2012: It Wasn’t the End of the World As We Know It (And I Still Feel Fine)

A Recap Of The Previous 12 Months, Where Your Hero Accidentally Snatched A Replay From The Jaws of Defeat

Football

I can’t deny that the main story arc of my footballing year concerned Rangers’ ongoing trials and tribulations. As much as I like to think of myself as a cerebral, widely travelled intellectual (though I’m not), I’m still in the remorseless grip of a neurological addiction to a football club. For the seven people in Scotland that weren’t following the story (and those from the rest of the World where the tale hasn’t quite made its way yet), you can read a breakdown of the story here.

As this is the West of Scotland, the story would migrate from the football pitch and the back pages into the consciousness of most of the population. TV shows, radio phone-ins and blogs would discuss the issues and fallout at length. Friends (and probably family) have probably fallen out. The story of the ‘Big Tax Case’ and the subsequent liquidation of The Rangers Football Club plc continues as I’m writing this, with fans on either side of the fence continuing to bite and snipe at each other.

On the pitch, it’s been a year of two seasons. It normally is when you play from summer to summer, but rarely can the two half seasons in a year contrast so markedly. At the end of the 2011-12 season, Rangers finished second in the Scottish Premier League, despite being docked ten points for going into administration. At the start of the 2012-13 season, they lined up alongside Peterhead and Queens Park in the Scottish Football League Division Three with an almost entirely different squad. With a 12 month transfer embargo put in place for ‘improper behaviour’, this season has seen more of a focus on youth, with the 18 year old Lewis MacLeod being an ever-present so far, and the mostly 17 year old Barrie McKay looking to be the prospect John Fleck was supposed to be. Yes, they’re playing in Division Three, but they’re both starting most games, and taking on more responsibility than they would have been expected to if we’d stayed in the SPL.

As a fan, it’s been difficult to know how to react to these tumultuous events. I had very little say into what happened at the club under the ownership of David Murray and Craig Whyte, yet I’m supposed to express contrition for their behaviour. I’m told what I think and feel, and what I should think and feel, by supporters of other clubs. Any transgressions by Rangers and its fans, real or imagined, are discussed in such black and white terms it’s difficult to see how my opinion or thoughts on the matter will be entertained. As such, at the end of 2012, I find myself caring very little for the feelings and opinions of supporters of other Scottish clubs. This is wrong as well, I’m told. We can’t win, so we’ve given up playing bullshit bingo, by and large. Who knows if time will heal these wounds?

Life

As for the important things in life, how did I get on? It feels like every year since I graduated from uni, I’ve been saying ‘this year will be my year’. I think in 2012 I got closer than I ever have before to making that happen. It didn’t start auspiciously, with my football club going into administration a week before my birthday. Still, I pressed ahead with a notion I’d had for a few years, and got my second tattoo for my 32nd birthday. It’s of the Quenyan numeral for nine in the script of Tengwar, from JRR Tolkien’s legendarium. Yes, sad I know, but it means a lot to me. It symbolises my love of language, what the books and films meant to me as a teenager and undergraduate, and the ‘nine’ aspect ties in with my main connection with football; the centre forward.

Career & Education

Work wise, things started to look up for the first time in my life. I started a professional qualification in March that’s the equivalent of the first year of an undergraduate degree, and while it’s been frustrating trying to fit it in around work and retain some sort of social life (pause for ironic laugh), it will hopefully lead to better things. There are five units; I’ve already passed one, I sat an exam for the second in November, and I handed in another assignment for the third this month. If all goes to play, I should be finished this level in May, and then we’ll see what happens next.

In August I gained a promotion at work, little more than a year after my last one, working in another department in the same organisation. It’s a slightly different role to the last one, with more responsibility, more of a strategic involvement, and it ties in more with what I’m learning in my professional qualification course. If I may be vulgar, it also pays a bit more. My salary has increased by 160% over the last twelve months, and again, while I like to think of myself as the sort of person that isn’t obsessed with filthy lucre, having a healthier disposable income is nice. Particularly when you’re living with your mother, paying ‘digs’, and still having to save up for a house deposit at the same time. The aim is to try and buy a house sometime in 2013; our personalities no longer lend themselves to living together. Besides, this place is too small. After having first flown the coop 12 years ago, I need to spread my wings again.

Health & Wellness

On the topic of body parts (actual ones this time), I started the year with one functioning knee. I was frustrated in my attempts to keep fit by the constant pain when I tried to play football or took a circuits class. I was also slowly increasing in weight, and to be honest it was starting to get me down a little. I’d been to the doctor about the pain in my joint, and eventually got an appointment with a physiotherapist at the hospital, who in turn referred me to another physio in the local health centre. Peter gave me some exercises, and even talked me into acupuncture, and my knee gradually improved.

Around the same time, after a conversation with a friend from football, I bought a pedometer. He had been on a fitness programme with his local football club where he had been encouraged to walk more, with a target of 10,000 footsteps a day. I originally intended to walk a similar number of paces as John did, as he had lost a stone and a half, and looked good for it. However, I became fascinated by the fact the pedometer also measured calories burned while walking. I must confess to not previously having the faintest idea how the human body actually processed joules of energy from food, but after some reading I realised that the reason I was nearly five stones overweight was because I was eating too much. Simple, I know, but when I started to track my calories against what my basal metabolic rate suggested I should be consuming, the weight started to drop off. A week before Christmas, I now weigh around 14 and a quarter stone, having weighed 17 and a quarter at the end of May. I do feel a little more comfortable about my body now, which is something I needed to be due to my generally low levels of self-confidence. I’ve Christmas to get through without putting on too much beef, but I should be able to get down to my target weight of 12 and a half stone at some point in 2013.

I’ve been aided in my weight loss by my taking up karate. Obviously, as a child of the 80s, I was practically raised by martial arts films. The fact it’s taken me so long then to start studying karate can be explained by many of the usual reasons; time and money being the two main ones. And as I clutched my free lesson voucher, waiting to file into the dojo, I remembered another main barrier; my own self-consciousness. I think I had to reach a certain maturity before I was able to throw myself into such a hobby. I also try not to think about how much money it’s cost me so far…in any case, I’ve attained my level 9 kyu. I think every school operates slightly differently, but in simple terms, I have to sit another nine gradings in order to become a first dan black belt. This could take as little as three years though. More importantly, I’m enjoying it and it seems to help my wretched knee, somehow.

I’ve been keeping a journal of my progress back to fitness here, if you’re interested.

Music

It was a bit of a strange year in this regard. I’ve bought around 25 albums, but only five were released in 2012. Of those, I enjoyed the Godspeed You! Black Emperor and Muse efforts, but there’s not much to be said for the 2:54, Tame Impala and Two Door Cinema Club records. It’s been over ten years since contemporary music excited me; most people I think would attribute that to ‘an age thing’. You get past a certain age and your musical tastes become conservative, unadventurous, and ‘complacent’, as I’ve seen it dubbed on Twitter. I’m not entirely sure that’s fair. It’s certainly more complex than that. I once read Nick Hornby suggest that many professional adults wouldn’t have the resources and energy to dedicate as much time to listening to Radiohead’s Kid A that the record demanded. As I get older and older, I find myself agreeing with that sentiment more. By their early 30s, most people have a full-time job, and a family, and hobbies, and they might not be able to listen to as many records as they’d like. And of course, there’s another distraction, competing with new music for the listener’s ear; old music. As an example, 25% of the albums I bought this year were released before I was born.

People’s taste in music changes, as often as the fashion in popular music does. Mine are still fairly narrow I’m ashamed to admit, but I do stray a little more towards classic rock, post rock and film scores than I ever did before, and I do anticipate my palette broadening further in the next few years (oddly, I’ve just been distracted from writing this blog by discovering a funk/blues/rock band called The Heavy).

In terms of my own music, the year started with me trying to form a band, without much success. My work colleague Davey then joined us for a rehearsal, and in the following weeks we found ourselves sending each other midi files of song ideas we had. Our jocular conceit was that this was a ‘side project’, but as the year progressed, we began to get more and more serious, to the point we spent about two months trying to think of a name for our ensemble (our first choice, ‘Sunken Ships’, had already been taken).

I’m not a piano player by any stretch of the imagination, but I like experimenting with arpeggios and broken chords. One evening I came up with something I thought was quite pretty, notated it, and sent a midi file to Davey. He appeared to like it, and over the following months we tweaked the arrangement before eventually recording some live guitar, bass and vocals at the start of this month. Happily, while I find digital recording to be an absolute pain, Davey enjoys pottering about with mixing software, and the near-finished article he’s produced sounds pretty damned impressive.  We should have the song completed shortly, but we’re not sure what the next stage of the project is. Do we record a conventional demo track, and hawk it to labels, radio etc., or do we self-produce an entire album? The way the music industry appears to be going, the latter option would seem to make sense.

Besides, I’m loathe for us to be a ‘conventional’ band. The notion of a traditional vocals-guitar-bass-drums line up fills me with dread, and we’re excited by the prospect of using midi tracks and samples in a live environment. As noted previously, I’m not a great musician, but I enjoy dabbling at guitar, bass, piano, and I even tried to learn the flute this year, with mixed results. Whatever happens, I’m feeling more optimistic about writing and recording my own music than I have in years. Hopefully, it’ll all flow in 2013. You can follow our progress at https://twitter.com/ATenderFool

And I’m finally going to learn to play that damn trumpet.

Books

I’ve always enjoyed reading, but as with music, an increasingly busy professional and social life, and reading texts for college means I find I’m not dedicating as much time to getting lost in books as I used to. Last year I signed up for Goodreads, a website that allows you to catalogue the books you’ve read, want to read, and are currently reading. There’s also a feature that allows you to set yourself a reading challenge for the year. Mine was 26; with just over two hours to go, I’m halfway through my 25th, so I might not reach it. That said, I’ve read four books that weren’t on the website’s database…I’m still not sure if all this quantifying of music and books an individual imbibes is a good thing or not, but the human memory is a strange thing. It’s good to be able to review objectively what you’ve read or listened to. Trends become more apparent. For example, I’d swear I read more books than I actually do.

Writing

I’ve written the first draft of two novels this year. I’m still not entirely sure how that sounds; it might be an impressive achievement, if the two drafts in question weren’t rag-tag collections of words and fragmented plot ideas, flung together over the course of two 30-day periods. I’ve been partaking in NaNoWriMo for about seven years now. It’s a writing challenge where you attempt to draft a 50,000 word novel, or novella during the month of November. But there’s a sister competition, Camp NaNoWriMo, in June. And as I happened to be off work for three quarters of June, it appeared rude not to give it a go. My previous attempts at writing novels have tended to be overly-complicated affairs, so I decided to try and keep things simple this time round, with an archetypal boy-meets-girl story. Of course, I set it on the Eastern Seaboard of the United States, so there was still a fair amount of research to do. With a bit of editing though, I think it might have some potential.

Despite a long and draining year, I felt I still had enough energy left to give NaNoWriMo proper a go. This time round, I opted to develop a sci-fi story I first had when I was 16 and which I still had my outline notes for. It did feel quite strange revisiting a story that had been percolating for nearly two decades, but I interpolated the original idea I had into something bigger, which hopefully still retains the spirit that inspired me to write as a teenager. As with music, I find that quite often novels don’t feature ideas as big and imaginative as they could. Perhaps that’s because I grew up on a diet of Star Wars, Transformers, Back to the Future and so on.  I distinctly remember visiting the local library as an adolescent and being dismayed at how prosaic all the blurbs appeared to be; I reasoned if I wanted to read a novel with big ideas, I might have to write it myself. I never have quite managed it, but I’m going to keep trying.

I haven’t blogged much at all. I don’t seem to have the time, the tenacity or the belief that anyone wants to read my thoughts. Begs the question why I’m bothering with this then…

2013

To quote Tori Amos, 2012, in many respects, was a pretty good year. It had its lows of course, but I feel for the first time in years I’ve taken more steps forwards than I have back. It’s important therefore that I keep the momentum going in the new year. I think some people are disdainful of New Year’s Resolutions, but outlining a list of goals worked for me last year, and so I see no reason not to draft a fresh set for 2013. So, loosely arranged in similar categories as above, they are;

Buy a house. This is the main thing I aim to achieve over the next twelve months. I’ve been saving assiduously towards a mortgage deposit for the last two years, and by September I should have enough to afford something decent. I’m looking for somewhere in the West End of Glasgow. I know what you’re thinking; the West End is poncey, and expensive, but maybe I need to be where’s there’s life. Living in a council house in the suburbs has meant my social life has dwindled to almost non-existence, so I’d like to address that before the mid-life crisis kicks in fully.

Finish the current level of my course. This is fairly self-explanatory. I’ve got another assignment and an exam to set (and pass) to attain level four, then it’s a matter of enquiring if my employer is willing to fund the next level.

Lose a bit more weight. As I write this, on Christmas Eve, my weight is around 14st 5lbs. Obviously I’ll put on a little beef over the next few days, and while I’m a lot lighter than I was in May, I still want to lose a little more. My ultimate target is 80kg (or 12 and a half stone). I’ll carry on with karate and going to the gym, but I’d also like to take up running. I’ve talked about it with my physio, and I’ve had a gait analysis done at the clinic’s partner running equipment store, and the pair of shoes they recommended cost £90. I’m not sure what to do; that’s a lot of money for a pair of trainers, but I’m also aware that running seems to destroy my body. So, will trainers with support help?

Learn to play the trumpet. I own a trumpet. I can barely get a note out of it, but my positive experiences with the flute have given my confidence a bit of a fillip, so I’m actively seeking a tutor. I play a bit of guitar, piano, bass, drums and harmonica, but I’m entirely self-taught, so it would be nice to do the whole classical training thing. If only a part of the way.

Record an album. As previously mentioned, Davey and I have been writing and recording music. We’ve set ourselves a challenge of recording an entire album over the next 12 months, and I think it’s doable. We certainly have enough material; we currently have around 30 songs in various stages of composition. I’ve also got a notion of recording an album myself, based on that wikipedia random article meme that went about a few years ago.

Produce 12 good pictures. I haven’t even reflected on my photography from 2012, because by-and-large, it was non-existent; I didn’t have the time, money, energy or inspiration to shoot anything of interest. When I could, I attempted to improve my digital processing skills, but it’s something I’m still not great at.  I started a picture a day project in January, but I stopped when I realised I was taking terrible photos for the sake of fulfilling that day’s requirement. However, if I set a target of one very good image per month, I think that will be more manageable and more beneficial. To that end, I’ve already emailed a local university about a Saturday class in RAW processing.

Learn another language. Since I studied English Language at university, I’ve become fascinated by linguistics. I’ve dabbled with French and Spanish since then, but I find it difficult to immerse myself in a language fully enough to become fluent, to any reasonable extent. And then I realised I have a lot of Scottish-born friends of Hong Kong descent, many of whom speak Cantonese. So, if I have the necessary funds come the summer, I’m going to look at a course at the Chinese school in town.

Edit some stories. I am as put-off by editing (fiction and non-fiction) as I am by processing photographs. I have five first draft novels that could do with a tidy up, restructuring, and improvement. If I can avoid being distracted by the urge to write new stories, I might be able to batter one of my previous ideas into shape. One chapter a month is a realistic goal I feel.

I think I need resolutions. I need something to put my mind to, to help focus my efforts. I’m a person that is continually drafting ‘to do’ lists, in an attempt to defragment my brain.  And if I only achieve half of what I set out to, then I’ll still have achieved a fair amount. I recently came across the Japanese term ‘kaizen’, which can be loosely translated as ‘continuous improvement’.  I’m not entirely sure what I’m doing is improvement, but more trying to fend off entropy. Running to stand still, as U2 once sang. I’ve come to realise that in life, I’m the equivalent of one of those professional sportspersons who enjoys a career at the top level by working hard to make up for their relative lack of talent. It’s all I can do.

I hope I can deliver everything I’ve asked of myself in 2013, and I hope the next 12 months are kind to you as well.

Jay

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It’s my job to be repetitive. My job. My job. Repetitiveness is my job!

During my awakening this morning (it takes a while), I idly browsed an app on my phone to see what football fixtures were being played this evening. Rangers were at home to Elgin, I noted, erroneously. ‘Elgin! Haven’t we already played them three times this season?’, I thought to myself. A quick check of the fixture list confirmed that, while Rangers would actually be at home to Annan tonight, by January they will have played Elgin four times (three times in the league and once in the Scottish Cup) in six months. This is despite playing the Highlanders competitively on only three occasions before this season (in the Scottish Cup in 1949, 1952 and 1977).

This is an inherent problem with Scottish football. Below the top-flight Scottish Premier League (SPL), the three divisions of the Scottish Football League (SFL) are made up of quadruple round-robins, where each team plays the other nine sides four times a season, for a total of 36 games. It’s a similar, but far more complicated situation in the 12-team SPL; there, three round-robins take place, before the top and bottom six split into different groups and play a further five games. The logic behind this slightly daft arrangement is actually reasonable; playing each other four times would result in 44 games. That’s considered too many in contemporary European football. 33 games would mean an imbalanced split of home and away games. 22 games aren’t enough.

But why don’t they just increase the number of teams in the league, and play each other twice, like almost every other league in Europe? Well, the reasoning behind that not happening remains unclear. It’s long been suspected by many, including your author, that a 4×10 or 4×12 allows for the maximum number of games involving the Old Firm, either playing each other, or visiting the rest of the league and therefore is more lucrative in a commercial sense. In any case, the quadruple round-robin and its odd SPL variant have dominated the fixtures lists here since 1975, and they don’t appear to be going anywhere soon.

The problem with all this is, as you might expect, that playing a team 3-4 times every season, and sometimes much more depending on cup draws, begins to become incredibly boring. Below is a table of the the teams Rangers faced in domestic competition during a five year period between 2007 and 2012.

Team Total
Celtic 24
Dundee United 24
Motherwell 21
Heart of Midlothian 20
Hibernian 20
St. Mirren 19
Kilmarnock 18
Aberdeen 17
Hamilton Academical 13
St. Johnstone 13
Falkirk 12
Inverness Caledonian Thistle 12
Dunfermline Athletic 4
Gretna 3
Partick Thistle 3
Queen of the South 2
Arbroath 1
Dundee 1
East Fife 1
East Stirlingshire 1
Forfar Athletic 1

Playing teams nearly 25 times in five seasons just isn’t that appealing. It’s worthwhile noting that Hamilton were only in the same division as Rangers for three of those five seasons, meaning by the middle of 2011 I was sick of the sight of the Accies. This is the predicament Scottish football faces; it’s too stale, too samey. Many players leaving Scottish football cite the ennui with the same old teams and grounds as a prime reason (well, they don’t use the word ‘ennui’ per se, but you know what I mean).  Many of my fellow Rangers fans saw playing in SFL 3 this season as an attractive prospect, mainly because it was a fresh new chapter. Different teams. Different grounds. And even now we will play Elgin City five times in one season. I think we need to shake up the game in this country, make it a bit more interesting, because I’m sure that this kind of repetition isn’t healthy for Scottish football.  And I don’t think this kind of repetition is healthy for Scottish football.

Hat tip to @RFC_Rab for the help with the historical records.