North London ‘derby’ in Nyakarambi!
November 21, 2010

We have been promising ourselves a Saturday afternoon visit to KMC to watch a match on Msafiri’s big screen. Given that this weekend we were at a loose end in Nyakarambi and that Mark is a ‘Gooner’, the North London ‘derby’ seemed an obvious call.

Sod’s law decreed that this would, of course, be the Saturday afternoon that Msafiri had let his function room for a wedding party, so no football. Fortunately, however somebody else with an eye for the main chance had set up a 26 inch TV in a back room behind Uncle Innocent’s café.

We dutifully paid 200RWF entrance fee and took our place on wooden bench, hemmed in by about seventy football mad locals, and with a distant view of the small screen. About 75% of the crowd were Arsenal ‘fans’ and the rest were cheering on Spurs because they were followers of Chelsea or Man Utd.

The first half was a cake walk for Arsene’s team and the camera even caught him smiling. Perhaps it was too easy, because the second half saw an amazing turn around and Harry’s Spurs surprisingly found themselves 3-2 winners,  without really playing that well. A ‘game of two halves,’ if ever there was, and  Arsene was finally shown throwing his water bottle on to the ground in frustration!

To be honest all five goals were the product of dubious defending and who knows what Cesc Fabregas was thinking of when he stuck up an arm to let Spurs back in with an equalising penalty which provided, an out of condition, Rafael Van der Waart with his one and only meaningful contribution  to the game.

Game over and we repaired to the ‘front terrace’ of KMC to drown Mark’s sorrows and catch the dying embers of the day. As we watched the wedding guests, dressed in their finery, come and go we were soon joined by Msafiri sporting his ‘Tora Paul Kagame’ T-shirt and a long face. He is also a Gunners fan and had been watching the game up in his room.

Msafiri has taken to wearing a range of PK leisure wear since last Sunday when he attended a FPR meeting addressed by a local MP who apparently robustly refuted the findings of the recent controversial UN enquiry.  

Msafiri maintains he has never been into politics too much but understands the current standing and popularity of PK and, being rather astute, he clearly recognises that nailing his colours to the mast can’t be all together bad for business.     

He has been very friendly and helpful to us since we moved to Nyakarambi and is a bit of a local Mr Fixit. I had set him the mission of trying to find someone local who might be prepared to transport me and my luggage to Kigali Airport in two weeks time, at a decent rate, so I don’t have to struggle with it on the bus.

It seems he might have come up trumps and in typical African style, with a big smile on his face he declared that he could confirm arrangements two days before I’m due to leave. My response that I needed to know at least a week before leaving was met with another big grin and a, ‘Don’t worry Phillip I won’t let you down!’ Past experience suggests he won’t so I’ll just relax and go with the flow.          

On arriving home a  quick trawl on the internet soon put  the North London ‘derby’  into perspective. The result of the day was obviously down in Cardiff where Billy’s Boys beat the table toppers 2-0 to move the Tricky Trees into the top six of the Championship!

The English Patient
June 30, 2010

English football requires radical surgery if the national side is to recover and ever thrive again. It has been said before (after every major football championship since ’96) and it is being shouted from the rooftops, by the media once again, after Sunday’s dismal and embarrassing exit from the 2010 World Cup. But will those in power listen?     

The obvious and likely response, to the debacle of the last few weeks, is likely to see Fabio Capello heading out of the door but to be replaced by who? The current consensus seems to be that we’ve tried two overpaid foreign managers who didn’t deliver so let’s go back to an English manager; someone with in-built national pride who can communicate more easily with the players and sing the national anthem with gusto!  Remember Steve McClaren? He was supposed to fit the bill, but might have done better auditioning in the West End for ‘Singing in the Rain’!

I don’t think changing the coach/manager is the answer. They should stick with Capello, who has a better track record, at club level, than any of the other likely candidates being touted around. If he can’t revive the English patient then I suspect nobody can.

Do we really believe cheeky chappy ‘Arry Redknapp or big Sam Allardyce are going to turn the national side around? Just look at their career records!  Roy Hodgson, who has international experience as a coach , might be a better choice but he has opted for the lesser of two evils by joining another ailing English patient, Liverpool!

In my book, the best British club manager by a mile (and I haven’t forgotten the Scottish knight here) is Martin O’Neil. However Martin is Irish, intelligent, outspoken, doesn’t suffer fools gladly and would only take the job on his terms, so nothing going for him then!      

I think we should stick with Fabio for the next couple of years and involve him in a full top to bottom enquiry into the state of the ‘English game’  involving both the FA and the Premier League. The key questions are  simple and blindingly obvious. Do we want a successful national team or the mediocrity we have just endured?  If the answer is yes, how do we balance the needs of the national team, with the needs of the clubs and the money-making machine which is the Premier League?

The fans should also have an important say. Is the average football fan prepared to put the quest for a successful national side (once every two/four years) before that of the club side they follow, week in week out?

Needless to say the questions are much simpler than the solutions, but perhaps we need look no further than the example set by the Germans, who I’m sure would have beaten us (perhaps not so easily) even if Lampard’s ‘goal’ had been given.

The domestic Bundesliga is not as interesting or entertaining as the English Premier League, German club sides with the exception of Bayern Munch  have a modest record in the Champions League and yet whenever a major international tournament comes around the national side is always well conditioned, technically adept, tactically astute and monotonously successful (as we know to our cost) being three times winners of the World Cup and the European Championship.

Mind you, I do fancy Argentina to beat them in the quarter finals!

I suspect nothing radical will happen and in four years time the English patient may well be on the way to the morgue, whilst the Premiership coffers grow fatter and fatter!

The ‘golden generation’ has come and gone without ever looking like it would deliver, in Germany 2006 or Spain 2010. If we are serious about future international success the ‘new generation’ (worryingly thin on the ground) has to be given the right opportunities and conditions within which it can develop and flourish.

At the very least the following should now be seriously considered:

  • Reduce the number of Premier League teams to 18
  • An agreed minimum quota of English qualified players in every first team squad
  • An agreed minimum quota of English qualified players in every starting line up
  • The Carling Cup to go, or be officially downgraded to a competition which develops young home-grown talent   
  • A mid-season winter break in January

Now let’s leave the footballers in their misery for a while and turn our attention to the summer sports where we continue to enjoy a degree of success.

The England cricket team have now tied up the 50 over series against the Aussies and now well and truly own the bragging rights, having beaten them in all three forms of the international game during the last twelve months. Let’s hope their good form continues throughout the forthcoming Test series against Pakistan as they prepare for this winter’s Ashes tour.    

All eyes now turn to Wimbledon where tennis fans have enjoyed the recent glorious weather, oblivious of the trials and tribulations in South Africa, and Andy Murray has seemingly glided through to the quarter finals without dropping a set. HM popped in for her first visit since 1977, when Virginia Wade won the ladies’ singles – the last British champion! Could history repeat itself 33 years later, but this time in the men’s singles?