Horse racing fascinates me, it was both my grandfather and father’s passion and a little bit that passion has rubbed off on me, this weekend will see my favourite race of the year the Prix Arc De Triomphe. Normally the race takes place at the glamourous Longchamp racecourse in the heart of Paris but, as Longchamp is going under a massive refurbishment, the event has been transferred some 40km from Paris to Chantilly in the region of Picardy. Lying in the valley of Nonette and enclosed by a magnificent forest, Chantilly is home to both the Prix Du Jockey Club (French Derby) and Prix De Diane (French Oaks) and is the perfect substitute for Longchamp. Nothing in the racing calendar really compares to this very stylish affair which will see Parisians turn out in their thousands for best day of flat racing you will find anywhere in the world. Racegoers in England will argue that both Royal Ascot and the Epsom Derby are more spectacular occasions, while the Americans will claim that the Breeders Cup is now the premier racehorse meeting in world racing, but who are we kidding, when it comes to putting on an event like this, the French will win every time because, they will do it with that polished flair, that the British and Americans just don’t have. The sartorial elegance that will be displayed by the very chic Parisian crowd will only be outdone by the very high level of thoroughbred quality that will be competing on the track, which will be owned by some of the wealthiest people all vying for the highly prestigious prizes on offer. Their horses will come from all over the globe and will descend on Chantilly to compete in a host of group 1 races, with the sole aim of winning races to boost their breeding potential, the race that everyone will trying to win will be the Prix Arc De Triomphe. Run over a mile and a half this epic contest first took place in 1920 and over the years it has become the biggest flat race in the world, this race has seen some truly great racehorses such as Ribot, Sea Bird, Mill Reef, Alleged and Treve triumph and some truly great racehorses notably Nijinsky fail. Hopefully this year’s race will produce another outstanding winner and with a bit of luck it may come from Newmarket in the shape of the Roger Varian trained Postponed. So this Sunday sit back and open up a nice bottle of Cabernet Sauvignon and watch one of the great sporting occasions of the year.
What has happened to Jack Wilshere over the summer months has gone a long way to restoring my faith in Arsene Wenger, for far too long the Arsenal manager has offered up excuse after excuse in a vain attempt to protect his wayward young star. The arrogance that Wilshire now displays makes my blood run cold and is destroying a player that has the potential to become top class, Jack was of the opinion that he was going to spend this season strutting up and the via Veneto playing for Roma whilst enjoying the pleasures of the eternal city, however, Wenger had different plans and with his patience finally running out he has shipped Wilshere out the sunny climes of Bournemouth, to see if rising young manager Eddie Howe can reinvent a player who was once regarded as England’ great hope for the next ten years. Wilshere‘s fall from grace has been coming for a while and I am little bit surprised that it has taken Wenger so long to send him out on loan. Great praise must now be bestowed on Wenger who is now showing a much grittier side to his management, which has further been revealed by his treatment of Callum Chambers, one bad game against Liverpool and he is dispatched to Middlesbrough without a backward glance indicating that Wenger has finally had enough of his underachieving young players. Whether or not the likes of Theo Walcott will finally wake up and realise that they not indispensable is yet to be seen because players like Walcott and Oxlade Chamberlain really needs to give themselves a good hard slap, because these two are following a pattern not too dissimilar to jumping Jack’s and it could be argued that the careers of all three are at a crossroads and are in serious danger of going down the toilet. Fledgling young players in this country are getting a small fortune throw at them once they get in the first team, giving them a lifestyle that they could only dream about, it is killing their drive and ambition and instead of getting their heads down and sweating for the shirt, they are getting some seriously bad advice from their agents who are basically filling their head with a load of garbage. These young kids don’t care because as long as they have got their agents and hangers on telling how wonderful they are they will continue to underachieve, it is not real life and soon their world will come crashing down around them bursting their bubble and leaving their careers in tatters, they will have the money but no one will admire them. Will Wilshere be able to turn his career around, no one can really tell but players like him who waste their talent are now two a penny, with all due respect, I sincerely hope that playing for Bournemouth is the siren that Wilshere needs to hear to come back into the fold, or it might be easier just giving Jody Morris a call, it is up to you Jack.
I have just returned from my fourth and final continental holiday of the year, as normal it took me to Italy, to the small town of Maori on the Amalfi coast (my third holiday of the year saw me return to Taormina in Sicily for a second time this year, which I reviewed in Blog Notes 49, so fairly pointless covering it again). Lying to the south of Naples, the Amalfi coast is one of the most beautiful pieces of coastal landscape that you will find anywhere in the world, it has some fairly fabulous places to stay, such as Sorrento, Positano, Amalfi, Ravello, Minori and Maori as well the picturesque islands of Capri and Ischia. Nowadays I tend to stay in Maori mainly because it is little bit quieter and less expensive than the other resorts, which is great because the frozen northerner is always on a tight budget. Among the many charms on offer along this coastline are places with great history such as Pompeii and Vesuvius, there is also great scenery, which can viewed with awe from both the sea and the shore, there is great food and wine and if your wife likes a bit of retail therapy there is some great shopping for the ladies (especially on Capri), add to this a normally very pleasant climate and you have in my opinion, a place as close to heaven as it is going to get. In truth I am becoming more and captivated by Capri, this island for me now ranks alongside Sicily as one of my favourite destinations, although whether or not I can afford to stop there is another matter. Capri, once the home to the roman emperor Tiberius, is absolutely stunning with a breath-taking allure, that has in the past proved to be a very popular place for writers’ and artists to live and work, nowadays it is very popular with celebrities from all walks of life, with some like Sophia Loren owing villas on the isle. Among the many attractions on the island are the gardens of Augustus (which was the brainchild of the very wealthy German industrialist Friedrich Krupp, who spent a considerable amount of time on the island) the grounds are laid out in terraces with all sorts of decorative plants on display and look down to the sea and the Faraglioni (rock stacks).
But if sightseeing is not for you and you prefer the coffee culture to these botanical delights then you can always sit in the Piazza Umberto near to Capri’s famous clock tower, wiling away the days and nights in one the many bars and restaurants hoping to catch a glimpse of someone rich and famous. Then again you might want to sail around the island exploring the enchanting Blue Grotto and its dazzling blue waters or the Green Grotto with its glittering green water.
The list of places and things to do on Capri are too many for me to do them adequate justice in this blog and that is before I have talked about the rest of the beautiful area in southern Italy The Amalfi coast is an example of the stunning beauty that can be found in bucketful’s whenever I visit Italy, but it is no good just sitting there listening to me prattle on about its splendour you really have to visit this area for to really appreciate what I am talking about. Please go you won’t be disappointed.
It has been quite a while since I talked about anything on TV, this is mainly because I haven’t watched anything that I feel is worthy of discussing. However a couple weeks ago I stumbled across a programme that caught my imagination to such an extent that I spent last weekend watching six episodes one after the other. Now I know that this type of practice is normal for people obsessed with box sets, (my youngest son and Game of Thrones for example) but not for me, so why am I so enamoured with Mr Robot? This programme has become compulsive viewing for the frozen northerner, with each episode more riveting than the last, the show’s revolves around a computer engineer called Elliott Anderson (played by Rami Malek) who lives an insecure, lonely life. Anderson is unable to fit into normal society and is only is ever happy (if happy is the right word) when he is sitting in front of his computer in his dismal little apartment, hacking into other people’s computers trying to expose immoral characters from all walks of life. Looking at series in the cold light of day I suppose you could say the programme is your typical good versus evil story with Anderson trying to save the world from the corruption and depravity that he sees on a daily basis. Anderson is a tortured soul and what draws me to our hero/antihero is that I feel his pain I feel his anxiety and I feel his depression, I watch his daily struggle to deal with the everyday world, wondering if he is going to implode or is he going to make it home to find solace on his shabby little couch feeding his ever increasing methadone habit, the more he slides into the dark abysses of his anxiety the more can identify with him. this is a very accomplished piece of work by Sam Esmail about the world that computer hackers live in and at times it seems somewhat surreal. Remarkably I haven’t talked about anybody else in the programme, the plot or Mr Robot himself (Cristian Slater) and that is because when Rami Malek is on the screen he tends to dominate the proceedings (although Martin Wallstrom’s character Tyrell Wellick is fairly interesting), dare to gaze upon Anderson’s face, devoid of any feeling or emotions and tell me you are not hypnotized by his performance, this is the best TV show I have seen in ages, because nobody can take me to the depths of despair quite like Elliot Anderson.
No. 2: When Pride Still Mattered – A Life of Vince Lombardi by David Maraniss
“Coaches who can outline plays on the blackboard are a dime a dozen. The ones who win get inside their players and motivate”
These words were spoken by the immortal Vince Lombardi, fabled coach of the Green Bay Packers. It is fairly safe to say that Lombardi was responsible for changing the face of American Football during the late 1950’s and early 60s, to do this, Lombardi would transform an underperforming bunch of players from Wisconsin into the greatest football team in the land. So why I am I blogging about this book on Lombardi, as I am no fan of American football, I don’t pretend to like it and I certainly don’t understand it, it takes too long to complete a match and there are just way too many breaks in the game and as a spectacle it lags way behind proper football (association) or rugby (league or union), but this is only my opinion and mine alone. Having said that I have long held a fascination with coaches that have been involved in American sports such as Baseball, Basketball and American Football. Men like John Wooden, Bear Bryant, Phil Jackson and Tom Landry to name but a few, are for me often far interesting than their European counterparts. Books on these guys are normally riveting so it should come as no surprise that one best books I have read is about the legendary Vince Lombardi by David Maraniss, this book digs deep to find out what drove this renowned coach on in his quest for fame and glory and the long road it took to get there. Lombardi’s journey to the top was never going to be easy, unlike a lot of modern day coaches who come in at the top, fail and leave the game forever with a huge pay off, not feeling the least bit guilty that they not have strained every sinew and muscle in their body trying to obtain success, Lombardi would turn in his grave at the thought of these men, wanabee coaches just in it for the money. Starting his coaching career on the bottom rung Lombardi worked as assistant coach at small catholic school in New Jersey.
It was a pivotal experience that would help shape his mind, giving him a set of morals and values that he would use at every oppotunity throughout the 20 years he toiled away within the high school environment. After spending time as assistant coach at the U.S Military academy at West Point, Lombardi eventually entered the pro game in 1954 with the New York Giants aged 41 under head coach Jim Lee Howell, working as offense coach, with the great Tom Landry acting as defence coach. By the time I got to this stage of the book in the I was pretty much in awe of Lombardi, his attention to detail was frightening and this is still a long way from Green Bay. Lombardi’s is not only driven to win matches he is also driven by his catholic faith and serves both beliefs with equal devotion, he leaves no stone unturned and his professionalism shines through at all times. By the time he becomes the Packers head coach in 1959 he is 46 years old working with a club at the basement of the NFL going nowhere quick, laying down the foundations and principles that had been indoctrinated in him at West Point by Earl “Red” Blaik, Lombardi tears though the Wisconsin outfit like a whirlwind converting a bunch of no hopers into a team that was to attain mythical status and setting the benchmark for every team in the modern game. The beauty of the book is that it not just about his successes, it deals with his family life which was not always perfect for the Italian/ American, it also looks at his mood swings and how constantly living under the microscope took its toll on his health, his tragically early death at the age 57 due to cancer robbed sport of arguably the greatest coach of any sport there has ever been. Maraniss’s is one the best books I have ever read and is a must for anyone, especially coaches at any level that are involved in in sport, once you open it you will never put down, because there has probably never been a coach quite like Vince Lombardi.