Tuesday, 29 May 2012


Back to Saturday and Wembley… just want to share one last tale.

A few years back, Uncle Chris gave me a gold ring that had belonged to my late Grandfather. There is a tale behind the ring but it’s on my “things I need Mother to clarify for me because nobody else will have a clue” list. It’s got something to do with the Boer War but seriously, that’s all I know…

…anyway, Chris (the eldest male amongst my grandparents five children: only my Mum is older) passed it onto me because he has no children and I’m the oldest of the ten cousins of the subsequent generation. It doesn’t fit on my fingers so I wear it on a chain across my neck. It’s an ever-present reminder of where I come from, in terms of geography but, even more so, of values.

(The superstitious amongst you may want to look away now. Or, to be more precise, I want you to look away now. It’s either that or you will seek to lynch me. Ta.)

When Neil Collins broke the barren spell of penalties on Saturday, I instinctively kissed my wedding ring looking to the sky and then lifting my left arm. It’s a gesture you may have seen Italian striking genius Francesco Totti do, but I can honestly say that I am not intentionally copying him or anyone else. It’s something I found myself doing on tennis courts a few years back and which has stuck with me in moments of sporting joy.

(Superstitious? Why are you still here? Seriously, stop reading. Thanks.)

I soon realised that Saturday was not a day for wedding rings (Mrs S, not a Blade, wasn’t too thrilled about my Wembley trip) and I instinctively took off my chain and placed Granddad’s ring around my little finger on my right hand. Because we are called to be there for the Blades on the pitch, but also for the Blades who can’t make the journey. For me being a Blade was a fact of life from the moment I was born: my grandparents were season ticket holders, as were three of my four aunts/uncles. The fourth wasn’t much into sports, but will still proclaim she’s a Blade if pushed. She knows whats good for her. My aunts and uncles, as well as my eldest little cousin, have all entered into mixed marriages with t’other lot, and don’t ask me why – anyway…

I had thought about my Grandparents in the build-up to the final, as I do often anyway, but this reaction was totally spontaneous. Now, this is the bit where I’d love to tell you that wearing that ring guided United to victory. We know that’s not how events unfolded, in spite of me clutching Grandads ring as hard as I would his loving (if occasionally stern) hand. But, with Cousin Joe already besides me, it did mean that I felt Granddad was there with us and Grandma, too. Moaning, berating (they were a reight couple!), as they did for years on the South Stand and on the Bramall Lane Stand before that, but nevertheless fully behind the team. And that’s why I had to be there, regardless. Because there are bonds and chains that will be forever unbroken, whatever life and death throw at us.

Football matches are all over after 90' (or 120') (or penalties). Thereafter, no matter how important at the time, they will duly be consigned to the archives. But the feelings, the emotions, the bonds know no final whistle. Thats why football is not just about kicking a ball.

Monday, 28 May 2012

From North Devon To North London

Sorry I’ve been quiet. I’ve been away!

On Saturday 19th, the Squintani Family headed to Wollacombe, North Devon on holiday – stayed in a self-catering bungalow which served as our base for daily trips to Saunton (one) and Croyde (three). Enjoyed delicious fish & chips in Braunton: Squires is probably the finest chippie amongst those that fail miserably to offer chip butties. Even saw the Olympic Torch – not by design, we just happened to stumble into Ilfracombe on the day it was passing through and made sure we were in the right place for it! The prior passing of the Lloyds, Samsung and Coca-Cola buses didn’t do much for my Olympic fervour, mind… as doesn’t the fact that they’re in London, bizarrely. London is too… well, accessible. My first memories of the Olympics remain the most enthralling: Los Angeles ’84. You had to get up at silly o’clock to watch the likes of Seb Coe win the 1500m (as he humbly was then),
Zola Budd upset the All-American Blonde Mary Decker… Dailey was at his peak… it was all rather exotic. But London… that London… it’s just two hours away, I’ve been there tons of time, what’s the big deal? I’ll enjoy them, because I enjoy my sport. But, between you and me, I’m already looking forward to Rio 2016 – and getting up in the middle of the night!

Oh, and I did actually do some running whilst on holiday. Wasn’t sure where I’d be able to do so at the outset, but Id packed my shoes and as it happens we were round the corner from a field so I did three or four laps in the evening. As much as anything, I didn’t want to lose the routine, the rhythm – or I’ll be in deep trouble. Running on a Devonian field with lovely views onto the sea brought home the difference between tarmac and land, however hard the latter was during an unseasonably warm week… Not sure I ran off all those lovely ice cream-based milkshakes from Baggy’s Surf Café, mind. I only had three but two were on the same day: if you are going to serve me in a glass pint, expect me to come back for another round! But, having noticed they were putting two scoops of ice cream into each milkshake, I reined in the following day! Anyway, having looked up a GoogleEarth image of the field and got the old ruler out, I probably ran about 800m on three days and just over 1k on a fourth. Not major, but then it was grass and it was hilly (some of it). It’s not as if I’m aiming for a 10k with hills and grass! Oooh’eck… hang on… it only is!

pigs in a field - waa-heeey!(The adjoining field was home to a couple of pigs and a bunch of footballs. In spite of what the last month or so has held in store for us Blades, hopefully you can still smile with me at this utterly childish photo!)

We also walked up to Baggy Point on one day, starting from the nearby National Trust car park (free to members!). Not the longest – maybe a couple of kilometres? But surely I get extra brownie points for having Littl’Un on my shoulders for most of them? His legs put in a good shift, but they are only two and 11/12ths after all. He did take to being carried around after that for most of the remainder of the holiday, mind…

…oh, and we went on a boat, too – the Ilfracombe Princess. That was good. I maintain that boat trips bring out the child in all of us and this one didn’t disappoint. And that’s in spite of not seeing any puffins, nor exactly getting the best view of one solitary seal!

Right, football…

With Cousin Joe before kick-off
… OK, let’s talk atmosphere, instead. Because there’s not much to say about the Sheffield United – Huddersfield Town play-off final from Saturday: no goals in 120’, penalties, we lost, they won. In the shootout, we could have gone up 2-0 up after three rounds but we missed and ended up losing 7-8, with one shot hitting the post and failing to end up in the back of the net by the smallest of margins. Our ’keeper spectacularly missed the final kick. They go up, we stay in League 1 in spite of accumulating 90 points in the ‘regular season’. End of. Bring on Swindon Town – short enough awayday for me!

Of course, Wembley wasn’t just about football. It was nice to meet up with Cousin Joe! He’s a true Blade but lives in New Mexico these days, studying and playing tennis. I got to Wembley around 1pm having left the self-catering bungalow in Woolacombe, North Devon at 7:45am: nothing like one taxi, two trains and two tubes to get the day off to a flyer! Walked out of Wembley Park and found out Joe’s whereabouts… roughly, anyway. “He’s outside the Premier Inn”, his Mum (Auntie Dawn to you and me) duly informed me. And so he was, together with over a hundred other Blades! Rang him and found out he was “by the toilets”: ominous… Found him, hugged him, felt good. He had a Mojito in hand: someone approached him, checked that he was a Blade and handed over a drink. For a Northerner to do that at London prices there needs to be a common bond: and few come stronger than the one that Unites Blades.
I am delighted that I was able to share everything from the anticipation to the devastation with Joe. Just like I’m delighted that Judy, whose friendship with Auntie Dawn has been built over four decades of watching United from nearby seats in the South Stand at the Lane, brought some sweets along – they were delicious. In fact, I was just delighted to see Judy: I’ve seen her myself at home matches for as long as I can remember and that alone builds a bond, albeit one built on hurt and frustration as much as anything else. Anyway, more about that in the infamous post I’ve been working on for about a month now… and which, now more than ever, I must get right.

Got home from Wembley just after 11pm: tube to Victoria Coach Station (with touristy stop at Westminster, where I submitted a request for the repealing of the Blades Play-Off Final Disappointment Laws – have I mentioned this was the fourth in a row we lost?), coach to Bristol, bus to Portishead. A long day: emotionally draining and nowhere near as enjoyable as an extra day at the beach would have been. But one does not follow The Blades for enjoyment: one does so for it is one’s duty. Supped a pint of bedside Kelham and crashed out. Just like United had done some six hours earlier.

Cousin Joe after The End
This is but one account of Saturday’s events. Others have been shared by, inter alia, Livvy Rhodes and Sam Hill. If you can find the time to read my wafflings I’m sure you can find the time to read theirs – and spot the common thread of unity amongst Blades. Let’s just call it Unitedness. Although, at times, even the most fervent of Blades such as Joe need a moment to themselves, as per the photo on the right.

Sorry, rambled more than I expected there. I opened with an apology so seems only fit to end with one, albeit at the opposite end of the spectrum! And if you only remember one thing, let it be this: Baggy’s Surf Café makes the best milkshakes on the planet. Enjoy!

Friday, 18 May 2012

Statistics: One Month In

Dear fervent and frequent Readers:

Apologies for apparent slackness recently. Truth is, I was in Switzerland for a couple of days this week and have only run once this week. As work trips go, not a bad one: the Rhine waterfalls and a dinner in a nearby castle just about made up for not being able to run up hills.
Can you see the rainbow on the left, half-way up? Then try harder!
(Oh, and they're the largest in Europe! Did you know that? No, me neither)

I hope to get out there again over the weekend but that depends on a few things. In the meantime, since April 19th was when I baptised my new shoes, it’s now been a month of not being able to stand running yet pounding the roads of Portishead. In this time, I’ve been out there 18 times, clocking up 65km. I’ve spent 317’ running and a further 85’ walking – but hey, over the past three weeks I
’ve run 234’ and only walked 25. And I’ve got on the old rowing machine twice, for a total of 75’ – must do better on that front.

So that’s where I’m at. Still a long way to go and many a pointless word to type – but I’ve not given up yet.

Thursday, 10 May 2012

It Was Always Going To Happen

Hmmm… bit better now, but…

… yup, it was always going to happen. I was going to suffer an injury. Par for the course, right? But I can’t say I’d ever thought it would be thus.

Running-related injuries are not rare. Now, upon embarking upon the activity, I relied on a personal track record across a variety of sports that is actually surprisingly injury-free for such a lumpy git. Yes, I did break my tibia when skiing, aged six: but it’s not my fault the ski didn’t disconnect from the boot, although you could argue that speeding away from your father to show off in fresh, unbeaten snow is never a good idea. And yes, I did look a right mess after collapsing deadweight to a concrete floor during a tennis match in 2003, what with blood pouring all out of the side of my head: but, again, I think it unfair to class an epileptic seizure as a sporting injury. So, all told, not a bad record so far: maybe an innate tendency to not push these here (or wherever they are) muscles too far has paid off.

Not that last night’s injury was to any muscle, mind. Oh no: I’ve heard about those. So I do what I can to reduce the risk: warm up, warm down, shake it all about… I try to land properly on my feet (easier said than done on Hillcrest in Portishead – the lunar surface can’t be any less even!), to not put too much weight on them when running downhill… take extra caution in the rain, what with it being slippy and all that… so what could go wrong?

Let’s just say that, after my run (4.1k, since you ask – including two hilly bits, because that’s what @NickJMarriott told me to do and he’s a Blade so I trust him implicitly) and subsequent shower, my nipples started to feel a little sore. How you react to that confession will depend as to whether you are an experienced runner (“Yes, I thought he was about to say that”) or, like me, not (“Where’s this going?”). I initially figured it might be a reaction to running in the pouring rain in what may have been colder than I felt, as per the well-known meteorological expression “I’m freezing my nipples off here!”, and maybe to subsequently entering the constrasting warmth of the house. Anyway, they looked normal enough so I just carried on with the Wednesday evening chores, which pretty much comprise of watching “The Apprentice” as if it were still as good as earlier series. But even I couldn’t blame Lord Spice for the increasing soreness: so, by the time I was about to go to sleep, there was only one feasible option…

…that’s right: Google. Always a dangerous place to look up medical matters, the Internet, for it has an inherent habit of exposing you to the worst case scenario and cause you to lose all sense of perspective. But what else are you going to do at 11 o’clock at night? Call NHS Direct? Well, golly for you: I wasn’t. There was some apprehension involved as I pulled up the smartphone in bed and typed in ‘sore’ and ‘nipple’ – don’t ask me why, but somehow I wasn’t totally confident this search would lead me in a desirable direction and what with Mrs S just inches away I might have found myself with some unwanted explaining to do. But Google duly reassured me by prompting ‘running’ as the third search term as I eventually landed on the not-unreasonably titled “Embarrassing Running Problems” page.

Ah, ‘chafing’ – what’s that when it’s not shouted at you by a Cockney? I worked it out, but will admit to having never come across the word before. ‘Sfregamento’ in Italian, yes; even ‘friction’ in French, bien sûr. But still the occasional English word catches me out. Still, that’s a whole other story, as the monkey in TingaTinga Tales would say.

OK… so there’s nowt to worry about… just need to put the phone down, plug it in (terrible battery life, HTC Desires), turn over and get some sleep. I left it till the morning to tell Karen: didn’t seem like a conversation worth having. Far better to have it over a bowl of cereals in the morning, once I knew how bad the injury (!) would feel after sleeping on it.

So I have now educated myself in the matter of chafing. I will now take necessary precautions and maybe even invest in some recommended prevention / treatment stuff. I may even review my choice of shirts, which was somewhat limited last night. See, I didn’t get out into the pouring rain till 8pm. So a football top seemed a decent bet… they’re built for the rain, especially in Spain… and my 2005/06 FCBarcelona away shirt conveniently doubles up as a hi-vis top! Alas, it is neither loose nor snug, so what with that, the wind, the rain and the hilly bits I might have been asking for trouble here. I have now been enlightened to this. Might also explain why my 1984, by now fairly snug Blades t-shirt hadn’t caused me any problems previously, mind!

Ah well – you learn something every day. Yesterday I learnt that running can be bad for your nipples. And yes, they’re both better now. Thanks for asking!

Tuesday, 8 May 2012

"You Don’t Want To Do That! But Do What You Want..."

I went to Exeter on Saturday. Why? Well, the small matter of a football match between Exeter City F.C. and Sheffield United F.C., thats why … a few weeks back it had the potential to be a celebration for us Blades, but after last week’s home draw versus Stevenage we all knew that was unlikely as it required us to do better than Sheffield Wednesday at home to Wycombe. Given that they were always going to win, our chances of doing better were somewhat negated. And win they did, 2-0. We almost won, but for a last-kick equaliser for a 2-2 draw: as it happens, it didn’t matter (just as well!). Still, kudos to all the United fans that made the trip – mine must have been one of the shortest. Thanks to Auntie Dawn and Uncle Richard for their taxi service from BS20 to EX4!

Yup, they picked me up in their Galaxy with their foster son, who sat on the really back seat – third row, if that makes sense. He asked me to sit next to him and I was delighted to do so: only downside, this made the conversation with D&R on the M5 more of a shouting contest…
…which made my line “Can you keep a secret?” on the way back somewhat flawed, as had we had the windows down half of North Devon might have heard me. Anyway, I told them about this here running thing. Richard’s response was heart-warming:
R: “Is that the one at Endcliffe Park?”
G: “Aye, that’s the one”
R: “Oh, you don’t want to do that Giacu. It’s got all sorts of steep climbs. Natalie did it twice… they've even had complaints about it!”

Now, some context:
1)    I have so much trust in and respect for Richard it’s unreal. This is the guy who suggested I try a 5k whilst on holiday so I did! More in later posts (yes, still working on that one!), but basically I have ended up living where I do because of an off-the-cuff comment he once made. As I was nearing the end of my degree, he said something like: “Oh, you’ll have to move to London to find a job suitable for your degree, won’t you?” I questioned not, I did and now here I am – due West of London;
2)    Natalie is their eldest = my cousin. She used to swim at county level (maybe higher – not sure), training at 6am before school. She has not only run this here 10k but also the Sheffield Half and the London Marathon. She is a natural athlete with a track record of training hard. She is somewhat younger than me. I... have not a lot going for me here.

The conversation then continued with Dawn’s contribution:

D: “Oh, I wouldn’t do it”

before the grand finale:
R: “It’s a great way to get fit though, Giacu. And don’t let what we’ve said put you off: if you want to do it, do it! Ask Nats, she’s the one who did it”

OK… so now I’m having to erase from memory advice by one of the people I trust the most…

… ah well, I should manage. I did exchange texts with Nats and, whilst she backed up her Dad’s comments about its toughness, she was also somewhat more encouraging. Now I had looked at the route, obviously – even before buying my shoes! I just hadn’t appreciated the climb up from Endcliffe Park to Bingham Park and then Forge Dam… I just can’t tell how bad it is from the current site. And it may well be atrocious, with the potential to engender a Gloucester Cheese Rolling-like scenario (my local BBC area is “Points West” – it’s a big deal, is the Gloucester Cheese Rolling). It’s no longer looking like a jolly, standard 10k. So maybe yes, I am mad to go ahead with it. But you know what… those sites are some of the reasons that I love Sheffield as much as I do. I remember the first time I managed to touch the tree with my feet on the old Endcliffe Park swings, the countless times I hopped across the stepping stones, all the searches for old tennis balls behind the Hallamshire tennis club… and much, much more. I can still play the Bingham Park Pitch & Putt in my head and do so most nights, with pit stop at Rounds News for some obscure can of pop on the walk down to Dover Road. Forge Dam, now that was bit more of a treat – fewer memories, but still very good ones.
Only Bramall Lane comes close to those parks in the contest for my favourite parts of Sheffield. So, even if my legs won’t be in any fit state to get me through those ten kilometres, I now have boosted faith in my heart to do so. That’s what happens when you’re a stubborn Northern Son!

Let’s just hope I manage to sign up… Nats told me to do so early because it’s popular, I’ve been trying for weeks but it’s still not open! I did register my interest, of course… you know, keen as I am and all that…

…oh, one last thing before I sign off. On Sunday I went out for a run: managed 5.4km in 34’. Respectable for most, quite simply elating for someone like me who can’t stand running. It’s a decent foundation to build upon between now and the end of September, for sure. I was so elated that I took the one final step in cementing my target, the last row of bricks on the point of no return. Yup, I told my Dad. I texted him:
“Stasera, con le mie scarpe acquistate il 18 aprile, ho corso 5,4km. Senza fermarmi, senza camminare. La strada è lunga: intanto oggi ho stabilito un record personale. Mai corsi 5km. Spero d’arrivare a 10 il 23 settembre. La strada è lunga, la direzione giusta. In settimana rivelerò i dettagli… Grazie, x”

Oh OK then, Ill save you copy/pasting into Google Translate besides, authors transations are always more accurate!
“Tonight, with my shoes bought on April 18, I ran 5.4k. Without stopping, without walking. The road is long; for now I set a personal record. Never ran 5k. Hope to reach 10 on September 23. The road is long, the direction right. Will reveal details during the week… Thanks, x”

Aye, I’ll drop him an e-mail during the week. I’ll send him the link to this load of garbage while I’m at it. So, if tha’s reading this Favver… hey-up! This in’t entirely tha fault, but tha’s not a totally innocent party either…
t worry – hes Italian alright, but he understands Sheffield)

…for now, one sign-off comment: If I had qualms about fundraising for charity before, you can rest assured they’ve gone now. If I’m puffing and panting up that hill, I might as well get some schrapnel for my suffering. Silver can wait till 2013 should I ever get there. Should.

p.s.: you really should check out the cheese race thingy. It defies Darwin’s evolutionary theory like nothing you’ve ever seen. Even on YouTube.