Boxing Day Football

Like re-runs of The Snowman and organised strikes by people who think £40,000-a-year is not enough to operate a tube train, Boxing Day football fixtures are a staple of the Christmas period.

Sky’s billions have contributed to the slow death of the 3pm kick-off over the last twenty years and Boxing Day is usually one of the rare occasions during the season when all twenty Premier League teams play on the same day. Not this year of though, as Bob Crow’s kicked up another stink. Still, nine fixtures should serve up more festive entertainment than anything on ITV1.

Fifty years ago clubs would regularly play on Christmas Day, providing hundreds of football-playing men up and down the country with the perfect escape route from an afternoon trapped on the sofa with their in-laws.

It’s around this time of year the sages on the Match of the Day sofa bemoan a lack of a winter break, attributing the England national team’s annual failings to the lack of a two-week rest. All bollocks of course, given half the players in the Premier League are foreign internationals, and you didn’t see Fernando Torres and Juan Mata complaining when they banged in the goals to seal Spain’s victory in the Euro 2012 final. England fail for numerous reasons, mainly because we’re not actually very good; but I digress…

I love Boxing Day football. Forget hair of the dog or Berocca, the perfect Xmas hangover cure is standing in the freezing cold for 90 minutes on the terraces of your local non-league side with a cone of chips and a polystyrene cup of Bovril. It’s usually a derby game, so the ground’s a sell-out and the atmosphere is charged. With as many as four rounds of fixtures in ten days, festive football is an essential part of the calendar, with Boxing Day the jewel in the crown.

Match of the Day: as enticing as a romantic night in with Justin Lee Collins

I love the BBC. Whether it’s high-end drama, globally-recognised sitcoms or historical travelogues, Auntie makes wonderful programmes. The Beeb’s sport coverage is usually great too: you only have to look at its Olympics coverage for proof of that. But it keeps doing football wrong.

It’s clear Match of the Day’s shit has hit the fan now ITV1’s football coverage looks competent by comparison. Having poached Lee Dixon to join Roy Keane and Gareth Southgate for their Champions League coverage, the channel arguably has the best stable of pundits on the box. One caveat to this is the continued employment of toby-jug-faced presenter Adrian Chiles, but three out of four ain’t bad.

The BBC considers MOTD to be an entertainment show rather than specialist sports programming, and therefore it has no obligation to appeal to anyone with an IQ of above 80. It’s crammed with familiar faces like Alan Shearer, a man so devoid of charisma that he celebrated winning the Premier League in 1995 by creosoting his fence. Shearer is MOTD’s resident cod-psychologist; there to inform viewers just what is going on in a player’s head after a missed sitter: “He’ll be disappointed with that”, or a hat-trick: “He’ll be delighted with that”. Continue reading

Film Review: Ruby Sparks ****

Imagine you’re a neurotic single novelist, relatively successful but emotionally unfulfilled.

You base the female protagonist of your latest novel on your dream girl, and she miraculously comes
to life. Not only that, but she becomes your lover and you’re able to influence everything she thinks, says and does through the words emanating from your typewriter. Flinging ethics to one side for a moment, the ability to wield godlike power would help you to iron out any difficulties the relationship faces. What could possibly go wrong? Continue reading

Great Expectations: Life as an Unemployed Graduate

This summer university campuses across the land will bear witness to final-year students tossing mortar boards into the air amid scenes of jubilation to celebrate their collective academic success. Many graduates will return home for good in search of work and find themselves facing up to the grim reality of unemployment, a term synonymous with notions of failure and despair, and about as far removed from the joy of a graduation ceremony as you can get.

I graduated in July 2010. I’d had three years suckling on the frosty teat of independence, living away from home with friends and ‘finding myself’ as is de rigueur for the arts student. My student house was shambolic; the washing up never seemed to get done, we’d stay up all hours philosophising about life and no one ever had any milk.

The halcyon days of going to bed at daybreak and irregular mealtimes were soon over. I moved back in with my parents after my graduation ceremony with high hopes of moving out imminently and reclaiming that independence. Except living at home was different now. There were grumblings about how I would have to “pay my way” and “earn a living”. I couldn’t dangle the unconditional-love-of-a-mother-to-her-child carrot in an attempt to sponge off Ma and Pa any longer as this “child” was now a 21-year-old man. The good life was over, but who was I to complain? I expected to find a job soon enough.

I kept reading in the papers how I was part of a “lost generation”, as if I’d sacrificed myself in World War One or something. What if I could never have a career? Continue reading

TV Review: Fresh Meat Series 2, Episode 1 – Channel 4, 10pm 09/10/12

In the Venn diagram of television, the comedy-drama is posited in the hinterland between sitcoms and serious drama. In general, they’re not funny enough to be classified as a straight-up comedy show, and lack the requisite tragedy to operate as a melodrama. I found series one of Fresh Meat to be one of the rare examples of a show that worked as both. I was impressed with the way it captured the essence of the university experience: the collision of people from different backgrounds; teenage anxiety; casual promiscuity and experimentation in watchable and amusing way.

The ‘difficult second album/book/series’ cliché is used almost pre-emptively by misanthropic critics. It’s probably The Stone Roses’ fault, after the Madchester pioneers took six years to follow up their eponymous debut album due to contractual wrangles, and when it was released it was really shit. I’ll reserve judgment on Fresh Meat until I’ve seen a few more episodes, but I was a little disappointed with this opening episode, perhaps because my expectations had been so high. Continue reading

Interview: Hustle’s Robert Vaughn

BBC One’s conmen drama Hustle bowed out in February after eight series and 48 episodes. It’s remarkable the team of charlatans managed to swindle so many people out of so much money over so many years to be honest. One slip and the whole team would have been chucked in the slammer. Due to the programme’s enduring popularity and repeat-viewability, Sony Entertainment Television purchased the rights to broadcast the entire series.

One of the stars of Hustle is Hollywood royalty Robert Vaughn, who plays grifter and card sharp Albert Stroller. Vaughn appeared as one of the title characters in The Magnificent Seven and as Steve McQueen’s co-star in Bullitt, but his best-known role is the suave spy Napoleon Solo in the 1960s espionage TV series The Man from U.N.C.L.E. I caught up with him to discuss his time on Hustle. Continue reading