Revelling in life’s little pleasures…

Happiness is about enjoying the small things. It’s about getting the most from each moment and not letting an opportunity pass to feel grateful and blessed. Of course, there is happiness to be found in the big things: presents, promotion, pastimes, but perhaps real happiness is something we can connect with every day.

It’s true, external things bring pleasure. We aspire to something and then when we attain it, we believe we are happy. Why not? I know plenty of people who are exhilarated by the excitement of a new job, or a shiny car, a new relationship, a new home, a holiday: all these things bring the possibility of happiness and fulfilment. For me, completing a novel, beginning a new one, holding my finished book in my hand with its wonderful front cover design and title has the capacity to make my heart sing.

Things which happen by accident make us feel blessed. Winning the lottery, for example, would open up many new doors, offer new horizons and the chance to change. Things which happen to us externally, which are not fully of our making, are exciting because they present us with instant opportunities to make life better. Similarly, a promotion to a better job defines us as successful and it’s natural to feel that our achievements make us more exciting or more complete people.

But the problem with chasing happiness is exactly that: we are always seeking the next buzz, the next chance of fulfilment. While there’s nothing wrong with that, there has to be interim happiness which doesn’t depend on luck or someone else’s benevolence.

The base line  for happiness is our own good health and the health of those we love. Bereavement or constant worry about sickness will put a huge barrier in the way of happiness.

However, if we are blessed with life and energy, happiness can be found all around us. It is about taking the time to relish in the small things that promote sustained happiness. I suppose it’s back to the old concept of the half empty glass, and whether we can celebrate that it’s half full.

Today, it’s cold and raining. Usually, that doesn’t initiate a feeling of euphoria. But to be able to put on warm clothes and step outside, feel the wind, the water on your face, to come home and have the luxury of a fire in the hearth, a warm cup of steaming tea in your hands. That’s happiness.

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It’s easy to let immediate opportunities for happiness pass us by. We struggle through each day, busy with deadlines looming, technology pulling us in and absorbing us. How often do we take time to watch the sun rise or set? If it’s only when we’re on holiday, then maybe that’s not often enough. Maybe we should do it more frequently, taking a small drink, breakfast  or supper with us, and think about savouring every bite.

We have music all around us, but when do we stop everything we’re doing, turn up the volume and really listen to every note? We see people we love daily, but how often do we enjoy deep conversation or the time to take someone’s hand, look into their face and completely appreciate every moment we share?

As a fan of the beautiful game, I find it easy to fall into the trap of being governed by the lottery of  a result. If my football team win, I believe I’m happy. If we lose, I’m disgruntled and look for someone to blame: the ref, the goal keeper, the manager, the weather, the fixture list. Perhaps that’s a metaphor for life: it’s too easy to invest in superficial things we can’t control and which don’t really matter, then fall into the trap of blame and anger when it doesn’t go our way. But it is the people we love and the beauty within the moment which really make us happy.

Doing things for other people, making them smile, being kind, positive actions and thoughts towards others makes us happier, not just because we bask in being good, but because there is genuine pleasure to be found in making others’ lives better. Joy lies in reciprocating and sharing more than in allowing some external gratification to wash over us in a passive way.

Unless it is a beach, the waves from a vast ocean washing over us in the warmth of the sun. Or climbing hills, playing in the snow, squelching our boots in mud, alone or shared with others whose company we love. Not much beats grasping each transient moment life gives us, inhaling scent, savouring the taste and listening to the unique sounds. Perhaps nature is always there for us, offering us the opportunity to enjoy being alive in the present.

If that is so, if we can find joy in the duration of each moment, then we are truly blessed.

 

 

 

 

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My top ten to bring us in from the January cold

January isn’t most people’s favourite month. I’ve heard a lot of people complaining about it. It’s cold. Christmas has gone and won’t be back for a long time so it seems like there’s nothing to celebrate. It hasn’t snowed. It probably won’t. A holiday to somewhere warm would be nice but….

So, with a brief nod to a lovely woman I worked with once, who said I was ‘horribly positive,’ here’s my top ten of things to warm the heart this January. In no particular order other than random selection …

  • VEGANUARY. So many people are trying a plant- based diet this January and 61% of them, according to statistics, will still be vegan by December. The Bosh! Cookbook will be out soon and, having followed their blog for years, I know there will be some sumptuous recipes to make everyone happy, whether they are looking for a Christmas dinner, a delicious burger or a chocolate cake.
  • BOOKS. There are so many good books to read. Mary Beard. Sarah Winman. Patrick Gale. This is just my January reading list. On the exercise bike, it’s amazing how many chapters I can whizz through in an hour. I’m so lucky to have good books to read.

  • FOOTBALL. After Liverpool’s monumental win over Manchester City last week, (a team I admire for their attacking football and excellent players such as De Bruyne,) the future for the Reds looks good, especially if we can sort out the goalkeeper conundrum. Plus we have signed Virgil Van Dijk, and the Fab Four (Salah, Mane, Firmino, Ox) continue to amaze. Football is theatre, a performance in two halves. Which brings me to the next one on my list.
  • THEATRE. Last year ended on a high, seeing Josie Lawrence in Mother Courage. This year promises to be brilliant too. Hamlet is on in Plymouth next month and it will be really good. I must sort out tickets and then I’ll look forward to it throughout January.
  • MUSIC. I’m enjoying Spotify while I work at the computer and my current writing backing track is Humble Pie. I love Steve Marriott’s voice and the stomping rhythm makes sure my writing is pacy. Check this one. I know it’s from way back in 1973 but who cares if it’s this good…
  • WORK.  My book cover is out. My novel follows soon and I am so excited. I’ve had a wonderful review and such kind words and real enthusiasm blow me away. It’s a joy to work with people who aren’t just incredible professionals, but truly lovely. We are blessed if we find ourselves alongside people we trust, who are supportive, efficient and completely totally nice. Kiran, Rachel, Sabah, the Avon Team – they know who they are.

  • NATURE AND TRAVEL Whatever the season, whatever the weather, being outside, travelling, going somewhere the wind blows the salt of the sea in your face, or somewhere there is nothing but silence and a deer peering behind a tree, or somewhere you have to try a new language and rethink your own lifestyle, or somewhere you can be lost in bustle and noise and culture. It’s good for the soul.
  • ANIMALS (CATS). Last year, my best cat, Pushkin, was knocked down on a lane where three cars pass daily. She was so unlucky and of course, I said, as we all do, ‘No, I won’t get another cat. Ever.’ My daughter persuaded me to adopt Monty and Murphy, two mad clowns who had been feral and will now scrounge hummus on toast. Colin is just starting to tolerate them. They are lovely and cats make such great company. I love the way they slap their bottoms full-on the keyboard when I’m editing and give me six pages of dzzsmk..rrrtlgggggggggggg

  •  FRIENDS. My friends are scattered everywhere from the North to the South. I don’t always see them all as often as I’d like. I know we have email, messenger, Facebook, Skype, Twitter, phones. When we do meet up it’s rock and roll. I have happy friends, mad friends, friends who need a hug, who give hugs. I have funny friends, talented friends, kind friends. Where would life be without friendship? I love you all.
  • FAMILY. Family is at the centre of everything I think and do. Without them, it would all mean so much less. They are my backbone. They are my smile when I wake up each morning.

You don’t choose your family. They are God’s gift to you, as you are to them. Desmond Tutu 
I’ll tell you what I’m grateful for, and that’s the clarity of understanding that the most important things in life are health, family and friends, and the time to spend on them. Kenneth Branagh.

Patience for Klopp

A new season, a new person to love, to hate. Change manifests itself in football as the wind blows in the autumn leaves. Last season Ronald Koeman was doing well; this season, without Lukaku, he is floundering and many fans are booing during Everton games, blaming him for the low league position after he has brought in so many new players. I don’t really get it.

More troubling to me is some Liverpool fans’ attitude to manager Jurgen Klopp. A draw with Manchester United yesterday was not so bad; Liverpool were the better team and played some exciting football. I think that the players are improving: there is increasing confidence, a noticeable lack of fear of any opponents and Liverpool would have won the game with Matip’s shot, had De Gea not made what may be the save of the month.

Klopp has revitalised his team, made the style of play breathtaking and potentially brilliant. He’s not there yet but already some fans are baying for him to be dismissed, questioning his managerial skills and creating an atmosphere of negativity. Some comments on social media are vitriolic, personal and there is the hyperbole of frenzy which lacks logic or consideration.

I read recently that many fans were suggesting that Benitez should return as manager. I love what Rafa did at Liverpool. Yet it took  it took him five seasons to build a team that could seriously compete for the title. It is the immediacy and anger of off-the -cuff negative comments which makes them stand out and be noticed;  however, the senseless lack of logic renders them hot air. Even ex-players, fans and pundits are suggesting that Klopp is wholly reprehensible each time the team draw or lose. But who can win everything? It’s a long season.

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Klopp’s Liverpool team is, perhaps, where it should be in the league, given the spending power of the teams who occupy the top three positions. It is clear he has a long-term plan, which will hopefully include securing Virgil Van Dyke in defence in January and a striker or two. Klopp fits the Liverpool ethos of positivity, support, energy, commitment, loyalty, good-humour: in his words, ‘heavy metal’ football. But the constant calling for his dismissal every time we draw or lose a game, the incessant criticism of a moment’s minor but costly mistake, is another manifestation of the manager-maligning culture which is becoming the acceptable face of football.

Fans regularly criticise Dejan Lovren for the leaky errors in defence, but they don’t  acknowledge the heroism and loyalty of  him playing with back and achilles injuries which force him to take five painkillers before each fixture. Klopp, of course, knows the background of each player, his fitness, his mental attitude, and he has an overall plan beyond the next game. As fans, we should see the potential and be positive and supportive, and trust in Jurgen’s judgement. But knee -jerk comments and hyper-critical personal sound-bites are so much easier.

However, it is interesting to see how Klopp deals with critics. It is a lesson we might all find useful. Ridiculed for his suddenly thicker hair, he replied ‘Yes, it’s true. I underwent a hair transplant. And I think the results are really cool, don’t you?’

He has an attitude of positivity. He wants to do well and accepts that there will be criticism when mistakes are made, but he is determined and focused on the future. ‘I am not the guy who is going to go out and shout ‘we are going to conquer the world’ or something like this. But we will conquer the ball. Yeah? Each fucking time!’

He is realistic. Although fans want instant results, he sees a future beyond the single game. He is a manager with a long-term plan.”You have to get information in each situation. You’ll never find me three days after a win, drunk in a hedge and still celebrating.’

So Klopp has a useful stance on fault-finding, whether it is personal or professional. He accepts that it will happen, rises above it and stays true to himself. Difficult to do, of course, when the disapproval is rife, but Klopp demonstrates a self-belief which will stand up to condemnation. He renders his critics’ statements trivial. His attitude is simple: retaliate, ignore or diminish.

Mourinho called himself the special one, so Klopp became the normal one. Arsene Wenger’s ball passing was deemed an orchestra, so Klopp reinvented himself as heavy metal. He is loyal, prizes collective positivity, team-spirit and praise. He is outspoken, honest and not afraid to stand up for what he believes is right. He is ready to take on critics, bullies, whiners and intimidators. Just look at the quotation below, when he refused to answer a question from a journalist who represented so many negative values to his team and to the Liverpool culture itself . The way he dismisses their perspective is perfect.

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He may build up our team and win trophies, but probably not this year. He may be sacked one of these days after we lose or draw one game too many. Who knows? But his integrity and self-belief and his determination to stand up against needless negativity is a breath of fresh air. It may even be enough to blow some of the critics away. I hope so.

We don’t tolerate bullying. Or do we?

From our first day at school – maybe even before that – we are told that bullying is wrong. It’s not difficult to work out morally. When a person is marginalised, abused, made to feel isolated, hurt, it can’t be right. Schools and institutions do their best to eradicate it yet, headteachers admit, it is part of the culture of schools, part of human behaviour. It goes on.

We’ve all been bullied, haven’t we? Sometimes it’s obvious – a gang of kids puts on pressure, or there is name calling, intimidation, attacking. Sometimes it’s less obvious, but just as vindictive, as any child isolated in a playground with no friends knows too well. Sometimes the bullying comes with insidious threats about what will happen if the victim tells someone, which not only prevents a cry for help but also forces the victim to inhabit a place of utter loneliness and helplessness.

We may also have all been bullies. Either deliberately or inadvertently, we have hurt someone or looked the other way when someone is hurt. Perhaps this is the schadenfreude effect, deriving some sort of perverse pleasure from other’s misfortune. Perhaps it’s the human behaviour that Orwell demonstrated in 1984 when Winston said ‘Do it to Julia. Not me!’ If someone else is being bullied, then we are not. Not this time.

I remember flushing a girl’s ham sandwiches down the toilet, my friends cheering me on while she sobbed. I walked away from the act feeling that, in violating another, I had violated myself and it wasn’t a good move to behave this way in order to ingratiate myself with others. I made a point of befriending the bullied girl afterwards, sharing my lunch with her, and it was uncomfortably humiliating to see how quickly she forgave me and wanted to be my friend.

I’ve been bullied, too. Not just as a child, either. I’ve had my share of name calling, rivalry put-downs, being on the end of others’ controlling behaviour. I remember my A-level English teacher at school telling me I wasn’t anything special and I’d probably manage an E grade. I got an A. Nietzsche was right.

Image result for Nietzsche That which doesn'tSo why do we do it? Why is bullying so commonplace? I read somewhere it is an atavistic and tribal thing. The alphas bully the ones they consider rivals or suitable prey, and the masses adhere to the stronger group because it is safer there and prevents them from being victims themselves. So, basically, cowardice sustains a culture of bullying and it’s easier to hang with the perpetrators than defend the weak. Not an impressive bunch of cave dwellers, are we?

It’s quite hard to stop bullies, too. The insidious and repetitive nature of their attacks, not always in the open, not always visible in their needling, makes it difficult to analyse what’s happened after the event. I’ve seen it in the workplace: in schools, defined as the natural corporate  fabric of an establishment, used to suppress and deflate anyone who seems a little different to the company norms and certainly anyone who thinks outside the box. Bullying expects conformity, demands it. It goes on unchallenged and that’s why people shrug it off and don’t stand up to it, but accept it as part of the dominant culture

It has even pervaded the media. I’m no fan of Theresa May’s politics. I believe her policies have stretched some of our public services close to breaking point and pushed many people closer or further into desperation and poverty. That said, the glee of the reporters and some of her opponents, in her own party and in others, that her disastrous conference speech, marred by the farcical incident with the P45 and her unfortunate coughing fit was, I think, an example of bullying. By all means disagree with her perspectives and her politics, but to take pleasure in watching someone squirm in the public gaze is a cruel example of schadenfreude. The enjoyment of someone else’s public discomfort, revelling in their humiliation – this is almost the definition of bullying.

Related imageBeing a bastard when you’re a kid is one thing. As an adult, to take any joy from someone else’s pain shows how little we grown since we left the playground. We can do so much better. We can differentiate between disagreeing with people who don’t share our views or behave how we would like them to, and wilfully wishing them harm. The way forward is conversation, writing, listening, debate, education, joining groups of likeminded people and campaigning for change.

We may disagree with someone strongly; we may even find someone’s views or behaviour (or policies) abhorrent, but the answer certainly isn’t going to be found by flushing away their sandwiches or their self-esteem. Because, if we’re not careful, we may be playing into the hands of another bigger bully with even more malicious intentions and doing their dirty work for them.

When Arsenal met the little green men

I know I shouldn’t, but I have a soft spot for the clichéd phrase ‘You couldn’t write it!’ or ‘You couldn’t make it up!’ If you prefer, as sports commentators say, ‘You couldn’t write a script like it!’ As a writer, it gives me a warm feeling that, sometimes, life can imitate ludicrous coincidence found in less credible novels and invoke Deus ex machina. We know this is a plot device used by writers who have a seemingly unsolvable problem which is suddenly resolved by the unlikely or unexpected intervention of some new event or character.

It often appears in football, as if an unseen hand has scooped up the player- or the ball- and made something happen you wouldn’t have believed possible, against all odds. Of course, I’m not referring to the Maradona or Henry Hand of God. I mean that, sometimes, the drama is so breathtaking and so unreal that it’s hard to believe. Remember the 2005 UEFA Champions League Final? I’ll never forget it. Perfect example.

Add into the mix the underdog as hero or protagonist. More to the point, the little man, unlikely to be a hero. He shouldn’t even be there. He has no chance: his ultimate demise is inevitable, but he will battle bravely until the last breath. Multiply it by eleven, plus manager, and you have Lincoln City. Create an impossibly powerful and angry antagonist, a wounded Goliath needing to prove strength in combat, and you have Arsenal.

Of course,the reader is a neutral, otherwise there will be natural bias.

Yesterday, Premier League fifth place Arsenal played  lowly Lincoln City: The Gunners Versus The Imps. And that is how it was, the mighty men against the little fellers.

Until half time, with Arsenal putting on pressure but Lincoln looking like they might just be able to snatch a goal when their opposition became a little sloppy in play, the dream was alive.

However, what was really tickling me in terms of the graphic novel was the players’ contrasting physicality. Take Arsenal’s Alexis Sanchez. He’s a vital player, scores goals galore for club and for his Chilean national team. A big, strong forward, barrel chested, he looks like he works out in the gym for six hours a day.

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Now let’s move to Lincoln’s forward, Matt Rhead. He’s not athletic. He could be working out in the pub six hours a day.

Rhead once more looked to make himself a handful for the Arsenal defence and was an aerial and physical threat

But what a hero, what a role model. He and his team mates took on the might of Arsenal, the maimed animal, having been thrashed twice by Bayern Munich to chalk up an aggregate of 2-10 which meant their exit from the Champions League. Little Lincoln didn’t look jaded in green. They were calm, focused, took the knocks and put in the tackles. It was a stunning first half where everything might have been possible, only down by one goal at half time.

Of course, the inevitable happened in the second half. Lincoln are a non-league side. There was no way they were going to hold out against physically honed professionals for 90 minutes and when the goals rained in, they lost 5-0.

But the incredible story line was that they were there at all in the first place. That 9000 Lincoln fans, ferried by 53 coaches and a chartered train, should take their place in the Emirates Stadium and watch their small team combat against the mighty Arsenal is no small achievement. They believed that Wembley could be possible and, for the first 45 minutes, it was. There were moments where it could have been a different outcome.  In the 30th minute, Nathan Arnold had a shot saved by Petr Cech. We held a collective breath. If only…
Lincoln very nearly took the lead as Petr Cech thwarted Nathan Arnold shot after he showed excellent footwork

Lincoln’s goalkeeper Paul Farman was voted Man of the Match for his bravery and impressive efforts against an Arsenal onslaught in the second half. Plus, he wore pink. What a hero.

Former Barcelona man Sanchez strokes Arsenal further ahead and he was a constant presence on the ball in the second half

For me as a storyteller, this is Roy of the Rovers stuff. The underdog with no chance braves it out against the invincible mighty men who, of course, cannot be allowed to show mercy. Consider Arsenal’s financial backing, the wages and the transfer fee of each player; consider the  fans’ recent railing against the manager, and then think of the strong and loyal unit which comprised the Lincoln boys. What an incredible tale of  desire and commitment, tussles and tension. In such situations, I always think of Camus’ words:

Everything I know about morality and the obligations of men, I owe it to football. (Albert Camus)

And so it was with Lincoln. No, they were never going to win, if the outcome of the game is solely how success is judged. But what a trajectory, what dreams, what cliff- hanging tension, what a story line. And like any tale where the underdogs lose, they are also the victors in terms of their heroic achievement. They came, they played and they might have conquered but there was little chance of it. Their team spirit, their eagerness, their zeal, their shared goal could be said to outshine the inconsistent results of their glorious opponents. The fact that they were there at all and they made a good drama of it makes the story one in which they can exit the field of combat with their heads held high. And of course we will now want to read their next instalment.

The Lincoln players can hold their heads up high after reaching the last eight of the FA Cup before ultimately being beaten

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Throw away your runners-up medals

Last night, for about 45 minutes, Liverpool FC looked like they might just win the Europa League final against Sevilla after a world-class goal by Daniel Sturridge put them ahead. Then, as soon as the second half started, Sevilla came back with a real intention to make the game theirs and scored. The Liverpool players’ shoulders dropped: they conceded, conceded again and again.

Earlier, on BT Sport, ex-Liverpool Spice Boy and excellent commentator, Steve McManaman stated that runners-up medals were no good for his team. He said he would feel like throwing away a runners-up medal, in their position. Second place is no good to anyone: while the victors celebrate, the second placers slope off dejectedly to the dressing room to contemplate on where it all went wrong.

Even the Mr Machiavelli of football, Jose Mourinho, once  threw his Community Shield runners-up medal to a young Arsenal fan after losing at Wembley, saying ‘It’s the medal for the loser, it’s a good memory for him.’

During the game, Liverpool manager Klopp gave it his best shot, changing the team and trying to make it more aggressive as the players lost shape and heart. He persisted until the last moment to inspire his players and give the fans confidence that something might change. It didn’t.

Adam Lallana receives some passionate instructions from Klopp after Sevilla had taken the lead

Jurgen Klopp was frustrated after the game had finished, but he refused to accept that the defeat at Basel defined either him or his team’s future. He said in his post-match interview:

There are more important things in life than football. I don’t think God had a plan with me to go to the final and always have a knock. I’ve had a lot of luck in my life as I sit here as manager of Liverpool. I don’t think I am a unlucky person or life has not been good to me.

Klopp will go on to greater things with Liverpool. We’ve all been in Klopp’s position. At this point, as a runner-up, it is about self- belief and resilience: that is what decides whether we win next time. And I admire Klopp, who took several minutes to feel stunned and disappointed before he came back with his brave words, which were as much  for the team and the fans as about his own situation.

We have all been runners-up; we have all lost finals when we thought we should have won. One mark short of a distinction, one place from first, one moment from the sale we should have made or the prize we should have won or the accolade which should rightly have been ours. It happens, all the time and our second place is someone else’s moment of glory. It is their turn to enjoy the limelight and the fruits of hard work. Ours will come.

Good for Klopp, who promised fans that he would learn from the second place situation. He could have whinged about the referee, a disallowed goal, time-wasting opponents, but he chose not to, and quite rightly: his defeat is not just about dignity and fair play, but also about the determination to learn from loss and come back prepared to win next time.

Our successes and even our striving for success are a small part of who we are. Yes, luck plays a part, as does subjectivity, but we must refuse to be to judged or to judge ourselves only by our triumphs.

Behind any success story, and a lot of second places, is a great deal of hard work and, if we are to be praised for anything, it should be our determination, our resilience and our refusal to give up in the face of what may feel disappointing, unfair or simply failure on our part to be good enough. Images of smiling victors hide the hard graft which has preceded the success.This is also true of the runners-up. We all know people who have achieved last place and that, in itself, is a huge victory. How many people have retaken exams just to scrape that vital pass grade? How many people have struggled in shattered and bedraggled at the end of a marathon, sat up all night to finish an essay or starved themselves all week to lose a pound in weight?  Let’s not forget that these are triumphs too: first place is not always the goal, nor is it always the measure of high achievement.

So Jurgen Klopp, Liverpool FC and the rest of us will pick ourselves up every time and go back to the drawing board and start planning again for the future. Analysing what could have been better without too much blame and recrimination is important, although I’d be surprised if Alberto Moreno wasn’t moved on at the end of this season, as he simply doesn’t step up in the big games or fulfil the essential breadth of his defensive role.

After analysis comes planning and then action. The bitter taste of second place and the scent of winning make it likely that Klopp will pull out all the stops next season. He promised as much to the fans.

‘We will carry on, I will carry on. I will try with all I have to reach the next final, even when you know you can lose it.We are disappointed and frustrated 100 per cent but tomorrow or later in the week we will see it a little bit more clearly and we will use this experience, that is what we have to do.’

Great attitude, Jurgen! I couldn’t agree more. Ignore the critics and the fans of teams who didn’t get as far as the final and think it’s ok to mock the runners-up. The defeat was yesterday. Tomorrow, there will be success and in between will be a lot more hard work, planning and practice.

I am a great believer in positive thinking and making things happen. It’s about marginal gains, careful analysis, thinking outside the box, reflection on the past but not taking it with you as a burden of blame and shame.

I love Hamlet’s words. I’ve taken them out of context deliberately, but they apply here.

If it be now, ’tis not to come. If it be not to come, it will be now. If it be not now, yet it will come—the readiness is all.

Thanks for a great season, Jurgen. I’m looking forward to the next one. I believe we can do it. Watch this space..

Klopp became angrier and more frustrated in the second half as Liverpool fell apart in the Basle

What if Jeremy Corbyn were more like Jürgen Klopp?

Jürgen Klopp came to Liverpool six months ago, inheriting a tired team who played slack and lacklustre football. He has brought with him a reputation, a rock star charisma, a keen and articulate intelligence and a unique sense of humour and mischief which would quickly endear him to fans. More importantly, he has brought the scent of success with him. We believe he can change things, a little at first this season, leading to the big impact all fans crave for in the future.

Klopp is changing the way his team play, imposing a demanding tactical remit. We now have more intense football which presses high up the pitch, more committed players who believe they can score goals: this is a great change from the stagnant play and the stale atmosphere in Anfield which was sadly becoming routine under Brendan Rodgers.

We hope for new signings next season, but Klopp has made a difference already, with current players such as Adam Lallana,  Mamadou Sako and Dejan Lovren noticeably upping their game. Improvements have also been made by many other players, Can, Allen, Firmino and Origi being a few names who have achieved far better form under Klopp than Rodgers.

Klopp has been honest about the team’s initial inconsistent form. He has been straight with his fans after defeats; he is always passionate and angry and committed to what we all want – results and change and the chance to have our blood pressure raised during every game with the ever-present belief that we can win.

The atmosphere has altered around Anfield. The Kop bounces and rocks; the fans have sensed the commitment and the desire which Klopp exhibits and it has affected his players and all of us who watch the games. He is infectious in his determination and desire, and every game is a game we believe we can win, whether a league match or European clash.

We believe he can do it. His fresh approach, energy, enthusiasm and passion have given us something we can believe in.

And then there is Jeremy Corbyn.

Corbyn was elected last September. Ed Miliband resigned in May after Labour had lost the last election, the majority of the voting population having decided he was not as strong a leader or as safe a bet as David Cameron.

So, little known MP Corbyn won the leadership race with nearly 59.5% of first-preference votes. He began his leadership by apologising for the Iraq war, holding a pally rally in London and promising to fight for the downtrodden. Many party supporters were hopeful; many new members signed up, desperate for victory. Then came the gifts to the Tory media: the no-tie incident, the National Anthem incident, the scepticism he expressed about the shoot-to-kill with regard to armed terrorists and, more recently, the disappearing tax return straight after he had called for Cameron to publish his details.

Rigid, awkward and with no visible signs of charisma, Corbyn is no Jürgen Klopp. Whereas Klopp inspires trust and motivates his team, Corbyn has allowed Labour to fragment. Klopp could win us cups; he is a contender for the top places: Corbyn is considered unelectable by many of his own party.

Klopp has brought a visible ferocity and  energy to Liverpool, making each fixture intense and vital. Corbyn, however, is a complete contrast. Watch him in news and interview programmes. He often mutters in a monotone, offering the same bland platitudes which might have just about held up in the 1970s and 80s.

Klopp has an in-your-face, gegenpressing, immediate ball recovery  style, a polar opposite to Corbyn’s laid-back pusillanimous rhetoric.Corbyn comes across as dull and disinterested during Prime Minister’s Questions, too. It is difficult to see how voters might invest in our new leader against the smooth or chummy styles of Cameron and Johnson. Corbyn chooses dry, tame questions, often clearly vicarious, as he has crowdsourced them. This may be, in his defence, that he wants to take the pantomime out of Parliament and this is, of course, laudable. But unless he can make his opponent acquiesce, and Cameron seldom does, he is giving the Tories a free opportunity to knock the stuffing out
of Labour and to demonstrate to voters which party has the strength and power to be the next government at the expense of Labour.

Klopp’s tactics involve pressing his opponent, never giving an inch: while remaining witty and fun. Klopp is gritty and determined. Corbyn gives more than an inch at PMQ and Cameron and his cronies take a mile!

I am not suggesting that, since Klopp is the ‘rock star’ of football management, Corbyn should be the Labour Party’s Lemmy Kilminster. But he has too much of the opposite: his calmness makes him look weak, his monotone renders him diffident. All of this makes him fair game and he pales into insignificance next to the more charismatic characters of Cameron and Johnson.And, sadly, if the Bullingdon Club charisma is winning votes, then Corbyn needs to promote a better, more plausible version of political energy  which demonstrates a self-belief and is infectious to voters, inspiring their confidence.

Jürgen Klopp will, despite any minor setbacks, take Liverpool forward towards league and cup victory. He is consolidating what he has this season and from next September, we are confident of a Champions League spot: we hope for even more victories and we believe that we can win trophies and top the League.

I  wish Jeremy Corbyn could offer me similar hope. He seems a nice, sincere guy. His road trip with Diane Abbott on a motorbike in the 1970s makes him sound like a dude and he obviously has a heart, but that will not win him elections. He is too frequently the butt of media jokes: people are talking about him in parody terms – the Jeremy Corbyn musical is an example of this –  and I see no evidence that he is uniting the party, demanding with belief and charisma that Labour moves forward  and putting in a few shrewd and effective tackles against the opposition.

To continue with the language of football, I don’t want to see Labour at the bottom of the League table; the penalty is too great. But is Corbyn able to take a leaf from Klopp’s book of management and up his game, to score the winning goal for us? I  fear that we have no really good substitutes on the bench and, in the long run, the next big title clash between Labour and the Tories will result in a hard-to-take defeat which can only suggest another season of bitter relegation.

I really hope I’m wrong.

Football- what is there not to like?

I have two wonderful friends who both hate football. They hate it with a vengeance. They are both brilliant musicians – I am not sure if that is a relevant factor – as if, in some way, being a specific kind of underpaid genius is a fair reason which justifies their sustained disdain for all things football.

Friend one is a classical pianist and to hear him play his beautiful music makes you want to cry or laugh or both (Even Lionel Messi doesn’t do that!).

He says of football: ‘I don’t really see the point. They’re overpaid and it’s boring.’

Friend two is a virtuoso bassist who has played with the best and, for all his talent, he lives on a minimum wage. Music is a passion and a lifestyle but it doesn’t bring in the pennies. He says of football. ‘I hate it. I just fucking hate it.’

I had a friend, many years ago, with whom I used to go to watch the home games. He would leave a blood trail if our team lost; he’d punch a wall and his fist would bleed as he walked away sobbing. In bars at night he’d smash glasses and lose his temper and threaten to hit people, simply because a player hadn’t performed well or scored. You can see why we’re no longer friends. (In his defence, he was a great guy, sober – full of fun. But what a tragedy, a lifestyle of misery or happiness, based on the lottery which is a football result!)

I could go on and on about why I love football. To me it is like theatre- the curtain goes up, the whistle blows, the intrigue develops. There are goodies and baddies, highs and lows, slings and arrows of outrageous fortune. There are injustices and tragedies- there are comedies and just desserts, then an interval and you come back again for another 45 minutes until the cathartic 90th minute, plus extra time, when the climax is achieved and you know for sure whether you have watched a comedy of errors or a revenger’s tragedy.

There are the evil enemies and those players we respect – there are the martyrs, the buffoons, the casualties, the knights errant and the heroes. And it’s only for 90 minutes and then you start to plan for the next game, seek out the next fixture, analyse the stats so that you can hope for a run of form on the next Saturday match day. There is the transfer market – we might buy a hero who will score for us, or solve the hole in our defence. We might lose our super sexy striker, although I live in hope that Sturridge will stay and one day Suarez will come back. If love is the drug, then it’s love of the beautiful game which keeps us hooked and waiting avidly for the next score.

I even quote Camus a lot to justify my love of football, but not to the two friends I mentioned at the beginning. I don’t mention football at all to them. But Albert Camus said:

‘Everything I know about morality and the obligations of men, I owe it to football.’

Of course, Camus meant women too. And he’s right. Loyalty, camaraderie, courage, collaboration, winning, losing, desire, daring to hope, breaking the rules. Oh, those golden moments: Stevie G being sent off against Manchester United forty-seven seconds after he was brought on; recently returned Sturridge setting the team up to blast six goals against Villa. Then there was that memorable night in Istanbul… stuff that dreams are made on!

I have another friend who tells me that I like football so that I can look at the men’s legs. She so doesn’t understand. They aren’t men! They are combatants, athletes, warriors, protagonists, mascots, movers and martyrs. Actors in the sublime soap opera around which I plan my social life. I can’t go out for a Mother’s Day lunch on March 6th as we have a televised fixture at two o’clock!

Last Thursday, I watched the Europa game against Augsburg. I made every excuse in the fans’ book for the lacklustre performance: it’s very cold, we haven’t warmed up yet, so-and-so is still recovering from injury; we’ll be better in the second half, after Jurgen Klopp gives them hell at half time.

Yes, the game was certainly no classic; the players were somnambulant, so they were obviously saving themselves for the replay at Anfield this evening when there will be a corker of a match in front of home fans. Or they were holding something back because there will be a glut of goals – all ours – on Sunday in the cup final against City.

You see, there is this other thing about football fans like me. We are crazed optimists, believers in fate; we invest in the future; we live for happier times when goals will shower like sugar candy and we will bask in the sunshine glory of victory after victory. We are passive, hopeful fools who spend our entire lives BIRGing, (Basking in reflected glory – of others’ achievements).

So perhaps there is something to be admired, if not emulated, in the words of my two musician friends. They live in a world where they do not have the luxury of being overpaid for inconsistent or dull performances. They bash out brilliance for small change on a weekly basis and they are glad for the remuneration and a little recognition. Adulation isn’t a part of it. Yes, my muso friends, I concede – you are both right.

But on Thursday evening, I will hope for that great game in which we will battle well and emerge victorious; on Sunday I will be glued for goals, my eyes fixed fast on plasma.

So, to my talented friends who hate football, I urge you to look down for a moment from the heights of your unacknowledged  but unswerving genius, and spare a bit of pity for those of us who cannot hope to possess such skills in our fingertips as you have displayed with ease and enthusiasm for an entire lifetime.

The rest of us have turned our heads the wrong way; we look down at the feet, or at least the boots, of temporary, short lived, inconsistent, briefly flickering stars. We live in hope of the unlikely twist of fate: we thirst for that thrill which will probably not happen, at least not this season: perhaps we might buy a new team in the summer,  but for now, we can only stand and watch and worry and wait!

In anticipation of Stevie’s return

Steven Gerrard is something of a Hamlet figure to me: he possesses the Danish prince’s  intelligence and wit, albeit in his feet. He has a fatal flaw – he will never achieve his full potential: remember the slip at Chelsea. He is a hero figure: the night in Istanbul and the dynamism of his leadership will never be forgotten by fans.

He is tragic: his personal loss at Hillsborough embodies so many fans’ feelings of the injustice, which will never be forgotten. Now he has left the team he loved so well, and the fans who loved him, will the rest be silence? I hope not.

Jurgen Klopp has said that Gerrard will not return as a player. But Stevie G ‘s exit from Anfield and his journey to LA Galaxy is a little like Hamlet’s exile to England. We believe he will be back and picking over the bones of past defeats and he will look to lead the challenge for accolades, a foil in his hand, at whatever price.

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I have seen Gerrard in action. He is a playmaker, an inspiration, he can rally troops and  demand that others give their very best , as he demands of himself at all times. He plays with passion, which many may perceive as a weakness, but it makes for dynamic and heroic football on the field.

Camus said football was like theatre and Gerrard is our own tragic prince. Fans will recall his post-match huddle after the win against Manchester City, that season we so nearly won the title, in which his rhetoric was spot on. They will recall the time he stamped on Manchester United midfielder Ander Herrera and was given a red card and how he regretted that his desperation to urge the team forward had resulted in a madness akin to Hamlet’s own blasted ecstasy. Gerrard is Liverpool’s own legend. ‘In action how like an Angel! in apprehension how like a god!’

Gerrard certainly has a place in fans’ hearts. These fans will demand that he will have a place at Anfield and he will play a pivotal role in the club’s future and the club’s striving for success. Whether this role is as a player, a coach, an ambassador, a manager, only time will tell. As Hamlet suggests to Horatio, it will happen, but we do not know when.

We can be certain, however, that he has a major role to play in the future of the club. Maybe our success is inextricably linked to the return of the talisman. We await it eagerly. ‘If it be now, ’tis not to come. If it be not to come, it will be now. If it be not now, yet it will come—the readiness is all.’