Sunday, August 18, 2013

Losing my religion

I had my first experience with Catholic schoolboys on the weekend…and it was simply thrilling.
To be perfectly honest I was probably a little naïve going into the encounter, not really knowing what to expect. But after forty odd minutes of stimulation I was completely hooked. To say that it altered my persuasion forever is probably a little hyperbolic, but it certainly left an indelible imprint on my psyche.
To provide some context I’ll freely admit to experiencing extreme disillusion recently. I have put a lot of time, passion and faith in my existing relationship with little repaid. My loyalty has been severely tested, the damage inflicted almost irreparable.
And so it came to pass on a sunny Sydney Saturday afternoon that I made my way to the oval behind a prominent local Catholic school. I was accompanied by two very close friends, Mr. Pussy and Flex. Their presence and the ensuing camaraderie should have calmed my nerves and instilled some confidence. Rather it only served to heighten by fears and misgivings, adding yet another layer of confusion to a troubled soul.
What was I doing here? I asked myself this question over and over. Did I really belong? Would I enjoy myself? Or would the more experienced participants see right through me, and immediately spot the imposter, the fraud, the outsider?
I allowed myself a moment to enjoy a last swig of Heineken, a roadie taken more as an act of self-posturing than a real thirst for alcohol. But the cold brew did serve to drown out some of the butterflies flitting nervously in my stomach.
As we finally marched onto the oval to join the rest of the group, and I saw my first glimpse of those muscular, athletic, young men, I knew I was in the right place.
Welcome to schoolboy rugby folks, and the marquee match-up between St. Joseph’s College (Joeys) and Riverview!!!
(Editor’s note: get you mind out of the gutter people. This is a sports blog)

What stuck me first was the size of the crowd. Two grandstands at capacity and the standing area around the fence a least three deep. This was easily comparable to most Sydney NRL matches. Keep in mind the Seconds were still playing…with kick-off still 20 minutes away!

It wasn’t just the size of the crowd, but the quality of the noise it produced – loud and coordinated. It seemed that they had been studying tapes from ‘English Premier League’s Greatest Hits’, all the way down to belting out a wonderful rendition of ‘You’ll never walk alone’ and ‘Glory, glory’. With eyes closed and ears pricked you almost felt transported off to the hallowed grounds of Anfield or Old Trafford…almost.

Then there were the players. These ‘kids’ looked like pro’s, carrying themselves with a swagger that belied their teenage years. Indeed Riverview’s hulking number 5 looked like he’d been repeating the Higher School Certificate for the past few years in a desperate bid to remain in the fifteen.

Eagerly anticipating kick-off we spied a rowdy group of fifty twenty-something’s on the opposite end of the field, all resplendent in tuxedos. Was this some secret society, a Masonic initiation, or something more sinister, like the party scene in ‘Eyes Wide Shut’? None of the above sadly, just an enthusiastic group of Riverview lads celebrating their fifth reunion come to cheer on their alma mater. Earlier that morning we spotted them enjoying a breakfast of barley, wheat and hops at the Hunters Hill Hotel and by the sounds of it they continued on with that diet of sustenance throughout brunch and lunch.

The game itself was a cracker, albeit one-sided. The Riverview boys were too big and strong, the aforementioned number 5 making some wonderful runs, busting through tackles and carrying the ball forward like a young Ewen McKenzie. They easily controlled the ruck, dominating both field position and possession.

Unlike the tepid Wallabies display that same night, Riverview put on a show worthy of the game allegedly played in Heaven, going for tries, not kicking for goals. Running rugby with crisp passes out wide and clever off-loads into great hands was the order of the day. Each time Joeys turned the ball over defense swiftly turned into attack. Riverview quickly spread the ball out wide and the big winger (number 14) easily brushed off defenders as he speed down the touchline, doing his best Jonah Lomu impersonation.

In the end Riverview won deservedly, 45-20. Yet despite watching their faithful come up short the home crowd was phenomenal all the way through to the final whistle.

Our only disappointment was discovering, all too late, that alcohol was available for purchase. To quote Mr. Pussy: “Free entry and parking, a great crowd and beer. You’ve gotta love the Catholic education system!”

Despite the experience I can’t say hand on heart that I’m a rugby convert now. The All Blacks mauling of the Wallabies brought me crashing back to reality. But Joeys vs. Riverview will definitely be part of an annual pilgrimage now.

Friday, August 16, 2013

EPL - three things to consider before kick off

The sporting merry-go-round has come full circle, with football fanatics ready to jump on board amid kick off for the European football leagues.

Whilst the English Premier League (EPL) might not be the best league in the world, it certainly is the most popular...a by-product of Manchester United, the most famous sports brand in the Cosmos.

Now that I've firmly attached my colours to the mast I'll get on the with job of previewing the upcoming EPL, in particular the three most intriguing unanswered questions.

1. Trading Places: Two of the most successful clubs in Britain face two of the biggest headaches imaginable. In the red half of Manchester new manager David Moyes is facing his first test in the big leagues, battling with want-away Wayne Rooney and his c#nt of an agent Paul Stretford. Rooney, the fat, balding former granny shagger, is disillusioned at the prospect of spending the better part of the season peeling oranges for Robin Van Persie. Liverpool Football Club face a similar battle of wills, with Brendan Rogers desperately trying to convince Luis Suarez to stay at Anfield, offering an unlimited supply of human flesh and a lifetime membership to the KKK as sweeteners. 

The whole situation has only one logical resolution - swap 'em. Just the mention of it has the capacity to completely break the Internet. The unintentional comedy would be on a scale not witnessed since One Nation candidate Stephanie Banister claimed kosher food was okay because Jews believe in Jesus Christ - remarkably managing to offend both religions simultaneously whilst trying desperately to pay them a compliment. 

The 1983 comedy classic Trading Places featured Eddie Murphy, Dan Aykroyd and Jamie Lee Curtis' chest all at their absolute peak. Murphy and Aykroyd, two antagonists from completely different worlds, experience life in each others shoes. Hilarity is the outcome. Trading Rooney for Suarez would deliver similar results. Imagine Rooney, the Everton boy who conquered the world with United, celebrating in front of the Kop after a winning goal. Or Suarez, salivating each time Nemanja Vidic walked past him in the dressing room. 

Let's make it happen.

2. Break a leg: The darling of the EPL last season was unquestionably Gareth Bale. The Welshman single handedly dragged Spurs within a pubic hair of Champions League qualification on the back of some thracking (thumping crackers) winning goals. 

Recently Bale's stock has been sky high...with Real Madrid reportedly offering in excess of 100 million as a transfer fee. More remarkable than Bale's firm thighs has been Spurs even firmer stance that he's not for sale at any price. It's about time someone stood up to Madrid, and Spurs chairman Daniel Levy seems to be the right man for the job.

Of course it could go pear shaped very quickly. Whether it's pounds, dollars, Euros or drachmas, 100 million is a sh#tload of dosh. And Bale's price certainly isn't going to get much higher. If I were a Spurs fan (heaven forbid), I'd be praying to the God's of Stephanie Bannister that Bale doesn't tear his achilles, cruciate ligament or anything else that could see his value plummet faster than Detroit's credit rating. 

Take care of yourself Gareth. 

3. Russian Roulette:  One of the worst kept secrets at the back end of last season was the imminent return of Jose Mourinho, aka the Special One, to Chelsea. Mourinho was sick of battling the Madrid management, fans and press. Chelsea Czar Roman Abramovich was tired of constantly hosting exit interviews with managers who actual won European trophies for his club.

So like an old couple reuniting when they realised no-one else would sleep with them, Jose and Roman are back together. But it does beggar the question:

What happens to Jose when they inevitably break up again?

The first time was tumultuous, but the Special One managed to escape relatively unscathed. Indeed his departure and the subsequent game of management musical chairs played at Stamford Bridge has painted Roman as a clown. 

Methinks the Russian oligarch won't take too kindly to playing the fool a second time around. If I were the Special One I'd be investing some rubles in a safe house...just to be sure.