Saturday, November 28, 2009

The Adidas Tango, World Cup ’82 football boot and the everlasting beauty of great sporting design

When I was ten, there were only three things I really wanted in my life.

The first was my parents to get back together. They’d just divorced and I was having to get used to spending half the week at my mum’s new house, the other half with my dad in the home I’d grown up in. Walking around with an Adidas holdall filled with washed/unwashed clothes and schoolboy crap not only ripped my shoulder to bits, but also made me look like a member of the IRA looking for somewhere to deposit a bomb.

The second and third things were more tangible, but just as unlikely to materialise: the Tango football and the World Cup football boot.

At that age I was obsessed with football. I played it twice a week for the cubs and school, went to Anfield as often as my dad would take me (being lower middle class I wasn’t allowed to go on my own yet) and devoured every appearance of the game, from Harry Carpenter’s Sportsnight to The Big Match on ITV. But what I yearned for more than anything else was the World Cup to come around. And in 1982, it did.

For a month I gorged on the football played in Spain. Feasted on it. Indulged my passion for the game with a lust previously unknown to me. And at the centre of every game was the Adidas Tango, the most beautiful football in the world.

No one at the local park had a Tango. Usually we played with a battered “casey”, a leather imitation of the Adidas Telstar with the black and white panels peeled off, or even worse, an orange Tornado, a hard, plastic job that gave you a dead leg when it clattered into your bare thighs on Saturday mornings. Tangos were for pros, not us.

And yet they could be bought. I’d seen one in the window of my local sports shop, sitting there, a vision of beauty a galaxy away from anything I could ever afford. And to make it worse, in the next display was that other great football icon of the age, the Adidas World Cup ’82 boot. It was torture.

The World Cup was just better than anything else around at that time. In fact, 27 years after, it still is. Not only did have the softest upper, quilted around the toe for better torsion (apparently), it boasted a sole so beautiful I’d spend hours gazing at it. Perfectly proportioned in red, white and black, at its very centre was the Adidas trefoil, still the greatest logo in the history of sporting design. But, like the Tango, it too was out of my grasp – the price of £32 too steep for everyone but the most indulged of children.

It hurt me that at the moment when I needed them most (and I did need them) the Tango and World Cup boot could never be mine.

Of course, time – and other things, like girls and music – took away my yearning for these wonders, but they’d appear in my mind occasionally, reminders of an age when I was on the cusp of adolescence and wanted objects that reflected my changing status.

A year or two ago, I did what I’d always promised I’d do when I could afford it: I finally bought myself a pair of World Cups. They sit in my wardrobe today, brought out for when I play one of my occasional games. The leather is as soft as I remembered (it’s kangaroo hide), the sole looks as timeless as ever and when I put them on, I get an inner glow that lasts for the duration of the match.

I haven’t got round to buying a Tango yet, but when I get a place with a garden – and maybe produce a child – it’s on the list. Right at the top.

I’m still working on getting the folks back together.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Living like a king in Paris in November

A couple of weeks ago I got a phone call. It went thus:

Nice lady: “Hey Tony, would you like to go Paris on Monday?”
Me: “Er, well I think… yeah, I’ll… bite your hand off.”

One of the great things about being freelance – and let’s face it, what with the pony wages and getting shafted by clients, they’re increasingly few – is having the freedom to take off at short notice if a nice PR person wants to take you somewhere. This was one such case.

Let’s be frank, we’re not talking about a Holiday Inn or Ibis here. No, for one night each, I’d be staying at the beyond-plush Plaza Athénée and Le Meurice hotels, favourites of movie stars, musicians and the “fashion pack”, whoever they might be.

Three hours after leaving St Pancras I was wondering around my suite at the Plaza, in Avenue Montaigne, marvelling at the size of my room, the quality of the furniture and the mirror-cum-telly that took over one wall of my bedroom. For the next two days, I ate like a king – and a French, 18th Century king with a laissez-faire attitude starving poor folk at that – feasting on everything from veal and pork paté, to slivers of perfectly cooked breast of duck. During an exquisite lunch at Le Meurice, the absolute dedication to the casue of gastronomy at this level of catering became very apparent.

Me: “Blimey, I’m stuffed. Hope the pud’s not too heavy.”
Lady next to me: “It’s pastries… and they’re covered in… gold.”
French waiter: “I can assure you zat ze gold iz 24 carat.”
Me: “Good job too, sonny, none of that Elizabeth Duke 18-carat rubbish for me.”

If it sounds like I’m being facetious, I’m not (alright, I am, a bit). The whole thing, from the way every member of staff treats you like Julius Caesar to the tour of the penthouse suite at Le Meurice (above) – 250m sq garden included in the night’s rate – was beyond fantastic. And no matter whether it’s raining or the binmen are on strike, Paris always, always looks amazing, especially from high up.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Pieter Hugo: ‘Hyena And Other Men’

Young South African photographer, Pieter Hugo
doesn’t mess about. Not for him, artsy fashion shots for glossy magazines or studio sessions with brain-dead celebrities. Instead, Hugo goes out into the world and records the amazing things that go on in the everyday lives of ordinary people – particularly in Africa. The shots here are from a series Hugo took in Nigeria, which show the country’s travellers and their rather unusual (ie terrifying) pets. And yes, that is a monkey wearing an England football top at the bottom.

More from Hugo here

Tip: Justin Quirk

Friday, November 06, 2009

Beautiful house/dental practice in Japan

From the Dezeen website comes this beautiful Japanese house, which houses both the owner’s dental practice and a swimming pool. I bet he doesn’t find it hard to attract the ladies with this gaff. Superb.

Tip: Spaceinvading

Wednesday, November 04, 2009

Rafa: the man they love to hate

Let’s get this straight: Rafa Benitez makes some seemingly odd decisions.

Last year he took off Steven Gerrard at Wigan in a game Liverpool had to win to maintain their title challenge. This season, he’s substituted our best player, Yossi Benayoun, in matches against Lyon and Fulham, just when we needed him most. He’s stubborn, thinks too much about the next game and once wore a dreadful stonewash jeans-and-suit jacket combination at Wrexham in a friendly last year.

He’s also one of the greatest managers in the world.

People – and I include a lot of Liverpool fans in this – are so used to the Reds being a dominant force that they ignore the perilous position that the club is in at the moment. For anyone under the age of 45, Liverpool have always been at the top of the English football tree. If they’re not, it must be Rafa’s fault. Right?


If we’re being truthful here, Benitez must take some blame for what’s been happening on the pitch recently, but the real reason we’re in such a bad position at the moment is down to two people: Liverpool’s owners George Gillett and Tom Hicks. Though to call them “owners” grants them more dignity than they deserve.

When they bought our club off long-time chairman David Moores, Hicks and Gilette promised that they would use their own money for the purchase.

They lied.

Instead they took control of Liverpool FC with a £350m Royal Bank of Scotland loan. The profits the club makes, thanks largely to Benitez’s careful management, are ploughed back to pay off the interest on that loan. Want new players, Rafa? Sorry, you can only spend what you earn through the sales of others.

And it’s not just in the purchase of players that the Americans have been sadly wanting.

Three years ago, all the talk was of “new Anfield”, the 70,000-capacity stadium that would see Liverpool bring in the sort of gate receipts that Manchester United and Arsenal do every week. George Gillett promised that within 60 days of them taking over, there’d be “a spade in the ground” at Stanley Park, site of the new ground.

We’re still waiting.

The truth of the matter is that Liverpool are skint. Without Torres and Gerrard, Liverpool have no-one, bar Benayoun who can put the ball in the net with any regularity. The fact that Liverpool couldn’t afford to get rid of someone as woefully inept as Andriy Voronin during the summer shows just how paper-thin our squad is.

And it’s not just me pointing this out. Daniel Finkelstein’s “Finktank” in The Times forensically analyses the form of every Premier League club. His view on Liverpool is eye-opening.

[Last year] Liverpool exceeded our expectations for a team of their quality. And it is not surprising at all that they have dropped back off again this season. Their start to this season is more what we would expect of them.

So what is behind it? Three things seem worth mentioning. First, they have stayed steady in quality but have changed with their defence getting weaker and their attack getting stronger. They are letting in a large proportion of the shots on goal. They need to put this right.

Second, Xabi Alonso was, next only to Steven Gerrard, their best player. It was a disaster to lose him to Real Madrid. But most importantly – the money. Our figures show that Benítez outperforms the wage bill. Blame the Americans. Not Rafa.

So for Liverpool supporters, it has to be a case of holding tight and sitting out this storm. Calling for Benitez’s head does no-one any favours – and there isn’t a decent manager out there who’d come to Liverpool at the moment anyway, not with those two clowns at the helm. As mentioned earlier, the Spaniard should not be immune to criticism, but a real examination of what Rafa can do for the club should wait until Hicks and Gillett have been packed off back to the States.

And Reds fans reading this: remember, we are not Newcastle or England, clamouring for our manager’s head just because it’s not going exactly the way we like it. We are different. We support our team, and especially our manager, through thick and thin.

As our motto goes: we are not English, we are Scouse.

It’s about time a few more people started to behave like it.