Arsenal looked pretty damn good against Juventus last night. I’d love it if they won the Champion’s League, not just because they’re a British and London team but because it would be a bit more sand kicked in the face of Roman Abramovich.

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Ashley Cole and gay footballers

Ashley Cole, who plays at left-back for Arsenal and England, has sent his lawyer to complain to Google because at the moment, if you search for ‘Ashley Cole’, it says:

See results for: ashley cole gay

Possibly even more bizarrely, from a legal point of view, he’s suing the News of the World over a story that didn’t even name him. The NOTW claimed “two bisexual stars made some very dirty phone calls – using a mobile phone as a gay sex toy” and published a heavily-photoshopped shot supposedly of them. Some internet detective work suggests that the photo is Ashley Cole.

I have no idea whether Cole is gay, and I dont think it’s anyone else’s business anyway (he’s one of the best left-backs in the world, he’s English, it’s a World Cup year; come on people, let’s get our priorities straight). The trouble is, while I don’t think it’s important, I do rather want to know, because it’s a good piece of gossip. We have such an ambiguous relationship with the idea of celebrity privacy; I don’t actually want to cause Cole any more upset than he’s dealing with already, but I can’t resist poking around the internet for the details and repeating some of them here.

There must be a few thousand professional footballers in the UK; surely at least one or two are gay. This would be a better country if they didn’t feel they had to keep it a secret, and someone is going to have to be the first to come out since Justin Fashanu. Fashanu, though, ended up hanging himself. Even in the 8 years since that happened, I think the public’s attitude to homosexuality has probably moved on a lot, but between football crowds and the tabloid media, it would be seriously tough for anyone to have to deal with. It would be nice to think that the fans might surprise us by taking it all in their stride, but at the recent Liverpool/Manchester United match, the Liverpool fans were chanting about the Munich air disaster and the Man U fans were chanting about Hillsborough, so we’re not talking about models of sensitivity here.

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Shaolin Soccer

I watched Shaolin Soccer on DVD the other night. The box is covered in recommendations from the Sun, FHM, Nuts, and similarly blokish publications, which was a bit off-putting, but actually it was the most entertaining film I’ve seen in ages. It uses the classic structure of a ramshackle team of outsiders who finally have to beat the all-conquering professionals in a cup final. The pros are called ‘Team Evil’ which pretty much sets the tone for the whole film.

Michael Owen breaks his foot

Which means that in a four-year period, out of eleven first-choice members of the England team, six have suffered broken metatarsals. Is anyone else wondering if their boots are sturdy enough?

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Strictly Come Dancing & Darren Gough

I’ve been watching Strictly Come Dancing which, for those who don’t know, is a BBC knockout pro-celebrity dancing competition. Last year it was won by a soap actress, the year before that by a newsreader. This year, for me the pleasure has been watching Darren Gough. Gough is a fast bowler (i.e. a cricket pitcher), and he’s a big beefy cheerful Northern lad. For years, when England were crap at cricket, Goughie could be relied on to wake up the crowd and lift his teammates – but I don’t think anyone ever would have guessed, watching him run in and try to knock the batsmen’s heads off with 90mph bouncers, that he was a natural dancer.

What’s been great, watching him, is that although his dancing is sharp and technically excellent [according to the judges], he never loses the sense of bloke-ish physicality. Doing the jive, he could be a GI at a local dancehall; doing the salsa he could be a Cuban stevedore on his day off. There’s nothing dancerish about it. And he always looks like he’s enjoying himself.

To go off at a tangent for a moment, Brazilians sometimes claim to play football ‘to the rhythm of the samba’. I’ve wondered sometimes if English clubs would do well to take that literally, and to teach the young trainees to samba as a kind of cross-training. If nothing else, it’s good practice at close foot-control and balance.

England vs Argentina

I’m looking forward to the footy this afternoon. The only question is whether Sven will manage his usual trick of taking all the fun out of friendlies by creating an atmosphere where no-one cares enough. Surely even Sven can’t take the sting out of England vs Argentina?

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England qualify for the World Cup!

Not with a bang but with a whimper. But either way: thank fuck for that. Watching their recent performances has been a dismal experience, but hopefully over the next eight months (or whatever it is), they’ll all play themselves into sparkling form with their clubs, put this run of bad games behind them, and come into the World Cup finals feeling sharp and confident.

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England vs. Australia and Northern Ireland

In a three-sided match of foocket. I visualise Wayne Rooney as a flamboyant middle-order batsman and Glenn McGrath as a goalkeeper.

I actually don’t have any thoughts about the footie, other than that it would be nice to see England hand out a real thrashing for once. It’s not like Northern Ireland have got a Pat Jennings or a George Best. I want a cracking 6-2 England win.

Simon Jones is a real loss for the Oval. He’s been brilliant this series, completely upstaging Steve Harmison. And the Aussies will be a better team if McGrath plays. I still think McGrath is a more dangerous player than Warne, despite Warne’s heroics this summer. Not sure about Anderson vs. Collingwood. Picking Collingwood looks a little bit like playing for the draw, and we don’t want England to lose their nerve now. On the other hand, a probably rain-shortened game on a good batting surface, with only a draw needed – it is tempting to pack the side with batsmen. And will Anderson look dangerous again anyway?

Either way I remain positive, although planning the victory parade before we’ve won the Ashes seems like bad juju.

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Football vs. cricket

There’s a football vs. cricket discussion over at Corridor of Uncertainty. Not surprisingly, since it’s a cricket blog, everyone is saying how wonderful cricket is and how much football could learn from it.

But I still think that for moments of sheer, jaw-dropping brilliance, football is streets ahead of cricket, just because it’s less structured. Even the most memorable moments in cricket – like Warne’s famous Gatting ball – are variations on a theme. Yes, it was an extraordinarily good leg-break, but it was still rather like all his other leg-breaks. The great moments in football – from Gordon Banks, Maradona, Cruyff, Archie Gemmill, Paul Gascoigne – give you the sense of someone doing something impossible and unthought of. It’s like watching a magic trick, except invented on the spur of the moment in front of 70 000 people and with the World Cup at stake.

Inter Milan cancel tour to England

Inter Milan have cancelled their pre-season tour to England, citing security fears. How’s this for weasel words: “The club has decided to cancel the team tour in England so as not to further stretch the already severely occupied security services”. Fuck ’em.

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Liverpool vs. TNS

The Ashes haven’t even started yet.

The first football match of the new season – Liverpool’s Champion League pre-pre-pre-pre-qualifier against Total Network Solutions – was yesterday. I watched a bit of it, but it just felt wrong. The Ashes haven’t even started yet! Has the world gone mad?

[And if you had a club called something as fabulous as Llansantffraid FC, wouldn’t it make you die a little every time you heard it referred to as Total Network Solutions? Mind you, two of the other teams in the Welsh Premier League seem to be called Connah’s Quay Nomads and Afan Lido, so perhaps Llansantffraid FC just seemed a little plain.]

But anyway, I shouldn’t be doing football blogging now, because the Ashes haven’t even started yet. Shame on me.

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Liverpool in Istanbul

Unbefuckinglievable. In the first half Milan looked so much better that it was hard to believe that the same two teams were playing in the second half. Surely Uefa are going to have to let Liverpool defend the title?

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Maradona has a gastric bypass

One of the greatest sportsmen of all time, and look at him now. It’s hard not to think of Michael Jackson, the other superstar currently in the news. And to a slightly less spectacular degree, Gazza and George Best. Will we be watching Rooney self-destruct in a few years time? Or one of the Ronaldos? Or Beckham? I guess there are plenty who don’t – for every Maradona, Best or Gazza there’s a Pele, Charlton or Lineker – but it’s a grim precedent even so.

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