Here’s to raising a Stiff One…

Posted: December 5, 2013 in Stuff
Tags: , , , , ,

I was reminded yesterday, one way or another by a brave young kid, of a great and thoroughly enjoyable moment in my life.

It was the London 2012 Olympics.

Sporting occasions are not generally something to which I am attracted – though I’m partial to a good footy match (that’s soccer for you philistines out there) so you may not be surprised to hear that, aside from ‘Italia ’90’, the most joyous sporting occasion I can remember happened in Istanbul, Turkey, on the 25th May 2005.

It is a date that is burned into my memory like few others, 25.05.05.

Liverpool, my team, were getting badly beaten in a European Cup Final. Half time came and went and took with it the hopes of a city. We were three nil down against the best team in Europe. There was no way back.

All this way, for this?

I wasn’t there of course – in Istanbul that is, not physically at least. Physically I was in an apartment in Newcastle upon Tyne, England. It was full of Scousers, Geordie’s, Jock’s, Manc’s, and other denizens of the United Kingdom. All of us, armed with beer and crisps (but mainly beer) had come to watch the game for the greatest prize in club football, the Coupe des Clubs Champions Européens. The European Cup. Otherwise known as ‘Old Big Ears’.

Old Big Ears

Three nil down. I was distraught. Devastated.

Then a number of things happened in fairly quick succession. As the players took to the pitch for the second half the crowd sang a rendition of the Liverpool club anthem ‘You’ll Never Walk Alone’. It was moving, impassioned, a call to arms, a veritable Siren. So much so that the German Uefa representative was heard to say that it sent a shiver down his spine and filled him with fear. It filled me, and thousands of others like me, with tears, and caused a fellow comedian to put his arm around me and say “Never mind, Anvil, man, look at it this way, if you pull this off it’ll go down as the greatest come-back in the history of sport”.

Within minutes of the kick-off John Arne Riise, a Liverpool fave, put in a cross. Bang! Stevie Gerrard’s head! Back of the net! A real Captains’ goal. The stadium shook with the noise. So did the apartment in Newcastle upon Tyne. Over the roar the Commentator was heard to shout the now famous words, “Hello? Hello?… Here we go!” At that moment a life-long friend turned and grabbed me by the shirt and screamed into my face, “If we win this I’m getting my fucking tits out!”

The look in her eyes was wild, incensed – this was no desperate prayer to some pervy deity, more a gauntlet smashed hard into the face of fate.

The next six minutes were immense. First Vladimir Smicer fizzed one past the Milan keeper, then Stevie ‘G’ is brought down in the box. Penalty! It’s taken, saved, then converted on the rebound by Alonso. By full time Liverpool were level, the game was going to penalties, and the greatest team in Europe had crumbled.

The rest, as they always say on these occasions, is history. Against all the odds the obvious course of the march of time had changed – within minutes of the final whistle, Milan’s Andriy Schevchenko, is handed the ball by Liverpool keeper Jerzy Dudek. If Shevchenko misses this last penalty all is lost and the greatest comeback in the history of sport has happened. Dudek looked into Schevchenko’s eyes as he gives him the ball – we all did. Dudek saw what we all saw, Shevchenko was empty, gone, a broken man, as broken as his team. Shevchenko2005In that instant we knew he couldn’t score – so did Dudek. Seconds later, his penalty saved, an English football team were running manically towards their heroic goalkeeper, and a mad woman was running around an apartment in Newcastle upon Tyne, England, screaming, a Liverpool shirt over her head. Tits out.

As you can imagine, I didn’t expect the London Olympics to come anywhere near that. In fact I wasn’t really expecting much from London at all? How could we follow the party that was Sydney, or the organisational juggernaut that was Beijing? How could post-world-economic-collapse London, with its cheap flat-pack stadia and volunteer army, compete with all this?

It couldn’t, surely? Could it?

Besides, every time it was mentioned on the TV in the run up to the opening ceremony some obnoxious British politician would be there, taking the credit, or appealing to petty nationalism or telling us ‘how we were all in this together’,  whilst they, in the very same breath, were busy drawing up plans to get the meek to pay inheritance tax.

Then there was the Sponsorship. Christ, not the sponsorship! I hate that – I’m still not drinking the ‘official beer’ of the last World Cup, by the way, and that’s official.

I really couldn’t have cared less about this Olympics.

The suspension of my cynicism began slowly. A few days before the Olympics itself, Jane, my partner, and I were sailing a yacht across Loch Ness and fortuitously ended up in Fort Augustus for the towns leg of the Olympic Torch Relay, it was great fun, a real community experience and thoroughly heart-warming.

A primer for the main event?

We made it home, thankfully, in time for the Opening Ceremony itself.

As it happened, in London, a right-wing Tory government told a city run by a right-wing Tory administration to get an organising committee led by another right-wing Tory to give a prominent left-wing Brit’ with a successful CV in the arts £29 million to spend on whatever he wanted.

That is exactly what Danny Boyle did.

Boyle showered us with his image of the making of Britain: Bo Peep’s idyllic, poetic, mythic, rural scene shattered into oblivion by the industrial revolution, and the Olympic Rings – echoing the UK’s place in the world today – forged on Empire, slavery, and the oppression of the working class.

It was quite frankly gobsmacking, and with not one mention of a sponsor to give me that ‘farmed’ feeling I normally get on these occasions.

As if that wasn’t enough, then came what he sees as Britain’s gifts to the world: Shakespeare, the NHS and the Welfare State – from the cradle to the grave – Rock Music, Punk, Film, Children’s Literature, and Comedy – a Comedy that said to the world that the British were a bit odd, a bit daft, and had a humour that was lovingly and unashamedly self-deprecating.

Rather than stirring the masses into the normal fervour of nationalism, Boyle gave us a materialist look at the development of us – of ourselves, of how we came to be. Left wing? Ha! This was positively Marxist, wasn’t it? I grew up in an era of brilliant outdoor theatre from great community theatre companies like Welfare State International – I don’t think they could have done any better than Boyle did – even with £29 million.

And was it just me who saw echoes of Thatcher in the tableau where J.K. Rowling’s character Lord Voldemort – the person who cannot be named – attacks the ill children in the NHS hospital ward?

Not everybody was happy with the result of course. At a time of austerity, swingeing cuts in public services and back-door privatisation of health care provision – as the rich get the poorest to pay for the failings of the richest – it was interesting to see the forced smiles of many a right wing politician following Boyles tremendous ‘Opening Ceremony’.

One, Aidan Burley, before the whip was heard to crack, called it “leftist multicultural rubbish“.

Of course they quickly jumped from the gravy-train to the bandwagon the moment the cameras swung their way, but by then both Boyle’s genius and genie were already out of the bottle.

The British had been told, reminded, by Boyle, that they were a nation who believed in fairness, justice, fair-play and generosity, and are welcoming to people who are not of these shores, to people who are different.

He had shown, reminded, the British that ‘being in this together’ actually means something, that selflessness is a greater virtue than selfishness, (nearly 300,000 people applied to volunteer to help run these games) and though ‘Lizzie’s Leap’ from that helicopter may have given the privilege of monarchy a few more years shelf-life, his lindy-hopping nurses surely must have added much needed armour to an institution that is, and should be, a beacon to a civilised world.

The whole show was wonderfully lacking in chauvinism and I delighted in seeing an incredibly diverse culture being reminded of its good points: art, literature, fairness, music, humour, and collective endeavour.

Thispiece of fluff forgotten in a couple of weeks’, as someone remarked, will remain with me for a long time to come.

Thanks to Danny Boyle I thoroughly enjoyed the London 2012 Olympics. One day I’ll buy him a large Jameson’s and tell how I laughed and cried in equal measure. I hope he is sat at home, nightly, a large whisky in hand, feeling rather smug thinking ‘go on, Rio, follow that! I would be had I produced that ceremony.

I mainly watched it on the telly, but was lucky enough to be at St James Park for the Brazil – Honduras soccer game. The match itself was ruined by overly zealous (or just plain bad) refereeing, but again, thanks to Danny Boyle, I still felt I was partaking in something, something special, something unique.

Of the Games themselves my favourite bit was Bradley Wiggins victory in the time trial – a great bloke. I also loved Piers Morgan getting his come-uppance after reportedly tweeting:

“I was very disappointed @bradwiggins didn’t sing the anthem (…) Show some respect to our Monarch please!”

The following response from a @mrcolquinn was widely re-tweeted as being from Wiggins himself:

“@piersmorgan I was disappointed when you didn’t go to jail for insider trading or phone hacking, but you know, each to his own.”

Apparently Piers Morgan was offering money to charities in return for a good lungful from gold medal winners. Brilliant. A charity would have benefited if only Wiggins had appealed, in baritone no doubt, to an invisible man to protect the health of a supremely privileged woman who has health-care coming out of her arse. Priceless! (or is that word copyrighted these days?)

Which reminds me, talking of an invisible man, the only downside I can recall was watching numerous athletes appealing to in advance, or thanking after the event, various deities, demi-gods, and hobgoblins.

The most memorable piece of ju ju was following the Women’s 5000 metres. Meseret Defar had just run the race of her life. It was truly amazing. Breathless, and in tears, she then pulled from her sports-bra a small plastic bag imprinted on which was the image of the Madonna and Child.

MeseretDefarShe fell to her knees and sucked the plastic bag to her face. She held it to the camera and screamed, then, holding it aloft, she thanked the heavens before shoving said plastic bag back into her bra. My concern aside that Meseret may get a nasty rash, I was quite upset that the Virgin Mary – undoubtedly egged-on by her bastard offspring – had conspired to make all those other runners lose.

‘What a thoroughly awful, unsporting and evil piece of work this Mary character is!’ I thought, and crossed my arms in a faux huff.

I was going to write to Ms Defar to inform her that she could have won the race on her own without invoking the magic powers of gods and goddesses. She really had no need to cheat – or indeed to then show us all how she did it.

Would Sample’s A and B have shown traces of the Lord? I wonder? A miracle either way, I’m sure.

Arms unfolded and huff quickly forgotten though, as I then watched Mo Farah cross the line.

Oh, who could forget that? Eyes wide, arms raised, then a Heart to all, to the stadium, to his wife, to his child, to the world.  ‘Yay!’ I jumped to my feet and returned the gesture. “Go Mo! Go Mo! Go Mo!” In seconds I received a text – two words, ‘Tits Out!’. Then there was the 4×100 Jamaican Relay Team. Then there was the Lad’s and Lasses at the Velodrome. Then there was Usain Bolt. Then there was a fresh faced kid diving for his Dad.

I screamed at the telly throughout it all. Every wonderful second of it.

Great to get the opportunity to revisit the memories and stick London 2012 in the same folder as Istanbul 2005. I’ve got Tom Daley to thank for that.

I’m pouring a stiff Jameson’s as we speak. Here’s to Danny Boyle, and I’ll raise a glass to Tom Daley, too. A brave young man and a true Olympian.

Here’s to them both.

Go on Rio, follow that!

Tits out!

Anvil Springstien.

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