Saturday, 17 March 2018

Hold the front page

Earlier this week a quirk in the atmospherics meant that Fantasy Bob overheard what appears to be an editorial conference at a major Scottish media outlet.

- Right we need a big splash on the back page - sports editor what do you have for us?
- Eh - nothin' - Rangers and Celtic weren't playing.
- Nothing?  There must be something.
- Zippo - Rangers or Celtic huvnae signed nae unknown forriners this week.
- I thought one of their players got a new haircut.
- Naw that wis last week.  We're in a tragic news drought.
- There must be other sports.
- You dinnae wint us to cover the Hibs do ye?
- Other sports, not other teams.
- We done that - we done an article aboot golf last year.
- I remember that - a Rangers player got a hole in one.
- What about cricket?
- Whit's that?
- Aren't Scotland playing qualifiers for the world cup just now?
- Are they?  How would I ken?  I'm the sports editor.
- They beat Afghanistan.
- Nae a great fitba nation.
- They're unbeaten so far.
- See whit happens when you appoint big Alex McLeish.
- Nothing to do with McLeish.  We need to give the cricket some coverage.
- OK OK.  How mony Rangers players is involved?
- None.
- OK  Must be a' Celtic players then?
- No.
- Oh no, it's nae Aiberdeen players is it.  I'm no going up there for interviews.
- No - it's cricket - it's nothing to do with football.
- Cannae go on the sports pages then.  This is a Scottish paper.

Saturday, 10 March 2018


As the Beast from the East recedes the full horror of the life or death struggle is becoming clearer.

No empire biscuits to be found....
Many faced extended periods of empire biscuit deprivation as panic buying stripped the shelves of all provender.  In many parts of Scotland shoppers disaster loomed found only fresh fruit and vegetables.

Even Fantasy Bob could not resist the hysteria of panic buying - as a result, he now has 6 new cricket bats.

Mrs FB did not seem overly impressed as he returned from the blizzard blasted wasteland proudly bearing these trophies, although she did eventually concede that, used with dexterity and a sense of purpose, they might be used to move the snow from the path to the front door.  FB felt that her trenchantly expressed scepticism that FB had any dexterity, far less a sense of purpose, did little to help the household's overall response to the extreme conditions.  But he bit his tongue.  Thus adding injury to insult.

Much as the media tried to downplay the horror by continuous hysterical reporting of references to red alerts, extreme conditions and life or death situations, the sense of panic was not eased.  Emergency services were inundated with calls.  Police Scotland report that they received 50% more 999 calls than usual.

'Your kebab is cold....?'
FB is sure that there were many in genuine difficulty but, as increasingly seems to be the case these days, there were many calls which suggests that many of FB's fellow citizens understand that the word emergency now means a situation of mild inconvenience.  Police therefore had to respond to such life or death matters as a desperate request to borrow a show shovel;  a frantic concern that a gate was frozen; an imperious command that since there was no bread in the shop and could the police make a delivery; a sobbing inquiry as to where an open cigarette shop could be found.

These calls only add to the long history of similar 999 calls - distraught citizens have called to report that eggs in the fridge were broken, that their kebab is cold and that they have forgotten their password.

FB has never called 999.  Obviously he has been oblivious to threat.  He needs to reassess his generally stoical outlook.  He needs to revise his sense of emergency. He regularly faces life or death situations.

The next time he sees the ball being handed to an 11 year old leg spinner. He knows what to do.  999.

Wednesday, 28 February 2018

The beast from the east

Scotland’s cricketers have been plunged into confusion.  The beast from the east.  A sudden cold snap.  Dazed and shivering they look out their kit for they must assume the season has started.

For the first matches of the season are by long tradition played in Siberian conditions.   There are misleadingly titled warm up matches (which Fantasy Bob avoids – he does not want to peak too early) where fielders in the deep have been known to get lost in snow drifts.

Edinburgh’s cricket grounds in particular have been historically positioned to ensure no barrier between them and the Siberian wastes.  They promiscuously welcome any chill winds to their empty expanses at any time.  At the start of the season however they are particularly lascivious and can without difficulty ensure that frozen draughts come from each point of the compass simultaneously.  There is no beast like the beast across the cricket field.  The beast is from the east south north and west. Bowlers, if they are able to move at all, struggle with length since they are bowling into and with the wind at the same time.

Go ahead Edinburgh club Carlton's ground
ready for the first matches of a new season
Cricketers in Scotland are therefore made of stern stuff.  They scoff at the media's hysterical reference to snowageddon and franticThe beast from the east over-hyping of the slightest drop in temperature.   The beast from the east - isn't that our new overseas amateur pace bowler?

They reflect on how they survived the Arctic conditions at the start of last season losing no more than three toes to frostbite.   And they still managed to bowl a 10 over spell.  As he dons his gloves and prepares to leave the  warmth of the pavilion a batsman will stiffen his upper lip and say stoically to his colleagues, as they huddle together for warmth, that 'I am just going out now, I may be gone some time.' (The promise of a long innings that FB never manages to fulfill whatever the climatic conditions).  They struggle to close the door against the icy wind and as they watch their colleague walk out to make the supreme sacrifice, they bring to mind that magical day last season when the Siberian wind relented, when the sun shone high in the azure all day and the temperature approached a sweltering 10 degrees.  The joys of summer - they come nearer every day.

Saturday, 24 February 2018

Artificial Everything

Fantasy Bob's faithful handful of readers might think it ill becomes him - a lower league cricketer accustomed more than not to playing on artificial pitches - to worry about artificiality in sport.

For the last 2 weeks or so, an enthusiastic young man wearing a fetching tea cosy on his head has bobbed up on the TV screen eulogising about half pipe, big air, aerial, slope style, free style and so on and suggesting that they are worthy of FB's attention.   When he is not wearing his tea cosy this young man is apparently a Blue Peter presenter and therefore worthy of FB's respect and attention.  FB suspects that the tea cosy could be made out of sticky back plastic.

Radzi Chinyanganya and tea cosy

FB has therefore spent more hours than he would care to watching endless series of circus tricks  presented as sporting encounters.  Skilful and courageous these tricks might be; mildly entertaining too; but the outcome depends on the views of a judging panel.  Like Masterchef. 

FB is eternally sceptical as to whether any activity can really be called a sport when it depends on subjective judgement in this way.  Cricket would be very different if after each ball a judging panel rated the bowler's and batter's performance on difficulty, execution and presentation - they might not quite know how to mark FB's attempts to deal with 11 year old leg spinners unless a category of comic entertainment value would be introduced.  Then FB would be a world beater.

But FB digresses.  His concern is that many of these events are made up.  New events are added to the schedule every time the Olympics comes around.  At the 1968 Winter Olympics in Grenoble - when the great Jean-Claude Killy
Killy - god of the mountain
won 3 gold medals for Alpine ski-ing there were 35 events.  More than enough to provide real thrills.

50 years later in Korea there have been 102 - new arrivals have included big air snowboarding, mass start speed skating, mixed doubles curling.  Next time round in Beijing there is the promise of synchronised skating.  Need FB say more?

Most of these events have specially constructed courses with kickers rollers and dramatic cambers.  Artificial sports on artificial sites.  Have we lost sight of what is important in sports?

The Alpine ski-ing races are still said to be the Games' blue ribband events -  the Test Matches of the sport.  They are certainly the highlight for FB.  Man or woman against the mountain and gravity in a natural contest of courage strength and skill - who dares wins.  They delivered 2 heroes in Hirscher and Svindal. 
Marcel Hirscher - 2 gold medals

Aksel Lund Svindal - gold medal in Mens Downhill
But nowadays they also have an artificial element. Over 90% of the snow in the Korean games is artificial.  Put away any thought of inspiring mountain scenery - the pistes and the courses may be white but the adjoining landscape is a dull brown. 

It is hard for the stuffy old traditionalist like FB to take.  It is the same as T20 swamping Test Matches and 3 or 4 day cricket.  It is Test Matches played on artificial wickets.  It is this the work of the Devil.  Is it really a fit subject for a Blue Peter presenter?  The tea cosy may be artificial too.

Monday, 19 February 2018

The magic of the mountains

The magic of the mountains

Anyone who has had the misfortune to observe Fantasy Bob's stumbling efforts at the crease will have an understanding of his propensity for self-inflicted wounds. His propensity to swing late, early or all round a straight one - sometimes he manages all three skills at the same time - is verging on the legendary. Commentators have frequently discussed whether this is symptomatic of some deep psychological condition.  Freudian psychologists watching from the boundary have cited FB's experience as conclusive evidence of the existence of thanatos - the death drive, whose opposition to the pleasure principle Sigmund Freud contended to be a fundamental psychological dynamic. Others have simply attributed FB's condition to basic incompetence.

What should they then make of recent evidence as FB prepared for his annual pilgrimage to the ski slopes of the Austria Alps?  For the run up to his trip was littered with self-inflicted injury.

The mandoline is a fearsome piece of kitchen equipment. As FB enthusiastically brandished it in one hand and a carrot in the other, what could possibly go wrong?  Lots, it would seem, as with exceptional culinary skill he deftly sliced the top off his spinning finger.  Not that he has ever spun anything with it, as Mrs FB helpfully pointed out, while she battled to stem the ensuing torrents of blood and bad language - not necessarily in that order. 

The mandoline  - check the soup for finger tips
The next day, his finger bandaged in full compliance with Girl Guide First Aider badge standards, FB took himself to the gym. He thought he might pep his legs up to prepare them for his coming assaults on the black runs. Why he thought it might be best to do this with a grueling session on the leg extension machine is beyond anyone's guess. It may well have done wonders for FB's legs, but it left his back in a state comparable to England's recent Ashes batting. Wrecked.

Hobbling slowly homewards he diverted to the doctor's clinic; not to have his ravaged back attended to but to receive inoculation against pneumonia. Pneumonia may have been frightened off but at the cost of rendering his arm completely and painfully immobile.

So, FB was even more of a physical wreck than usual as the day of departure approached. Mrs FB is not noted for her Freudian approach to psychology. She suggested that his recent track record meant that even getting out of bed should be classed an hazardous activity. She cruelly drew attention to FB's minimal level of technical competence in the skiing department, and asked, somewhat rhetorically, whether, bearing in mind these factors, his intention to throw himself down mountain sides might not indicate that there was a death drive somewhere in the works.

FB said he would check the insurance.   'An extra premium on the life insurance might be an idea.' suggested Mrs FB with a tad less sympathy than FB might have expected.  He declined to answer, he was reviewing the finer print of his travel insurance to see if it would compensate him should he need to cancel his trip. The policy made it clear that stupidity was not an insurable risk. Nor was there any indication that the operation of thanatos, conscious or unconscious, was underwritten.

There was nothing for it.   FB would have to adopt that legendary stoical frame of mind nurtured over many long bowling spells up the hill against the wind.

He needn't have worried. The magic of the snow capped mountains erased any lingering pain and he avoided any mishap on the slopes.

On his return, Mrs FB asked whether he had learned anything from this catalogue of ineptitude. Learning from experience is not one of FB's key skills, so it took him some time to respond. Eventually however he came to the answer - the next time he slices carrots it would be sensible to wear his batting gloves.

Monday, 5 February 2018

An issue

It is unusual for Fantasy Bob to address matters of consequence.  This is a great relief to his worldwide handful of readers who have long understood that he will never have anything useful or sensible to say about anything.  There is as much chance of him successfully negotiating an over from an 11 year old leg spinner.

However 11 year old leg spinners and their ilk are causing concern and this has got FB thinking.  The cricketing blogosphere - or at least the part of that mighty ocean into which FB dips his toe from time to time - has recently been preoccupied by anxieties over junior cricket and whether it will replenish the player base. Too few 11 year old leg spinners become 18 year old leg spinners, far less 25 year old leg spinners.  FB’s readers might conclude that he would be secretly relieved at the imminent death of leg spin but this is an issue that afflicts all other bowling actions and batters too.  Even where junior cricket is relatively healthy junior players do not become senior players.

FB recognises these concerns - his own club -go ahead Carlton in Edinburgh - stands at the pinnacle of developing opportunities for junior cricketers. Early engagement with senior cricket is seen as crucial to their development – even if it does mean being exposed to the questionable captaincy skills of FB. 

Junior cricket at Carlton -
just itching for the chance to play with FB

The club’s lower teams draw heavily on the junior membership who will on most league days form about half the teams’ numbers.  None is there to make up the numbers  – they are valued as an essential part of the team and expected to make a contribution to the relentless pursuit of league points.  Those high expectations are rarely disappointed.   It is the kids who win the games - the grown ups who lose them. The club’s internal research confirms how positively the youngsters enjoy and value this experience.  And yet, even in this rosiest of gardens, the common problems can be seen.  Players who had been progressing well lose interest and disappear.  Many are the factors identified to account for this - the authorities, parents, schools, media, extra-terrestrial forces.  What can be done?

Progressive developmental pathways may secure players with top team potential.  But where are the future FBs to come from?  Whee are the lower team players of tomorrow? Players of modest ability (and even that description flatters FB) who are committed to the game though what can only be described as  love.  How did FB fall in love with cricket? 

FB has blogged before describing his cricketing development – he had zero coaching, there was no development pathway, there was minimal school cricket.  And yet something somewhere caused the game to enter his soul.  What was it?
Proper cricket -
(l-r) Swanton, Johnston and West

FB is increasingly convinced that it was his early exposure to Test match cricket on TV – those flickering black and white images, those umpires in long white coats, the rolled up sleeves and Brylcreme of the players, the crowd picnicking up to the limits of the boundary rope and the cut glass accent of Peter West.  It was mystical and magic and brought to him by the BBC throughout the season – the lunch interval would be filled with Watch With Mother but the cricket was Watch With Father.  Later there was the Gillete Cup and the John Player League – but always there was the Test Match.  Cricket was available and accessible.  It continuity and nuance displayed.  FB – and many like him – understood the point of it.  Unless people fall in love with cricket like FB did, there will be no lower teams and no infrastructure.

Test cricket was last available on terrestrial TV in the momentous 2005 Ashes – 8.4 million watched the closing day of the fourth test in the series.  Last year’s England South Africa Test was watched by fewer than 400,000.

This may not be the only factor at play, nostalgia is not necessarily a reliable witness and pressures on young people are intense.   But if the visibility of cricket was so significant for FB, then it must have been so for many others.   That is worth thinking about.

Wednesday, 31 January 2018

Where the nuts come from

Programme from the original production of
Charley's Aunt
Fantasy Bob is far from an expert on Brazil.  His knowledge may be a little beyond that of the character in the timeless Victorian farce Charley's Aunt who repeatedly introduces himself with the words 'I'm from Brazil where the nuts come from', but not much.  And why should FB know anything about Brazil? It is not a cricketing nation of any distinction, despite the efforts of the British expats in the 19th Century.  Nor is it noted for its empire biscuits.

So he was intrigued by the sudden surge this week of hits on his blog from Brazil.   Compared to the faithful world wide handful of readers who regularly seek inspiration from him these were numbers off the scale.  It looked like the inhabitants of the favelas of Rio were seeking new inspiration for the imminent Carnival.  At last they realised that the time had come for a series of Fantasy Bob themed floats teeming with scantily dressed young ladies displaying the challenges of playing leg spin bowling. The Girl from Ipanema goes walking (after she nicks it).  There could be nothing more exciting for the vast crowds.
Fantasy Bob themed costumes
 - none of them can play leg spin bowling

Showing a speed of thought and action that is uncharacteristic, FB quickly contacted the Brazilian embassy to offer his services as a consultant for this important cultural exchange.   A couple of weeks on the Copacabana could sharpen him up for the next few winter nets.

The phone was answered.  FB spoke.

Hello FB here

Si, Futbol Brasil?  What you want?

No, not  FB - Futbol Brasil - FB FB

FB FB?  Ah si, Futbol Brasil Face Book  What you want?

No, not Futbol Brasil Face Book.  FB.

Yeh, you tell me already - you want picture of Pele for Face Book right?

No .....Fantasy Bob

Ah, you want picture of Fantasy Bob for Face Book.  Not good idea.  Will not get much likes.

No, I am Fantasy Bob and I can help you.


You know, for Carnival, for the floats - the Fantasy Bob themed floats

There was a short silence.

What you talking about?

Fantasy Bob found himself explaining how his new fan base was evidence of a new direction for the Carnival and he thought the local population would need some help to get things authentic.

There was another short silence.

Listen - how about you just take the picture of Pele.


What you know about Brazil?'s where the nuts come from.

Ah yes, so it is...........and now it's where the bots come from.