As the world celebrates the stupendous footballing skills of one short man, Lionel Messi (5ft 7ins), we should also rejoice at the tireless off-field work of another pint-sized footballer.
I am referring to the great Jermain Defoe (5ft 7ins), of Tottenham and England, who, as revealed in today’s News of the World, has not taken the conclusion of the Premier League season as cue to put his feet up.
Showing a Victorian morality and work ethic, Defoe has moved from his day job as goalscorer to concentrate on philanthropy in the summer months. The chief beneficiary of this big-hearted generosity is former Big Brother starlet and model Imogen Thomas.
Following her romance with hated Manchester United star Ryan Giggs, she naturally thought the right course of action was to tell all in a tabloid newspaper. Giggs, who has carefully crafted a family man image despite his rampant sexual antics outside of his marriage, callously demanded a superinjunction to deny Imogen her basic human rights: a well remunerated kiss ‘n’ tell.
How on earth did she cope?
It is revealed that her ‘rock’ throughout this trauma was our hero, Jermain Defoe. Showing class which Giggs could never possess, he sent her supportive texts, provided a shoulder to cry on and offered the occasional tryst. (They have form: he shagged her for a few weeks during his annus mirabilis, 2009, when he returned to Tottenham from Porstsmouth, scoring lots of goals and working his way through just about every fame-hungry bird in old London town.)
Despite splitting up from her because she asked him to pay for a new boob job, Defoe has gallantly rekindled their romance to help her remain in the public eye following the Giggs affair. She knows she can trust him completely. There is no way that he would ever dream of taking out a superinjunction against any woman whom he had loved, for one night or several. He knows that kiss ‘n’ tells can only burnish his image as a modern-day Casanova. He understands implicitly the need for a certain kind of woman to tell all, with help from Max Clifford.
I have long noted that Defoe is at his best shooting form on the football field when he is scoring prolifically off it. He did suffer something of a difficult season, scoring only nine goals. I feel confident that his liaison with Imogen can help him get back to his best.
It does seem as if the football season has concluded in exactly the right way. Lionel Messi has won the Champions’ League, once again underlining the pre-eminence of the short man in football. No doubt aware of the Imogen Thomas scandal, Messi made sure Ryan Giggs was utterly humiliated. Giggs can now spend the summer in his high-security Welsh fortress, with his wife and kids, reflecting on his many and various crimes.
Jermain Defoe and Imogen Thomas are no doubt already planning a long break on Caribbean beaches, with the paparazzi in tow, as they and the tabloid newspapers assert their right to titillate the public as we wait for the 2011/12 season to begin.
As a hip-hop fan raised on Public Enemy, Cypress Hill and the Wu-tang Clan, I tend to take the view that rap music isn’t what it used to be.
My last significant foray was Kanye West’s My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy album, which is less a rap album and more the sound of Kanye’s ego expanding to swallow up the known universe.
On the UK side of things, I am aware of Plan B, who is a tedious curmudgeon; Giggs, who thinks anything less than sullen aggression might compromise his heterosexuality; and Klashnekoff, who tries to sound preachy, and intelligent, and fails at both.
I’ll say this up front. I like commercial rap music. I like rappers who are boastful, arrogant and never let the truth get in the way of a good story. And not afraid to write a stupid lyric. Nelly’s first album has brought me more delight than all of the conscious rappers put together. His chorus to ‘Ride Wit Me’ never fails to make me smile:
Oh why do I live this way? Hey, it must be the money
Conversely, when Jurassic 5 came up with their pantwetting line, ‘I’m not trying to say my style’s better than yours’ my thought was, well if that’s your attitude why don’t you fuck off and play folk music instead?
So that’s where I’m coming from.
My investigations into modern rap began with Drake. I’d heard word he was the coming man. I YouTubed him and it just seemed like pop to me. A rapper with all the edges smoothed off. Boring.
I next looked at Kid Cudi, who has got an absolutely awesome freestyle he does on Westwood’s show. It was cool, but rather too intelligent for my liking.
YouTube then pointed me towards a freestyle Lil Wayne had done, also on Westwood. He prefaces his performance by saying ‘I can’t rap’ and proceeds to fully justify that claim. It was so incompetent I decided Lil Wayne was definitely worthy of further investigation. I’m also predisposed to rappers with ‘Lil’ in their name, as I’m rather lil myself.
I’d usually go for the first album, but it appeared that Lil Wayne was almost totally inept on his debut. Wikipedia suggested his fourth album, 2004’s Tha Carter,‘marked what critics considered an advancement in his lyrical themes.’ With tracks such as ‘Hoes’, ‘Snitch’ and ‘I Miss My Dawgs’ one wonders what his less mature lyrics were about. Cheerios, perhaps.
Excited, I downloaded the album. It didn’t disappoint.
On the track ‘This is the Carter’ he opens with perhaps the best boast I have ever heard when he declares, ‘I’m finally perfect.’
‘Hoes’ has a lovely nursery rhyme chorus:
‘Hoes, let’s just talk about hoes Can’t we talk about ho-o-oes?’ Ho-oes, motherfucker’
There’s a rehash of Al Green’s Let’s Stay Together, called ‘Shine’, which he converts into a boast about one night stands. I imagine if Common heard it he’d have his head in hands, despairing about a new low for rap music. And then wank off to Gil Scott Heron.
But my personal highlight is ‘We Don’t’, on which he sounds like a skateboarder desperately trying to stay upright, and succeeding, but not quite knowing how.
In it he audaciously rhymes ‘feel me’ with ‘dealy’, creating a word to make the rhyme. Later he rhymes ‘Missi’ (as in the river) with ‘Swimmi’ (as in swimming). This, you have to admit, is technically rubbish, and would probably upset the GZA no end, but with his winsome southern drawl, he has enough gusto to pull it off.
When I mention my new rap love people uniformly respond that I don’t look like a Lil Wayne fan. I think that’s part of the appeal. There’s something good about standing on a packed bus, in my suit, reading the Guardian, while listening to a chap rapping about snitches, bitches and, indeed, riches.
He might be stupid, commercial and not that good at rapping. But, dammit, I HEART Lil Wayne.
Last night’s display by Gennaro Gattuso was possibly the best example of a short man going on the rampage since Joe Pesci went at that poor unfortunate with the telephone in Goodfellas.
Not only did he hand out this finger-wagging attack on Peter Crouch, probably just on account of Crouch’s preposterous size, but he sought out Joe Jordan, a jock known as hard even amongst his own rugged people, and dealt him a headbutt.
(A note on this headutt: while I fully admire the handing out of a headbutt by Gattuso on Joe Jordan, I cannot admire the execution. It was one of those half-hearted push-headed efforts which suggests that even this volcanic footballer was holding himself in somewhat. It reminds me of Zidane in the World Cup Final. I still can’t understand why he didn’t deal him the blow to the bridge of the nose rather than the breast bone. My philosophy – you should never waste a good headbutt.)
This takes me back to my own football-playing heyday when my pragmatic manager sent me out, week after week, to man-mark the tallest player on the field. There I would be, all furious because of the brevity of my physique, and take great pride in pulling this week’s giant to the ground with a succession of, shall we say, ‘committed’ challenges.
Occasionally, when it looked my nascent short man syndrome was not quite to the fore, he would suggest amiably that ‘the bigger they are the harder they fall’. That, it’s safe to say, was all that was needed to fire up the old Napoleon Complex and leave some poor gentle giant wondering why short men had such aggressive streaks.
Well, as Gattuso or Pesci would testify, there really is no explaining it. There is no saying why when I see a tall man I boil up in some sort of apoplectic rage. Is it genetic? Is it environment? Is it a complex mix of both? Hard to tell. It’s just the way it is.
And football is all the better for it. In a recent interview with the Guardian, Xavi suggested that Barcelona’s style of play was the most beautiful and, almost, that the result was secondary. Well, after we had watched the tedium of Spain’s succession of 1-0s winning the World Cup, I think the football fraternity is ready for a taste of an older style, that style of football where no one can be quite sure they are going to leave the field of play with all four limbs still attached.
Because, on the night that Arsenal play Barcelona, in what the aesthetes are calling a meeting of philosophers and artists, we should remember this: football began as a game being played with a pig’s bladder between working men who wanted to thrash a ball about and hurt each other after a hard day working in the fields. In an age when the two-footed, studs-up challege is anathema to many, we should rejoice in the behaviour of players such as Gattuso who are in it for the physical battle and as a legal way to unleash their psychotic tendencies.
From one short man to another: Gattuso, I salute you.
Notes: Gattuso is about 5ft 9ins. This is not short when it comes to the general population but in the world of sport people who are usually six feet or above, he certainly is. And what I always say when people are unsure if a man is truly short or not – you will be able to tell. With Gattuso, I think we can rest assured, in his heart of hearts, he is a short man and proud.
I sit here, at the end of a successful Ashes series, reflecting on the demise of Ricky Ponting. A man who has scored 12,000 Test runs finished the series injured, defeated and with an average a shade over 14. This is unquestionably the end of the era of Aussie dominance in Test cricket.
As an impressionable youngster I first experienced the Australians in the 1989 series in England. Their main bowler was Merv Hughes, a frightening-looking fellow with a thick, flowing moustache and a beer gut. Coming off a long run, with his belly jiggling around, he looked more dart player than cricketer. He would deliver a venomous short ball around the throat area, and finish about six inches from the frankly terrified batsman, all bulging eyes and boozy breath. The English succumbed quickly, which seemed sensible. I had heard that England had once won an Ashes but it seemed the stuff of myth.
When it was England’s time to bowl, a friendly bloke such as Derek Pringle would lollop in and send the ball at medium pace outside off-stump. The fellow at the other end was, again, a snarling, heavy-set man with Victorian moustache. This was Hughes’s soul mate, David Boon, who would respond by carving the ball through the covers for four.
England lost that six-match series 4-0. The only person who put up much resistance was our resident South African batsman, Robin Smith, a man who had a devil-may-care attitude to short-pitched bowling.
Call me a masochist; call me an inveterate idler. I was hooked on cricket. I didn’t mind that England lost. The Ashes was something in which comforting certainties, a natural order, existed.
They came back in 1993, with Shane Warne in their team, and won 4-1. David Boon bludgeoned runs, Hughes snarled his way through the England batting. In 1997, Boon and Hughes were gone, replaced by sadly clean-shaven men called Matty, Mark or Jason. It was hard to tell these identikit Aussies apart.
In 2001, I settled down to watch the series knowing that England had no chance. The new Aussie No 3 caught the eye. Small fellow, by the name of Ricky Ponting, full of bullheaded aggression, like a distilled David Boon.
In the first three Tests, he showed flourishes of brilliance, but it was in the fourth that the English public got its first proper sight of this arrogant genius. In the first innings he scored 144 off 154 balls. He did not so much bat, as slap the ball about. If you bowled short, he pulled for four. If you bowled full, he drove for four. And if you bowled wide, he cut for four.
England bowlers, by this point, had enjoyed a decade of uninterrupted failure against the Aussie. But it was only with the accession of Ponting to No 3, that Australia went from being superior to completely driving England into the dirt. Humiliating them. In frank terms, taking the piss.
In this belligerent short man, the English cricket fan heard a historical echo. Here was not simply another Aussie cricketer, over here to bolster his average and claim the Ashes. This was a short man on the rampage. Damn it, Ponting was another Napoleon.
The English were roused from their gentle slumber. They realised it was not good enough to simply turn up and lose 4-1. That was fine, before Ponting. Not now.
The England team had to try a bit harder. Central contracts were introduced. The lads went for the occasional jog. They laid off the booze and fags before matches. They did a bit of catching practice.
By 2005, England wanted to win. They knew the only way to do that was by targeting Ponting, now captain. As a cricketing Napoleon, England knew he had a short fuse. It was just a case of working out how best to help the chap ignite.
Firstly, like all successful English campaigns, some foreigners were brought in to help. We got an Aussie (Troy Cooley) to whip the bowlers into shape. Crucially, we brought in a South African (Pietersen) to bolster the middle order. Ponting wouldn’t like this. Oh no.
Then the winding-up started in earnest. The schoolboy tactics. The England team, full of big lads, were encouraged by our Wellington, Michael Vaughan, to taunt Napoleon. Matthew Hoggard, a bluff Yorkshireman, was deployed in press conferences to tell Ricky they had plans for him. During the match, the England fielders had mouthfuls of wine gums to help shine the ball and make it reverse swing. Vaughan started giving bowlers ‘toilet’ or ‘injury’ breaks during the day, so they could put their feet up and get a massage before their next spell, replacing them with crack fielders.
Ponting, nonchalant at first, safe in the knowledge that the Aussie would prevail, did not react. But through a tight series, the pressure grew. The Press started asking leading questions about whether he was happy with English tactics. The fuse was ready to explode.
And then, in the fourth Test, with England dominating, Damien Martyn pushed a ball into the covers for a quick single. The substitute fielder, Gary Pratt, picked the ball up and hurled down the stumps at the striker’s end with Ponting some way from his ground.
Ponting, whose temper had been contained until this point, exploded. He flew into a rage, waving his bat at the English dressing-room like a modern-day Yosemite Sam. Vaughan laughed, and England laughed with him. From there, with Pratt as 12th man for the final Test, and our South African plundering runs, the series was won.
The template of English success against Ponting was laid. In this present series we have merely refined it. We have another South African in Jonathan Trott to further solidify the middle order. We have an even better Aussie bowling coach in David Saker. And we made smart use of the referral system which caused Ponting to go apoplectic, again in the fourth Test.
It is unlikely Ponting will be seen against England in the next Ashes series. It is unlikely the Aussie batting order will quickly recover its former strength. Drawing the Napoleonic parallel again, I can’t help but think that putting the short man in charge caused great triumphs in the short-term. But while Australia, like France, enjoyed great success with a short-tempered short man as leader, it was in that very appointment that the seeds of their humiliation were sewn.