Monday, 30 April 2012

Shared disappointment and regret. And some personal guilt. Just another day in the life of a Blade.

Hey-up. How’s tha doin?

Personally, not great. Actually, let me clarify that. Personally, as an individual person, I’m doing fine. Also, the kids are fine, the wife’s fine, work’s fine, and on and on within my little ecosphere. In fact, our eldest, Roberto, started an after-school “football club” today. Football has always been a major part of my life: I’m not too fussed as to whether it will be for my boys (no, seriously) but I do hope that they will pick up some of the most salubrious values associated with it and other team sports. It would also help if they understood some of the game’s principles, if only so that they are not asking me whether Sheffield United are winning when we’re watching them on Sky and they’re two-nil down at home to Stevenage in a must-win game. That was just Roberto, to be fair: Daniel wasn’t saying anything. Sometimes there’s something to be said about the fact that he’s a bit behind with his speech.

So yes, as an individual I am fine. As part of a broader community, less so.
Community, as defined by, is "a
social, religious, occupational, or other group sharing common characteristics or interests and perceived or perceiving itself as distinct in some respect from the larger society within which it exists (usually preceded by the ): the business community; the community of scholars”. We all belong to a variety of communities. In this case, I am looking at the community of “Unitedites”, “Blades”, call us what you will, to which I belong. Some of you will turn up your noses at the concept of football supporters representing a community: and that is fine, if unfortunate for you. You have obviously never enjoyed shared elation or disappointment in the stands or engaged in conversation with a perfect stranger in the original social network, a beer-stained pub, or any of their modern would-be counterparts. You have never hugged a complete stranger as the net bulged or gasped in unison as Dave Seaman pulled off the “best save of all time” (not my words – well, not only mine!) as you stood in line with the very goal-line along which he dived (before Jagielka tried to see if he could kick a ball all the way to the moon)…

OK, that one may be a bit too specific. But you know what I mean. Or not, as the case may be. And, if you don’t, that’s fair enough: there’s nowt as queer as folk and I’m sure you enjoy something which I don’t ‘get’. Just trust me (and thousands of others): Unitedites / Blades are a community. With sub-communities, dependent on preferred refreshment establishment or social network (e.g. #twitterblades!).
How else do you explain the instantaneous connection between people who have never met before yet who share such vast common ground that even some of the closest friendships cannot boast?
And it is as part of the community of Sheffield United fans that I am not doing greatFor the uninitiated, Saturday started with the Blades a single point ahead of local rivals Wednesday (yes, it is a daft name) in the race for the second automatic promotion spot out of League One (the third level, as the name does not suggest) behind Charlton. With only one round of fixtures to follow, two wins would seal promotion. We could even have secured it on Saturday if Wednesday failed to win earlier in the day. As it happens, they played at the standard kick-off time of 3pm and won 2-1 at Brentford (in the press’ unbiased opinion, somewhat undeservingly) to overtake us ahead of our 17:20 (Sky Sports time) start. At two-nil down against Stevenage, things were not going to plan at the Lane (Bramall, of course). A 2-2, after a spirited fightback (not devoid of some technique, either), they were slowly but surely well, slowly looking up. But the last grain of salt in the hourglass slid through the gap before we could score a third, and our control over the promotion race, our self-determination over our status, with it. Win the last game of the season at Exeter and if Wednesday fail to win, job’s still a good’un; and, taking into account goal difference, a draw would suffice if Wycombe Wanderers were to win at Hillsborough (a.k.a. The Sty). Trouble is, Wycombe were relegated last Saturday and the odds of them taking anything from S6 (a.k.a. The Sty) are somewhat remote. In fact, forget ‘somewhat’, they are just remote. We may well win at Exeter (who were also relegated on Saturday) and there will be plenty of Blades there to lend their support, including my good self. However, experts of varying degrees of knowingwhattheyaretalkingaboutdom would suggest that both Sheffield teams are likely to win (indeed, them more so than us), thereby leaving the Blades lying third, a single point behind their esteemed rivals, and therefore heading for the playoffs rather than The Championship.

So this looks like another “oh so nearly” moment in the history of Sheffield United F.C., the club that could have signed Maradona in the 70s but for the fact that £200,000 sounded a bit steep for an unproven kid from Argentina… the club to which Alex Ferguson agreed to move before returning to Aberdeen and changing his mind* (he would then move to a club called Manchester United, you might have heard of them)… the club whose play-off final history is littered with 50-yard screamers into the top corner but always from the (winning) opposition side (20, 50… what’s a few yards?)… And yes, we may well emerge victorious and promoted from Saturday’s fixtures. Indeed, we must believe! Till the bitter/sweet end, till the last drops of sweat and blood have hit the ground, we must believe. Regardless of Saturday, we may of course still rise to the purgatory of the Championship via the play-offs. But, right now, we’re all a bit deflated. Something was in our control and we let it slip.
Yes, “we”: players, club, supporters, we are one, “we are United”
. Now we’re relying on someone else messing up as well as on our own players getting their part of the job done. And lack of control is never a comfortable situation to be in. We can but enjoy the camaraderie and prepare to share once more in either elation or disappointment. Don’t knock this: these are some of the values I hope Roberto will learn from team sports.

From a personal training perspective (I can’t stand running, but this blog has some connection with it), I am also in a phase where I need to make sure I stay in control and maintain momentum. Haven’t run for a few days now, although I did row for 30’ last night – my first session on the old (and squeaky) rowing machine since pre-surgery. I feel fine but also know that I need to get out running and maintain that momentum, that discipline before it becomes all the harder to reverse back into it. Fortunately there is no reason whatsoever why I shouldn’t get out there tonight once Karen gets in from Guides (she’s a leader, before you call the Police) around 21:15. Well, apart from the heavy rain forecast around that time. And the fact that the second half of the Premier League title-deciding (potentially) Manchester derby will be kicking off around that point. So yes, what could ever possibly stand between me and a 30’ session tonight?
One final thought, one that has been on my mind for some time. You could argue that I don’t deserve to go to Exeter, because I am not a regular at Bramall Lane or indeed on the many away day coaches that have clocked up thousands of miles across England’s finest roads. Trust me, I do feel some guilt. But, well before the fixtures were announced, I had my eyes on two away matches: Yeovil and Exeter. Living where I do and not being able to drive (and that’s before you throw two young kids into the equation), these were the two I could realistically make. Bristol (Rovers) and Swindon would have been easier, but both those teams unhelpfully saw fit to get themselves relegated out of this division last season at the same time as we saw fit to enter it. Anyway, I couldn’t make Yeovil due to a calendar clash (i.e., Karen probably had something on), so it was all about Exeter. It so happens that it’s the final match of the season and, for some time, has been likely to decide our fate. But I would have sought to go regardless: so please don’t blame me, fellow Blades, rather the computer for scheduling it as it did. You probably do deserve a chance to go more than I do and I openly admit so. That said, if you want to go but haven’t got a ticket (or two), send me a direct message on Twitter. You never know, I may be able to help (and still go myself).

That’s it for me today… I’ll shut up now, and move on to establishing whether I would really lose that much momentum if I put off my run till tomorrow. I have a niggly feeling I know which way this one’s going to go. In the meantime, thanks to all the Twitterblades with whom I, for one, share in elation and despair. Even if Ive never even met you. Not knowingly, anyroad.

* I don't have a link to corroborate this story. But Tony Pritchett told me once (yes, personally) and I believe him.
p.s.: I was born (in fact, conceived) a Blade and I enjoy writing… by syllogism (of sorts, anyway), I will write about the Blades in this blog. But this is NOT a blog about Unite. Two reasons, principally: a) being in exile and only getting to a handful of games a season, I am not qualified to write one; b) why write my own blog when I can read “A United View”?

Friday, 27 April 2012

Do You Remember The First Time? (Salcombe 1989)

Where were we… ah yes, “why Sheffield and then what happened “last time"."

I won’t start with “why Sheffield”. There’s time for that: there always will be. And I need to get it right, if only for my sake. So… “what happened last time”

You probably didn’t expect there to have been a “last time”, or indeed a “first time”. Truth be told, there wasn’t meant to be. Never was. It was just one of those silly things you do when you’re on holiday and then live to regret for the rest of your life. Which, incidentally, is hopefully not the category in which my Mum files meeting my Dad when holidaying in the town in which I eventually grew up).

Salcombe, 1989. I know it’s 1989 because our Joe wasn’t even one at the time. That much I knew at the time: where Salcombe was, I had no clue. But Auntie Dawn, Uncle Richard and their three kids, Natalie, Gabrielle and the aforementioned Joseph were heading there on holiday and someone (probably my grandparents) had obviously suggested it might be nice for me to join them.
The Woods were renting a house there for the week – near the seaside! I was told Salcombe was Darn Saath, on the left and all the way at the bottom, “South Devon” being the technical term. I live in North Somerset now, so Salcombe isn’t the million miles away (approx.) it was in 1989. But it might as well be: Devon and Cornwall are always a million miles away. Or at least thus it feels.

Now… “the seaside”… there alone lies a term worthy of definition.

I grew up in Santa Margherita Ligure, Italy, some 20m (or 32k, to be precise) east of Genoa. It lies on the Mediterranean coast, its population of 12,000 (as I learnt at school circa 1983) almost doubling in the summer when the wealthy Milanese travel down to their second homes. This happens typically around August 15, the day Italy officially shuts down till the schools reopen a month later: it is all quite efficient, especially by Italian standards. Anyway, it was in “Santa” that I had developed my concept of seaside: small and crowded beaches, little wind, ‘calcetto’ (=foosball) and a very calm and mild sea. Tides? Y’what? What
’s one of them?

Salcombe wasn’t like Santa. The beaches were busy, but you always had space. It was windy. The sea wasn’t particularly mild nor calm. And it had tides…

… if you’ve ever been to the Med, you’ll agree that there really isn’t much in terms of tides. It’s not even a proper sea: it’s just an overgrown lake. So when, on our first day at the beach, Richard said it was time to move back, I thought he was joking. The sea was about a hundred yards away! How was it ever going to get closer?
Generally speaking, I do as I’m told. This was no exception. And, sure enough, just as well: the tide did come in, erasing all the cricket creases and all the goal-lines. Wow… welcome to proper sea!

Why am I telling you all this? No idea… oh yes, Salcombe. There were activities in Salcombe throughout that week. I only remember two of them, the other one being children sitting on a log over the sea and trying to push each other over. Natalie, then aged 5 ½, sat motionless for ages whilst another kid (around 15) franctically waved his arms around, before sending him falling into the cold evening sea without even touching him – all she did was point a finger at him. Still waiting on a stewards’ enquiry over eight thousand days later… but that was nothing like the injustice I suffered at my own hands (and feet) a few days later.

A 5k race. Salcombe was holding a 5k race. And Uncle Richard and Auntie Dawn (who, by the way, are 15 years older than me, which I’m sure is statistically less than most Aunts and Uncles – well, back in 1989, anyway) thought it would be a good idea if I entered. To this day I don’t know if it was my lack of any fitness whatsoever (throughout my childhood I never came across a kid less fit than I was), the lack of any training whatsoever or just the fact that I CAN’T STAND RUNNING that inspired them. I may have made some comment about my love for Springsteen (which had blossomed the previous winter following my first televisual encounter on October 15, 1988) and ‘Born To Run’: indeed, somewhere or other there should still be a video in which Richard films me before the ‘race’ saying “We should have it on in the background, shouldn’t we? ‘Born To Run’…”. But there’s a distinct difference between liking ‘Born To Run’ and liking just the ‘To Run’ bit.

5k… if you’re expecting a breath-by-breath account, you’ll be sorely disappointed. There was very little running and a lot of walking, for starters. In that, I was not alone. I held on to second plac… sorry, second from bottom for virtually all the race, keeping a young girl at safe distance and feeling quite happy with my unfit self. There I was, a hundred yards from the finish line, from the end of a scarring experience, when…
… when the organisers’ car passed me. With the girl in the back seat. Twenty yards from the end, out she jumped and ran enthusiastically to the finish. And Dorando Pietri thought he had it bad in London 1908 just because he was stripped of gold for a teeny weeny little help crossing the line!

Gutted. I was hopeless, but I was fair. I was cheated out of second-from-bottom by this sad excuse of a 12-year old (random guess). She jumped out of the car and still had the audacity to celebrate as if she’d won Olympic gold. Zola Budd had nothing on this lass, let me tell you. It hurt almost as much as Auntie Dawn berating me some 48 hours for using too much milk on my cereals and forcing someone (Richard and me, as it happens – not her) to go and buy another pint. Not that I hold onto these things, you understand. Oh no, not me.

As I said, Salcombe was 1989. As I type, it’s 2012. It’s been 23 long years since that 5k and only now am I finding some energy and/or desperation to give it another go. Still, at least I’m contemplating running this time. Darn it mind, twice as far – I’ve not thought this one through properly, have I?

Oh, and about the 23 September reference in an earlier post… it’s Springsteen’s birthday, that’s all. Just sounds cooler than a day with no reference whatsoever. September 23, 1949, Monmouth Medical Center, N.J.. Not that I’m a sad git when it comes to Springsteen facts and trivia, you no doubt again understand.

You’re going to have to understand a lot of things over the next few months. In fact, if you do figure out how my memory works and why it remembers certain things from 1976 (I was born in 1975) but not things from yesterday, do let me know. By the way, since my last post I’ve been running three times. So the momentum’s still there: my real fear is losing it if I stop for more than a day. Which I will do, if only because of work commitments: when I was filling in my planning spreadsheet I wrote of virtually all of the third week in May, which starts with an all-day meeting in our office on the Monday which will continue on the Tuesday until I travel to Switzerland for a meeting on the Wednesday and Thursday. Now, one of the advantages of running over other sports is its ‘portability’: have shoes, will practice. Some of my colleagues take their trainers everywhere for that very reason: running is their sole alternative to working or drinking. But, since the Wednesday evening will be spent socialising with our clients, romantic as the thought of running in Switzerland sounds it ain’t going to happen. Ah well – folk reckon you can train for a 10k in eight weeks, and at the end of that week Springsteen’s birthday will still be 126 days / eighteen weeks away (it says so on my spreadsheet*)

As Lord Cocker
(II) of Sheffield says: “Do you remember the first time? I can’t remember a worse time”. Quite.
Oh, as for what I remember from 1976 – don’t get excited, I just recall being in the pram and looking at the front-left wheel as my Mum pushed me down Via XXV (or 25, if thats easier) Aprile near our apartment. Extremely unspectacular, but all my life I’ve maintained I visually remember it. Now, since I was only born in December 1975, you can see why some people (including Auntie Dawn and Uncle Richard, I should add) have often questioned the accuracy of this recollection. But, even if it were a trick of the mind (which it isn’t, believe me), I’ve been saying it for so long that that alone is remarkable.
Now… who got fired on “The Apprentice” we watched last night (off the Sky+ - I know it’s on on Wednesdays!)? Oh, and to be 100% clear
that week in Salcombe was cracking.

* no, I don't keep a spreadsheet for Springsteen
’s birthday its my training spreadsheet, comic!

Tuesday, 24 April 2012

April 19: This Is My Moment

The new, sparkling shoes are gleaming at me… I can hear them singing ‘Fake Tales Of San Francisco’: “take me out, take me out”!
And I’m ready. I’m almost willing, certainly as willing as I’ll ever be. Have I mentioned that I can’t stand running? Well, I can’t. However, the process of buying the shoes (and exchanging tweets about it with a couple of people who have a lot to answer for in this processidentities will be revealed in due course!) ignited as much motivation as conceivably possible. If I fail to capitalise on this now, it’s only going to get tougher.
It’s raining outside, but if that becomes an obstacle I need to rethink my strategy, buy some Lottery tickets and invest in a treadmill. As it happens I’m a Sheffielder, so rain’s no obstacle (in fact, whatever could be? happiness, maybe, but that's about it). So I got ready and, at 19:40, emailed a colleague who gives me lifts into work, who ran the 2011 London Marathon on very little training and whom I’d informed about my newfound ambition:

The clouds are parting...
...the sun is shining... time hath come!

All that was true, by the way. By the time the e-mail had gone and I stepped outside, a rainbow was arching in the distance. I couldn’t hear any angels singing, but maybe I was just being a bit premature and that would change after the run.

‘Run’ – let me qualify that. Having undertaken extensive research (i.e. done some googling and taken in what people I’ve never met nor ever will do have to say), I drew up a neat little plan. I’m alright with spreadsheets, me. Anyway, all these folk reckon that you should not start running by running. This appeals to me immensely, as you might have anticipated. No, one should walk first: and, for a while, walk for a minute, then run for a minute, then… that’s right, you’ve got it. OK – so not being able to run to the nearest postbox is no longer a short-term problem… that’s good.

I’ve not told you what my ambition is yet, have I? To run a marathon.
Yeah, right! Is it heck. C’mon, you didn’t fall for that, did you? If you did, please e-mail me your bank details and I will put you in contact with a Nigerian oil magnate for the investment that will change your life forever. No, I’m just trying to do a 10k here. I say ‘just’… obviously that would be a monumental achievement for me. That’s 25 laps of a running track, that is. And that is my goal. Every step I take, every breath I take, is geared towards running ‘a’ 10k.

Just any old 10k? Well, ideally not. Before I’d even bought the shoes, I’d spotted the race: The
Sheffield TenTenTen, which takes place on September 23. If you know me, you may understand my connection with one of those two snippets of information. Both may click, but thats less likely. But don’t worry, I’ll spell them out for you in the weeks that come. You don’t think I'm just going to rabbit on about running on here, right? I’m going to put some effort into making it vaguely interesting!

And yes, I did go on that run. One minute walking, one minute running, ten times. Twenty minutes, all in. And all duly entered into The Spreadsheet. I actually made it to the local and back. Fifteen minutes were enjoyable, the last five less so. But that was good: I didn’t want it to be enjoyable. Well, not ‘easy’, anyway. This was as hard as I wanted it to be to motivate me. And no, I didnt hear any angels singing at the end.
By the way, “The Local” is itself an exotic location… it’s a bit like The Grapes, home of the magnificent if under-exposed “Early Doors”, only you feel you’re going further back in time. There’ll be time aplenty for me to introduce you to “The Ship”, don’t worry. Or will there? Having run there last Thursday, I needed to consider whether that was reason to return there on foot for some liquid refreshment or indeed to stay away from it and not waste the good effort. The fact that around 9pm I tweeted “#soditimoff #nocommitmentSquintani” should give you an idea as to which school of thought prevailed. And thats even though theres no Lucozade at The Ship and no, other energy drinks are NOT available either!

p.s.: £5.49 for both series of
“Early Doors”??? #gerritgot !

April 18: The Point Of No Return

On Wednesday, April 18, I had just spent a whole working day in a large conference room in the centre of Bristol listening to luminaries on the subject of logistics and IT in the Defence sector. For my sins, they were very good and that area is highly relevant to my work – but this is not about my work. I write enough about that as it is. All you need to know is that, after some seven hours in there, I had a journey to make. Or at least begin.

The physical journey went from Central Bristol to Whiteladies Road – number 49, to be precise. Fortunately there is never a shortage of buses heading that way, as my left foot (the
8 ½ in this story) was starting to ache - not a good omen This is the address of MOTI, a running equipment store I’d found online the previous night. Their helpful staff get you on the treadmill and film you to ensure you buy shoes that are right for you, comparing your efforts on a shoe-by-shoe basis. In my line of work we call that the “trusted advisor sale”, a highly successful technique. But this is not about my work.
see, I'm not making all this up
So, having slipped out of my suit and into a 30-year old (approx.) Blades t-shirt and some cheap shorts, the tests began. As I stepped onto the treadmill, Journey's Dont Stop Believing started playing on the radio - yes, of course, the compulsory in-store Radio 2. Was that a message from Simon Mayo? Hmmm doubt it.
Asics, Nike, New Balance, Adidas… all good stuff. Hard to provide detailed responses to the “How was that different?” interrogations by Maria (whose name I only know because it’s on the receipt) (yes, I ended up buying). To me they all felt good, subtle differences being lost on my untrained feet, though the Asics did feel a bit better. No surprise, then, that they were the most expensive, coming in at £100. That’s £50 a foot, or £10 a toe. Still harbouring memories of my parents splashing out on a decent keyboard (the instrument) only for my initial enthusiasm to wane when I realised I wasn’t gifted with natural ability but had to put in some effort, I politely enquired as to the existence of cheaper alternatives… something more in the £5/toe range…

…lo and behold, there was! Another pair of Asics. Not as good as the £10/toe ones, obviously, but the monitored jog on the treadmill did not reveal any major problems. So I duly went for a pair of Asics Blackhawk 5 blue and white shoes. I know, blue and white… look, I did ask if they had any other colours and they didn’t. So I set out to console myself with the thought of pounding blue and white on our dirty British streets for months to come.

Sneaky, conniving, tight-fisted creature that I am, I told Maria my budget was £50 when it actually £65. That enabled me to invest a further £10 in comfy running socks and even £2.99 on one of those O-shaped plastic tubes also known as “running water bottles”. So yes, I did break my budget by all of 99p. Still, they were throwing into the bargain a free (and red!) Nike shirt, so on the whole I did alright. Yes, I did look up those shoes on the Web the following day and yes, I could have saved myself about twenty quid. But, whilst I may not have needed all the video replays I got, I did need some indication as to what I should buy. As much as anything, it was useful to get my feet measured: apparently one foot is a 8 ½ and the other is a 9. When you think that I’ve been buying size 10s for years, I can but assume that something got lost in shoe-size translation when I stopped buying 43s.

Anyway, that was it
no going back now. Going home, yes, one shopping bag heavier and £65.99 lighter. But the point of no return had truly been passed (well, I can take the shoes back within 30 days, but that hardly makes for a dramatic ending, does it?). Can you guess what happened next? Come back soon to check!