in Torremolinos.

“Look – there are some boys playing football.”
“Yes, but are those boys also vicious jihadis intent on annihilating me, my mum and all of civilisation?”
“KEERRRISST! Probably they are – let’s bomb them now and sup freedom cocktails later!”

Of course, Sainsbury’s don’t want small children murdered while playing football. It is unpleasant, and puts people off their shopping.

But they do rather like Israel. They buy and supply Israeli products – products which, depending on if you share the UN’s view on the matter, are often made on stolen Palestinian land. They help prop up a country which is in perpetual war against people living in what has been described as the world’s biggest prison camp.

Sainsbury’s might think that the Israeli state should be supported. That’s their call. But they are a big company. They could continue trading, and also say:

“Hey, Israel. Would you mind, if it’s not too much bother, trying a teensy bit harder to not kill children? You know, by not firing missiles at them and stuff. Lovely houmous, by the way.”

Sainsbury’s could support charities that help the people of Palestine, or indeed charities which support people in countries where our troops so often go to liberate the natives. They could, without a snazzy ad campaign, speak out to steer Israel towards a more humane approach when dealing with human beings living in the Gaza Strip.

If they did try to make a difference, not by romanticising a century-old conflict, but by taking practical action to improve the countries with which they so profitably trade, in places such as Israel, then that would truly be corporate social responsibility. And that would give me a warm glow this Christmas.

In the meantime, however, I’m off down Lidls to buy some of their no doubt questionably sourced chocolate instead.

Pete The Temp’s amusing video on Sainsbury’s and Israel.

A completely unnecessary but lovely image of a bowl of houmous.
A completely unnecessary but lovely image of a bowl of houmous.
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Who’s worse – Shearer or Suarez?

A day after Luis Suarez bit Giorgio Chiellini, the little Uruguayan finds himself, improbably, on the moral high ground.

Not due to anything he has done, of course. Biting an opponent is wrong. He knows that; so does everyone else.

But how wrong is it? You would think, listening to the intemperate reaction of the BBC’s suite of pundits, that it put him in the Harold Shipman league of criminals.

Alan Shearer says that Suarez should be banned “for as long as possible.” (Is that until death or does it include any potential after-life, Alan?)

I wonder what Shearer would say if Suarez had, instead of biting an opponent, which caused Chiellini almost no discomfort, kicked a player in the face when they were lying on the ground. Considering that sort of attack would inevitably have greater force and greater chance of injury, that must be worse, right?

Of course, lovers of English football will know that I am referring to Shearer’s own attack on Neil Lennon during a match between Newcastle and Leicester City in 1998. Shearer, then England captain, received no punishment for the incident. An enquiry, which heard from then-England manager Glenn Hoddle, decided there was nothing much in it.

As Shearer was England’s most important player at that time, the FA saying that he was not guilty had more than a faint whiff of self-interest about it. An England captain, it was decided, would not do that sort of thing. Shearer, reported the enquiry, “swinging out with his left leg was a genuine attempt to free himself.” Which is a bit like the old joke by Bill Hicks about the officers who attacked Rodney King, saying that if you played the tape backwards you could see the officers helping King up and sending him on his way.

Sitting alongside Shearer was Robbie Savage, who had got away with kicking opponents “so many times,” according to Thierry Henry. Savage said that Suarez should “never play international football again” which, considering he is 27 years old, would amount to a ban of anything up to 10 years.

"Yes, I saw you, but I won't say anything" Shearer and Savage in their 90s heyday.
“Yes, I saw you, but I won’t say anything.” Shearer and Savage thuggin’ back in the 90s.

That would be by far the worst punishment for any player in the history of football, worse than Eric Cantona’s nine month ban after he karate-kicked a Crystal Palace fan in 1995.

These double standards typify the British approach to punditry, where our lads are forgiven whenever they err in judgement, where the foreign player, such as Suarez, gets met with fury and calls for him to be driven out of the game. This lingering feeling of British exceptionalism, that we don’t dive, and are morally more upstanding, in the face of all evidence to the contrary, is part of the reason that other teams inevitably seem to play that little bit better against us.

(That, and our war-mongering. One of the main reasons Maradona was so motivated to do well against England in the 1986 World Cup was in response to the injustices meted out to his countrymen during the Falklands War. Therefore, while his second goal, where he took on the entire England team is more celebrated, his Hand of God goal, where he hand-balled into the ball into the net, is his personal favourite.)

Why ever would he want to cheat against blameless England? Maradona in 86
Why ever would he want to cheat against blameless England? Maradona in 86

While Shearer and Savage declare that Suarez should be banned for anywhere between life and as long as possible (whichever is longer) they should be honest and admit that this incident, while unsavoury, is no worse than the darker moments of their own careers. And perhaps they should spend less time attacking Suarez and more time contemplating why Uruguay, a country of fewer than four million people, should produce a football team which, according to the evidence of last Thursday, is comfortably better than our own.

Where have all the centre backs gone? England at the 2014 World Cup

There has been a lot of talk of British values recently, and the wide-ranging debate shows that it is largely a matter of opinion what is a British value and what is not.
That said, there is one British value which is beyond question: that of big centre-halves heading footballs and generally acting with a courage which happily boils over into full-blown craziness. When faced with someone smaller and more skillful, the English way is to use our brains not to out-think our opponent, but as an all-purpose blocking device.

We have always been knee-deep in this kind of unsubtle, fairly terrifying type of footballer: in my memory, this long line of lunatics begins with Terry Butcher and carries on through Tony Adams, Martin Keown, Steve Bruce, Sol Campbell, Jamie Carragher and John Terry, with the addition of two centre halves who could also, astonishingly, play football – Rio Ferdinand and Ledley King.

Lunatic: Terry Butcher displaying British values
Lunatic: Terry Butcher displaying British values

It’s worth noting that Steve Bruce, despite being a mainstay of Manchester United’s defence when they first started winning everything, never played for England. We simply had too many big, thuggish lads to get their heads on things, and so he was not required. Similarly, Jamie Carragher, who played 500+ times for Liverpool and won the Champions League, retired from the international game because he couldn’t get in the team.

Centre halves have always been the foundation of English football. In 1990, when we got to the semi-finals, Bobby Robson, in his wisdom, picked three centre-backs – Des Walker, Terry Butcher and Mark Wright – and another centre-back, Paul Parker, at right-back.

Let’s remember that at the group stage, England conceded one goal in three games, with clean sheets against the Dutch and Egypt. In total, we conceded four goals in six games – the same number of goals conceded in two matches at the 2014 World Cup.

Getting in the way - Sol Campbell
Getting in the way – Sol Campbell

In 2002 and 2006, Sol Campbell was named in the World XI at the end of the tournament, the only Englishman to gain that honour. What did he do to gain the world’s admiration? What England have always been better than anyone: getting in the way of shots, heading away crosses and, occasionally heading goals from set-pieces.

Which is why it is so sad to see Rio Ferdinand – one of the greatest English footballers – sitting in the BBC studio last night having to explain where it went wrong against Uruguay.

His analysis, to paraphrase, was this: Johnson, Jagielka, Cahill and Baines were not good enough. For the first goal, someone should have blocked the cross, and if it got into the box, someone should have headed it away. For the second goal, a defender should have headed the ball away, and if not, been in a position to block the shot.

That’s what Englishmen have been doing for decades. That’s what Jack Charlton did in ’66, what Butcher did in ’90, and what Adams did in ’96 (three goals conceded in five matches). The fact that our only properly good defender, John Terry, is currently heading beach balls rather than playing for England is perhaps the main reason for our utter defensive ineptitude at this World Cup.

While it is all very well wanting our national team to play more expansively the focus must be having a squad packed with robust centre-halves who will do anything to block shots and crosses.

Those are the values we must remember, before we try to do anything so frivolous as trying to score goals. So, if Mr Gove wants to become a populist figure, perhaps he should, after children have had double-Dickens in the morning, insist they have heading practice in the afternoon, so we can ensure that no England team will be so sadly weak at the back again.

The last of a noble lineage: John Terry heading a football
The last of a noble lineage: John Terry heading a football

The Joy of Hair: how England got over Beckham

The perestroika era arrives for England’s players

We all saw it. The goal had more than a touch of luck about it, with Steven Gerrard’s cross deflected off of the Ukrainian defender’s ballbags, past the keeper for Wayne Rooney to nod home from six inches.

But it was the celebration that caught the eye. Because it was in Rooney’s celebration that we saw an England team usher in a new age and finally move on from the tyrrany of the Beckham era.

To recap, Rooney celebrated his goal in unique fashion, by pretending to apply hairspray.

It emerged afterwards that Rooney, hugely enjoying the versatility of his hair implants, has been sharing product with Andy Carroll.

This was a simple act of hair-kinship between two strikers which would have been unthinkable during Beckham’s decade or so in the England team.

While Beckham was an excellent player, there can be no doubt that he would never allow anyone else to show creativity when it came to hair, and this hampered the team’s performances. With his lucrative contracts with both Gillette and Brylcreem, Beckham stamped out any meek, honest expression of grooming from any other England player.*

Even two years ago, Beckham was at the 2010 World Cup simply  as ‘player liaison’, a made-up role which ensured the subjugation of our players to ensure none of them made an attempt to, as they say in the rap game, ‘shine on his shit.’ And what happened? It was England’s most miserable tournament performance in living memory, perhaps ever.

It is only now, with Beckham occupied growing his luxuriant moustache in preparation for the Olympics – where, incidentally, it can be presumed Great Britain will perform atrociously – that this England Euro 2012 squad are beginning to express themselves hair-wise.

Rooney appears to be developing a quiff of which Elvis Presley would approve; Andy Carroll is there, ponytail full and in effect, flourishing the full mane towards the end of games; Ashley Cole, who has never showed any signs of freedom of hair expression previously, is now attempting a junior mohawk; even Jermain Defoe, while rarely seen on the pitch, is showing his support with his subtly effective peroxide dye job.

Clearly, this is a team just beginning to express itself. The dark days of the Beckham autocracy are still a very recent memory for many of these players and their confidence is, for some, including Gerrard, fragile at best.

It is true that England may not yet have enough style, team spirit and hair-quality to pull off a tournament win, or even a final appearance. However, this is already the most promising England performance since Euro 96 – the last major tournament over which Beckham’s malign influence did not loom.

Going into the quarter-final against Italy, when faced with Balotelli’s dazzling blond mohican, and Andrea Pirlo’s Steven Tyleresque layer and flow, England remain underdogs.

But what we do have is a group of players unafraid to openly experiment with different hairstyles with the full support of their team-mates. The choice of Krakow as base for England has been questioned by many, but perhaps being in the land where the Perestroika movement rose and eventually crushed the tyrannical Soviet regime, is exactly the sort of historical influence our lads need right now.

We are becoming a team of which England hair greats such as Kevin Keegan and Chris Waddle can be rightly proud. However far we eventually progress in this tournament our lads are doing it together and I, with my twin loves of football and hair, am immensely proud.

*Bar Glen Johnson who effectively acted as a foil for Beckham’s hairstyles down the right flank, giving him something to work off, and David James, whose constant pratfalls nullified his threat.

The football haircut XI

Feeling we had got off to a convincing start, I put the thing on Facebook. First up was Simon Chadwick with Chris Waddle. I liked the rapidity of response. When people think of haircuts and football, deep down, they have one in their heart. And for many that person is Chris Waddle, and his mullet. Waddle retained the mullet for a full decade, keeping it well into the ‘90s, long after such things were fashionable. In a strong mullet-field (Hendrie, Lawrenson, a young Gordon Strachan) Waddle was in.

Then John Armstrong raised Jason Lee. For John, the matter of football haircuts starts and finishes with Lee. There are few footballers who can claim to have invented a hairstyle. And Jason Lee, while a half-decent footballer, will primarily be remembered for his contribution to the world of hair: the pineapple.

Jason Lee – pineapple. End of.

I work with a few scientists and that breed are known for their precision. So it was no surprise that Julia Wilson came up not only with a name, but also a year. She backed Graeme Souness, in his 1979 vintage. This was when his combination of moustache and volume was at its peak. The Scottish psycho look, if you like, or what is now formally known as the Begbie.