Friday, 28 December 2007

The Return Of Carlos

Carlos Tevez returns to Upton Park tomorrow with Sir Alex Ferguson convinced that West Ham United owe their Premier League status to the South American. Tevez netted seven goals in 10 games for the Londoners at the back end of last season, including the winner at Old Trafford on the final day as they beat the odds to stay up at Sheffield United’s expense. Although the 23-year-old promptly quit the Hammers, joining United on a two-year loan following a protracted registration wrangle, his immense contribution to his former club’s survival fight is unlikely to be forgotten by the home fans, who seem certain to buck their usual trend of booing the Red Devils by acclaiming Tevez as a hero.

Paul Ince, for one, always got a particularly hostile reception whenever he returned to Upton Park. Ferguson is unsure that Tevez will be afforded the reception most people expect. However, the United boss is in no doubt the club owe the stocky forward a major debt of gratitude. "Deep down the West Ham supporters must be thankful because Carlos kept them up last year," Ferguson said. "His performances for them were fantastic. There must be a grudging admiration for what he achieved at West Ham in such a short period. It is a part of football that when players leave a club and then go back, they don’t always get a reception you think they should, so it will be interesting to see what happens."

Saturday, 22 December 2007

Soul Of Hammers Family

Inner sanctums reveal soul of Hammers family
By Russell Brand

After the second of West Ham's listless defeats at the hands of the vindictively efficient Everton I snided my way into the directors' lounge, as I was curious to meet the dignitaries within. Since writing this column I've had incredible access to West Ham players and behind-the-scenes personnel and I must say I've found the place to be reassuringly domestic.

The staff have an unaffected familiarity with each other and most of them have been at the club decades; the shop-floor banter between them could be found in any factory or call centre across these islands. I witnessed Lesley and Barbara behind the bar in the player's lounge discussing with eye-rolling boredom the concern of a trainer who informed them that they ought avert their eyes, as Lucas Neill was coming through in just a towel.

Lesley: I said, "I've got two grown up sons - he's got nothing under there that's gonna frighten me."

Barbara: Chance'd be a fine thing.

I heard Ron, whose job I was unable to ascertain, glibly dismissing the heart attack he'd had the previous week while filling a see-through bag with unused chops off the hospitality table.

Lesley: Did the doctor tell you to watch what you eat?

Ron: What'da they know?

For me, exchanges of this nature are as warm and familiar as dozing on my grandad's lap, and far more accessible as he's been dead for 15 years. Just to clarify; I only dozed on his lap as a child, not into my mid-teens, just before his death. A lapful of adolescent drug addict could only exacerbate bowel cancer and anyway I'd long grown out of the habit by then. The white radio-clock he'd received from Fords had long stopped but still it hung on the kitchen wall in Dagenham. A plastic monument to his years of toil, a black-and-white photo of him humbly accepting it was in the adjacent cupboard.

As he lay delirious with death approaching, on the settee, TV on as ever, I watched through tears as he struggled to remember Jimmy Greaves' name.

"Who's that?" he enquired, peering beyond the screen and into the cosy, hazy past.

"That's Greavsie," I said, all sad. Bert was a West Ham fan of course, like my Dad, and would've been thrilled at the new privilege I now enjoy, though probably too embarrassed to actually get off on it the way I do. I'm intrigued by hierarchy and a Premiership football club is a fascinating place to observe social strata. First there are the fans, themselves organised into myriad groups; then, in the ground and behind the scenes, security and hospitality and catering; the now sadly defunct Hammerettes; training staff; directors; and, fanfare please, the players. I was titillated by Tony Montana's ascent through the Cocaine cartels of Florida and South America in the movie Scarface: first he's hanging out with street dealers, then local Mister Big-type characters, before climbing to the top of the power pyramid where corrupt politicians teeter.

My own experiences at Upton Park parallel that exactly; Lesley and Barbara are cut-throat Cuban street dealers, Ron and Danny and Tom from security are local Mister Bigs and at the top of the pyramid are the families of John Lyall and Ron Greenwood. And me, well obviously I'm Tony Montana, strutting around in a white suit with a machine gun and a powdery moustache.

The analogy had broken down long before you were asked to accept me as a cold-hearted, hot-blooded killer; Lesley and Barbara wouldn't last five minutes dealing Charlie on a corner in Miami and the respective Lyall and Greenwood dynasties have more in common with the house of Windsor than that ostentatious tat palace that Tony and his cronies were holed up in. They truly had the demeanour of aristocracy, a cockney monarchy.

Clearly aware of the duty of legacy, they charmingly introduced me to their children; when Murray, John Lyall's son, said, "This is my son Charlie. John's grandson," it was touching. Neill, Ron Greenwood's son, a gentleman like his father, was hospitable and gracious, never betraying for a moment that my nervousness was evident. I met a few members of the current board but wasn't with them long enough to make an assessment of them or their intentions towards the club. But the presence of the club's two most successful and beloved manager's families was heartening.

If the line from this game's inception to present day can be preserved perhaps we can protect its soul through Ron Greenwood and John Lyall, my Grandad Bert, through Neill and Murray right to Charlie. Not his little brother Scott though. He supports Chelsea.

Guardian column

Saturday, 15 December 2007

Capello's Trunks

Capello's trunks more titillating than his titles
By Russell Brand

I suppose my feelings about the FA's failure to appoint Jose Mourinho expose me as a rather shallow man influenced by the media, hyperbole and sexual charisma. Of course Mourinho is an exceptional coach but my interest in him being the national manager was enhanced dramatically by the convenient legitimisation that the appointment would've given my prurient interest.

I'm trying to get into the spirit of Fabio Capello's coronation but in spite of his incredible success he isn't a titillating choice. Whilst reading about his triumphs across Europe, the facts with which we are all now familiar, having received a crash course as a nation - nine titles at four clubs, one European Cup, he likes the art of Kandinsky and Chagall - made little impression. In fact I was much more interested in the photo of him as a youth diving into the sea.

Ah, the power of the image. He can top as many leagues as he likes and devour modern art with the rapacity of a Shoreditch fire but unless I get a snap of him in his trunks he can eff off. I was aware of Capello as a successful coach of Milan then as an opponent to David Beckham in Castilla. He said Beckham would never again play in the white shirt - people are always saying that to Beckham, he should work for Daz; no matter how much mud people sling at him he turns up a few days later in a pristine white top and saves the world. I hope the Ku Klux Klan don't learn of his abilities, they'll make him a grand wizard and the unity for which we've all toiled will go right down the plug hole as racism is suddenly made to seem fun.

Them briefs he had on were pretty spick and span an' all. With my easily stirred devotion to image he can count himself fortunate that I don't embark on a campaign to have his gorgeous knob made England boss; him sat there all seductive and reclined, his goolies bunched up into a taut smurf hat between his thighs. I think the ad is for the pants but I would query the rationale of promoting a product with an image so arresting that the subject of the advert becomes irrelevant. When I see that ad I don't think "Oooh, I must get myself some pants" I think "Oooh, I wonder if I'm gay." I'd never wear them pants, I'd feel the pants would be judging me - "Well these balls certainly aren't golden, they'd be lucky to get a bronze."

Capello for most of us is as untarnished as David's ballbag; a blank canvas upon which sharp lines of success can be etched or vague, blurred, draws and losses can be rendered. When I first see a beautiful woman my mind floods with expectation and I project a future on to her perfect form; "She could be salvation, a secular saint, the answer to my murmured prayers" then we embark on a journey that can only lead to disappointment just as certainly as the agonising euphoria of birth is death's first klaxon.

What will we and our red-topped spokespeople make of this apparently educated and brilliant man? Will he Fabio-lous or Crappello? I no longer care that he's not English - the idea of an English manager being a prerequisite was ground into the dirt like a dog...#8209;end with kid's knickers in its garage by the God-awful period under Steve McClaren.

Only Paul Ince seems bothered saying "it's a damning endikement of our game" or something but given Ince's "previous" around ties and loyalty - turning up in a United top after making all manner of oaths and pledges to a future at West Ham - we can rinse his comments down the same lavvy my childhood love of him was bitterly flushed.

It's going to be a little while before any of this matters with a barren few years for England but in the Premiership we have an enthralling weekend ahead of us - West Ham will avenge their midweek defeat when Everton come to Upton Park today and tomorrow the "big four" are all at it in an incestuous riot of money and hype.

Plus Joe Cole came and saw me do stand-up the other night, a man who left the Boleyn with his head held high and his integrity unblemished. So let's not get too worked up about Capello for a while, lose ourselves in the national game and use the holidays as an opportunity to ask some pretty searching questions about latent homosexuality. Merry Christmas.

Guardian column

Saturday, 1 December 2007

Jose Makes My Day

Jose makes my day... in another dimension
By Russell Brand

Having Jose Mourinho as England manager would almost make up for our failure to qualify for next year's tournament. In a pointlessly constructed parallel European Championship where England qualified one can only assume that we would be attending a competition rife with potential embarrassment and eventual disappointment, although it seems a bit stupid to go to all the bother of manufacturing an alternative reality which is also disappointing so we might just as well imagine one where we triumph.

In fact, I'll be in the team as player manager, in goal will be Robert Green of West Ham United, Morrissey will partner me up front and at half-time of our opening game (at Upton Park) Daniel Craig and Lindsay Dawn Mackenzie will do a live sex show.

The FA's decision to appoint a "world-class" manager is a good one but makes me wonder what the previous paradigm might've been. A "jittery" manager? A "malleable" manager? A "nice" manager? The manager of a team of millionaire athletes needs to be big. And preferably swarthy. When was the last time England had a manager with even an ounce of "swarth"? McClaren if confronted with swarth would piddle. Sven was chic but at the last World Cup Big Phil Scolari's low swinging sack of swarth sent his his tackle on an inward flight. Keegan, Hoddle, Taylor, Robson, all lovely in their way but compared to a gent with Mourinho's obvious sass unlikely to scorch the retina.

I've been dying for an opportunity to like Mourinho ever since he entered the English game but his position at the Bridge meant mine remained a secret and shameful affection. I squirmed like Humbert Humbert when he announced his own and Barcelona's teams a day before their infamous Camp Nou clash - "Oooh he's such a dirty tinker". Mind games and arrogance are an intriguing and beguiling brew, even from the manager of a detested rival club.

If he were to be appointed it would legitimise my interest, like a knicker thief suddenly made manager of a launderette my prurience would be seen as diligence - "I was merely sniffing to see if the Lenor had worked." The position requires a substantial character. One can only truly love someone if they exist to some degree outside the sphere of your control; if in a relationship you can dominate someone completely how can they offer salvation? How can they place their self between you and death?

I bet if you went out with Mourinho he'd never call back when you wanted him to, he'd flirt with other people and sometimes just broodily stare off into the distance and when you asked what was wrong say "Nothing" - all moodily. McClaren would bring you breakfast in bed wearing a novelty pinny. The England team would have to respect Jose, he'd demand it and whilst I suspect there was some breakdown in his relationship with senior Chelsea players towards the end of his tenure that, in my opinion, is because he was sabotaged.

That wouldn't happen at England. Sir Trevor Brooking will do a wonderful job in the meantime as a caretaker, he was marvellous at West Ham; revealing unimagined inner wrath on the touchline, it was like seeing a deputy headmaster gobbing at Hell's Angels.

I think the FA should do whatever it takes to get Mourinho, not just because of my silly crush but because I think he could galvanise our crestfallen nation. He could handle the press, the players, the ever shifting tactical requirements and I don't think we're in any position to quibble about flamboyant football, what we need is success.

It'll be a drag watching events in Austria and Switzerland next year while the English game thumbs its impotent crutch but knowing that Jose was at the foot of the bed in a baby doll nightie would make the process seem almost tantalising.

Guardian column

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