Billionaire Owners are Passe, Knights Are Cool Now

The latest Lower League Week is now up at Born Offside.
Port Vale and Portsmouth are both on the verge of takeovers, and I’ve been slightly mystified by reports that Portsmouth manager Michael Appleton is the favourite for the Burnley vacancy.
Swindon have replaced their chairman (with a knight who was ambassador to Afghanistan – pretty imperial), Oxford insist on being inconsistent, Hartlepool have parted ways with manager Neale Cooper, and York’s Matty Blair managed to get himself injured by a training ground mannequin.

In his defence, these guys can be absolute thugs

All that and more can be found in The Lower League Week: Owners and Managers


Michael Maidens, 1987-2007, R.I.P.

I found out this morning that it’s the fifth anniversary of the passing of Michael Maidens, a young footballer for Hartlepool United. Involved in a traffic accident on Friday 19th October 2007, he passed away that night.

Despite having fallen away from the first team by the time of his death, aged just 20, he had made a number of first team appearances, and scored what was voted the goal of the 2005-06 season in a 3-1 win over Huddersfield, aged just 18.

The number 25 shirt (his squad number) was retired, the club’s award for best goal each season is now known as the Michael Maidens Goal of the Season Award and various tributes were made around the time.
I wrote a little thing as tribute, which appeared on the now defunct website, and the fanzine Monkey Business. While the website no longer exists, I have the original copy of what I’d written, which I will now quote in full.

Michael Maidens, 1987-2007, R.I.P.


“For of all sad words of tongue or pen, The saddest are these; ‘it might have been’.”

– John Greenleaf Whittier


It is, of course, always painful to hear about the death of a youngster, which unfortunately, due to suburban violence or the same sort of accident that claimed the life of Hartlepool United’s number 25, seem to be increasingly prevalent in the news over the past few years.

Still, it can be easy to take the news in, absorb it and reflect on what a shame it is, then move on, more or less unaffected. The reason for this is not cold-heartedness, simply the fact that it’s difficult to appreciate the loss of someone who has only become known in retrospect; the death is all the more shocking if a previous relationship is in place, even the tenuous sort that exists between player and fan.

Having been a part of Hartlepool’s juniors since the age of eight, pedants could argue that he was Hartlepool’s longest serving player. And given the extent that the youth system at the club has improved since that time, and the often Darwinian nature of youth development, his achievements seem all the more impressive.

Having seen the majority of his professional appearances at Victoria Park as well as a few of his games away from home, it was hard not to be impressed by his talent; quick, good close control, and a ferocious strike, he certainly had the ability to have a successful career in the game. In fact, were it not for the fact that James Brown and David Foley have been moved back from the front-line while they develop their physique, Michael could quite easily have bettered his impressive 12 starts and sixteen substitute appearances.

His goal against Huddersfield two seasons ago should, in itself, be testament to that. A team-mate bursting through the middle lost the ball, which then broke to Maidens, still significantly outside the area. Taking a touch to steady the ball, he then struck a sweet curling shot, placed perfectly to make it nearly unstoppable. Considering that this was against a playoff chasing team in the presumably tense circumstances of a relegation battle, it was a goal even better than the raw technique it required.

Having made his first team debut as a seventeen year old, and been monitored by the Scotland U21s management, the signs were that he would have a strong career ahead of him. It is, of course, impossible to say for certain what would have followed in the remainder of his career, but it’s far from unreasonable to assume that he would have become a player admired from far beyond his club, a name fans of other teams look on with envy. Perhaps even, had a small amount of luck gone his way, playing at a higher level and winning a few Scottish caps.

Perhaps more importantly, going by the interviews and the quotes from those who knew him well, he was well-adjusted, humble, and was apparently hugely enthusiastic. There have been a number of quotes telling how he was always smiling and joking, was dedicated and hardworking, always the last person on the training ground. All in all, a good guy and a colourful character; a far cry from the increasing image of a young footballer as a dull-minded narcissist full of self-importance before even breaking into reserve team football.

Of course, given the fact that he passed away at such a young age, it’s easy to paint his life as a tragic one, a life not fully lived, only a shadow of what he might have been. The alternative is that his short life was spent doing something he hugely enjoyed; through talent and hard work he had a taste of something that most football fans would envy; he has brought pleasure to literally thousands of people.

And, as should go without saying, his memory will live on.
Given the extent to which modern games are filmed and photographed at all levels, whether officially or by fans with cameras and mobile phones, a significant portion of his career will, somewhere or other, have been committed to film. It’s easy to imagine that, years from now, the children and grandchildren of Maidens’ peers will come across either footage of his single goal for Pools, or one of the tributes that has already been put together on the internet following his demise.

Obviously, all of that can only be a small condolence at best to his family, friends and team-mates. Michael was about the same age as myself, and I find it difficult to comprehend his death. In fact the temptation while writing this has often been to write in present, rather than past tense. Being fortunate enough to have never gone through anything similar, I can’t even begin to imagine how much more horrible it must be for those close to him, so I won’t try to articulate the inexpressible.

A life can’t be measured by a list of achievements, nor by a series of anecdotes. Ultimately the value of a life should be measured in how it affects others. In that respect, the brief life of Michael Maidens was far from wasted.

I was inspired to write the above, in part, by a moving video which was edited together and appeared over the course of the weekend, drawing from photos and clips available on the club’s official video channel.
In fact, going by the date on the video, it looks to have been edited and placed on Youtube by Saturday 20th, which makes the turnaround pretty impressive. Worth a watch, in my view.

For the next home game, against Brighton, the players took to the field all wearing the name Maidens on their shirts.
The players ran out to what I think is Let Me See by Usher, (though I may be wrong on that) apparently Michael’s favourite song. This was followed by a minute’s silence pre-match, which was prefaced by a tribute from John Orley the stadium announcer at the time.

I didn’t know Michael personally, and my only connection with him was as a fan of the club and an admirer of him as a player, but I feel that the above is worth sharing.


How Bloody Cool is Edgar Davids?

Seriously. I mean, just take a look at how cool and laid back he looks, even when he’s not leading European teams to continental glory:

I think I may have a man-crush on him.

There is a sort of reason for the above. Davids has just been named as the Joint Head Coach of Barnet, currently sitting 92nd in the English league structure, whcih I’ve written about for BornOffside in the Lower League Fortnight.

I’ve also covered Peter Ridsdale’s tax dodging, Bournemouth’s surprise managerial appointment, Portsmouth’s secret boardroom history, more accusations of racism (yey, navel gazing!) London Orient, transfer embargoes, and Tranmere’s confusingly good start to the season.

Come this way to read The Manager in the Coloured Glasses


Back in the Lower Leagues…

Having not found the time to write a Lower League Week last midweek, a Lower League Fortnight went up at Born Offside yesterday morning.

There seems to have been a lot of managerial sackings, resignations and appointments over the last fortnight, so they dominate the column.

Get it?

Plus there’s been racial abuse at a football stadium, so for people who can’t get enough of that kind of thing (there seems to be a lot working in Fleet Street) you can read about Hartlepool fans yelling at Marvin Morgan.

Click here to read the “We’re Mostly Not Racist” edition


Gulliver’s Travels by Jonathan Swift

Like myself, I’d imagine most people will be aware of Gulliver’s Travels as the book where the little people tie down the hero. What I didn’t realise before reading it was that Gulliver’s adventures in Lilliput are just one of four parts, as the hero visits a series of different lands.

Proof that corporations putting their grubby fingers on everything goes back to the 19th century, at least

Swift’s writing is very dry prose that demands the reader’s full attention. I was reading partially during my lunch break, and often not quite taking in what I was reading, having to go back and read it again.
According to the introduction, traveller’s diaries were a popular genre at the time, full of fantastical stories that modern readers would recognise as fantasy.
John Mandeville, an ‘explorer’ a few centuries before Gulliver, told a series of ludicrous lies which were apparently one of the motivating reasons for Columbus’ most famous voyage.
Gulliver, the narrator of his adventures, states near the beginning that he’s travelled to the places in other books, only to find they were much more mundane than the tales, and left him disillusioned, pretty much pointing out up front that the book is a deliberate exaggeration of this genre.

The original opening pages. Complete with ‘f’s where there should be an ‘s’, the silly man.

It’s probably not the most obvious description to apply to the book, but Gulliver’s Travels is fun and inventive, in a dry, understated, deadpan way. As a taste of the kind of thing I mean, in A Modest Proposal Swift put forward an argument for solving Ireland’s twin problems of overpopulation and lack of food…by eating their own babies. But by the tone of writing, many people at the time thought that Swift, an influential political figure in his day job, was putting this forward as a serious suggestion.
There’s nothing quite as radical in Gulliver’s Travels, but that kind of mad invention and deadpan tone are on display throughout Gulliver’s Travels.

Part I covers Gulliver’s adventures in Lilliput. These aren’t laugh out loud hilarious, but pretty funny in an understated deadpan way. They’re written in a way you could believe that the extreme events really happened.
In Part II Gulliver visits Brobdingnag, a land of giants just north of California, and offers a semi-plausible reason why they had remained out of touch with the wider world, before, amongst other things, fencing with a giant fly.
It’s a bit hard to get into the mentality of a 17th century reader and understand their understanding of the world, at a time when many corners of the world weren’t fully mapped out. But the tone really sells these crazy stories.

Although I don’t imagine much of this has survived into modern TV and movie adaptations, there’s a fair bit of pretty silly contemporary satire. There is a major religious divide in Lilliput is over which end of the egg is the moral end to crack, and the people of Lilliput are buried vertically, and upside down, in the belief that Judgement Day will begin on the far side of the world.

Personally, my favourite parts of the book were the less famous Parts III & IV.
In Part III Gulliver travels to Laputa, which, thanks to a mineral naturally occurring in its soil, floats in the sky. Laputa is a nation of incredibly talented mathematicians, who have very little understanding of any other subjects, but feel their mathematical genius qualifies them to be experts on everything. Interestingly, according to the notes (I read the 2001 Penguin edition) the people of this nation were based on Swift’s political opponent, Sir Isaac Newton. Yes, the same one.
Gulliver then visits the  projectors of Lagado, a nearby nation. Influenced by Laputa, they had embarked on a series of grand plans to utterly reinvent their society, very few of which work.

If you were a reader in the 17th century, why WOULDN’T you believe this really happened?

In Part IV Gulliver travels to the land of the Houyhnhnms, a race of hyper-evolved horses so noble and idealistic that they have no understanding of the concept of lying. The Houyhnhnms are noble and logical, but contemptuous of the barbaric humans (the Yahoos) who live amongst them. The Houyhnhnms and the increasingly impressionable Gulliver put together a strong case against the barbarism of the wider world, while allowing their own love of reason to lead them down a quite horrific path. While I thought Part III was the cleverest of the stories, Part IV was the section that grabbed me most on an emotional, instinctive level.
I’ve no supportive evidence for this, but reading Part IV it struck me as a possible inspiration for Planet of the Apes, so deep are the similarities.

However, in spite of all that, Gulliver’s Travels is, to a large extent, defined by the time that produced it. Though the notes explained what a reader of the time would have been reminded of, the explanations understandably  interrupted the flow, and I’m sure many things would have struck a 17th century reader that didn’t occur to me.

Verdict: A drily written adventure, with a mixture of satire and silliness, that’s most entertaining and imaginative in the lesser known sections.