BOOKS

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Angels with Dirty Faces (by Jonathan Wilson)

If really want to gain greater understanding of the complexities that is Argentine football, then you have to read Angels with Dirty Faces by Jonathan Wilson. Bearing the name of the 1938 classic gangster movie gives this book an interesting title to describe the complicated path that football has taken over the years in Argentina. British sailors brought the game to Argentina and Wilson has lovely researched the history and philosophy of the Argentinian game by delving into the psyche of a nation obsessed by a game that does not always portray them in a positive light.

Argentina should have been an economic powerhouse, but political corruption and military coups have hampered the progress of a country that lacks any real economic vision. The short-sightedness of various governments has frequently left the country in a financial mess with hardship not only been felt not among the masses on the street, but, also by the drain of nations best players to the rich fertile pastures of European soccer.

In my opinion Argentinians have always seen themselves as being superior footballers to anyone in the world, never mind South America. This arrogance may be well justified as it has seen them win more Copa America’s than anyone else in the southern hemisphere, added to this they are also the most successful country in the Copa Libertadores (South America’s version of the European Cup). But the problem is that no matter how well they play or do, nobody loves them in the way everyone loves Brazil and it is literally killing them.

Wilson rightly points out that nearly every generation of Argentine football tends to throw up a genius of a player, someone like Adolfo Pedernera, Alfredo di Stefano, Omar Sivori, Ricardo Bochini, Diego Maradona, Juan Riquelme and of course Lionel Messi, players who fans see as the epitome of pibe  (the Argentine fantasy of the kid or street urchin who uses his creative skill and ability to claw his way to the top) but for all of the imagination and creativity that these players brought to the game  there is a much darker side to their game.

The book brilliantly analyses the violent system of anti-fubol, which was fashioned and used in the late 1960’s possibly first by Racing Club of Buenos Aires in their notorious victory over Celtic in the world club championship and then honed and exploited more ruthlessly by the infamous Estudiantes De La Plata. Argentine football would enter its darkest period, a chapter in their history that they have never really shaken off, under the guidance of Osvaldo Zubeldia, Estudiantes adopted a win at all costs approach, devising the most cynical style the game has probably ever seen. The players bought into the outlook and carefully manipulated on the park by Zubeldia,s number 1 assassin, the mocking and derisive Carlos Bilardo, they set about their task to conquer the world. No opportunity was too low for Bilardo to stoop to which, would see him and his team-mates produce some of the outrageous antics football has ever seen, producing a cynicism that would see them do anything in their power to expose a flaw in the opposition.

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The Murderous Bilardo

I could argue that the game in Argentina may have recovered if it were not for the arrival of Menotti, the charismatic left wing activist known as El Flaco (the slim one). Menotti who had spent time in Brazil befriending Pele, would return the Argentine game to flair and imagination based on an attacking philosophy. Endlessly seen standing on the touchline smoking cigarette after cigarette, Menotti would deliver the 1978 World Cup an achievement that cannot be underestimated given the political backdrop in which was played.

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The Great Menotti (with the inevitable cigarette)

The events that have taken place since that epic victory are just as fascinating; you have the arrival of Maradona and Messi the return of Bilardo, plus the coaching methods of Bielsa.

Add to this more political corruption and the never ending rounds of spiralling inflation that has held back economic growth back, you would think the average Argentine would be in a state of despair given their plight, they are not because they have the one thing that binds them together and that is their love of football. Jonathan Wilson’s book is pure theatre, read it and open your mind.

 

 

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SPORT

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Pretty in Pink

If Chris Froome were to win this year’s Tour De France he would join a small but elite group of cyclists  that have managed to win this event 5 times. Froome is far and away the greatest cyclist this country has ever produced but no matter how well he comes across on TV I am always left with the feeling that not too  many people actually warm to Froome.  Why is that?  Maybe it is jealously or maybe it is the thought of him winning this year’s competition that is driving his rivals and the Gallic organisers into despair. The French never really liked Merchx or Indurian winning it 5 times but the thought of an Englishman winning for a fifth time is not only a problem for the organisers but also for the French public, who see this most prestigious of French sporting events being won year after year by foreigners. Should he win, Froome would he would have 7 grand tour titles 1 behind Anquetil, a thought that may be too much to bear for most Frenchmen.

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Mellow in Yellow

Froome arrives at this year’s competition in high spirits have just won the the Giro d’Italia in brilliant style, he has also been cleared of any wrongdoing in last year’s Vuelta a Espana with regard to his asthma medication, this unfounded allegation that has hung around his neck like an albatross, leaving him in a state of stress leading up to the big event.

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Ruthless in Red

Currently holding the Tour De France, Giro d’Italia and the Vuelta a Espana titles, a feat that has only been accomplished by the fabled Bernard Hinault and Eddy Merchx, the pressure Froome will be under will be justifiably immense, so let’s hope he avoids any type of dirty tricks campaign that has been commonplace in grand tours over the years. Cycling has and I suspect always will be riddled with drugs scandals, Lance Armstrong tore my heart out when he admitted his guilt in the most famous humiliation the sport has ever seen. The sport needs good guys to win let’s just hope that Fromme is one of them.

ITALIAN EXPERIENCE (6)

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Montecatini

I have foregone the rugged beauty of Sicily, to return to the more manicured and well groomed region of Tuscany. It has been over 3 years since I last visited this rather   picturesque province of Italy and once again the Contessa Di La Proctero is taking me out of my comfort zone by planning a week’s break at the Tuscan spa town of Montecatini Terme.

Most Brits would probably head straight to Florence, Lucca, or maybe Siena for their Tuscan sojourn, so it was no surprise to find that there were very few English in this well presented town. Montecatini Terme is strewn with tree lined avenues, stroll down the pavements of the Vaile Guiseppe Verdi, where you can stop off at Libertine Bisrot for a cold beer or a refreshing Campari Sprite before heading to the funicular railway which will take you up to Montecatini Alto. Offering you breathe taking views of the town down below and the surrounding countryside this hillside treasure has a delightful village, where you can visit the renaissance churches if like a bit of culture, or just eat or drink in the charming square in the centre of this pleasant hamlet.

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Montecatini Alto

Sightseeing may not be your bag so, you may just want to sit in one the numerous parks and watch the world go by, or better still grab a coffee and biscotti at somewhere like the Caffe Giovanni or Caffe Granduca and just people watch, which for me is the only way to spend  time while on an Italian holiday.

Pelligrini’s served great local Tuscan cuisine, where I would strongly advise you try the rabbit, if just want a snack then go to Il Maialetto which served up incredible sandwiches. To drink the choice is endless. The beautiful people tended to gather along Viale 1V Novembre at bars like Syrah. If this is too vain and shallow for your taste, then visit the Piccolo Bar (busy every night) or the strangely English titled Beer Shop and Tap Room, for some top notch craft beers.

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Pelligrini’s

Obviously no trip to Italy can be completed without a little bit of retail therapy and Montecatini Terme just about managed to keep me happy, lot of shops but easily the best were Benedetti and Lisa Ann, with latter stocking a very nice range of Santoni shoes.

On the last day I sat in Piazza Del Popolo with Basilica Santa Maria Assunta in the background and reviewed my stay this Tuscan spa town. Overall this was completely different holiday from what I normally would have, but was a huge success. Please visit this wonderful place because you will really enjoy it

CLOTHES

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Fumagalli Swimwear

The Frozen Northerner has just recently celebrated his 63rd birthday, whilst not being particularly overjoyed at the years passing away rather too quickly. I have decided to embrace this event in a positive manner; therefore, the quest goes on to improve the sartorial elegance of the north eastern male, bringing us to that seasonal problem, swimwear.

This somewhat tricky subject cannot be masked by you strolling along the beach in a rather small pair of budgie smugglers, you may believe you look like David Gandy, but, if you are sporting a bit of a Geordie paunch after slightly overindulging in joys of Newcastle nightlife then you are going need something a tad more flattering.

So where to start, if your budget is somewhere between £20-£30 and you see yourself as the next Michael Phelps then look no further than Arena swimwear, who have  dazzling array of products suitable for the swimming/triathlete type that will enhance anybody that has a rather more sculpted figure than the average male.

Arena or maybe Speedo represent superb value, but I suspect you may be drawn to something designer orientated and this where things can get ugly, are you really going to pay over £300 for a pair of swim shorts?  The only lunatics likely to pay these prices are premier league players who are only buying them because they are expensive, so they must good, or bandits like disgraced businessman Philip Green who is always going to look like a slob no matter what he wears, so let’s be realistic.

What do I like, Hartford or Frescobol Carioca immediately spring to mind as well as Ralph Lauren’s range, but for me this summer The Frozen Northerner is going to be sporting swimwear by Fumagalli 1891.

Why have chosen them? Is it because I am obsessed by all things Italian, probably, but that is just who I am. Fumagalli 1891 have been around for a long time, producing a fine selection of ties, pocket squares and swimwear.  I discovered the company through The Rake magazine which, is now selling some really fabulous products. Based in Como, northern Italy Fumagalli 1891 are another Italian artisan family that need to be more recognised. So this summer push the boat and purchase at least a couple of pairs of these swim shorts, they will not make you look like Agnelli at the helm of the Agneta but, that is never going to stop me trying.

THE SHOREDITCH EXPERIENCE

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It a well-known fact that The Frozen Northerner visits London at least three times a year, the purpose of these trips is normally for retail therapy and the trip to the metropolis over the last bank holiday was going to be exactly about that. Normally I and the Contessa de la Proctero would stay in either Piccadilly or Mayfair, however, lately the Contessa has decided we must expand our horizons and explore other areas of the capital.

Slightly nervous about her new found adventurism, (can anyone really tire of Mayfair?) it was decided that we stay in Shoreditch. This particular area of the East End was once described by fashion icon Alexander McQueen as being rather rough, however, over the last few years it has shaken off this image and has emerged to become a vibrant and energetic neighbourhood.

We stayed at “M” By Montcalm which is a stone’s throw from Old Street tube station, the hotel itself was fine and lot more laid back than some of the hotels we stay in the West End. Once we had checked in, we were off to explore the locale, wandering down Old Street towards Shoreditch High Street and the surrounding area. The place was absolutely teeming with people both locals and tourists, creating a very lively atmosphere, there is just too may bars, restaurants and coffee shops to list, so it would unfair to name a few, you need to go and see for yourself as your taste may differ from mine.  The same applies to the shopping with not so many high street names and more individual shops with a more eclectic approach, offering a variety of products that you are just not going to get in other parts of London.

Redchurch Street and Brick Lane and the old Truman Brewery were places that we really enjoyed which, is bit unfair on the rest of the area because if truth be told we loved it all. Although I was a bit apprehensive at first at about staying in Shoreditch you should go because believe me, you will love the experience.

SPORT

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The French Open

I always feel that summer is kicked started with the arrival of the French Open, played at State Roland Garros it is the second event of the tennis grand slam, This year sees 122nd renewal of this most French of sporting occasions and for my money this is the best competition that tennis has to offer. Although the tournament will graced by the likes of Nadal, the only images I will have is of players like Borg Vilas and Panatta competitors of the highest order who gave the impression that they had just spent the night in Parisian nightclub not worrying about the big game that lay ahead.

But Roland Garros is not just about the performers is it also about the partisan Parisian crowd, who, will be immaculately well groomed and ultra-chic. But don’t be fooled because at some stage in the proceedings they will reveal their Bastille mentally exposing a high    level of volatility at can be aimed at any player, male or female, demonstrating an unpredictability that can be very unnerving even for the strongest willed participant.

Named after a pioneering French aviator, the event is played on that famous red clay, the magic of this slow playing surface it is both challenging and physically demanding for the players. Although it has been won by performers from all over the world, competitors from a Latin background tend to excel on the dirt.

Roland Garros has been a graveyard for some truly great players such as Sampras, McEnroe, Newcombe and Connors all of whom have cracked under the pressure of playing on this testing ground and have seen their dreams of claiming the Coupe des Mousquetaires ( The Musketeers Trophy) perish and die on its centre court (now known as court Philippe Chatrier).

This year’s competition will throw up plenty of shocks and who will win is anybody’s guess but if Nadal were to win it that would some achievement. Bask in the Parisian sunshine and watch the coverage of the event on ITV with John Inverdale leading a team of knowledgeable experts, don’t miss it.

CLOTHES

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Boglioi “K” Jacket

In blog notes 55 I highlighted the delights of wearing the J Kedge slack jacket, much to my shock and horror this wonderful jacket did not meet with the all-round approval that I thought it deserved. I was disappointed, certainly, but this has only heightened my resolve to find the perfect summer jacket.

This 2 year odyssey to find something that is possibly better than the J Kedge gem has led me to Italian maestros, Boglioli and their signature “K” jacket. Although Boglioli may be not as well-known as other Italian brands, this family ran company has built up a sound reputation by producing lightweight tailoring of the highest order, based in Brescia, Northern Italy, Boglioli have stayed true to their roots and the “K” jacket is just another fine example of their attention to detail. Cut from cotton twill and featuring an unlined body, this is a serious jacket that should take you to next level in the sartorial stakes. This jacket may not prevail in Whitley Bay or Tynemouth but if you on the streets of Taormina, or Montecatini this summer you may catch The Frozen Northerner strolling the streets pretending to Giancarlo Antognoni in his prime.

The “K” jacket is a summer essential that must be purchased at all costs but therein lies the problem, where to buy it, The Frozen Northerner found his on his last jaunt to Sicily but expecting you to travel halfway across Europe for a jacket is highly unreasonable, so, your best bet is probably Trunk Clothiers which is based in Marylebone, London. I don’t know of anyone else that stock Boglioli but please correct me if know of other places that stock Boglioli. Summer is coming but it will be so much better if you are sporting the “K” jacket.