England v South Africa in this evening’s Rugby World Cup quarter-final was extremely engrossing. It was no try-fest (just the one), with conventional attacking play almost non-existent. The commentators assured us this was due to the weather conditions. It was, instead, a forwards’ battle, and a kicking game. England were very unlucky, this super-resilient South Africa side just crossing the winning post. I expect them to beat New Zealand in the final.
A real legend
There are great sportspeople, and then there are icons, names that stir the emotions on a stratospheric level.
Ever since I first fell in love with soccer – I was only six or seven years of age – the name ‘Bobby Charlton’ has had a magical quality to it.
This was a name that could share billing with Pele, Beckenbauer, Cruyff, Eusebio, Best and Law, a name that seemed to be part of both folklore and the contemporary football narrative when I was a kid in the early 1970s. The legend of Puskas and Di Stéfano captivated us too, but by all accounts Bobby Charlton could live in their company as well.
These names took our breath away. At school, we kicked ball in the mornings, settling for ‘being’ Kevin Keegan or Kenny Dalglish, Tony Currie or Gordon Hill, certainly not audacious enough to allow our admittedly fertile imaginations to include the aforementioned titans in our fantasies.
Ensuring Charlton’s unique place in history was his starring role in England’s 1966 World Cup win, that and the double he scored in the European Cup final in 1968, when Manchester United became the first English club to win that trophy. But there was even more to the burgeoning Charlton legend. The way he dealt with the Munich air disaster – Charlton survived while eight of his teammates perished – touched a watching world. We would become used to the easy dignity of the great man. Then there was Charlton’s playing style and distinctive appearance… football pitches graced by the balding midfielder, so unmistakable as he floated past opponents and swept lethal long-range shots towards goal. We are grateful for the limited television footage, while those who saw him in the flesh say he was one of the greatest players of all time, a graceful and often unstoppable midfielder with a marvellous goal return.
In latter decades, Charlton was an incomparably distinguished ambassador for Manchester United, and for English football. It was sad that Bobby and his brother Jack fell out, though I have no doubt mutual respect lived on in their hearts.
Bobby Charlton, who died today aged 86, was one of the greatest figures in the history of football. He was also a uniquely humble man. His name captivated us in the 1960s and ‘70s, and it will echo through the ages. The footage of this prince of midfielders will be cherished, as will the memory of his dignity and humility. Fans of all clubs are saddened by the passing of a truly unique football man. May he rest in peace.
You must be joking
Ricky Gervais has tweeted details of an analysis by the website Ticketsource in which they listed who they consider to be the most influential comedians in the world. This is as distinct from ‘greatest ever’ comedians; it’s a present-day analysis, with the website placing much emphasis on the social media output and following of the various comedians, as well as taking into account their touring success, net worth, etc.
Gervais – creator of The Office – highlights that 37 countries out of 38 consider him to be the most influential comedian in the UK, with Ireland’s number one UK comedian being Jimmy Carr. Yes, the outlier is Ireland. Gervais playfully tweeted (along with a smiley face): ‘I demand a recount #Ireland’.
Well, whatever system Ticketsource used, I respectfully suggest that even placing Carr in the same league as Gervais is itself a joke. Actually, Carr is perhaps a more polished stand-up than Gervais, but the latter is immeasurably more talented, more successful, and more likeable too! I appreciate that Carr has a huge following; personably, I find him reasonably funny, but quite obnoxious.
Gervais, on the other hand – and quite apart from his massively successful stand-up tours – is an actor, writer, producer and director who is responsible for The Office, Extras, Derek, Life’s Too Short, and After Life, with hopefully more to come. I rest my case!
So the Israel-Hamas war (as it’s being called) relentlessly rages on, a couple of weeks into this horrendous hopelessness. I’ve watched numerous current affairs shows discussing it, listened to the radio analysis, read the tweets and dipped into the incessant online commentary. I’ve often looked away too.
Just now, as I type (Tuesday night), a panellist on Virgin Media has said there have been 5,000 deaths already. In two weeks. I’m not sure I know enough about the history of the Israel-Palestine conflict to venture a fully informed view on the morality, not to mention politics, of it all.
As an aside of sorts… Fiona and I visited Jerusalem and Bethlehem in 1995, and it was a remarkable and hugely rewarding experience. The religious fervour of the people was something to behold. The people we met were lovely. That said, there was tension in the air at all times. I remember one coach trip we were on being abruptly delayed when we were stopped by heavily armed (and very inquisitive) military figures.
I digress. I will confine my views to the following: it is in the interests of all reasonable people – and most people in the world are reasonable (and good) – that the current carnage ends now. The loss of life has been horrendous. The cruelty has been inhumane. This is a humanitarian disaster, unfolding in the shadow of murder and mayhem. A ceasefire is needed immediately, followed by responsible leadership from all involved, including the international community, who simply must step in to help shed some light midst the darkness.
Even in dark and desperate times, we live in hope. And may the innocent victims rest in peace.