Saturday, 15 September 2007

Repent At Leisure

Only slightly less startling than the McCann family's approach to West Ham's former PR adviser this week has been Formula One's audaciously cosmetic blitz against espionage. Phil Hall, the former News of the World editor, was last seen sailing through the rocky waters of the West Ham takeover and the Carlos Tevez affair. The possibility of his subsequent involvement in handling the media fall-out from the disappearance of a four-year-old child says something about modern life too deep for a sports column to contemplate. So begins today's Paul Hayward column in the Daily Mail; the latest attempt by the paper to ligate the football club to the aphotic ills of the world.

Hall is probably more surprised than all of us, notes Hayward. Both "stories" — one heart-piercing, one utterly trivial — demonstrate that there is no corner of existence where the "message" is not fretted over or shaped. By an eerie coincidence, it was the £5million fine levied against West Ham for lying about Tevez that may have given the FIA their template for imposing a photogenic financial penalty while allowing the beneficiaries of the skulduggery to keep playing. Tevez kept West Ham up, Lewis Hamilton and Fernando Alonso drive on — even though the FIA's explosive revelations yesterday showed Alonso to be aware of the collusion.

Repent, for the kingdom of Steve is at hand

By Russell Brand

The one thing that could perhaps redeem the column I wrote seven, vast days ago; immense days, days with the limitless, intimidating scale of the expansive Kansas plains that I've been crossing this past week is that, at its close, having spent 800 words fear-mongering, I did offer, with rare perspicacity, the sentence: "I reserve the right to flood these pages with hyperbole if England win both matches." Well England did win both matches but hyperbole is not what I'm going to offer, no, I think more appropriate would be contrition.

I feel contrite at having referred to the team's key player in those games, Emile Heskey, as a "confidence junky". So what if strong, committed, unselfish, skilful, Emile sometimes requires what Ron Atkinson (note: this stereotyping refers to pre-racist Ron, when he was just a bejewelled vending machine for cliches) would doubtless describe as "an arm round him" once in a while.

I think that's rather lovely. In this age where the modern footballer is regarded as a brash millionaire floozies-harvester, players like Emile, and indeed Shaun Wright-Phillips, occasionally suffer from self-doubt and need assurance from their manager if they are to perform to their potential. Unhelpful then to reduce Heskey to a man who uses esteem like a drug and sees his coach as the pusher, hence "confidence junky". Sorry.

Also in my doom-laden scribbling I conjectured with grisly portent that Steven Gerrard would end up in a wheelchair as a result of fierce Mossad attacks or assaults from ex-KGB but, I now accept, he seems to be fine. Again, I'm sorry.

Then dear, triumphant, indefatigable Steve McClaren or "McLazarus", as I dubbed him due to his tendency to resurrect dead or at least departed players, a tendency which I now realise marks him out as brave and willing to take risks rather than being a victim to the whims of an all too fickle press, of which I must now stand as the worst example. Also "McLazarus" doesn't quite work because the biblical character Lazarus, upon whom my cruel, cheap pun was based, was resurrected by Christ and did not resurrect anyone himself, so I've offended theologians as well as the great tactician McClaren.

I've had scores of complaints from theologians but I'm less concerned about insulting a group who have forgiveness as one of their core tenets than I am noble McClaren who is as wise and gracious as Christ. I'm so very sorry.

I did also say that Alexi Lalas looks like a live action version of the Scooby Doo character Shaggy. I stand by that. Thank God I didn't have time to express my ill-informed views on Michael Owen who I would've probably dismissed as "finished" or "a bastard" but would now like to celebrate as a great servant of the game who will doubtless surpass Bobby Charlton's 49 goals during the qualifying phase of this tournament, a tournament that last week I revealed grave doubts that we'd be attending beyond this formative stage but now firmly believe we'll win.

Furthermore I cast aspersions on Owen's assertion that Wembley would become a fortress, claiming it was as impenetrable as Nancy Spungen's jugular. I was writing the piece in the Chelsea Hotel and it seemed a fitting simile as it was there that Sid Vicious for once lived up to his name and murdered her. The line was cut from the published article on grounds of taste - I only wish the censor's pen had removed the relentless, pulsating pessimism which seeped through the column staining the page the way Nancy's blood did the tarnished floorboards of my hotel room.

Tentatively, let me say this: West Ham were tumbling towards the championship last season with such fervour and pace that one could be forgiven for thinking that the players were sexually aroused by the prospect of poor stadiums, then I went to Hawaii to work and they immediately became a squad of well drilled, committed heroes winning eight of their last nine fixtures.

When I left the country 10 days ago England were playing like a bunch of berks and McClaren picked his sides like a homeless drunk shuffling bags in a trolley. He is now indispensable and Gareth Barry is the new Bryan Robson. I said if England won both games I'd campaign for the manager to be knighted; I now demand that Her Majesty kicks Phil right out of the royal sex-pit and instates Steve as her lover and the new King of England. I'd also like her to sit beside him on the bench and squeeze his thigh and coo when things go well.

Well done England and sorry for last week's column. Prudently, I've read this week's column back and I've written nothing that could offend anyone, what a relief. Finally, huge congratulations to our dear brothers north of the border. I should probably stay in America for football's sake.

Guardian column

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