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June 2006

June 23, 2006

On What I Did This Morning

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How much football is enough? I thought I had an answer to that last week, when my high standards of tolerance were threatened by a violently antagonised body-clock and eyes that were beginning to lose their peripheral ability. When I began wondering about advanced glaucoma, well, then I thought I might pack this whole World Cup thing in and turn my eye towards South Africa 2010, a host who can claim a much healthier time difference.
But one of the tensest games of football I have ever watched has restored my tolerance to happily childish levels. Croatia 2 Australia 2, and advancement to the round of 16....

The time here is 9.55 am, but the numbers are now only abstract doodles--my body appreciates the time as something closer to mid- to late afternoon, and my gut hurts.

I've watched the game, and so have you if you've read this far, so no prosaic run-down--plus, The Guardian does a far, far better job than I could here, but I can't resist including a little bit of the gonzo description myself. So, The Guardian on the referee, Graham Poll:

90 min: Another red card!... Graham Poll, who is a stupid bastard, is not getting the final, we can tell you that for nothing.

And on Kalac's first, not-so-fatal blunder:

40 min: Under no pressure whatsoever, Kalac catches an easy ball, then fumbles it, falls on his knees and nearly pushes it into his own net with his nose, like a puppy.

Indeed.

A game is a game is a game, but something that encourages men and women to dance in the streets of Northbridge at 5 in the morning, in the blistering cold, is pretty damn cool in my book. Northbridge has needed something other than drunk scum-fuckers cracking skulls to techno, and we got it last night.
This morning my avocado on toast came out late because the chef at Tarts hadn't slept, and my friend had to wait 25 minutes to have a savoury muffin heated. But none of us minded, and the nice old lady behind the counter informed me that she had had little sleep herself. I told her we were doomed to enter a recession.

And I'll tell you something else: when the six of us played football in the Hyde Park, at five in the morning, with only a dim lamplight and the heat of That Game to illuminate our playing space, well, East Timor was still failed, Bush was in power, and two parents in Collie couldn't sleep for the news that their 15-year-old daughter had been murdered by two of her friends. There were streets on fire somewhere, and a landmine destroyed somebody's face, but last night I really, really enjoyed being human.
I really, really enjoyed being alive.

It's platitudinous, it's middle-class, and it's probably even cruel, but Australia's ascension to the next round means my community--my friends, their friends, the people who sell me coffee--are all warmer.
AHHH, such sweet triteness.

There's little else to write that won't slip into sentiment or dull analysis, and the shakes are setting in, so, farewell, and well done Aussie.

P.S. Kid, if you're reading this bloody thing, I got your texts, and they were superb. Obrigado amigo.

Posted by Martin McKenzie-Murray at 9:50 AM | Comments (6)

June 22, 2006

An Update on the Beautiful Game

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It's just a few hours now until Australia's clash with Croatia, and a mere draw away from securing passage to the round of 16--an unlikely position when the World Cup groups were pulled out of a hat last year. We're also just a few hours away from knowing if Croatian police-officers, assigned to protect Aussie captain Mark Viduka's villa in Croatia, will be tested by piqued fans. The measure was thought necessary after a Croatian television reporter disclosed Viduka's address during a feed from Germany, and joked about the home's vulnerability should the Aussies go through. Croatian authorities weren't joking, and quickly dispatched guards to the disclosed address.
Viduka enjoys Croatian heritage and once played his club football in Zagreb. He used also to wear the Croatian red/white checks on an armband worn on his Australian strip, and kissed the item in celebration of goals scored. He will suffer a mild headache, the result of an inane juggling of nationalistic identity, but he is, after all, a professional, and surely consumed by that most professional of symptoms--devout myopia. He can contemplate on his identity, his villa, his history later--Australian coach Guus Hiddink will permit him no such indulgence now.

England have a few difficulties of their own, and none of them so abstract as Viduka's. Michael Owen left the pitch against Sweden in the first minute of the game, the result of cruciate ligament damage, and he is unlikely to play football again before Christmas.
England's performance against the Swedes was only marginally more acceptable than the previous two. Once again, England showed that they have individual brilliance--Cole's goal, and runs, is plenty of evidence for that, not to mention the silky Gerrard--but these flashy, isolated virtues have shown little to no ability in assimilating themselves into the larger structure. In short, England are terrible, and I'll be surprised if they make it past Ecuador in the next round.

And what else? The Iranian presence--the one that so irritated Senator John McCain--has come to an end, and I'm yet to find out where Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has been watching their games. Italy have appeared little interested in disproving stereotypes of petulance and defensively fought victories, and Brazil have still failed to impress, and I must say that Ronaldo's bloated, lumbering presence has saddened at least this viewer.
But Ghana have surprised, with an electric performance against the Czechs last week. They still haven't booked their place into the next round yet (anyone in that group could still go through) but I hope they do, and preferably at the expense of the Italians.

So Croatia awaits--now less than 11 hours away. A draw or better will mean the round of 16, and hopefully a securing of football into the imagination of this country. Fuck Mundine and Green, perhaps the last event outside of the Socceroos to cement a live feeling across the country--after that match bloody punch-ups were reported around the country, and a man died as the result of one in this city. No, not for football the audience of thugs and television executives (although they certainly number in the spectators)--this is for all of us.

And good luck with your villa, Mark.

Posted by Martin McKenzie-Murray at 3:18 PM | Comments (3)

June 9, 2006

The Beautiful Game

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Patrick's already written this piece, far better than I could ever hope for, but as I count down the hours to the lavish frivolity of the opening ceremony, and the opening game that will come after the smoke from the fireworks has drifted away, I have only one thing on my mind: the World Cup.

Sometime in winter 1998 I rose at a horrible hour to tune into England's sudden death bout with Argentina. It was a remarkable game, blessed with 4 goals (including that one by Michael Owen), Beckham's infamous dismissal, and, yep, a heartbreaking loss for England on penalties. My parents and four siblings were all in bed while this took place, and so my joy at Owen's run from halfway, and shock at Campbell's disallowed goal were voiced only with suppressed yelps, and runs around the couch. When the game ended, a few hours before high-school started, I sat on the rug in the family room in silence, pondering how I would feign a sickness that would keep me at home for the day.

In the end, I told my mother the truth: I was heartbroken, and the kids and teachers at school would crucify me. My mother didn't care, and when first period showed up--ironically it was phys. ed.--it seemed that everyone in the gym was pointing at my England shirt and laughing. I distinctly remember one teacher taking a perverse sort of pleasure in teasing me, too. It was all in a good spirit, but it hurt, and the rest of the day past slowly.

I think it was that year that I read Nick Hornby's Fever Pitch, a hilarious treatise on obsession, and it became a source of comfort and legitimisation. It made sense. Of course, it shouldn't have--Hornby's life was a strange torment, as he made the lives of those who loved him, but in the end he grows up a little, as we all have to, and learns to appreciate the game, rather than sanctify it.

Before the World Cup in 1998, there was the European championships in England, and the host's remarkable progress to the semi-finals (which were, naturally, lost on penalties to the Germans). Led by Alan Shearer, England routed Holland 4-1, and beat Scotland 2-0 in a game synonymous with Gazza's moment of brilliance, and the subsequent dentist-chair goal celebration. A few days after that game, I bleached my hair white(ish) and cut it in a ridiculous parody of a Texan military cadet. Just like Gazza. My father called me names, none of which I can recall, but looking back, I'm sure he was right. I looked absurd.

Fast forward to November 2005, and the Socceroos are in a familiar position. Playing the fifth-ranked South American side in the second leg of a do-or-die play-off. The tension is unbearable, as famous memories of failed qualification play out in the shadows of Telstra Stadium. And, as the drama-gods often do, the game, ultimately, is decided on penalties, and when Aloisi netted his, well... there was spilt beer, there was not caring about it, and there was Jackson, hitherto untouched by football, dancing and jumping wildly.

And so the practical fruits of that victory begin now. A World Cup campaign for Australia, only the second, and the first for 32 years. Johnny Warren is sadly not here to watch it, but we can hear him from the grave--his desire to see "football" as the predominant term to describe the beautiful game in this country is coming true.
And so beer and X-Box and late nights for the next four weeks. Perhaps some three-a-side in the streets during half-times. Jumpers for goal-posts. That sort of thing.

Posted by Martin McKenzie-Murray at 8:43 AM | Comments (7)

June 7, 2006

Homage to Journals Everywhere

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It's been a while, hasn't it? Writer's block is a nasty business, deepened, as it is, by my sympathy for Samuel Johnson's line: "What has been written without effort is generally read without pleasure".

My notebook bears marks. The most recent scratchings were made on the weekend, as I sipped coffee and tried to articulate my frustration with Australian film criticism. The source of my frustration were the reviews for the recent Australian film Candy, and aggravated by an odd piece of hostility--the studio interview I conducted with its director Neil Armfield, and co-writer Luke Davies.
But my scratchings came to nothing.

I made mental notes as I watched Booker-prize winning author DBC Pierre interviewed by Andrew Denton. While watching the exchange I turned to my housemate and asked: "Is that beer he's drinking?" It appears that it was. Piqued by the interview, I resolved on making something of my own interview with Pierre a few months back, and of our subsequent drinking bout. After many vodka shots and beer, I went home to vomit in my bed--he read from his latest book to a large crowd of well-dressed readers.
There was plenty to our conversation--awkward chats on the merit of Hemingway, his quizzing me on various subjects and authors. There was my admission that I thought his second novel rubbish, and his subtle bemusement. But so far I have written nothing.

What else? I've read some of a Capote biography, some Peter Carey, and re-discovered The Decemberists. I've met and spoken to a number of remarkable men and women--politicians, comedians, writers, and directors--and I've farted a few times. I've mused on the logic of advertising, and its relationship with Perth's most boring myth, street-artist Yok. While showering, I've often thought about my novel, and about my not having started writing it. And in a week where Patrick and I have, between us, interviewed Peter Singer, Rolf de Heer, Malcolm Long, the exceptionally sensible Father Richard Leonard, Richard E. Grant, and SBS's Damian Lovelock, I'm inclined to think we have a great little community radio station. But is there anything more boring than a list? This self-reflexive rubbish? When you write on your journal what you're currently listening to, I couldn't give a shit. So when I tell you what I think of when I'm in the shower, I shudder a little, and turn my eye back to that quote that sits at the top of this thing.
We all have our ideas of what's important.

Posted by Martin McKenzie-Murray at 3:44 PM | Comments (28)