A story about a dog, and not about anything else

These two dogs might look the same but one is better than the other, probably

These two dogs might look the same but one is better than the other, probably

When I was growing up my parents decided to buy our family a puppy. We hadn’t really had pets before, save for a couple of goldfish and a parrot who later turned out to be a massive racist. But my parents had both had dogs when they were young, and even though that was a generation ago and times had changed, I didn’t really have a problem with the idea.

The puppy we got was a West Highland Terrier. This particular one was highly thought of, but the previous owners had to part ways with him because they couldn’t afford to keep him. He had won competitions that the old owners entered him into, but that was in a different part of the country, and we were a little concerned about how he’d adapt to life in a big city.

It took a while, I’ll admit, even with us trying to ease him into his new life. After a couple of years we were so frustrated that we considered giving him away and replacing him with a cat or a rabbit, but then my mum suggested we enter him into a pet show. “Maybe he’s just missing being able to compete for trophies,” she said.

So we entered him into a local contest. While he had won big competitions in his previous home – he even competed at a national level once and, while he didn’t win, he did as well as could have been expected – we thought we’d go for something smaller and more comfortable.

Would you believe it, he only went and won the thing. That made our minds up for us – the puppy would stay. And now, as he reaches the end of his life, we’re delighted we made that decision.

Over the years we have entered him into bigger and fancier competitions, and never once has he looked out of place. Indeed most of the time we have found ourselves asking why we didn’t give him the chance sooner.

And on top of that, he’s improved the atmosphere around the family home. In his younger days, barely a day went by when he wouldn’t bring in some precious treasure from the garden. He found us a frog from next door’s pond which we left to its own devices and it provided great entertainment for years. He also befriended the Great Dane from up the road and allowed us to form a relationship with his owners which has lasted for years (even if we stopped seeing his puppies after a while). He even brought us a valuable jewel when we went on a trip to Holland and took him to the park.

Of course there were some less auspicious finds. Most of these were in his older days, but I do remember him bringing in a beautiful South American bird which ultimately proved more a curse than a blessing. In fact I’m fairly sure he only took it because he saw it being eyed up by the dog who belonged to that nouveau riche family at the top of the road eyeing it up.

More recently the gems have continued to arrive in their droves, but he often hasn’t brought us what we need or even want. Five or six years ago he found us a sturdy looking stick, which seemed like it would be great for kindling, but it soon broke and we never managed to fix it.

Now the time has finally come to replace him. Myself and my siblings have all moved out, but our parents wanted to tell us about their plans. The dog has borne a number of puppies over the years and they thought about just keeping those, but they weren’t sure any of them could handle the responsibility. There was also the option of buying a different breed – everyone is talking about pedigree German Shepherds, and I tried telling my dad that one of those would be great around the grandkids, but he was having none of it.

He and my mum had taken our old dog to a charity to give him away for the last few years of his life, and while they were there he started barking loudly but playfully at another Westie. I suspect he might have just been recognising another of his breed – all those years of lapping up spilt wine around the family dinner table might have caught up with him – but my dad interpreted it as our pet choosing his successor.

The new Westie hasn’t won any prizes before, and in all honesty he has had a rather unremarkable life, but my folks are happy with the continuity he provides. Good luck to them, though I think when the dust settles they might wish they had taken a little longer over their decision. Who knows, maybe they will decide to buy that German Shepherd in a couple of years after all.

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The best football writing of 2012

2012 has been a great year for football writing, quasi football writing and anti-football writing. Here are just some of the best examples I’ve read in the last 12 months. Some may have more literary merit than others, but all are great for different reasons. I hope you enjoy them as much as I did.

Has the transfer market become self aware? by Andi Thomas for The FCF – http://thefcf.co.uk/2012/01/25/transfer-market-aware/10781/

Muamba: underneath the sensationalism is a genuinely positive story for football, at last by Michael Moruzzi for Regista Blog http://www.regista-blog.com/2012/03/can-we-make-the-positive-response-to-muamba-last/

AFC Wimbledon: The Pains Of Being Pure At Heart by Jamie Cutteridge for The Real FA Cup http://therealfacup.co.uk/2012/04/21/afc-wimbledon-the-pains-of-being-pure-at-heart/

Rafa’s Chelsea: A Journal by Rob Brown for The Carvalho Peninsulahttp://carvalhopeninsula.blogspot.co.uk/2012/11/rafas-chelsea-journal.html

Coming up for air by Charlie Anderson for The Carvalho Peninsula http://carvalhopeninsula.tumblr.com/post/36841269534/coming-up-for-air

12 ways in which Fulham are ace by Max Grieve for Magic Spongers – http://magicspongers.blogspot.com.au/2012/12/12-ways-in-which-fulham-are-ace.html

The Danger of Mob Mentality by Ally Moncrieff for Balls, Boobs and Blow http://ballsboobsandblow.wordpress.com/2012/12/04/the-danger-of-mob-mentality/

Robin van POINTLESS by Magic Spongers http://magicspongers.blogspot.co.uk/2012/08/robin-van-pointless.html

#34 – Emmanuel Frimpong by The 100 Worst People on Twitter http://100worstpeopleontwitter.tumblr.com/post/31332813011/34-emmanuel-frimpong

Nobody wins QPR ping-pong tournament by John Foster for Four Four Two

http://fourfourtwo.com/blogs/backofthenet/archive/2012/12/14/botn-nobody-wins-qpr-ping-pong-tournament.aspx

Gary Neville’s punditry is the best, but others need to raise their game by Michael Cox for The Guardian http://www.guardian.co.uk/football/blog/2012/nov/27/gary-neville-punditry-sky-bbc

Antisemitic chants are sickening – and West Ham fans must show they care by Jacob Steinberg for The Guardian – http://www.guardian.co.uk/football/blog/2012/nov/26/west-ham-antisemitic-chants-sickening?CMP=twt_gu

The Trial Of John T by Greg Theoharis for Dispatches from a Football Sofa ­http://dispatchesfromafootballsofa.com/2012/02/05/the-trial-of-john-terry/

Scott Murray on Cesar Luis Menotti’s Triumph by Surreal Football http://surrealfootball.com/post/34700950575/scott-murray-on-cesar-luis-menottis-triumph

An idiot’s guide to the Ballon d’Or shortlist by Tom Adams for Eurosport http://uk.eurosport.yahoo.com/blogs/early-doors/idiot-guide-ballon-d-shortlist-090448634.html

New advert for the Premier League is actually a terrible ‘advert for the Premier League’by Nick Dunmore for Fisted Awayhttp://fistedaway.wordpress.com/2012/10/26/new-advert-for-the-premier-league-is-actually-a-terrible-advert-for-the-premier-league/

Paul Jewell and the further decline of Ipswich Town – by Gavin Barber for The Two Unfortunateshttp://thetwounfortunates.com/paul-jewell-and-the-further-decline-of-ipswich-town/

Manchester United And Liverpool, Still Suffering From Their 2009 Hangover by Callum Hamilton for SB Nation http://www.sbnation.com/soccer/2012/9/22/3372736/manchester-united-and-liverpool-still-suffering-from-their-2009

Return of the rascal king by John McGee for Bring me the head of Keith Mincher http://www.keithmincher.com/return-of-the-rascal/

Soccer under the Swastika: Football’s forgotten Holocaust victims by Kieran Dodds for In Bed With Maradona http://inbedwithmaradona.com/journal/2012/9/17/soccer-under-the-swastika-footballs-forgotten-holocaust-vict.html

The whistleblower left out in the cold by James Horncastle for Eurosport http://uk.eurosport.yahoo.com/blogs/pitchside-europe/whistleblower-left-cold-164804765.html

2016-17: The Season in Review by Rob Langham for The Two Unfortunates http://thetwounfortunates.com/2016-17-the-season-in-review/

My First Game for Manchester United by Robin van Persie’s inner child for Ruud Gullit Sitting on a Shed http://rgsoas.wordpress.com/2012/08/21/everton-vs-manchester-united-as-it-happened/

Why ‘Vile’ Football Can Look Olympics In The Face by Jack Howes for The Daisy Cutterhttp://www.thedaisycutter.co.uk/2012/08/why-vile-football-can-look-olympics-in-the-face/

The Last Championsby Juliet Jacques for The New Statesmanhttp://www.newstatesman.com/blogs/lifestyle/2012/07/last-champions

A good piece of business?

Four goals in three games have seen Robin van Persie already begin to repay his transfer fee

 

by Rich Ward

In the wake of Robin van Persie’s very high-profile transfer to Manchester United, Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger won praise from all quarters for a piece of “good business”.

The spin was that he had managed to offload an aging, injury-prone striker, with only a year left on his contract, for £24 million.

However, the reality is perhaps a little different. Despite coming with a ‘crock warning’, RVP actually made at least 33 appearances in three of his final four seasons with the Gunners – not to mention his tally of 37 goals in 48 appearances last term.

While it remains to seen whether Podolski, Cazorla and Giroud can provide enough firepower between them to compensate for van Persie’s exit, from Manchester United’s perspective they will be delighted that he appears to have started where he left off last season, with four stunning goals in his last two games.

The irony is that, with Wayne Rooney yet to recover from a deep gash to his leg, Alex Ferguson is currently relying on the “injury-prone” Dutchman to spearhead the Red Devils’ attack.

In fact, so seamless has the former Gunner’s integration at Old Trafford been that Rooney, who even before he was studded against Fulham looked far from the top of his game, might find it hard to get back in the starting XI.

If selling RVP was a good bit of business for Wenger, how must Sir Alex be feeling? Pretty satisfied I’d imagine.

 

About the author:

Rich Ward is a writer, journalist and guitarist. You can follow him on Twitter, if you feel so inclined.

Robin van Persie: Better Late than Never

Image

Robin van Persie in action against Swansea City

I wanted to start this with a comparison, another Premier League transfer comparable to that of Robin van Persie to Manchester United in terms of scale and impact on both clubs, but I struggled to find anything appropriate.

Tottenham weren’t quite at the same level as Arsenal when Dimitar Berbatov left for United. Alan Shearer’s move from Blackburn to Newcastle was tempered in its impact by the hometown club element. Even Samir Nasri’s decision to trade London for Manchester last summer is separated from van Persie’s by virtue of the Frenchman having had a far less enduring impact on the club than his Dutch team-mate.

Whatever way you look at it, the transfer is tough to take for Arsenal fans.

This is a player who has been with the club for eight years, and is part of an ever-decreasing circle of those who have had a fair glimpse of glory, be it through the Champions League final defeat to Barcelona in 2006 or even the Carling Cup final the following year.

Then, of course, you have his contribution to the here and now. 30 league goals last season made van Persie less dispensable than at arguably any other time in his Arsenal career, although a portion of this may be down to the relative paucity of the attacking talent that surrounded him over the last 12 months.

Sure, measures have been taken to rectify this gulf in the close-season, and many rightfully interpreted the arrival of Lukas Podolski, Olivier Giroud and Santi Cazorla as a precursor to the former Feyenoord man’s exit. The outraged minority (I’m looking at you, Piers) may however continue to propagate the image of Abramovich-era football as an entertainment of immediacy. Having been offered multiple carrots in the years since the superfood salad of an unbeaten 2003/04 season, there are plenty who lack the patience to favour a long-term model in comparison to a quantifiable improvement over the prior campaign.

This, of course, is by no means limited to Arsenal – you need look no further than the treatment of several of Jose Mourinho’s successors at Chelsea for another even more extreme example – but this seems ironic given van Persie’s imminent destination.

It is difficult to argue that United’s patience with manager Sir Alex Ferguson in his early years in the job, when he was lacking in two varieties of title, would be tolerated in the modern era. However that patience has played a major role in the club reaching its current level and, yes, being in a position where they are able to entice a player of van Persie’s calibre.

While the financial gap between Champions League and the rest hinders the case for blind faith, there remains an argument for the trusting middle-ground common to Arsenal fans over the years but from which a proportion of the Emirates faithful is beginning to distance itself.

Part of Ferguson’s success has come from demolishing and rebuilding empires when he begins to see the pieces falling, to the point where four-year cycles often replicate those of international sides’ World Cup campaigns when it comes to changes of style as well as raw materials. With this in mind, the exit of van Persie could have another hidden benefit.

His departure almost forces Arsene Wenger’s hand, requiring the manager to mould a playing style which fits his new and expensively-assembled forward line, rather than having the luxury on being able to fall back on the goals of his talisman to achieve what is required. Indeed, with some arguing that van Persie is unlikely to have more than two more years of blistering form ahead of him, the striker remaining at Arsenal could well have had an even more detrimental effect were he to leave further down the line with money having already been wasted on an elaborate plan B.

One element of the saga I have not touched upon is the allegations of ‘lack of ambition’ leveled at van Persie by certain Arsenal fans. For the pure ridiculousness of this statement, I will leave it untouched.

Tribalism on the terraces

In the second part of his series on racism in football, Rich Ward turns to the fans.

In ‘Leading figures setting a terrible example’, I discussed the issue of how Sepp Blatter and others are failing to show fans the (correct) way when it comes to racism.

What I didn’t cover in the article was the underlying issues on the terraces that are also hindering the path to racism-free football.

Recent allegations involving Chelsea fans chanting racist songs on the way back from Norwich further illustrates how some seem to have been inspired by the actions of players, managers and football chiefs.

In the past few months, racism has somehow become acceptable again and now seems to be rearing its ugly head on a weekly basis.

One of the fundamental problems is that football is such a tribal sport. So often down the years, fervent devotion to one team has spilt over into incidents of abuse.

Gary Neville was a favourite target for Liverpool fans, United fans will forever hate Carlos Tevez for crossing the Manchester divide and Sol Campbell experienced the same problems when he swapped Tottenham for Arsenal.

Fans work themselves into such frenzy that they even turn on their own.

This season, Blackburn supporters have repeatedly laid into manager Steve Kean and who can forget the hanging of a David Beckham effigy after his infamous World Cup red card while playing for England.

Most recently, in Saturday’s FA Cup game between Manchester United and Liverpool, Patrice Evra was abused and heckled throughout the match as the Suarez row took centre stage once again.

The Liverpool fans continue to condone Suarez’s behaviour just like his manager has done and ITV did not attempt to diffuse the situation either by insisting on showing the Uruguayan’s reaction in the stands to every on-field incident.

“Banter”, as Kenny Dalglish put it, was exchanged between the two sets of supporters, with United fans chanting “racist b******” in response to boos from the Kop.

The effect of this tribalism is that it prohibits fans from showing any common sense or rationality.

Players are jeered when wearing the colours of their clubs, yet cheered when sporting England white. Players who transfer teams are revered one week, hated the next and vice versa.

So it is perhaps not surprising then, that if the colour of shirt a player is wearing, or the area of the country he comes from makes him a target, that the colour of his skin can too lead to incidents of vile abuse.

It may be a cliché, but if fans and managers alike could remember the old adage “it’s only a game”, they might be less inclined to allow their passion to turn into blind abuse.

Such a change in attitude might then prevent a repeat of the scenes at Anfield on Saturday where a player who was the victim of racism was booed because he was wearing a United jersey and not a Liverpool one.

 

Find Rich on Twitter @richjward

Europe 4-0 England: Champions League round-up

Now the dust has settled on the Champions League quarter-finals, with no English teams making it to the final four, it is time to reflect on the reasons for Arsenal and Manchester United failing to progress.

Arsenal’s exit is the more understandable of the two, considering their injury problems. As if Cesc Fabregas’ broken leg wasn’t enough of a setback, Arsene Wenger’s side was forced to make do without their defensive leader and their main creative influence, in William Gallas and Andrey Arshavin respectively.

Gallas’ absence was the most significant. Time after time a lack of communication between the Gunners’ back four cost them dear, with Emmanuel Eboue’s positioning for the clinching fourth goal symptomatic of a makeshift defence ill-equipped to deal with the movement of Lionel Messi and Bojan.

Arsenal's back line had no answer to Lionel Messi

Although Nicklas Bendtner led the line admirably at the other end, he was well marshalled by Gabi Milito and Rafael Marquez, whose performances simply emphasise the strength in depth which separates the Catalans from Wenger’s young squad.

In the end Barcelona’s convincing victory was little surprise, and Arsenal will need to draw on all their reserves when they visit White Hart Lane on Wednesday.

But if Arsenal’s departure was somewhat expected, Manchester United’s exit from the competition at the hands of Bayern Munich comes as a minor shock.

The main talking point before the game was Wayne Rooney’s inclusion in the starting line-up, and I feel Sir Alex Ferguson made the right move in risking his star man.

This may come as a surprise considering Rooney’s rather subdued performance, but the sad truth is United have no other individual who comes close to worrying defences in the same way as the England frontman.

Despite not being directly involved in the moves leading up to Nani’s two goals, even an injured Wayne Rooney was enough to keep opposition defenders on their toes. Indeed it was perhaps Bayern’s overestimation of the 24-year-old which freed up so much space for his Portuguese team-mate.

Rafael’s sending-off was of course a factor, but one might wonder why Ferguson reverted to a 4-5-0 formation when his lone striker’s ankle injury flared up.

The answer to this can be found by looking at the impact made by Dimitar Berbatov when he finally took to the field with 10 minutes remaining.

Berbatov thrives on the space created by a strike partner, and his own minimal movement means he often struggles as a lone frontman. With wingers Nani and Antonio Valencia overworked to the point that the former was seen visibly gasping for breath after one lung-busting run, the Bulgarian was required to make space for himself and fight for the ball. He is unlikely to be seen doing this at the best of times, and last night was no exception.

Sir Alex Ferguson will surely deny it, but yesterday’s elimination offers proof – if any was needed – that Carlos Tevez should still have had a place at Old Trafford.

United’s success this season has been based around a fully-fit and on-form Wayne Rooney, with no ready-made replacement in the same mould.

Rooney’s game is so strong because his goalscoring and link-up play is complemented by a willingness to chase every ball and never let the centre-backs settle. For the entire second half yesterday, the often-shaky Daniel van Buyten and Martin Demechelis were allowed time and space to get forward, with only the occasional burst forward from Nani and Valencia causing them problems.

United saw before the break how the Bayern centre-backs struggled with the movement of their front three, and if they could call on someone like Tevez, rather than Berbatov and the ineffective Ryan Giggs, we might have seen a contest in the second half rather than an attack-versus-defence encounter in United’s half of the pitch.

Sir Alex Ferguson’s reluctance to call upon Federico Macheda and Mame Biram Diouf, coupled with Michael Owen’s season-ending hamstring injury, suggests the Red Devils could not afford to lose both Tevez and Cristiano Ronaldo without bringing in an experienced replacement.

Mame Biram Diouf was not even named on the bench last night

It is all well and good having talented youngsters on your books, but if you are unwilling to utilise them in high-pressure situations it seems ridiculous not to augment the striking talent at the club, even if just bringing in someone on a short-term deal, as they did with Henrik Larsson in 2006.

Instead of making excuses about refereeing decisions or about Bayern players crowding around the official in a manner not dissimilar to previous United sides, Ferguson needs to have a look at his own shortcomings.

His side had no response to a Bayern side lacking their own one-time talisman Miroslav Klose, and whose star men Ribery and Robben underperformed save for one crucial moment of genius.

For all the intelligence of Ferguson’s initial approach to the match, at this level of football you need to have a Plan B which you can rely on.