Crossing the Vietnam/Laos Border
A Cricketing Passage to India
Monday, 30 December 2013
Thursday, 21 November 2013
Where are they now?
The Saddlers glorious season of 2000-01 saw them promoted to the Championship after play-off triumph against Reading at the Millennium Stadium, Cardiff. During the course of that season, heroes were made.
The names of Walker, Aranalde, Tilson, Keates, Goodman, Byfield, Matias, and Leitao will all bring back wonderful memories for fans of the club.
There were other people involved in that campaign though. The likes of Bryan Small, Barry Horne, Dion Scott, Karl Hawley, Alfie Carter and Ian Gaunt may not have played many games that season but they all contributed to our success.
Although Ian Gaunt didn’t play any league games, he will be a familiar name to any of the 3,346 fans that attended an LDV Vans Trophy game against Wigan on 30 January 2001. This is because the then 19 year-old centre-half, making his debut, scored a last-minute headed winner to take us through to the next round, with a 2-1 victory.
Ian wasn’t even meant to make his debut that night, but heavy traffic on the M6 meant many players were delayed. Ian takes up the rest of the story: “Mick Halsall was looking after the team that night and he had difficulty working out which players were in the dressing room, and who needed to be promoted from the bench,” he recalls. “The whole experience was great. I played really well that day and obviously scoring the winner in the last minute was brilliant.”
When Ian, who is from Bromsgrove, was 16 he joined Walsall on an YTS contract and signed professional terms when he turned 18. During the successful 2000-01 season, he played regularly for the reserves at left-back. The reason why his chances with the first-team were limited was because we had arguably our greatest ever squad of players and three experienced centre-halves at the club: Ian Roper, Andy Tilson and Tony Barras.
“Being a centre-half I learned a lot from the likes of Andy Tilson, who was really good to me,” reminisced Ian. “The best players during my time were probably Andy Rammell and Jimmy Walker.”
And what of living legend Sir Ray Graydon? How did he get on with the disciplinarian manager who got us promoted twice to League One? “He made sure you knew who was boss, which is not a bad thing. I cleaned his boots so the pressure was always on me! Unfortunately for me he was great at bringing in centre-halves who did brilliantly in the last few years of their careers.”
After Ian’s glorious debut, he went from hero to zero, getting sent off in the next round of the LDV Vans Trophy against Stoke for a professional foul, as we capitulated 4-0. “The Stoke game was a different level to the previous week against Wigan. Aside from the sending off I didn’t play well so was really disappointed with that more than anything.”
That was the beginning of the end for Ian’s career at Walsall. Whilst the players and fans celebrated the team’s success together at Cardiff, Ian watched the game from the corporate box. “I saw a few of the players afterwards. It was obviously a great result for the club but, ironically, probably had some bearing on me getting released.”
How did he feel when he was told his contract wasn’t going to be renewed?
“I was gutted. I thought I’d done more than enough, but the coaching staff has to make difficult decisions based on many factors, which I completely understand.”
After a very short spell at local non-league side, Moor Green, Ian left the professional game for good and took a sports science degree at Loughborough University.
Ian, who is now 31, tells us more about what happened next: “After graduating I worked at Loughborough University for three years before in 2008 getting a job at the University of St Andrews in Scotland. I am now fortunate enough to be the assistant director of sport at the university and live and work in a beautiful part of the UK.”
Last year, Ian got married and the best man was fellow ex-Walsall trainee, David Hunt, who is currently a physio at Birmingham City. Ian and his wife, Heather, are expecting their first child together in August this year.
We wish Ian and his family the best of luck for the future.
Once a Saddler, always a Saddler!
Quiz night down the local boozer is when all sorts of weirdoes try to ‘impress’ you with their knowledge of ridiculous facts. But next time you get accosted by a man with a grey beard, supping real ale, who wants to tell you the score of every FA Cup final since 1945, look him straight in the eye and ask him this: Who has appeared at the World Cup final, the Spanish Grand Prix, the French Open and the Eurovision song contest?
Chances are they will splutter out their ‘lovely little drop’ onto their beard, scratch their bonce, and stand their speechless. Poke them in the shoulder and tell them the answer.
Jaume Marquet Cot. Better known as Jimmy Jump. Or, the mad Spanish geezer with that red hat who runs onto the pitch at sport events but forgets to streak.
If you still haven’t heard of him, type his name and the words: ‘eurovision’, ‘song’, ‘contest’ into YouTube. This is his crowning moment, the day he made this diabolical programme - that your missus makes you watch every year - viewable for once, as he joined in, unrequested, and danced along with the Spanish performance.
Jimmy is 37, from Catalonia, Spain and is a mad-keen Barcelona fan, currently living in Hamburg, Germany. His first high profile jump came in the Euro 2004 final between Greece and Portugal when he invaded the pitch, chucked a Barca flag at Figo (who played for rivals, Real Madrid) and ran straight to the back of the net.
Loaded caught up with him (through a mutual friend, acting as a translator) and asked him a few questions over Skype, as he lay in his bedroom like a naughty teenager. After a crazy few minutes of wild gesticulations, belly laughs and very fast-talking - none of which loaded contributed or understood - we were ready to go.
We began by asking Jimmy about his exploits at Eurovision and if he felt any remorse for desecrating a family show and ruining the chances of victory for his countrymen. “I don’t feel sorry for the contestant,” he says, whilst changing into an official Jimmy Jump t-shirt. “I helped to make them famous.” We couldn’t agree more. Can you remember any other entries that year?
After a spot of impromptu, improvised dance when Jimmy declares, for no apparent reason: “I do like dancing but I’m not professional, I like to dance freestyle,” he tells loaded that he never makes any money from his jumps apart from after Eurovision when he was able to get some cash for recording an advertisement that financed his trip to the World Cup in 2010.
This was another brilliant moment in the career of Jimmy Jump as despite the presence of more security men than racists at an EDL march, Jimmy managed to evade everyone and chuck his red hat on the gleaming trophy.
How does he feel after this jump and others? “It is a sexual climax,” he tells us. “After trying to jump without success, when you are able to do it, it is like a football player after a long time without scoring. When he finally succeeds, he screams out loud....GOOOOOOOALLL.” Madder than a mad dog in the sun, this guy.
But since those glory days, there haven’t been many chances for Jimmy to shoot his load. The reason is financial. He is stone cold broke. He has fines of over €100,000 to pay and despite asking for €1 from each of his 200,000 fans on Facebook, remains skint. His plans to jump at the recent Champions League final were scuppered by the airfare being too expensive (has this man not heard of Ryanair?).
“At this present moment I feel dead,” he dismays. “I’m not sure I will be able to jump again and that upsets me very much.”
Surely a little thing like money can’t prevent Jimmy from ever jumping again. Loaded wants all his fans to donate money to him NOW, in order for the following to happen:
Jimmy in the House of Commons plonking a red hat on that plonker Cameron.
Jumping on Songs of Praise before getting rugby tackled by that Welsh do-gooder Aled Jones.
Popping up at the exact moment Kate Middleton gives birth, making her think her new child is a fully-grown Spaniard.
Jimmy Jump, if you do this, we will salute you! You crazy, crazy Spanish bastard!
When the much-mythologised, Manchester rock band the Stone Roses announced their reformation in 2011, after 15 years apart, they wanted a director to document what they hoped would be a successful return.
Shane Meadows (This is England, Dead Man’s Shoes) is the man who got the call. His brief was to follow the band, from the announcement of their comeback through to their homecoming gig at Heaton Park, Manchester in summer 2012.
That Meadows is a big fan of the band is soon obvious as an early scene shows him in front of the camera, giddily excited, about to watch the Roses practice.
It is this enthusiasm that engages the viewer and produces a documentary that is less about the band but more of a celebration of the fandom surrounding them.
There is no expert analysis of the music or media savvy doyens discussing what the band meant to the working classes of northern Britain. It is a film for the fans, about the fans.
What Meadows excels at in his movies is the expressing of the passions of the common man. He puts this to good effect by impeccably capturing the aftermath of the announcement of a free gig in Warrington as a warm up show for Heaton Park.
We get shots of decorators leaving halfway through a job to queue for tickets, a man dashing from his house with a baby in his hands mid-feed and an impassioned announcement from a middle-aged office worker on why the Roses mean so much to him. Critics are not needed when the joy of getting a ticket expresses so much more.
Meadows’ respect for his subject means there is no probing into the animosity that caused the band to split for 15 years. When there is a brief band argument that threatens the tour, all we see of the members is tense faces at the airport. What we get instead is Meadows, upset, in his hotel room, expressing the grief that all Roses devotees would feel.
The lack of dirt digging is not important though. This documentary is a statement that shows in this age of musicians being more famous in the gossip columns than the music press; there is at least one band that transcends all of this.
This is an expression of the joy that the music of the Stone Roses brings. A 90-minute ecstasy trip of a movie.
Where is Larry Grayson when you need him? He would sort this out in a jiffy.
Every time the door opens there is a breeze that threatens to blow the candles on our table out. What should I do? It is not the first quandary I have faced this evening.
When I arrived at this pizzeria, I was greeted by silence (except for the tuts from the hipster customers, getting a blast of cold air as I held the door open for my girlfriend). There was no receptionist, just lots of empty wooden chairs and tables.
When we are finally greeted we are met with an unintentionally ironic: “I think I can find you a space.” We are duly seated between two empty tables to our left and right and two more in front and behind us. It’s a squeeze but we just make it.
The name of this place, Lardo, is also the name given to the cured back fat of rare breed pigs. This gives a big hint that as well as pizzas, cured meat is a specialty here. My knowledge of this is limited, and after a quick glimpse at the menu and then a long pause, my girlfriend and I are agreed. We know nothing on the menu except the olives.
It is time to consult a waiter and admit our ignorance. Past experience, in other restaurants, has meant getting a condescending waiter snorting at me, which resulted in me ordering the most expensive item on the menu just to ‘show him’. This goes a lot better. The waiter is friendly and knowledgeable.
For starters we decide on the coppa and the lardy loin. They are basically a thin slice and a fat slice of cured ham. Oh, and we had olives as well (we know where we are with them). And lovely they all were. Simple and delicious. I could now see why I kept feeling a breeze - as the place began to fill with people wanting more of what we had.
The main course saw me experience egg, lardo and spinach on my pizza for the first time. What had I been doing with Hawaiian’s all my life? There is no debate anymore; it is a fried egg and not pineapple that makes a pizza great.
Apart from chili oil with less kick than the dead pig we watched them carve up, the food was faultless. All Lardo needs know is a door that doesn’t let any cold in. Once that problem is solved, we will all be as happy as Larry.
205 Richmond Rd, Hackney, London E8 3NJ (020 8985 2683; lardo.co.uk)
Service: 8 (once it got going it was very good).
Price: I paid £45 for two, including drinks and service.
The ballad of a thin man
An Oxford professor has found that the BMI index means tall people think themselves fatter than they are. But what of the tall man who thinks he’s perfect?
Are you sure your ok? Have you been eating properly? You look a bit…erm, how to say, skinny. These are regular intrusions into my private life that I receive from concerned colleagues and friends.
The thing is, at almost two metres tall and approximately 80kg in weight, I am what I like to refer to as slim. Well, not only slim, but tall, slim and handsome. Other people like to call me a beanpole, lanky streak of piss or, particularly when I am abroad in a place where the English Premier League is broadcast, Crouchy.
After years of receiving these comments I still hadn’t developed a thick skin and had begun to get very prickly about the whole thing. This was until a routine medical assessment at one of my previous employers turned into a feet on the sofa, hands on temple, full-on confessional and blubbing session. I had to ask the nurse. Was I really too thin?
The reassuring lady held my hand and took me on a path of enlightenment, when she introduced three little letters into my life. B.M.I. These three little beauties stand for Body Mass Index, which is a way of measuring if your weight falls into the normal range for your height. How had I got to my early thirties and not heard of this? The nurse wasn’t able to answer that question, but she was able to take my measurement. I gasped as I saw her finger hover over the underweight section. Was all the criticism I received actually true? Before, thankfully, she landed her pinkie slap bang middle in the normal section. That is all I needed to see. I was ordinary. Hallelujah!
This is why a recent bit of research from an Oxford professor has knocked me sideways. BMI has always been calculated as weight divided by height squared. But Professor Nick Trefethen is not happy with this. In a letter to The Economist, published January 5, he writes: "It was invented in the 1840s, before calculators, when a formula had to be very simple to be usable. [This has meant] millions of short people think they are thinner than they are, and millions of tall people think they are fatter."
I certainly don’t need to be told that I think I am fatter than what I am. I was happy with the way things were. I wanted that sense of smugness when people questioned me. After receiving the good news from the nurse, for once in my life, I was happy with my appearance. It gave me a new found confidence to deal with the mockers.
When I was at my cricket team’s monthly curry night some players were discussing the athletic frames of our teammates. ‘Sturdy’, ‘rotund’, ‘big-boned’ and ‘amply proportioned’ were a few names used to describe some of the team. When I felt their gaze fall upon me, rather predictably someone piped up with, “Ere, you’re too thin to be with us, you need more meat on those bones.” I already had my reply prepared for this Dick Van Dyke wannabe, “Actually,” I said “I am neither too thin or, god forbid, too fat. I am in fact perfect.”
Loud guffaws greeted my claim, as the table resembled a bunch of swine being given their dinner. “Perfect? Who told you?” Now was my chance to hit them with science. Somehow I had embellished the nurse’s ‘normal’ and enhanced it to ‘perfect’ but that wasn’t going to stop me. “My BMI is perfect,” I replied. The pigs grunted in union and banged their elementary utensils on the table as I rammed home my point, elongating the word “Per-fect”. A victory for me, the table silenced, until they eyed up their next victim in the name of banter.
So I will ignore you Mr Oxford professor, if you don’t mind. I don’t need my self-esteem damaged. I eat my required amount of calories every day, enjoy plenty of beer and good living but never really put on any weight. Anyway, even if you are right, I don’t even mind being defined as being underweight. It is those concerned people who try to transfer their own weight worries onto me that should be getting all the criticism.