Rugby versus football, a game of two halves

At the end of a very stressful and long football season, I think I have stumbled upon a universal truth.

Everything that is wrong with football could be corrected by adopting the ethics, morality and general good-bloke-ish-ness of rugby. (Cue picture of Jonny Wilkinson). images

This is never more obvious than when you channel hop between the Six Nations and the Premier League. I was actually astounded by the contrast. Think about what REALLY annoys you when you’re watching football. First and foremost, stupid refs getting things wrong. How does rugby deal with this? If there is a potentially dodgy decision on the rugby field there is an instant replay and the ref makes a decision based on that replay. He doesn’t make a decision based on what the home crowd wants, or what his myopic Liverpool fan of a linesman has seen, or thinks he has seen. The fact that football rules say you can go BACK and look at the replay once the match is over is just ridiculous. Either you have video evidence or you don’t.

Second really annoying thing about football: the diving and writhing around in agony if a player is so much as looked at. What happens on the rugby pitch? They are ignored, and left to deal with it. The game is not stopped unless it is a serious injury. And actually in rugby it probably would be a serious injury because rugby does not attract the namby pamby theatrical types football seems to favour.
Third really annoying thing about football? Time added on. or so-called “Fergie time” as it used to be known. Ridiculous. If play is stopped just do what they do on the rugby pitch and stop the clock. Having added time is open to such a lot of abuse. Again football gives the ref the power to dictate the game. And how many refs do you really trust?

Fourth really infuriating thing? Much as we sometimes loathe them, arguing with the ref is JUST NOT RIGHT. Shut up, accept the decision and play on. You never see a rugby player harassing the ref. So undignified.

If we had more rugby-style morality and rules in football, the players might be more popular and the game have a little more credibility. As things stand most people when asked about Premier League players say they are spoilt, overpaid and generally not very nice (apart from Frank Lampard that is, cue picture of Super Frank).images-1
Rant over. Enjoy the end of the football season. And next year, watch a bit more rugby.

As my father-in-law always says: “Rugby is a game for yobs played by gentlemen, football is a game for gentlemen played by yobs.”

A cure for cancer? Get on with it please…

Last night I dreamt that Petr Cech had cancer. Most you won’t know who he is, and there’s no reason why you should unless you’re a football fan. He is Chelsea’s brilliant goalkeeper, has been since 2004.For some reason I was with him when he discovered he was ill, and we were busy discussing what he should be cremated in. We opted for his green goalkeeping strip (with underwear, as opposed to my father below). I wept hysterically throughout the whole dream, I just couldn’t imagine life (or Chelsea) without him. imgres
On waking I realised that there are probably three main reasons I had this nightmare.
First, my father has just died, so death and cremation are at the forefront of my mind. Second, I watched another Chelsea hero, Juan Mata, playing in a red Manchester United shirt for the first time last night. It was a little bit like watching an old boyfriend you are still in love with kissing another girl. So there’s the losing a key player link. Third, my girls told me the tragic news yesterday of a first former at their school who has lung cancer. She starts chemo today and is 11 years old.
This is just about the saddest thing I have ever heard. One day you’re a little girl roaming around the glorious grounds of your school wondering who you’re playing in Wednesday’s Lacrosse match and the next you’re in hospital, terrified, in grave pain and danger. I just can’t imagine what she and her parents must be going through today and will go through for the next few months. It really is one of those things that puts everything else in perspective. Apparently cancer in children is particularly violent. How bloody cruel is that? What a hideous, nasty twist.
I have read encouraging things about finding a cure for cancer and of course some people are cured. I can’t understand why there isn’t a tax levied on all businesses for example to raise more money for research. Where the hell does all that VAT go for example? Would we resent paying it if we knew it was going to help children with terminal illnesses?
If you’re moved by this little girl’s plight, please click on this link and donate http://www.cancerresearchuk.org/support-us/donate.

Just remember it could be you sitting in a hospital next to your child today and not as you are at your desk reading this.

The greatest soap opera of them all

Last night I dreamt about Ashley Cole. The night before I dreamt that we were no longer in the Champion’s League.

They say that women discover either God or gardening. I have discovered goals. More specifically goals scored by men wearing a dark shade of blue, ideally Frank Lampard, whom I adore so much I dedicated my last novel, The Ex Factor, to him. But I am happy with contributions from Hazard, Mata, even Fernando Torres.
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Rather than heading to church or the rose bushes, I have become an utterly fanatical Chelsea fan. My whole diary (during the football season that is) is dominated by Chelsea fixtures. Any opportunity to travel to London has to coincide with a home fixture. If I am asked to a dinner party the first thing I do is check that Chelsea is not playing. Our lives are so inextricably linked that I cannot imagine what on earth I did before this obsession began.

I’m amazed it hasn’t afflicted many other women. Because football is the greatest soap opera of them all. Forget Downton. Emerdale what? Football literally has it all. Money, men in shorts, cheating, glory, despair and elation – and you really cannot predict the outcome. Even if you’re 3-0 up at half time, you can still lose. As the recently-retired Sir Alex Ferguson put it: “Football is a drug that is hard to give up.”

My first brush with Chelsea FC came when I was 16 years old and a (female) friend of mine took me to Stamford Bridge. At the time I was more into fashion than football and didn’t really think much of it. My friend by the way never veered from the true blue course. She now has one child named after our home ground and another after Chelsea legend Gianfranco Zola.

It took a while for me to find my way back again. I married a man who has been a Chelsea fan since the FA Cup replay against Leeds in 1970. During our early-married life we would watch Match of the Day together.

“It’s not very exciting,” I grumbled once.

“Yes it is,” he replied. “You just need to pick a team.”

I can’t really say when a desultory interest turned into a total obsession. But from being on the sidelines of my husband’s football interest, I suddenly overtook him.

As I said earlier, football is the world’s greatest soap opera. It is not just the action on the pitch, but all the action off it. Take the ‘second coming’ of José Mourinho. It has elevated the soap opera to an even higher level. It’s a bit like having Lord Voldemort manage your team (the main character in my novel is nick-named after him). Even non-football fans have heard of José, and he is the kind of charismatic, enigmatic man that will attract a lot more interest in the game, especially from women.

I predict females following football will increase massively over the next few years. As we get more and more bored with celebrities we will turn our attention to things that really matter, such as sport. And there is no greater sport than the beautiful game.

Angst, what angst?

I hated being a teenager. I was utterly angst-ridden. Not so much in the existentialist ‘why am I here?’ department, but just about everything else. I was too skinny, too foreign (at the time practically the only brown-haired, brown-eyed girl in the whole of Sweden) and too different (mad Italian father, divorced parents, strange surname).
Bea asked me yesterday if I always thought I would get married and have children (she is 12 now, so probably just about to embark on various angst-ridden phases). I had to think about her question, and couldn’t say with all honesty that I did. All I really know is that I decided very early on that if I ever did get married and have children, I would give them the kind of upbringing I wished I had; so two parents, no divorces, stability and routine. And definitely no psychos.
I remember my stepfather yelling at me when I was about 19 years old. “You’re so bloody middle class,” he shouted. “I can just see you in years to come, married to some bloke called Rupert, loving in Wiltshire waving off your kids to boarding school.”
“What’s wrong with that?” was my reaction (which of course I didn’t dare to voice). “Sounds ideal.”
I did marry someone called Rupert, and although we don’t live in Wiltshire (and yes I do wish we did sometimes), the children may soon be going to boarding school. Of course that is now a source of angst for me, because I can’t imagine what it will be like without them, but more on that another time.
I hope we have succeeded in providing the kind of stable background that at least reduces the horror of teenage angst. So far the girls seem balanced, happy and able to talk to me if anything is worrying them.
As for Leo, there really isn’t much existentialist angst there I’m happy to say. As Rupert put it the other day: “Why am I here? I am here to score goals for Chelsea.”
There can be no greater aim….

Copyright: Helena Frith Powell 2012

London Living

Everyone has settled in extremely well to London life. I guess it’s not difficult to do if you”re living in the middle of Chelsea. We are in a tiny street just off the King’s Road, where the houses are painted various pastel shades. In fact opposite is the fictional home of George Smiley from the spy books. Every morning we have a breakfast of blueberries, strawberries and raspberries followed by poached eggs on toast. All food comes from either M&S or Waitrose, both of whom do a marvellous home delivery service.
I am not going to the gym, but rather exercising by housework. It is possibly not as effective as the gym, but can be tough. For example, if the home delivery service is not available I carry the shopping home, very good for the biceps, and the dishwasher needs emptying at least twice a day, which involves lots of bending, not to mention carrying the bin bags out. I do miss my maid (s), but to be honest, life here is so good I think I could even get used to the ironing. Possibly.
Yesterday was a typically lovely day. We went to the V&A to the fashion exhibition there, had coffee outside with a friend (yes, a crazy English friend whose idea of a summer’s day is one where it is only spitting with rain not pouring). Then the girls and I walked to Knightsbridge via a vintage (well, charity) shop where I picked up a great handbag for nothing, followed by an encounter with Graham Le Saux (former Chelsea player, see pic). After a quick stop at Zara and Top Shop we took the bus back home for lunch and an afternoon of work.
So many things have struck me about being here but I think the main one is how NICE everyone is. Everyone from the man at the tube station who activated our Oyster cards (one of the greatest ever inventions) to the shop assistant in Scribbler, to the cashiers at M&S, to the chemist on Sloane Street who listened patiently to all the children’s extremely minor ailments, to the lovely hotelier at Woodlands Park Hotel in Surrey who told us the entire Chelsea squad would soon be traipsing through reception. Here is Leo with Gary Cahill.
I am loving every minute of life here, even though it rains constantly. Maybe I am in such a good mood because I don’t have to go to the gym any more? But I think it has more to do with being home. And bumping into Chelsea players on a regular basis.
Copyright: Helena Frith Powell 2012

Sporting loyalties

Whenever people ask me where I come from, I say England. This is of course not strictly true, but the truth would take far too long, and when people ask you where you’re from, as is the case when they ask you how you are, they don’t really want to know the truth, they just want to have enough information to put you in a certain compartment in their brain. And I am quite happy to fit into their ‘London’ compartment, as London is my spiritual home.

I am biologically Swedish/Italian. When I was two my mother married an Englishman, and from then on I was brought up between England and Sweden. Italy and my Italian family only came in later on in my life when my mother and I ran away to Italy in her purple Ford Cortina. I was 12 at the time. If you’re interested in this, the whole saga is told in my book Ciao Bella, which is being re-released this summer.

But the point of this blog is not to sell books. At least not just to sell books. Ten years ago, we (my English husband and first-born daughter) moved from England to France. Two of my children were born there. And four years ago we moved to Abu Dhabi. So there is a bit of a mix going on.

Last night I watched England play Sweden in the Euro 2012 competition. As a child I was rather generous with my sporting loyalties. I could just as easily be singing Heja Svergie, as Forza Italia or even Allez les bleus. This has now changed. There is only one national team for me: England. I remember the words of the commentator: “If Waddle misses this, England are out of the world cup” as if they were yesterday. They were in fact in 1990. I spent most of my honeymoon in 1998 watching football, we raced back from the ferry from two weeks in Sweden in time to see Beckham get a red card.

So to me it was not odd last night to be yelling, praying, suffering for a side that really is not mine on the face of it. I am no more English than a Swedish striker. But I can’t help it. If (when?) we get knocked out of course, it will be fair game. But you know what? I think I might actually support Spain. Because that’s where Torres is, and we all know who he plays for? You don’t? Well, it is a London team called CHELSEA. So sporting loyalties don’t just come with your biological roots, they are obviously nurtured over years of supporting a team, or watching a team. My children of course are far less complicated, they have much more English influence, as well as English blood, although Bea and Leo, who are born in France do have some loyalty to Les Bleus. But whatever else, they support Chelsea, and there are no divided loyalties there whatsoever. Viva Espana!

Copyright: Helena Frith Powell 2012

I don’t know you, but I hate you

OK I promise I won’t go on about the AMAZING Champions League victory on Saturday, I realise most of my readers are not obsessive Chelsea fans. But today is George Best’s birthday, so it would be rude not to mention football at all.
Even those of you who don’t follow football will have heard of George. He was the first celebrity footballer, a two-footed genius whose flamboyant lifestyle eventually got the better of him. This quote from the man himself sums him up: “I spent 90% of my money on women, drink and fast cars. The rest I wasted.”
No one minded that he was a playboy, because he had charm. It is incredible how much one can get away with if one has it. And how many people are sadly lacking in it. As Oscar Wilde said: “People are either charming or tedious.” Just before the magazine closed down, we ran a feature by Anna Blundy, one of my favourite writers, called ‘I don’t know you, but I hate you.’ It was all about first impressions, and how we inexplicably hate some people on sight. Funnily enough I had the opposite happen the other day, I really liked someone on sight, quite an unusual experience. Especially as our sons were on opposing football teams.
Now that I am a stay at home mum I see a lot more of the school run and the school mums. I do think the ‘hate at first sight’ thing is most prevalent at the school gates. Why is this? Is it because we would all rather be having their nails done or lunching with a lover? Is it because we are all linked by the common denominator of children in the same school and somehow this common factor creates rivalry? Or maybe it’s just because, in the main, women don’t much like other women, or at least ones they don’t know? After all, they might be after their husbands. Or even worse, their lovers.
I would like to assure all the mothers at school that I am not a threat. I have yet to see anyone’s husband (apart from my own) that I want to end up in bed with.
Maybe I will try a charm offensive and smile at some of the grumpier ones today. In my post Champions League euphoria I am Miss Magnanimous. Or I could just send the driver to get the children and sit at home watching old youtube clips of George….

Copyright: Helena Frith Powell 2012

London weekend

When people ask me where I’m from, I just say England. I’m not English of course, I’m half-Swedish, half-Italian, living in Abu Dhabi and with a house in France. But no one really wants to know all that. Added to which, England is where I feel most at home.
Rupert, Leonardo and I just got back from London yesterday. We flew in on Wednesday and en route to the friends we were staying with drove up Redcliffe Gardens, the first place I lived in when I moved to London aged 16. Actually it wasn’t strictly the first place. Prior to that I had lived in a bedsit in Maida Vale, which was utterly dingy but I loved it. There was an old Greek man who lived downstairs and used to feed me Moussaka. And I worked at what was then Hennes, now H&M in Oxford Street.
I suppose what struck me so much driving up Redcliffe Gardens was how little it has changed in 20 years. I am a totally different creature, with children and published books and an unhealthy obsession with Chelsea football club. But London is almost identical. Maybe that is one of the reasons I feel so at home there.
We started our visit at Stamford Bridge, where we watched Newcastle beat Chelsea, funnily enough with a great friend of mine from the time I lived in Redcliffe Gardens. Leo and I spent Friday morning on the Stamford Bridge tour, and Saturday at the FA Cup Final. In between we shopped (Peter Jones, another example of how London remains the same), saw friends and went to the National Gallery and the Freud exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery. An ideal five days. Leo was weeping when we left and asking how soon we can go back. I have booked him into the Chelsea Soccer School in July, so we will be there then at least. But if I can sneak in a visit back home beforehand, I will.

Copyright: Helena Frith Powell 2012

My gap year

Exactly a week ago today I was made redundant. I was called up to an office in the HR department (never a good sign) and “let go” along with two of my colleagues. We were told they were closing the magazine as a result of a focus group investigation into the company.
You might wonder why on earth it has taken me so long to inform you of this dramatic development. Surely as I now have no job I have nothing to do and should be writing a blog daily. I have often looked at non-working mothers with a certain amount of disdain and wondered what their excuse is for a chipped nail, when they don’t have the tyranny of the office to keep them busy.
Now that I am one of them, I have only the greatest admiration. When you’re not working the days whiz by faster than a ride on the Leap of Faith. By the time you’ve kissed the kids goodbye, been nice to your husband, come back from the gym, planned lunch and answered some emails, it’s time for an afternoon kip and then the kids are back again.
I have to say my redundancy could not have come at a better time. I had been panicking about what to do in the summer. I had a total of about 10 days holiday but want to be in Europe, at La Belle Maison, for at least 60. Added to which, we have a lot of very important football matches coming up. Tomorrow Leo, Rupert and I fly to London where we will be going to Stamford Bridge for Chelsea v Newcastle followed by Wembley for the FA Cup final. Then there’s Munich for the Champions League final.
So there is plenty to keep me busy. Added to which I am on the final edits of one book and have just started another.
I have yet had anyone ask me what I do though. Never in my life have I had the luxury of saying “nothing” or “I look after my nails, sorry, my children” and I wonder if I will feel uncomfortable admitting that I have no ostensibly useful role in society any more? Especially somewhere like here, where you are defined by your career and the amount of money you earn.
I might just tell people I’m on a gap year. It sounds less drastic than “redundant” and a lot more like fun. Whatever else there is an enormous sense of freedom as I look forward to an office-free spring and summer filled with historic footballing victories, tennis and long walks in the Savoie. And what better day to write about it on than May 1st, the day that commemorates the working man, or woman (poor blighters).
Copyright: Helena Frith Powell 2012

The best soap opera in the world

No, I am not going to drone on about Downton Abbey again. The best soap opera in the world is football. I am utterly addicted to the progress (or lack of it) of Chelsea Football Club. And not just the performances on the field. If David Luiz gets a haircut, it is big news in our household. Luiz you have to understand, does have the MOST amazing hair and also looks like a character from a Mantegna painting, but I digress.

In the Chelsea soap opera so far this year we have had: The great white hope manager, AVB, in some ways (nationality) reminiscent of the best manager the club ever had (Jose) and who even worked with Jose, a fact that elevated him to practically God-like status without doing anything else at all. Of course said manager turns out to be utterly useless, dragging the club through one of its worst periods ever. Then we have had the gorgeous striker who can’t score. Fernando Torres, bought for £50 milllion, making him the most expensive striker in the world, and unable to hit the back of the net. Another sub-plot has been the battle of the old guard; the backbone of the team, Lampard, Terry and Drogba, and their future. Are they too old? Too powerful? Clearly AVB thought so. But in the end, they see him off much to the delight of fans all over the world.

On the field we have three major plots; the premier league, the Champions League and the FA Cup.  For the Premier League, the question now is whether or not (because we cannot win it) we will even finish in the top four, meaning we can play in the Champions League next season. If we don’t “make it to Europe” as they call it, we lose clout when it comes to keeping and attracting top players, not to mention a lot of money. One option is to win the Champions League this year, which automatically qualifies us. But we have not even got to the semi-final yet (key game tomorrow) and if we do, we may face Barcelona. The FA Cup is the third plot-line. We face Tottenham (London arch rivals) in the semi-final. We have already booked our tickets to London in case we get to the final. That is one episode we need to see live.

The last episode was a joy to watch. We beat Aston Villa 4-2 and Torres ended a 24-hour Premier League goal drought by scoring. It was poetry. And incredibly dramatic. We were leading 2-0 before they equalised, then we scored twice in the last 15 minutes of the game. Tomorrow night we face Benfica in the quarter finals of the Champions League. We beat them 1-0 in the first leg so expectations are high.Then it’s the FA Cup semi-final.

There is no soap opera in the world that gives you the same levels of misery, joy, elation and frustration as following a football team does. The cast is a little bereft of female characters and there is little or no love interest (unless Ashley Cole gets back together with Cheryl), but you can’t have it all.

Copyright: Helena Frith Powell 2012