From: Stig Oppedal (firstname.lastname@example.org) Subject: The Art Of Not Meeting Shaggy Date: January 20, 1996 ONE --- Chaos. Bad timing. Faulty communication. And that was _before_ I saw Tottenham's defense. I had originally intended to visit London in the early Spring of 1994, to see my friend Eirik, who studies at LSE. I happened to mention this in an e-mail to renowned rss contributor Simon Gleave, a.k.a. Shaggy, who invited me to look him up when I arrived. For various reasons the trip was continuously postponed until the Fall of 1995, at which time I didn't have Internet access. Through the unlikely double fluke of discovering a way to send e-mail and then stumbling across Shaggy's new e-mail address on Karel Stokkerman's RSSSF mailing list a week before I left, I contacted him, and he sent me his City University and home phone numbers. This haphazard prologue proved to be a foreshadowing of the mishaps to follow. On Tuesday morning, the 28th of November, I rang a caffeine-deficient Shaggy at work, and we agreed to see a Premier League match on Saturday. He had already made plans to see the following night's League Cup match between Arsenal and Sheffield Wednesday with a friend, but suggested I buy a ticket for myself and join them for a drink before the game. I gave him Eirik's phone number, and he promised to call back later that night with instructions on when and where to meet. But later that night, when we got back from the local pub around 11:30, Eirik's flatmates reported that Shaggy still hadn't called back. Which was rather disappointing. "...I mean, he did say he would call back _tonight_ ... the number here is 388-5301, right?". "... mmm, no, it's 388-5103." Whoops! Wednesday morning I was introduced to the traditional City University Social Statistics Research Unit early morning schedule: 9:00 "*No one is here to take your call. Please leave a message on our answering machine.*" 9:20 "*No one is here to take your call. Please leave a message on our answering machine.*" 9:40 "*No one is here to take your call. Please leave a message on our answering machine.*" 10:00 "I'm sorry, Simon is lecturing at the moment. Can I take a message? [...uh, well...] or maybe you could call him back after one o'clock?" So, finally, around three o'clock: "Simon! Hello, this is -- " "You gave me the wrong number, didn't you!" "WelltechnicallyspeakingyesbutactuallyitwasEirikwhogave_me_thewrongnumberand--" "Yes, fair enough. Let's see... we can meet at a pub called the Camden Head, it's in the Camden Passage, parallel to Upper Street. The best thing would be for you to meet me at Angel tube station at six o'clock. I'll be the one with the black leather jacket, black jeans, glasses, and brown, untidy hair that needs a trim". Around 5:55 I arrived at Euston station and changed trains. To get to Angel I had to take the Northern Line - also known as the "Misery Line". Sure enough - five minutes after getting on, the train still wasn't moving. Gradually I made the connection between this standstill and the loudspeaker announcing: "We regret to inform that the Northern Line Southbound is temporarily closed due to a fire threat. Passengers are advised to find alternative transportation." 20 minutes and one double-decker ride later I finally made it to Angel. Mr. Black Leather Jacket was nowhere to be seen, and since I couldn't remember the name of the pub, nor where it was, I asked the local Evening Standard vendor if there were any pubs in Upper Street. "Oh, there are millions of pubs in Upper Street... 'The Red Lion', 'The Green Dragon', 'The Lamb's Head', 'Th--'" "That's the one!" I cried upon recognizing the name of the meeting place, and at 6:30 I left to search Upper Street for the legendary and entirely non-existent Lamb's Head pub. As was later revealed, Shaggy returned to Angel station a minute later to see if I had arrived yet. The evening was resembling ever more an English farce, something like "Carry On Down Upper Street". After verifying that the actual number of pubs in Upper Street was slightly closer to zero than "millions", I decided to -bingo!- check out the parallel alley (cue ironic cheering from the imaginary cinema audience). At about 6:45 I stumbled upon the Camden Head, and I could almost hear the audience shouting "Go on in there, you nitwit". So I went in - to ask directions to the Lamb's Head. The bartender was unfortunately unable to help: "Sorry, guv, haven't heard of it". Before I left I had a quick look round "just in case" it was the right pub, but it later turned out that Shaggy had gone on another search mission. Lamb's Head. Camden Head. Lamb's Head. Camden Head. Lamb's Head. _Camden Head_! It finally dawned on me (mostly since "The York" was the only other pub I found) that the Camden Head was indeed the right place, so I went back. And there he was! Black jeans. Black leather jacket. Glasses. Brown hair. _Short_ hair. Well, OK, maybe he got his hair cut since we spoke, I reasoned. "Um... are you Simon Gleave?" "Sorry, mate." His casual reply suggested that people asked him that all the time. I was just glad I hadn't asked "Are you Shaggy?". TWO --- "Get yer new 'Gooner' here, get yer new 'Gooner' here, JUST one pound, JUST one pound! UP the Arse! UP the Arse!". Highbury was only a hop, skip and bung away from Arsenal station, and the adjoining Gillespie Road was a seething bazaar of scarves, replica shirts, and fanzines, illuminated by the floodlights of the North Bank. The previous time I was at Highbury, in 1989, I bought, to my eternal regret and shame, a cheap acrylic hat instead of a more traditional memento. This time around I rectified that mistake by buying a cheap acrylic scarf, which I later found out bore the inscription "European Cup Winners Cup Final, Paris 1995" - no wonder it only cost three pounds. Viva Nayim. The atmosphere inside the ground was, strangely enough, not as exciting as that outside, despite being a sell-out. The Arsenal players were greeted with only halfhearted cheering, except for Ian Wright, who received a thunderous applause, and Dennis Bergkamp. The Gunners started the game in the tactically unsound Christmas gift formation and subsequently allowed Degryse to thump in a soft goal after Hartson, Platt and Wright had fluffed early opportunities. The Wednesday supporters followed up by taunting Arsenal with the home side's signature tune: "One-NIL, to Shef-fill Wins-day/ One-NIL, to Shef-fill Wins-day/ One- NIL, to Shef-fill Wins-day/ One-NIL, to SHEFFILL WII-INS-DAY!". After that, Arsenal closed up shop and went owl-hunting. The Arsenal back four were the Arsenal back four, and they wouldn't have been if they weren't. John Jensen was John Jensen, and he had finally realized it himself, tending to his defensive duties and leaving the skillful players to take care of the dribbling, passing and shooting. Wright was simply outstanding, threatening to create a chance whenever, and wherever, he had the ball. Bergkamp dazzled with superior ball control, measured passing, and intelligent runs, but his refined play never gave the same sense of imminent danger. Indeed, it was Wright who masterminded Arsenal's equalizer by backheeling cleverly to Merson, who was then upended in the penalty area. Wright converted the resulting penalty, the 250th goal of his career. Merson was not to be outdone and entertained the crowd with a brilliant juggling act and a beautiful, mazy dribble from his own half that ended in a shoelace pass to Hartson. On both occasions the Wednesday defense was forced to concede a corner, which the Arsenal set piece men failed to score on. However, Arsenal rely these days more on their thoroughbreds than on their donkeys, and Bergkamp, Wright, Merson and Hartson held forth their neat interplay. The winner came in the 70th minute from a spectacular solo effort by Hartson, who twisted two defenders round before firing the ball past Pressman. After that, Wright lost interest in the game, Bergkamp went off injured, and Arsenal just cruised in to victory like Linford Christie in a 100m qualifying heat. Arsenal impressed, but they weren't facing much opposition. Sheffield Wednesday were a ragtag collection of has-beens (Waddle, Walker, Degryse), never-weres (Hirst, Bright, Sinton) and never-will-bes. It was especially sad to see Waddle wandering aimlessly about, completely marginalized on the wing, at times playing so deep he looked like he was the right-back. A Wednesday supporter later said that they were a one-man team - namely Chris Waddle, which should indicate the wretchedness of their play that night. The atmosphere had been more or less enthusiastic throughout, though not electric: sporadic outbursts of "Nice play, Wrighty!" and "Give it to 'artson", a few scoreboard-induced chants of "Come on you reds" at corners, and applause for Arsenal's artistry. The Londoners seemed to despise their visitors, with typical cries of "Fuck off, you miserable Northern bastards" and "Ha, ha, Waddle, you Northern wanker". The next day I sat in the Stranger's Gallery in the House of Commons, listening to the Minister for Welsh Affairs reject the idea of devolution for Wales and stress the importance of a United Kingdom parliament. At Highbury it didn't even seem to be "United England". TWO AND A HALF -------------- On Thursday morning the SSRU treated me once again to the acclaimed double feature of "*Please leave a message*" and "Sorry, he's lecturing". Later on there was an encore of "*Please leave a message*", followed by a solo recital of "No, he hasn't come home yet" by Shaggy's flatmate. Shaggy then called at some ungodly hour on Friday morning, and we sorted out the confusion from Wednesday night (incidently, it turned out that Angel station was only a 10-15 minute walk from Eirik's flat in the first place). The new plan was that he would buy tickets for Tottenham vs. Everton, then call back either Friday night or Saturday morning with instructions on when and where to meet (sound familiar?). When he phoned Saturday morning, he probably wasn't that surprised to find out that nobody knew where I was. Eirik and I had actually spent the night at his father's apartment in Kensington, and I called Shaggy as soon as I woke up. By then he had already gone out - and when Shaggy called back (even though I had forgotten to leave the Kensington phone number), I was of course out buying food. But in the end we finally got in touch. THREE ----- We met at Highbury & Islington tube station. He stood there slouched over the morning paper, clad in his trademark black leather jacket, looking vaguely like an English version of Jerry Seinfeld. (As for myself, a friend of his described me as a mix of Peter Schmeichel and Bart Simpson.) Shaggy was, like you'd imagine from reading his articles, intelligent, likable, and articulate. He had two catchphrases: "Absolutely!", when he agreed absolutely, and "Fair enough", when he didn't. He also proved to be a gracious host (i.e. he bought the drinks), which he could afford to be after doing some freelance journalism for the Premier League's web-site. Shaggy modestly/cynically claimed they chose him more for his good name on the Internet than for his writing skills. Ah, yes, that name - since the dawn of time, people have wondered what it signified: Scooby Doo companion look-alike, unkempt hairstyle, what? Only after relentless pressure did Shaggy reveal the amazing answer; all I can say is I know something that you don't know, so there. There were the usual Anglo-Norse rules of etiquette to adhere to, as in "Norwegians are allowed to make one gloating reference to the previous World Cup Qualifying results" and "Englishmen may make one scornful remark about the lackluster Norwegian performance in the World Cup itself". Shaggy skillfully navigated these treacherous waters and impressed with his knowledge of the Norwegian goalscorers in the famous/infamous 2-0 victory/defeat. We disagreed on whether England-Ireland in Italia '90 or Norway-Ireland in USA '94 was the worst international match of all time, before compromising on the recent Norway-England 0-0 snoozefest. Things went smoothly from there, although when Shaggy labeled Fjørtoft "an enigma", I didn't have the courage to stand up for my conviction that he is a less talented version of Eric Cantona. Before the game we popped into The Railway Tavern, a pub not far from White Hart Lane. Inside, the conversation among the regulars was about, of all things, the Internet - e-mail addresses, web-sites, mega-byte capacity. The explanation was simple - it was the meeting place for the Tottenham mailing-list - but it seemed bizarre all the same. Incredible how the Internet can bring you in contact with people around the globe, etc., etc. When Shaggy mentioned that he and Keith Brody had tried to meet Ariel Mazzarelli during last year's World Cup, it sounded like he was talking about people I actually knew. On the way to the ground there was a steady stream of supporters, but there wasn't the same buzz as on Wednesday night. We sat far up in the Park Lane stand - a great overview, but without close contact with the players. Shaggy argued that this was not necessarily a drawback, and the cover of the match program, which featured Armstrong and Sheringham in an unsavory post-goal tête-à-tête, proved his point most effectively. You can but wonder if a recent survey, which claimed that a large percentage of English women preferred shopping to sex, was not conducted solely amongst the wives of North London footballers. So, Tottenham vs. Everton. With Klinsmann, Popescu, and Barmby sold, Anderton out injured, and Dumitrescu languishing in reserve hell, Tottenham had been transformed from one of the world's most exciting teams to North London's least exciting team in a matter of months. Everton on their part could buy (or, preferably, sell) as many players as they wanted to and I would still remain unconvinced. For me, Everton are the ultimate second-banana team: nine League Championships, five FA Cups, one European title, yet forever overshadowed by Liverpool. There's something ridiculous about a team that endlessly claims to be one of England's Big 5 clubs and then fills its squad with journeymen like Horne, Barrett and Parkinson along with discards from Britain's real top clubs. As a Manchester United supporter it's always anti-climatic playing against Liverpool's second team - like Dr. van Helsing vs. the Bride of Dracula, or James Bond vs. Goldfinger's chambermaid, it leaves you only with a desire for the main event. Everton's only redeeming feature is their faithful fans, who follow them through thick and thicker (players, that is). The Evertonians began the match with a rousing chorus of "Durh dah, ta da eh-teh-dah" followed by "Doh oddy wha linpa", to which the Spurs fans replied with repeated chants of "Leeds, Leeds". Baffling stuff. I had always assumed I'd finally understand what the English fans were singing when I heard them in person, but it was simply unfathomable. Even Shaggy didn't have a clue to what they were on about, so I was left to admire the vociferousness rather than the literary merit. The game's first tactical blunder came when Shaggy revealed that he was a staunch admirer of Teddy Sheringham, thereby leaving himself open to repeated ripping from a graceless visitor whenever the lanky Londoner didn't deliver the goods. The Tottenham defense was similarly exposed whenever the Sheringham/Armstrong combination faltered, with Everton counter- attacking through the tricky Limpar on the right and the powerful Amokachi in the middle. But Everton are Everton, and sure enough the move would usually end with some hoofer like Unsworth thumping the ball into the 42nd row. "_That_," Shaggy remarked, "is what happens when you give the ball to a defender". Beforehand I had quoted a line from The Fall's "Kicker Conspiracy": "Under Marble Millichip, the F.A. broods/ On how style can be punished". The point was that the song was written in 1983, and under Millichip's prolonged reign the F.A. have indeed had great succes in eradicating individual flair. This is particularly true of most English defenders, who lack composure, ball control, and basic passing skills. This observation is not original, I know, but neither were the Spurs back four. Worse still, they defended at times like the Four Horsemen of the Acropolis: stationary, crumbling, blown to bits by foreign invaders. Amokachi outmuscled Calderwood and Mabbutt; Limpar outwitted Austin; Kanchelskis outran Campbell. It was similarly slipshod at the other end, the difference being that only Fox was in his best form, so that the Everton defense wasn't as sorely tested. The highlight of the game came midway through the first half, when Tottenham gave a realistic impression of a team with skill and flair. The culmination of a breathtaking attack came when Fox deftly backheeled to Sheringham, received the ball after a surging run, and finished with an incisive cross, only for Rosenthal to blast the volley off the crossbar. Very reminiscent of Manchester United, in all respects. Tottenham continued to create chances for Rosenthal to squander, and when he was substituted midway through the second half it was to thunderous relief. The first half had been fairly entertaining end-to-end action, a blur of fast-paced attacks and great escapes at both goalmouths. The second half was of a different class altogether - a gray pulp of poor control, poor passing, poor shooting, poor this, poor that. Sheringham, Fox, Limpar and Amokachi provided an occasional oasis of skill and excitement, but it seemed destined that neither side would grab the morning glory in the Sunday papers. Tottenham, like the current wave of Britpop, tried unsuccessfully to emulate the thrills of yesteryear: the 0-0 result took Spurs up to a respectable fifth place with twenty-seven points, but the fall compared with the previous season's team made their league standing seem hollow. As for Everton, their relentless ambition was highlighted by continuous backpassing to Southall, who, under no pressure from Tottenham's forwards, refused to kick the ball out again. These antics from "the past master" were met with impassioned cries of "Get on with it!", mixed with embittered sighs of "They've come for the nil-nil, boys". There was a conspicuous lack of swearing in the stands, especially compared with the four-letter bonanza at Arsenal - perhaps this was due to the White Hart Lane Spectators Code of Conduct. The atmosphere was livelier as well, even though, as Shaggy pointed out, White Hart Lane does carry noise better than Highbury. Outside after the game, the Scousers enthusiastically chanted "Whe da na nid fergus ship", to the bemusement of all the English-speaking people walking past. A memorable afternoon out ended back at the crowded Railway Tavern, for a post-match get-together. A friend of Shaggy's was also able to explain to me the lack of enthusiasm that had greeted the Arsenal players on Wednesday night. "You see, " he declared, "even their own fans don't like them."