Archive for November 2012

“West Midlands Police Report”, for Ryan Giggs


The following text is the transcript of a telephone call to the West Midlands police.  The communication was made on the evening of the fourteenth of April 1999, at approximately 10pm, from an area known as Villa Park.

The witness had just seen a bank robber, who the police have subsequently identified only as “Giggs”, breaking into one of the most secure vaults in Europe.  Additional witnesses are urged to come forward.  Here is what the witness had to say.

“I spy a Welshman on the loose
With a tall dark Frenchman in hot pursuit;
As if by the spell of some ancient druid
His left foot has a ball attached to it –
Oh, look, now the Frenchman’s lost him
So two of his friends try to accost him
But he slips between them at such speed
That one of them sits down in disbelief! –
(This criminal’s moving at the speed of warp
But still, it is his balance which makes me gawp –
Fill two wine glasses, place them on his shoulders –
He’ll not have spilled a drop till this sprint is over) –
Mayday, all the guards are waylaid,
Just one of them’s left to protect the stalemate –
But undaunted is this rampaging thief:
The ball explodes from his toes and the safe is breached –
Mission done, he hits and runs,
For some strange reason he tears his shirt off,
He has the chest hair of a lion
At least that’s a means to identify him –
Thus in his theft he revels
As he celebrates with some other devils
They flee before the dust has settled:
Suspected destination?

Uganda’s proposed anti-gay law: not so much a Bill as a troll

A few weeks ago, on behalf of one of the publications that I write for, I was invited to a conference promoting investment in Uganda.  It was an occasion whose leisurely pace belied the very serious intentions of those who attended: there is a great deal of money to be made in Uganda, and a large proportion of which – given the country’s recent find of an abundance of oil – will be made very quickly indeed.

Happy times for capitalist types, then.  But a fellow attendee of the conference was somewhat disgruntled. Actually, no: worse than that: this European executive, who now lived in the nation of my heritage and had taken it to his heart, was exasperated.  Uganda had so much going for it, he opined.  Wonderful place.  It was a shame, then, that all so many if not most of the headlines about the place were dominated by one “weird” issue.  He referred to it as “the gay thing”.

Ah, yes, the gay thing.  He was talking about that pesky Anti-Homosexuality Bill that David Bahati, an MP, had touted back in 2009. This Bill, at one point, had called for the death of certain people who engaged in same-sex intercourse.  It attracted the furore of many people the world over, and was shelved for a time.  It has now re-emerged.  One wonders what purpose is served by its return.  It is tempting to regard this piece of prospective legislation not as a Bill, but as a troll.  The content of this Bill has been carefully drafted with as much cruelty as possible.  It is certainly thorough in its unpleasantness.  Here are some sample clauses.  One reads that “any person alleged to be homosexual would be at risk of life imprisonment or in some cases the death penalty”.  Another states that “any parent who does not denounce their lesbian daughter or gay son to the authorities would face fines of $2,650 or three years in prison”.

This is the type of decree that you might have expected from the Gauleiter in Thirties Germany, but there’s more.  “Any teacher who does not report a lesbian or gay pupil to the authorities within 24 hours would face the same penalties”, it drones on.  “Any landlord or landlady who happens to give housing to a suspected homosexual would risk 7 years of imprisonment”.  What’s more, it could well pass before Christmas.

It’s hard to be calm about stuff like this.  Life imprisonment, the death penalty, witch-hunts and eviction.  A proposed law which, even before it has been passed – which may well happen this month – has so poisoned the atmosphere that many LGBT people in Uganda are taking their own lives or having those same lives beaten out of them.  And for what?  So that the Ugandan Government can display its proud African sovereignty by – quite literally – hammering gay Ugandans as the symbol of Western decadence?  Who, including President Museveni himself, truly knows?

All that’s really clear is that, when standing in a lobby on your best behaviour and making small talk about Uganda, it’s hard to maintain much decorum when someone’s upset about all the bad press their adopted country is getting.  I felt some sympathy for this man, in truth.  The Uganda in the media was not that which he understood – a land, in his experience, of kind, warm people.  But, as a happily married heterosexual man, he wasn’t L, G, B, or T, or knowingly close to anyone who was, and so it wasn’t really his problem.

Except it was his problem, and mine, and that of Frank Mugisha, the courageous leader of Sexual Minorities Uganda.  We would all rather hear talk of a better Uganda.  The Uganda, as noted by the Financial Times’ Barbara Njau in her excellent presentation that day, which had “achieved one of the most impressive rates of growth in sub-Saharan Africa in the 2000s”.    A Uganda which saw its foreign direct investment rise from less than $5million in 1985 to $180million in 2000.  A land with potential for economic growth, job creation and an improved standard of living for millions of people.  It would be fantastic if that was the story that more of us could hear about Uganda.  But, sadly, it is a tale of which too many of those in power would obscure the telling.


My World XI: AKA, “The Avengers Test”

This post was inspired by Luke Smalley of Tattooed Football, so before I go any further I must thank him (he’s a very good follow, by the way, at @tattooed_2).  Luke sent round a question on Twitter about who would comprise our dream XI: it’s an exercise I had never seriously attempted before, so I thought I’d set out my all-star team here.

In the end, it was a fairly easy decision. There have been so many astonishing players over the years that I expected to struggle with my selection: however, I did what I normally do in such situations, and relied on what we can call “The Avengers Test”. Simply put, if a group of particularly malevolent alien FC turned up with a death-ray and threatened the Earth with annihilation, which superheroes would I pick to defend our world?

I opted for the 4-2-3-1 formation, which is by far my favourite.  The choices soon made themselves. Peter Schmeichel was impassable as Gandalf on that bridge. The only other goalkeeper who could conceivably have matched him for agility, distribution and sheer penalty area aura was possibly Lev Yashin. Iker Casillas is a supreme shot-stopper, Dino Zoff a master, but the Dane takes it. He was one of very few custodians who would have the authority to captain this eleven.

Cafu is my right-back. As a veteran of three World Cup finals, victorious in two, the small matter of an Armageddon playoff would be a joy to him. Central defensive duties fall to the duo of Franz Beckenbauer and Franco Baresi, the former of whom would step forward out of defence whilst the latter would sweep. Left-back must be Paolo Maldini. Often as elegant in possession as Marco van Basten, Maldini made the art of tackling look swift and clean as a bloodless coup.

The two deep-lying midfield spots go to Xavi and Roy Keane. The Spaniard’s control of midfield tempo was greater even than that of Fernando Redondo, and Irishman is simply the most competitive soul that I have seen in any sport.

My three playmakers are Leo Messi (beginning on the right), Diego Maradona (central) and Zinedine Zidane (along the left). Zidane would drift infield and encourage Maldini to overlap. Messi narrowly gets the nod over Johan Cruyff, whilst my decision to include Zidane ahead of Alfredo di Stefano may, on reflection, prove to be the only one that I regret. – Actually – you know what – to hell with it. I’ll give di Stefano the nod over Zidane. The two question marks over Zidane concern his goal tally (he was a very good finisher but deferred a great deal) and his temperament. Di Stefano, meanwhile, was better in both areas, and his stamina would prove an excellent asset down the left flank.

That leaves the centre-forward spot, which goes to The Phenomenon, or Ronaldo. At his peak Ronaldo had the technique of van Basten, the acceleration of Romario, the finishing of Gerd Muller, the power of Eusebio, and the presence of Pele.

So there we go.  A side fit to see off all-comers – to terrify whatever threats to our Earth emerged from the depths of black holes and rival galaxies.  Since it’s a one-off game, I’d ask Rinus Michels to be its manager.

Naming substitutes for this one is probably harder, in a funny way.  But I’ve managed it, I think; here are seven.  Dino Zoff would deputise for Schmeichel, edging out Lev Yashin and Iker Casillas; Giancinto Facchetti over Roberto Carlos; then Lilian Thuram and Lothar Matthäus: and Zinedine Zidane would sit bemused next to Johan Cruyff and Pelé.

Phew.  That’s that; yes, the subs were actually harder to choose than the main team.  Here they are one last time, and thanks again to Luke.

World XI

Manager: Rinus Michels

Team (4-2-3-1): Schmeichel; Cafu, Beckenbauer, Baresi, Maldini; Xavi, Keane; Messi, Maradona, di Stefano; Ronaldo.

Substitutes: Zoff, Facchetti, Thuram, Matthaus; Zidane, Cruyff, Pelé.

Predicted scoreline (why not, eh?): 4-0 (Ronaldo, di Stefano, Beckenbauer, Messi).  Take that, Universe.


Child abuse, and priorities

Child abuse.  It’s probably best to begin with these two words, lest they are lost in any of the analysis to follow.  In fact, recent events have actually been an excellent study in how child abuse, however unwittingly, is enabled, neglected and allowed to continue.  The initial revelations have been met with horror, confusion and indignation, and now the discussion has moved to whether the enabling institutions should be reformed from the roots or broken up altogether.  Any institution that allows such offences within its walls should expect the most severe of inquests.  However, with much investigative work to be done, I do not think that it is quite the right time or focus for this discussion.  Not just yet.

Because: child abuse. One of the reasons that it continues to happen is that its existence is often too horrific to contemplate.  Its details, when they emerge, make us turn away.  Maybe we would rather think about something else.  Perhaps that is why corporate opportunists can easily distract us by swerving the conversation into a campaign for the privatisation of the UK’s media.  Meanwhile, those who suffered child abuse are rarely keen to talk about it privately, let alone publicly, and in the absence of their voices arrives a flurry of concern and denial from the individuals and institutions who surround them.

Given that the truth is coming out, it is this atmosphere of confusion that the child abuser is perhaps most content to see.  I have only known of two child abusers, and both were as far from the Jimmy Savile stereotype as could be imagined.  They were gregarious, smart, successful fathers; widely respected, and wholly reliant on the denial of those around them to continue doing what they were doing.  They had woven themselves so effectively into community life that the only thing which would extract them was intensive scrutiny and fearless investigation.  In the end, no charges were brought against them, and their victims survived – physically, at least – and went on to build lives for themselves.

Child abusers are difficult enough to identify as it is.  Many of us would rather believe that their acts belong to times past – that things are different now: that the abusers are long gone, long dead.  But no: they aren’t.  They are still alive, and still sitting precariously at the centre of webs of deceit.  Unfortunately, many of them will be not stopped from doing what they do, given the considerable resources of wealth or untruth that they have devoted to concealing themselves.  But for those children whom we can help, it is worth asking the hard questions.  The first place we should look to ask them, I think, is in the 300-page report into abuse at Clwyd County Council children’s homes, whose full publication has been suppressed for fear of libel.  One of its main findings, though made almost two decades ago, seems appropriate to describe the scenario that now unfolds at the BBC.  “There has been a conflict of interest”, it stated, “between safeguarding professional positions versus the safety of children and young people. The interests of children have almost invariably been sacrificed.”

So: here many of our institutions are again; caught between the protection of professional positions, and the safety of children and young people.  It is to be hoped, in the months ahead, that this time they will make a less comfortable choice of priorities.