From Thai­land to Rus­sia, what a week for foot­ball coaches

The Guardian - - NATIONAL - Di­gested week, di­gested Foot­ball’s not com­ing home af­ter all Di­gested week

Mon­day

Few res­ig­na­tions have quite so suc­cinctly summed up a ca­reer as Boris John­son’s. The first real clue any­one in West­min­ster got that the for­eign sec­re­tary might be about to step down came when peo­ple in­side the West Balkans sum­mit in Lon­don – a con­fer­ence put on to show Bri­tain was still plan­ning to play a lead­ing role in Europe post-Brexit – be­gan tweet­ing to say Boris had not both­ered to turn up to give the open­ing ad­dress.

It then emerged he was holed up in his of­fi­cial res­i­dence with a snap­per – Boris doesn’t be­lieve that any event has ac­tu­ally taken place un­less there’s a pho­to­graph with him at the cen­tre of it – as he tried to come up with some kind of word­ing for his res­ig­na­tion let­ter that might make him look as if he had acted on prin­ci­ple rather than hav­ing been shamed into leav­ing by David Davis the night be­fore.

Typ­i­cally, he failed mis­er­ably. The only prin­ci­ple he found he had was self-in­ter­est and his let­ter was a long rant of onanis­tic self-pity. It also turned out to be in­ac­cu­rate, as it in­cluded the bo­gus claim that the EU had tried to block a law to make fe­male cy­clists safer. In fact, the EU had tried to toughen the law and Bri­tain had wanted to block it. In his end­ings were his be­gin­nings.

Tues­day

The res­cue of the boys’ foot­ball team who had been trapped un­der­ground in Thai­land for two weeks was mes­meris­ing and up­lift­ing. A rare mo­ment of good news when al­tru­ism took cen­tre stage. Most of the at­ten­tion un­der­stand­ably fo­cused on the brav­ery of the divers and the plight of the boys, but I was par­tic­u­larly struck by the ac­tions of the coach who had been in charge of the team. Even when he had no idea if they were ever go­ing to be found – let alone saved – he or­gan­ised the boys so well that food ra­tions were con­served and no one pan­icked. All in near to­tal dark­ness. A truly re­mark­able achieve­ment. One that I am fairly con­fi­dent would have been well beyond most of us.

When I was a boy I man­aged to lock my­self in the boot of my par­ents’ car for about 15 min­utes and was a com­plete wreck by the time my mother heard my screams and came to let me out. An­other hour – let alone days – would have been unbearable. Given how con­ta­gious hys­te­ria can be, it would have only taken one boy to lose con­trol for the whole team to be in melt­down. I’m sure there were plenty of mo­ments when they all pri­vately won­dered if they would ever get out, but some­how their fears were con­tained. It’s been a very good week for foot­ball coaches.

Wed­nes­day

You’d have thought af­ter decades of in­ten­sive train­ing spent watch­ing Spurs, I would have got used to the pain of de­feat. Yet some­how each loss merely com­pounds all the oth­ers. Vic­to­ries are ex­pe­ri­enced as tran­si­tory highs while the de­feats be­come in­cor­po­rated into my nat­u­ral pes­simism. A vic­tory is only a de­feat post­poned. The semi-fi­nal de­feat was all the more painful be­cause my feel­ings of at­tach­ment were so re­cent.

Nor­mally I don’t re­ally care about the Eng­land team and look for­ward to World Cups as a time as a rare op­por­tu­nity to en­joy stress-free foot­ball. But this Eng­land team and its man­ager got un­der my skin and I found my­self un­ex­pect­edly in­vested in their suc­cess. Though the semi­fi­nal de­feat to Croa­tia was eased both by Eng­land hav­ing pro­gressed fur­ther in the com­pe­ti­tion than I had be­lieved pos­si­ble and by be­ing beaten by a bet­ter team, I did still feel shat­tered at the end of the game and not just be­cause Eng­land had scored first: ex­pe­ri­enced fans will tell you there is no greater pain than tak­ing an early lead. There was no de­spair, just a sense of empti­ness. The foot­ball was al­most in­ci­den­tal: what I was griev­ing for was the end of a four-week pe­riod when nor­mal dis­mal ser­vice was sus­pended and that I would never get back.

Thurs­day

John Cleese has an­nounced he is go­ing to move to the off­shore tax haven of Ne­vis in the Caribbean. The one-time Python and ge­nius cre­ator of Fawlty Tow­ers, who has seem­ingly spent 30 years of his life be­ing an­gry about every­thing, has now de­cided he is too good for Bri­tain and that the Brexit he voted for isn’t the Brexit of his dreams. For Cleese, al­most noth­ing works out as he hoped: he even in­sists on blam­ing each of his wives for mar­ry­ing him.

Tak­ing re­spon­si­bil­ity for his ac­tions doesn’t ap­pear to be his strong­est suit. Some­thing of an over­sight from a man who has spent so long in ther­apy over the years that he even ended up mar­ry­ing his own ther­a­pist. Though that could have been the prob­lem. Clearly a false econ­omy.

I’ve prob­a­bly been in ther­apy for al­most as long as Cleese and the clos­est I ever came to co-habit­ing with my shrink came when I saw an an­a­lyst. I started go­ing once a week, but af­ter six months or so she said I needed to see her twice a week, on the grounds that I was very an­gry with her and I needed to work on my anger is­sues. Six months later, she put me up to three ses­sions a week be­cause she thought I was get­ting even an­grier. “Of course I’m an­gry,” I told her. “I’m fuck­ing fu­ri­ous. I’m spend­ing most of the week with you and I ap­pear to be get­ting steadily worse.” She then sug­gested that four ses­sions a week might help. The im­passe ended when I had a psy­chotic, de­pres­sive break­down and ended up in a men­tal hospi­tal.

Fri­day

Those need­ing some kind of respite from Don­ald Trump, Brexit and Eng­land los­ing to Croa­tia can find some so­lace in the BBC Proms. The new sea­son was due to get un­der way with a per­for­mance of Gus­tav Holst’s The Plan­ets, along with a short piece by Ralph Vaughan Wil­liams and a new work by Anna Mered­ith, and it con­tin­ues through to early Septem­ber. I never get to as many per­for­mances as I would like – I seem to spend a lot of each late sum­mer be­rat­ing my­self for ei­ther be­ing on hol­i­day or too dopey to get to con­certs that I later hear were sen­sa­tional – but over time I have col­lected some fan­tas­tic mem­o­ries.

One of my favourites, a year or so af­ter I first be­came an opera lover, was go­ing to hear the leg­endary Swedish so­prano Bir­git Nils­son sing some Richard Strauss songs and the Liebestod from Richard Wag­ner’s Tris­tan and Isolde back in 1981. Nils­son was then in her 60s and the per­son I had gone with rather sniffily pro­nounced that she wasn’t at her best, but I was spell­bound just to be in the same hall as her and hear her sing.

It later turned out that Nils­son’s ver­dict on her per­for­mance was much the same as my friend’s be­cause she re­tired shortly after­wards and never sang in the UK again. Still, in my mind she was, and al­ways will be, a vo­cal god­dess.

‘I’m sorry, I draw the line at han­dling the Brexit ne­go­ti­a­tions’

‘Is this the let­ter I wrote pledg­ing my loy­alty or the one in which I re­sign?’

PHO­TO­GRAPHS: AN­DREW PAR­SONS/I-IM­AGES

PHO­TO­GRAPH: KIERAN MC­MANUS/REX

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