Saturday, December 19, 2009

Signs from God

Yesterday marked the end of my sixth unsuccessful pursuit of serious employment. What I initially put down to random bad luck has now become, in my opinion, a remarkable statistic and very possibly my only claim to law school fame.

I woke up with a start at 10.30 a.m. today and, after doing the usual morning things, made my way to class, having all but forgotten about yesterday (I would've said "yesterday's disappointment", but decided not to kid myself). The International Taxation Law seminar class was just wrapping up as I entered and I was walking over to my customary place at the front of class when I saw it.

The less remarkable (though, to my mind, equally significant) part of this story is that it was suspended precisely between the very two flap tables on which I usually rest my notebooks, in order to indicate that both seats are occupied, because I usually like the place next to me being vacant.

The more remarkable part of this story is that 'it' was a white polythene with six bright yellow bananas. I stared at the tables for a while as my mind thought up this blog post and then shook my head in disbelief. As I left the classroom, I looked back at the bananas and said to myself, "yaar, tera toh kela ho gaya." :)

Friday, December 11, 2009

And Then There Were None

Dean Ashton announced his retirement from professional football today at the age of 26. This had been on the cards for almost five months now and honestly, the only surprise about this announcement is that it has come as such a surprise to so many people.

My first memories of Dean Ashton go back to the 2003-04 season when he was still at Crewe and, though highly rated by everyone, was thought of as no more than another stellar product of Dario Gradi's dynastic production line of cultured footballers who had a shot at a decent professional career once he became too big for Crewe to hold on to.

Right on cue, while I was in mourning over the dramas unfolding at Elland Road, Ashton moved on, fairly unnoticed, to Norwich City and it is here that his flames of his promise (an unfortunate one-word tag that would haunt him as he moved up the footballing ladder over the next three-and-a-half seasons) were actively fanned. This was helped in no small part by the sad fact that the Darren Huckerby's of this world were never going to be long-term goalscoring solutions for the Canaries, as they revved up for an assault on the top-end of the Championship. The fact that Ashton's core strengths were so far removed from the archetypal 'hard-running, working the channels, hustling the back four, more useful playing alone up front away rather than leading the line at home' strikers that populated Norwich's benches and reserves only made his potential path to superstardom more straightforward.

However, in another bit of punditspeak that would chequer his short career, a lot of people didn't understand why Ashton's goalscoring record wasn't that great--indeed, he averaged rather less than a goal every two-and-a-half games throughout his senior career--and said that he needed to score more goals in order to really hit the spotlight as a header-winning, link-up playing front man. There was a blatant double standard in that particular criticism--the same people were fawning over Peter Crouch and, more inexplicably, Emile Heskey, neither of whom fulfilled this strike rate requirement. Cast your mind back to Heskey's famous season at Liverpool where he scored twice in thirty-four appearances and led the line for England no less than six times the same season. Even leaving that aside, Ashton's game was never about being that big frontman whose mere presence on the field would instantly convert the back six into a giant slingshot to lump the ball forwards aerially. I always felt he was one of those excellent footballers who would fit any system and the quality of his overall play was good enough to play him practically anywhere (an opinion a lot of people held of Alan Shearer, another player Ashton was often unfavourably compared with).

Towards the back end of his spell at Norwich, when it was almost certain that West Ham were coming in for him, I remember a weekend of football where he'd created an opportunity out of nothing and scored a ridiculous twenty-five yard goal against Middlesborough at the Riverside and how there was unanimous raving, with everyone who watched that game, curiously, highlighting different strengths about Ashton's game. It was a bit of a shock to me because I hadn't heard such consistently varied opinions about a striker's strengths since the time Sir Alex Ferguson had plucked Dion Dublin out of obscurity. Dublin's Old Trafford career had been finished by a horrific leg fracture against Crystal Palace on the second day of September that season (something that eventually prompted Ferguson to unsuccessfully try for David Hirst, Mick Harford and, famously, for Eric Cantona, who, people forget, he secured for exactly the same money that he paid for Dublin) and from that day on, I constantly feared for something similar happening to Ashton.

Sure enough, his 2006-07 season was finished by the same ankle that has now caused his retirement and, by the time 2007-08 (Ashton's only relatively injury-free season after leaving Gradi and Crewe) was coming around, you had to feel for Alan Curbishley who, with anywhere between nine and thirteen first-teamers perpetually injured, was really running out of options, though the same lack of options would prompt the signing of Newcastle captain Scott Parker and, gee, hasn't that turned out well!

Ashton began the process of repaying seven-and-a-quarter million pounds very faithfully in the league in 2007-08, the inevitable England debut (tragically, also to be his last appearance for England) followed and the feeling that he would make up for lost time was irresistible to most observers, who finally realised that season that Ashton was every bit as good as the hype.

Sadly, that ankle of his was literally being held together by a thread and when Shaun Wright-Phillips mistimed a tackle in England training, Ashton fell in a heap and never, in reality, got back up again. And the tragedy of Dean Ashton is not that a promising career has been cut short or that he will not enter the pantheon of legendary English centre-forwards by becoming the next Alan Shearer or even that he has nothing to do in the immediate future apart from trying to find a bit-part job within or outside football. The tragedy is that he is fine. It's just that if he wants to continue doing what he loves, he's going to risk not being able to walk unassisted when he eventually retires. The same could have happened to Shearer, if that tackle from behind in the preseason game at Goodison Park in July 1997 had been even a second later. But it didn't. And Wright-Phillips' tackle on Ashton did. On such ironies do footballers' careers depend.

Here's wishing Dean Ashton all the best. I can't think of any English footballer in recent times who deserves it more.


Tuesday, December 08, 2009

Of Optimism

Late post. I wrote this a week ago today.

I've woken up with a real sense of optimism today. Not even a cancelled first hour has managed to tarnish that. I've also realised that The Raconteurs make excellent morning music.

These times also mark the most bullish I've felt about Leeds United since Robbie Fowler chipped that orange ball over David James' head for the third in a 3-0 demolition of West Ham at a snowy Elland Road on New Year's Day 2002. It's been way too long. But with a six-point cushion over Charlton and a further three points back to fourth place with a game in hand, I have the irrepresible feeling that this is the season that the swagger comes back to Leeds United. If Grayson holds on to the squad in January, nothing short of administration (and it's happened before, so always beware) will stop an ascent into the Championship. The players are committed, the crowds are hot, the substitutions are sharp, the football is pretty and one Jermaine Beckford is on fire.

I know it's only sixteen games into the season, but there's a feeling, more than a feeling, that redemption for the dark days of 2005 is just around the corner. And that will be sweet.

Down The Corridors, Round The Corners

I'm writing this in the library. And it's because I've spent fifteen minutes here about an hour back that makes me feel like I've had the wind knocked out of me. That's a shame because what I saw and read in those fifteen minutes was actually very beautiful.

It's just that it also reminded me that there is no substitute for time, that five years don't really melt away. That my attempts at "creating our own history" will fall obviously and painfully short. That, for all the compliments and the rose-tinted glasses, this is still the most uneasy compromise I've ever been a part of. That I'm being unfair in expecting, forgiving, forgetting and then expecting all over again.

If I'd written this an hour ago, I might've told myself, "you saw it coming, this was always going to be the knife in your back, whenever it came" but the fact that I'm not really thinking such things itself tells me that there is, in fact, no substitute for time. Which is also perhaps why I don't understand why I haven't spoken to my best friend in over a month.

God forgive me if I end up sacrificing a Fairy Tale or two before I sleep tonight. But there's very little else that can make up for the fact that, despite everything I've (and, indeed, we've) tried, when it comes to those perfect little visions of happiness I make myself believe in, I'm as as far away from those ideals as I've ever been.

I'm not sure if there's a point to this story but I'm going to tell it again.

My photo
I've been wilfully caught up in the self-defeating quest to get to know myself for years. I've never expected anything beneficial to result from such a quest. I tend to evoke extremely polarised reactions from people I get to know in passing. Consequently, only those people who know me inside-out would honestly claim that I'm a person who's just "alright." It's not a coincidence that the description I've laid out above has no fewer than, title included, eleven references to me (make that twelve). I'm affectionately referred to as "Ego." I think that last statement might have given away a tad too much. Welcome Aboard.

IHTRTRS ke pichle episode mein aapne dekha...


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