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.
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.
What with all the anger surrounding the proposals to massively increase the cost of university education to students, it’s worth taking a look at who is behind them.
The man deemed by the coalition government to be best placed to ‘review’ the future of higher education is Lord Browne, John to his friends. This is the fella who was in charge of BP for many years until he got retired by the board.
Fortunately, for those of us who do not follow these matters closely, Tom Bower’s recent book, Squeeze, gives a decent summation of what Lord Browne is all about. He is described as the most rampantly aggressive pursuer of profits, even in the cutthroat world of oil. He’s the sort of neoconservative that makes George W Bush look like the epitome of restraint. And he’s a short man with one of those Napoleon complexes that makes you wonder if the term needs to be renamed. So, just the sort of balanced individual to take an impartial look at higher education.
For those who don’t want to wade through the 500 plus pages of Squeeze, a brief glance at the index of the book to gives a feel for the kind of chap Lord Browne is.
Here is a sample from the Browne, John section:
Alaskan oil leaks and
cost cutting at BP
highlights achievements and buries failures
limelight, love of
And my personal favourite:
security of western oil supplies, pays scant attention to
You get the general idea. He is one of those short men for whom the spotlight is the place to be and who will do anything possible to stay there.
He achieved great celebrity while at BP for his aggressive approach to mergers but also for the most audacious attempt at greenwash in the history of corporate social responsibility.
As Squeeze lovingly tells the story, Browne conceived the ‘Beyond Petroleum’ rebrand for two reasons: to burnish his ego; and, a close second, to wind up his climate change-denying rivals over at Exxon.
So when you hear the arguments put forward by the government that the new reality for universities is inevitable in the economic climate, and all about fairness, remember this:
Lord Browne is that terrible combination of the limelight-loving short man, with rather a lot of time on his hands, some hardcore neoconservative ideals, and more to the point, new to government and desperately eager to please.
Let’s just hope Lord Browne’s star in government wanes somewhat because if he starts ‘reviewing’ the NHS or the education system all of us who are not multimillionaires will need to make a dash for the continent.