Just a Wee Blether…

About falling out of love with football

This time last year, every newspaper and online website in the United States was gushing about the exploits of unfashionable Leicester City who, in true fairytale fashion, were upsetting the odds and preparing to win the English Premier League.

Most of the American media had never heard of Leicester – they certainly couldn’t pronounce it – and there is little coverage here of what they call soccer. But the story of an unfancied team with little in the way of financial resources leading the league ahead of the billionaires of Manchester United, Chelsea, Manchester City and Arsenal was too good a story to ignore.

A couple of months later and the title had been won. The New York Times, the Washington Post, even the local paper here, the Arizona Republic, carried the amazing tale of how unfancied Leicester and its charming, affable Italian coach, Claudio Ranieri, had upset the odds.

This season has been different. Leicester have qualified for the last 16 of the European Champions League – another incredible feat – but are struggling against relegation in England. In all honesty, there was never any chance of the team repeating its heroics of last year.

This week, Ranieri, the man who had been cheered through the streets of Leicester, and who exudes civility and decency, was called into the club boardroom and sacked.

Only 297 days earlier he had led Leicester to the greatest triumph in its history. The club owner said after the sacking that ‘personal sentiment’ should not be allowed to get in the way of Leicester’s ‘long-term interests’.

As a schoolboy, I was football-daft. I kicked a ball around parks in my home town day-in, day-out. In my teens and 20s I played the game, mostly on public parks in Ayrshire, Aberdeenshire, and other parts of Scotland. At secondary school, football was more important to me than studying, I played against Celtic Boys Club, and I was chosen to represent Ayrshire Schools.

Like tens of thousands of Scottish boys before and since, football oozed from every pore. The team I supported, Celtic, was one of the best in Europe at the time and it cost only 5p to watch them. In the 80s I was lucky enough to live in Aberdeen when Alex Ferguson’s team were all-conquering.

Now? I couldn’t care less about the game, who wins or who loses. And it’s a source of great sadness to me. I’ve been turned off for decades by the Celtic/Rangers rivalry and all the sectarian garbage that goes with it. But greed, corruption, obscene player wages, and soaring entry costs for often dreadful games, have ruined football for me.

The sacking of Claudio Ranieri seemed to represent a new low. It sums up perfectly why, after years of running around playing fields in Scotland and cheering on my footballing heroes from the terraces, I have long since fallen out of love with what Pele called ‘the beautiful game’.

I do turn to the Ayr United result every week – and I keep an eye on Fort William in the Highland League. But that’s about it. There is no way back for football, greed has consumed it. To be honest, I do feel a bit cheated that the game I followed so enthusiastically for so long has effectively been taken from me.

Nowadays I look forward more to American football, although it is equally corrupt and even more money-oriented. It does, however, have some features that are aimed at preventing ‘elite’ clubs from evolving and guaranteeing that every club has a fair chance of success.

Every year a draft is held – to great fanfare – when NFL teams choose the best players from the college ranks. The draft is structured so the worst teams from the previous season are given the first choices – and therefore the best opportunity to sign the next potential superstars.

There is also a salary cap which effectively limits the number of so-called superstars on one team. The soccer bosses should really consider moves like this, but they won’t Can you imagine that happening in football in the UK? It couldn’t. The Manchester Uniteds of this world will continue to buy up the best talent for crazy transfer fees and inflated wages.

The shine has well and truly been scrubbed off the Leicester City fairytale. As for Claudio Ranieri, I genuinely hope the guy finds a new job with a club that appreciates his talent, and doesn’t treat him in such a shabby and discourteous way.

Just a Wee Blether…

About my US ‘bucket list’ for 2017

It was always my intention, when I got to America, to get a lot travelling under my belt. That was the plan at least but it’s a pretty big place out here and while I’ve managed a few trips and added three states to my ‘collection’, there’s still a lot more I need to see.

February is still early enough in the year to sit down and work out the logistics of crossing off a couple of my American ‘bucket list’ places.

Given the size of the US, and the ton of potential destinations, I’ve only scratched the surface so far. A couple of trips to San Francisco and down the Pacific coast of California; a night in Las Vegas; Niagara Falls; The Grand Canyon; New York City; Amish Country in Ohio and Pennsylvania; the old colonial city of Williamsburg; The Wisconsin lakes; and the stunning autumn – or fall – colours of the West Virginia countryside.

There have been more – Los Angeles, Pittsburgh, the shores of Lake Superior in Northern Michigan, and much of Arizona –  but these are the ones that jump to my mind. So, If I had to knock off one or two personal ‘must go’ places this year, what would be on my list?

At the top, as it has been for years, is Nashville, Tennessee. And I’m afraid if I ever get there, I’ll make a complete fool of myself – typical tourist, dressed like a cowboy or country musician, singing Streets of Laredo or Way Down Yonder on the Chattahoochee.

But I would love it. Visiting the Grand Ole Opry, Music Row, the clubs, pubs and honky-tonks and just soaking in the atmosphere of Music City, USA, would give me a huge kick. It all sounds uniquely American, off the wall, and almost an escape from reality. And if I could plan a visit to coincide with a Tennessee Titans home game, so much the better.

South Dakota doesn’t sound like the most glamorous US holiday destination – but it’s a place I’ve had my eye on for a while. Mount Rushmore, with the Presidents carved into the rock, would be worth seeing, but I’m more interested in a giant statue of the Lakota warrior Crazy Horse. It’s been under construction since 1948 and will take many more years to finish.

Both memorials are in the Black Hills region, which also contains the city of Deadwood. Wild West fans will know it as the place where Calamity Jane lived and died, and where Wild Bill Hickock was shot dead by a poker rival called ‘Broken Nose’ Jack McCall. So, I’d be looking for a Bed and Breakfast in Deadwood to savour a touch of the old West.

There are so many cities to choose from here and, to be honest, I’d happily go to any of them. But I’d be particularly keen to visit certain ones. In no particular order, Boston, with all its colonial and revolutionary history; Philadelphia, again for historical reasons; New Orleans, just because it looks so damn cool; Washington DC, because there seems to be rather a lot going on there. Throw Seattle, San Diego, and Atlanta into the mix.

Closer to home, I haven’t got to three of the states that border Arizona – New Mexico, Colorado, and Utah. There is a spot called Four Corners where they all converge and you can stretch out, put two feet and two hands on the ground, and be touching four different states.

It would be good to visit at least one of these states this year. Just across the Arizona border in Utah is a place called Zion National Park which looks incredibly beautiful. That would be the first choice.

Of course, if someone came to me and said they had booked tickets for an Alaskan cruise, a flight to Hawaii, or New England in the Fall, I’d be a happy chappie.

So, that’s the ‘bucket list’ for 2017. If I manage to achieve two, then 2017 will have been a good year.