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Sports Then and Now

Fevered Pitch: Strange and Terrible Tales From the World of Soccer

Posted on September 18, 2010 by Andrew Jeromski

If you are one of the five or six people who have actually read any of my other irresponsibly chimeric screeds (hi Mom, Aunt Kate), then you no doubt realize I have a peculiar fondness for the bizarre and the off beat.

I also possess a passion for the sport of soccer, which is a fortuitous thing, as the world of association football is literally overflowing with all manner of chiseling crooks, dangerous thugs, craven lunatics and twisted perverts. This means that the well of weirdness that FIFA keeps in the secret attic of a small church in southern France will never run dry, much to the satisfaction of those like myself who take great pleasure to revel in the arcana of the beautiful game.    This is something that many American fans overlook; the petty dramas of the transfer market, the vicious hatred between rivals fans, the wealth of impossible personalities and the far fetched happenings of international soccer.

Take the case of the Togolese national team. I mean, imagine you are a Togolese international, and you awake one morning, switch on your TV and see a match report from a friendly in Riffa, Bahrain that you are pretty sure never happened–at least not with the Togo team you play for.

That appears to be what happened when Bahrain apparently beat Togo at Bahrain’s National Stadium earlier in the week. According to Cristophe Tchao, Togo’s Sports Minister, the side that fell to Bahrain was made up of “unidentified players and their shadowy handlers,” and belonged to a “Mafia group.” The Sparrow hawks team that travelled to Bahrain did so without the permission of the country’s Sports Ministry–a requirement for all teams representing the country.

“This rule was not complied with by the group of unidentified players and their shadowy handlers,” Tchao told the Associated Press. “It is obvious that the players belonged to a Mafia group who aided and abetted them to leave Togo without authorization.”

Last month, the Togolese government imposed a two-year ban on a member of the national team’s technical staff, Tchanile Bana, for taking a group of players to Egypt without permission, and Bana has been identified as one of five officials present in Bahrain with the faux Sparrow Hawks. This incident comes just weeks ahead of elections aimed at giving the Togolese FA a fresh start, after the organization’s ruling committee was dissolved by FIFA last December, and an interim panel appointed to run the country’s football affairs until the elections could be held.

“We cannot send our players to play friendly matches abroad without the approval of FIFA,” said Seiyi Memene, interim head of the Togolese FA. “The players that took part in the friendly match against Bahrain were completely fake. We have not sent any team of footballers to Bahrain. The players are not known to us.”

Think about that for a second.

Imagine if something like this happened in the United States? Imagine if Whitey Bulger popped up accompanying a phony Boston Celtics team on an exhibition tour of Turkey?

It’s pretty hard to do, right? That’s because things like this can only happen in the soccer world. This is why I love soccer; the Togolese version of John Gotti leading a fake team to Bahrain: you just can’t make this stuff up. That is the point I tried to impart upon my dinner companions the other night, to varying degrees of success. Some people just don’t know how to party, and you can only help them so much before the DEA gets involved.

Nobody wants that.

Exile on pain street

Normally, I am not somebody who gets invited to dinner by the likes of Mick Jagger and Keith Richards, but, after one drinks several bottles of prescription strength cough syrup, all things become possible, and there I was. The conversation had turned to soccer after Keith nodded off into his veal parmesan, and Mick and I were left to deal with the ugly shame of it all. I brought up the regrettable performance of England at the World Cup in South Africa, which I knew Mick had witnessed personally, partly to break the awkward silence that had befallen our table since Keith had done the face plant into his entree. I had made a grave miscalculation, and Jagger immediately turned hostile.

“I’m gonna smash down all your plate glass windows,” cried an irritated Jagger. “Put a fist, put a fist through your steel-plated door … I’ll stick my knife right down your throat baby, and it hurts!”

I was aware of the strange double entendre, and was therefore menaced on two fronts by Jagger’s aggression. I tried to explain myself: “I didn’t mean to bring up a sore subject,” I said, with a conciliatory air. “Keith fell into his veal … I didn’t know what else to talk about.”

Jagger fixed me with an icy glare, and held it until I became visibly uncomfortable. He then immediately leapt to his feet, and began to prance about the restaurant, much like he does on stage, before sitting again and reattaching his gaze to my surprised figure.

“Well I never kept a dollar past sunset,” he said to me with a sombre face. “It always burned a hole in my pants.”

I was baffled by this: “what could that mean,” I wondered. “What is Jagger trying to tell me?”

At that moment, Jagger made an abrupt arm gesture and, in an instant, our young and beautiful waitress was at hand. Jagger motioned towards the waning contents of his glass, and the waitress nodded her understanding, and promptly disappeared. When she returned, Jagger snatched the drink from her and slurped down half of it at once. “I will be your knight in shining armor,” Jagger informed the young waitress. “Riding across the desert with a fine Arab charger.”

The girl was taken aback, much like myself, and her body language suddenly became severe.

“I’ll settle for a decent tip this time,” she said, and walked away. I could hear her muttering something about Mick being an “old creep” under her breath as she went.

“I’m so hot for her,” said Jagger with an alarming level of sincerity. “But she’s so cold.”

I ignored this statement and asked Mick what English soccer team he supported. He looked at me and made several strange thick-lipped expressions, before taking another drink. “It’s Chelsea isn’t it?” I asked. “That’s what I read somewhere once, is it true?”

Before Mick could answer, I felt the unmistakable sensation of a dinner plate smashing against the back of my skull, and my face bounced off the plate of Chicken Alfredo before me as I fell from my chair and onto the floor, holding my throbbing head, and trying to spot the perpetrator.

It was a suddenly conscious Keith Richards, who was standing over me with an angry look on his red sauce-covered face, babbling feverishly.

“Bloody hell, sodding Chelsea are a right bunch of wankers,” is what I made from what was coming out of Richards’ mouth. “It’s bloody Arsenal mate, or should I give you some more?”

I reached up and grabbed one of the fancy fabric napkins from the table, and wiped the Alfredo sauce from my face. I leapt to my feet at once, and immediately realized that the situation had turned dire. Two things that I learned quickly: English rock stars from the 60’s and 70’s tend to stick together, and the quickest way to get your ass kicked by an Englishman is to accuse him of being a Chelsea supporter when he actually isn’t.

Now on my feet, I saw that arrayed against me along with Richards and Jagger, were Rod Stewart, Roger Daltrey and Pete Townshend. I grabbed a chair and began to back slowly away from the aging stars, ready to fend them off with the seat if need be.

“You’re the kind of person you meet at certain dismal, dull affairs,” said an enraged Jagger. “Center of the crowd, talking much too loud, running up and down stairs.”

With that, the group began to advance upon me. I tried to reason with them, telling them that in point of fact, I myself was an Arsenal supporter. They weren’t picking up what I was putting down however, and I was in danger of being cornered.

“We won’t get fooled again,” cried Daltrey, while Townshend executed a majestic air-guitar windmill.

“If I listened long enough to you, I’d find a way to believe that it’s all true,” bellowed Rod Stewart, as the five fossils rushed me.

I swung the chair with abandon, and Townshend was despatched with ease. I choked Jagger out with his own ridiculous lips, and began to mix it up with Stewart, when Richards and Daltrey overcame me from behind. I was all in, and the last thing I remember, was Stewart, a Glasgow Celtic supporter, putting the boots to me.

19th nervous breakdown

When I awoke, I was in an alleyway and covered in trash and filth. My head throbbed  uncontrollably and I could feel caked and dried blood all over my head. I struggled to get to my feet, and once upright I began to head for the street.

“If I hurry,” I thought, “I can still catch some of Arsenal’s UEFA Champions League match against Portuguese side Braga.”

Just then I heard a thunderous sound approaching from overhead; it was a black helicopter, and it seemed to be hovering over my position. I saw a rope lowered from the door of the chopper, and a figure nimbly begin to descend towards me. I was extremely apprehensive after the ordeal I had suffered through at the hands of the sexagenarian stars, but was in no position to resist. I watched with curiosity as a small silver object hurtled towards me from the figure on the rope. I followed it’s trajectory right until it slammed into my chest, and the last thing I remembered thinking was: “Oh crap, is that a taser barb?”

It was.

When I opened my eyes this time, I was tied to a chair in some dank basement. Suddenly, I was hit by a frigid cascade of water, and became aware that I wasn’t alone. Sammy Davis Jr. was standing before me, puffing on a cigarette, filling the small room with acrid blue smoke.

“Welcome back babe,” said Davis Jr. in a booze soaked voice. “Sorry about all of this, but we couldn’t take any chances, you understand.”

I nodded weakly, only half aware of what was happening.

“I thought you were dead,” was the first thing I said to Davis. “What do you want?”

“Ring-a-ding-wrong,” chortled Davis Jr. “I’m actually immortal, I can’t die … do be bop do ding a long dong.”

I shifted uneasily in the chair, wishing that I had been killed by the English rock stars rather than be forced to sit here and listen to this maniac prattle on like this.

“We need something from you,” explained the entertainer. “You will predict the winners of this weekend’s Premier League fixtures for us and then you can go, okay?”

“Who is us,” I asked, feeling suddenly curious. “Why should I do this for you after you kidnapped me?”

Davis Jr. eyed me with contempt and extinguished his butt on the concrete floor. He paced around the chair several times before speaking again.

“First of all babe, don’t worry about who ‘us’ is,” said the immortal former Vegas fixture. “If you don’t want to help, just say so, and I’ll give you some more of the taser. How’s that sound chief?”

Obviously I had no choice. Resigning myself to comply with his request, I made one request of my own: “first tell me how Arsenal did against Braga, then I’ll help you,” I said.

“The Gunners won 6-0 babe,” said Davis Jr. “Cesc Fabregas and Carlos Vela both bagged braces to go with Marouane Chamakh and Andrey Arsharvin tallies. It was a real ring-a-ding rout.”

“Fair enough,” I thought.

In any case, here is what I told Sammy Davis Jr.:

Saturday, Sept. 18

Stoke City v. West Ham United

Robert Green, who has conceded 12 goals in four games, actually plays an error free match and the Hammers get on the right end of a result for the first time this year with a 1-0 win over Tony Pulis’ Stoke City side away at Britannia Stadium. Scott Parker picks up his second goal of the year for the Hammers as Paul Groves’ debut as interim boss, following the absence of Avram Grant for Rosh Hashanah, is a success.

Aston Villa v. Bolton

The Villans will send interim boss Kevin McDonald off in style with a 2-0 win over Bolton in the final game before Villa’s new gaffer, Gerard Houllier, takes the reins in Wednesday’s Carling Cup clash against Blackburn Rovers. Stilyan Petrov and Ashley Young score Villa’s goals and it’s all smiles at Villa Park.

Blackburn Rovers v. Fulham

The battle between Sam Allardyce’s Rovers and Mark Hughes’ Fulham side has bore draw written all over it. Although it should be hotly contested as both teams will feel like they have a good chance to take all the points coming into this one. If anything, Fulham has the better shot to win, despite the loss of talisman Bobby Zamora for five months with a broken ankle.

Everton v. Newcastle United

The Magpies will rebound from last weekend’s shock loss against Blackpool and deny Everton its first win of the season by a score of 2-1. Joey Barton, everyone’s favorite sociopathic footballer, will score late to give NUFC a priceless road win at Goodison Park.

Tottenham Hotspur v. Wolverhampton Wolves

This one ends in a surprise 2-2 draw as Spurs are beset with injury issues, and Wolves will come out with a chip on their collective shoulders after being accused of overly aggressive play after collecting seven bookings in each of their last two games and incurring a $75,000 fine from the Football Association.

West Brom v. Birmingham

Birmingham take enough momentum away from their 0-0 draw against Liverpool last weekend to take all the points against West Brom, Craig Gardner provides the difference as Birmingham come out 1-0 winners.

Sunderland v. Arsenal

The Gunners run out to a tidy 2-0 road victory at The Stadium of Light on the strength of Chamakh and Fabregas goals, continuing the run of fine form that has seen Arsenal win its last four games while scoring 18 goals and conceding just two. The Gunners handily avenge their 1-0 loss from last season that halted a 12-game unbeaten streak dead in its tracks.

Sunday, Sept. 19

Manchester United v. Liverpool

The Reds struggles continue as they fall 3-1 at the hands of Sir Alex and Manchester United at Old Trafford. Wayne Rooney scores two and Dimitar Berbatov gets the other for United, while Steven Gerrard nets the consolation for Liverpool.

Wigan v. Manchester City

Man City and Robert Mancini get crucial points on the road with a 2-0 win over Wigan at DW Stadium. Carlos Tevez and David Silva score as the Citizens’ Europa League form provides them with some much needed momentum.

Chelsea v. Blackpool

The Blues cruise with an easy 4-1 win over the Seasiders at Stamford Bridge. Didier Drogba scores twice, while Nicholas Anelka and Salomon Kalou each net one apiece. Marlon Harewood grabs the lone goal for Ian Holloway’s Seasiders.

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