The RGSOAS Review of 2013

2013 will forever be remembered as the year that immediately preceded 2014. Memories of this year will be taken to the graves of those who died during it. But what about the rest of us? As we discard the inconsequential riff-raff, allow Ruud Gullit Sitting On A Shed to select the most enduring moments of the year, to be forever sealed within the amber of our collective consciousness, one day to be used to make some sort of crazy dinosaur theme park.

* Luis Suarez finally realised he’s a terrible man after a perspective-altering cancer scare, when mistaking a drumstick lolly he had left in his trouser pocket for a tumour. He sought to make amends for past sins by constantly eating at Nando’s and offering his ready-stamped loyalty cards to strangers. He owes his successes on the field this season to the surfeit of energy gained by eating peri-peri coleslaw each day.

Totally benign

Totally benign

* Bank manager face template and passing fetishist Xavi pursued a bizarre sideline as a noir detective in Xavi: Possession Cop. With Barcelona finally ceding their prestigious spot as everyone’s favourite football team, their midfield metronome changed careers in stylish fashion, devoting himself to romancing broads, lamenting his past mistakes and inscrutably fiddling with blinds in darkened rooms while sippin’ whiskey.

All possession. All cop.

All possession. All cop.

* A ball boy ended up in the news for failing to do his job. Eden Hazard’s poor attempt at Eric Cantona-style notoriety saw the Chelsea Belgian tamely toe-poke Swansea’s top Ball Circulation Operative, Charlie Morgan. The football world reacted with approximately 70% outrage and 30% amusement, otherwise known as ‘The Michael McIntrye Ratio’. The incident saw the dreadfully inept teen thrust ungainly into the world of minor celebrity, as lucrative offers of television work came his way. He was last seen being ejected from a branch of TK Maxx, for failing to return a Christmas gift properly.

Silly sausage

Silly sausage

* West Ham manager Sam Allardyce attempted to gloss over his club’s lack of strikers by singing the songs of A-Ha in a surprise concert. The rotund beast caused controversy during his Upton Park gig by not playing Take On Me. The shock omission served as adequate distraction, but ultimately caused unrest among supporters who love 80s nostalgia just as much as they love their dear ol’ mums.

Stupid man

Stupid man

* RGSOAS caused a stir by rooting through the bins of cuboid-headed spokesbloke Adrian Chiles, and discovered a notebook containing a collection of his horrible punchlines.

Unwarranted thumbs-up

Unwarranted thumbs-up

* Documentary film The Class of 92 offered some startling insights into the legendary batch of child prodigies that effectively kept Alex Ferguson and his wife in horse racing and dildos. Manchester United’s celebrated youth team told their stories armed with a montage of the 1990’s, which inevitably featured the two clips that every such 90’s montage always features – Noel Gallagher schmoozing at Downing Street and Tony Blair playing head tennis with Kevin Keegan. The film received glowing reviews, with the revelation that forgotten man Terry Cooke was actually one child sitting on the shoulders of another child all along stunning critics. However, most of the attention was attracted by the twist ending, which saw Nicky Butt ruthlessly massacre Eric Harrison’s extended family before turning the gun on himself, prompting Pele to demote him to his second favourite player of all time.

Senseless massacre

Senseless massacre

* Barry Plapp finally broke his silence on the role he plays in maintaining the posthumous legend of Brian Clough. In a revealing interview, he told Fisted Away how Clough’s widow Barbara pays him to devise fresh anecdotes about the formerly-witty, now-dead football management personality.

Nobody ever says fuck you.

Nobody ever says fuck you.

* The twin worlds of football and Guy Ritchie films were saddened to hear of the news that Vinnie Jones had developed cancer. However, in another shocking career reinvention, Jones was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for finding a cure for the notorious illness and reason for 60% of charity fun runs. In his disturbingly graphic acceptance speech, he revealed that he “simply squeezed the very bollocks” of the dastardly Nan-thief. It is not yet known whether his discovery will earn him a place in the celebrity section of WWE’s next Hall of Fame.

Jones gets sent off at WWF Capital Carnage. Not even a joke.

Jones gets sent off at WWF Capital Carnage. Not even a joke.

A Fraction Of The Whole: Zinedine Zidane

Celebrating the game’s minutiae, one tiny fragment at a time

"Oooh, look at me, I can do overhead kicks and stepovers and that." Can he play it simple? Can he BALLS.

“Oooh, look at me, I can do overhead kicks and stepovers and that.”
Can he play it simple? Can he BALLS.

Do you remember seeing Escape To Victory for the first time? I know I do. I was a young child with a nascent interest in football, just discovering this interesting new world, so the very thought that there was a film about football – a film! – made it essential viewing. The plot details will be familiar to all by now, but just in case you’d forgotten, the glorious zenith of the football match around which the film is focussed was Pele’s overhead kick. It was supposed to epitomise the film’s central message – that sport can triumph over just about anything, even those bloody Nazis. Discussions would’ve taken place among scriptwriters, the director, perhaps even Pele himself, to decide how best to physically represent the emotional impact of the goal, and they decided on a move that has since become the Brazilian’s trademark of sorts. By decree of Hollywood, the bicycle kick was the single most skilful thing a footballer could do.

And yet I never liked it. As a child, my inner curmudgeon deconstructed the nonsensical simulacrum of Pele’s slow-motion heroics. I dismissed it, realising how artificial it was. I knew it was obviously not a real game, but it was surely meant to look like one, and yet did not. It was inconceivable to me that anyone could ever get away with such a moment of flamboyance and daring without being clattered by a centre-half. Worse, a Nazi centre-half, surely the worst sort of centre-half there is. My ten-year-old thinking, not yet equipped with words such as ‘curmudgeon’ and ‘simulacrum’, was loosely along these lines: ‘Football’s not like that’. Despite my callow youth, I was somehow utterly convinced that the real game could never be like that, so perfect, and felt that football in the real world could only ever struggle in vain to emulate a moment of such stage-crafted brilliance.

Of course, I would eventually be proven wrong any number of times throughout my life, and discover to my joy that football can be that good, even better in fact. There is one brief moment of footballing joie de vivre which demonstrates that better than any other, and occurred when France played Portugal at Euro 2000. You will likely have seen the clip before in various video montages, specifically those illustrating the brilliance of the man in question. It was this dizzying moment of chest control from Zinedine Zidane, a moment when sport and art were joined in perfect symbiosis, and the promise of beauty and performance were somehow capable of a man simply running after a ball. It stands as a portrait capturing how sporting endeavour and physical motion can intersect and become something closer to ballet. Whenever I think of Zidane, I think of that moment, where the flight of the ball was the master of his will, and the synapses linking brain and body were somehow closer than those of mortals. Whenever I think of that moment, for some reason, I think of Escape To Victory.

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For Zidane to seemingly slow the game down in such an act of deftness, speed of thought and corporeal mastery: it was art house cinema to the showbiz glitz of Pele’s scripted pyrotechnics. Whenever I see that clip of Zidane, it plays out in my mind’s eye as the Pele overhead kick was meant to play out before my actual eyes. I transpose the lilting, uplifting whistles and twinkles of the film’s score as Pele twists skyward, applying it to the Frenchman and making it real. The move didn’t even result in a goal, which only makes it greater for living in the memory as it has done. The reason that I’ve taken to comparing Zidane’s moment of skill to Pele’s is because that is how football at its most spellbinding is really meant to look.  Zidane managed in real life what Pele took a film crew, a contrived dribbling sequence and two slow-motion replays to do. That is what you get when a footballer makes football look like theatre.

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