#Euro2016: England’s 50 years of football failure

bobby moore

Bobby Moore with the World Cup at Wembley in 1966

England’s loss to football minnow Iceland at Euro 2016 was a disaster and an embarrassment to one of the world’s great football nations and home to the best league in the world, the Premier League.

Incredibly, it also marked 50 years since England last triumphed in an international tournament, that being the 1966 World Cup, played at home, where Bobby Moore captained the team to a famous win over West Germany.

Since then its been one disaster after another: Maradona’s hand of God goal in 1986, and then an incredible six penalty shoot defeats at World Cups and European Championships.

Just how is this possible given all the great players who have donned the famous Three Lions jersey appears unfathomable. Jimmy Greaves, Gary Lineker, Paul Gascoigne, Alan Shearer, Michael Owen, Peter Shilton, David Seaman, Tony Adams, Stephen Gerrard, Wayne Rooney…the list goes on and on.

Perhaps this time we can blame it all on Brexit this time? This is how Gary Lineker reflected on it on Twitter:

The worst defeat in our history. England beaten by a country with more volcanoes than professional footballers. Well played Iceland.

Here’s the full list of failures:

England’s record in international tournaments since the 1966 World Cup triumph:

1970 World Cup: Quarterfinals (lost to W. Germany 3-2 in extra time)

1974 World Cup: Did not qualify

1978 World Cup: Did not qualify

1980 UEFA Euro: Group stage

1982 World Cup: 2nd round (round robin)

1984 UEFA Euro: Did not qualify

1986 World Cup: Quarterfinals (lost to Argentina 2-1)

1988 UEFA Euro: Group stage (lost all three games, including to Ireland)

1992 UEFA Euro: Group stage

1990 World Cup: Fourth (lost semi-final to Germany on penalties)

1994 World Cup: Did not qualify

1996 UEFA Euro: Semi-finals (lost to Germany on penalties)

1998 World Cup: Last 16 (lost to Argentina on penalties)

2000 UEFA Euro: Group stage

2002 World Cup: Quarterfinals (lost to Brazil 2-1)

2004 UEFA Euro: Quarterfinals (lost to Portugal on penalties)

2006 World Cup: Quarterfinals (lost to Portugal on penalties)

2008 UEFA Euro:  Did not qualify

2010 World Cup: 2nd round (lost to Germany 4-1)

2012 UEFA Euro: Quarterfinals (lost to Italy on penalties)

2014 World Cup: Group stages

2016 UEFA Euro: Last 16 (lost to Iceland)

 

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In the Boston Strangler’s shadow: Reading Sebastian Junger’s ‘A Death in Belmont’

death in belmontThe front cover of my edition of Sebastian Junger‘s intriguing  true crime book,  A Death in Belmont features a grainy black and white photo of the author as a small child sitting on the lap of his mother, who looks down at him affectionately.

Behind them is a kindly looking elder gentleman called Floyd Wiggins, and next to him, looking directly at the camera is a powerfully-built stocky man in a white shirt, his hair greased up in a pompadour, called Albert DeSalvo.

The photo was taken in mid-March 1963 when Wiggins, DeSalvo and another man Russ Blomerth (who took the photo) built an artist’s studio in the backyard of Sebastian Junger’s Belmont home.

A year later, the same man, Albert DeSalvo,  would confess to being the notorious Boston Strangler, one of the most infamous and violent serial killers and rapists in American history.

Knowing this, turns the photo into something utterly chilling: a young child and his mother with a monster smiling serenely behind them.

This then is the springboard –  a very personal one – for Junger’s engrossing book about the Boston stranglings that terrified residents in the early 1960s.

Of course DeSalvo, who confessed to being the strangler after being arrested for a string of other violent crimes, is a big part of the book, but he is not the central character.

roy-smith

A mug shot of Roy Smith

Instead Junger focuses on a black man, named Roy Smith and one particular murder that occurred near his childhood home in Belmont, which also gives the book its title: A Death in Belmont.

The day before the photo was taken a woman in her sixties, Bessie Golderg had been raped and strangled in her home, just a mile away.

The brutal attack, perpetrated in the middle of the day and by someone who Bessie Goldberg let into her home, occurred during a spate of 13 similar stranglings that started in June 1962 and ended in January 1964.

But this murder was pinned not Albert DeSalvo (who also never confessed to it in jail), but on Roy Smith had been sent by his employment agency to clean the Goldberg house on the same afternoon that Bessie Goldberg was raped and strangled.

He was there in the hours just before her death – shopkeepers and neighbourhood kids saw him walking in Belmont that afternoon – and so he became the prime suspect.

Being a black man in a white neighbourhood also did not help, nor did his criminal history or his penchant for alcohol.

Despite this, the evidence was only circumstantial , Smith had little motive apart from robbery and there was nothing in his past to suggest he was a sexual predator. But, a court found him guilty and he was given a life sentence, only narrowly missing the death penalty.

He spent the rest of his life in jail, but steadfastly maintained his innocence during his 13 years locked up, right up until his death, from lung cancer. Tragically – if he was indeed an innocent man – he was paroled on his death-bed. Junger writes poignantly:

“If Roy Smith had not been working at the Goldberg’s residence the day she was killed, the murder would quickly have been added to the list of other Boston Stranglings. It was so similar to the previous eight killings that the police initially thought they had arrested the man responsible for all of them. They hadn’t.”

Junger’s brilliant book, investigates in great detail the lives of both Roy Smith and Albert DeSalvo, the likeable man who built his mother’s studio in their Belmont backyard, but who had another dimension to his personality: a viscious and cruel man who combined an insatiable sexual appetite with sadistic violence.

While Junger does not proclaim Roy Smith innocent, he hints very strongly at the possibility  that he was an innocent man, who tragically found himself in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Albert DeSalvo just after his capture in Boston on February 25, 1967.

Albert DeSalvo, at the time of his arrest in 1967

It’s a highly convincing argument and I finished reading the book almost certain that Roy Smith did not kill Bessie Goldberg and that more than likely, DeSalvo had raped and strangled her  while on his way to Sebastian Junger’s house to complete his mother’s artist studio. Indeed two further stranglings that DeSalvo confessed to occurred during the time he worked in Belmont.

Junger returns time and time again to his mother’s memories of DeSalvo. Most chilling is her memory of a time Albert DeSalvo asked her to come down into the basement of the house to show her a problem with the boiler. She hesistated, noticing a strange look in his eyes. Ellen Junger made an excuse not to go down into the basement, a decision which might have saved her life.  Junger writes:

“Four months earlier (before Bessie Goldberg died)  Al had stood at the bottom of the cellar stairs and called up to my mother with an odd look in his eyes. For a moment at least, our basement was a place where the very worst things imaginable could happen.”

DeSalvo died in prison, stabbed to death by a black inmate, taking many of his secrets to the grave. So there is no easy solution to the mystery of who killed Bessie Goldberg.

There are also many, including Junger, who question whether DeSalvo was in fact the Boston Strangler, or just someone who craved the spotlight. Until recently, there was little physical evidence to connect him to any of the crimes, while DeSalvo’s own confessions were full of errors.

But in 2013 – seven years after his book was published, a DNA match was found linking DeSalvo to the rape and murder of 19-year-old Mary Sullivan providing proof he was guilty of at least one of the  13 murders he confessed to, though this list did not include Bessie Goldberg.

In the end, there can be no definite answers, only likelihoods and possibilities. Junger himself has come under fire suggested Roy Smith may be innocent with the Goldberg family angrily denying his hypothesis that their mother might have been killed by someone other than Roy Smith.

In 2006, when A Death in Belmont was published, Bessie Goldberg’s daughter, Leah Goldberg Scheuerman told the New York Times it was “full of lies and omissions” including that a Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court also upheld Roy Smith’s conviction on appeal.

It’s not the first time Sebastian Junger has been accused of getting things wrong. His bestselling and most famous book, The Perfect Storm (made into a Hollywood blockbuster with George Clooney) was hit by accusations of many inaccuracies.

21 cedar

21 Cedar Rd, Belmont – were Albert DeSalvo built a studio for Ellen Junger in 1963

But, reading a A Death in Belmont, which Junger spent three years painstakingly researching, you do not get the impression that you are being manipulated: the stories of Roy Smith and Albert DeSalvo are carefully constructed by Junger who also masterfully recreates Boston of the 1960s with its immigrant communities, rough neighbourhoods, drinking dens and quiet suburbs.

When as a reader, you weight up all the evidence, it seems hard to believe that Roy Smith, who had no history of sexual violence would have raped and murdered a sixty-year-old woman whose house he was cleaning. If he did, he never admitted it, thus ending any chance of a life outside of prison. What guilty man would do that?

Reading Barack Obama’s Dreams From My Father: The inspirational story of a president in the making

dreams-from-my-fatherEven if Barack Obama had not gone on to become the first African-American president of the United States, he would have lived a remarkable life.

This much is clear, if you read his superb memoir Dreams from My Father, written after he achieved an earlier historic milestone, becoming the first Black president of the 130-year old Harvard Law Review, the esteemed student-run law journal of Harvard University.

Barack Obama was elected Law Review president, aged 28, in 1990. His eloquent comments made in an interview with the New York Times, following his historic appointment, hint at the higher role that lay ahead:

“The fact that I’ve been elected shows a lot of progress. It’s encouraging,” he told the NYT.

“But it’s important that stories like mine aren’t used to say that everything is O.K. for blacks. You have to remember that for every one of me, there are hundreds or thousands of black students with at least equal talent who don’t get a chance.”

After being elected law review president, he received an advance from a publisher to write his life story (up to that point) and the end result was Dreams From My Father. It had modest success at first, but became a bestseller when he became US President in 2009.

What ever you think of President Obama, as his time in office comes to an end, his memoir which reveals a man of the highest integrity (but with many human failings too) is well worth reading, particularly in light of the awful possibility that a Machiavellian power-hungry loose cannon, 69-year-old real estate mogul Donald Trump, might be next in line at the White House.

It’s certainly one of the best autobiographies you will read about any public figure. It’s beautifully written, rich in detail and painfully honest. President Obama would have made a fine writer had he not chosen a path in politics.

The book charts his life, from his early childhood in Hawaii until just before he entered Harvard University in 1988. It ends with his journey to Kenya to meet his family and learn more about his gifted, but troubled father.

Barack Obama Sr was an ambitious, charismatic and larger-than-life foreign exchange student from Kenya who met Kansas-born Ann Dunham while studying at the University of Hawaii. (Like his famous son, he too would study at Harvard, obtaining a Masters in Economics).

Barack – or Barry as his family called him – was born a year after they met in 1961, but the marriage did not last long. His father returned to Kenya where he became a government official and raised his third family. He made money, but then lost it all when the government changed and he would not support their views.  He later struggled with drinking as he descended into poverty.

Barack saw his father only once again, aged about 10, when he came to Hawaii to recover from a car accident (a fearful, bittersweet and awkward time for a young boy, as Barack Obama describes in his memoir). They stayed in intermittent contact until he learned of his father’s sudden death in another car accident in 1982. At the time Barack was 21 and living in a squalid apartment in  Harlem.

“At the time of his death, my father remained a myth to me, both more and less than a man…as a child I knew him only through the stories that my mother and my grandfather told. They all had their favourites…”

Dreams from My Father is ultimately the story of a young’s mans search to understand his brilliant, but troubled father, who despite his lack of physical presence was the foundation stone for Barack Obama’s acute sense of black consciousness, his early waywardness and rebelliousness and his desire to help others through community organising.

In his memoir, Barack Obama recalls his time spent as a kid exploring the rough and tumble back streets of  Jakarta, Indonesia (where he moved, aged 7, with his mother to live with her new Indonesian husband, Lolo) his return to Hawaii to complete his American schooling,  his teenage years partying, drinking, smoking and drug taking but also searching for himself. Later he attends college in Los Angeles where he makes his first public speech calling for a South African boycott and finds it comes naturally to him and that he likes the experience. From there he moves to New York to live in the Black community of Harlem, where he gets a good corporate job with prospects. But he feels lost and directionless and quits to become a community organiser in Chicago, where a hero of his, Harold Washington, is the city’s first African-American mayor.

Be Like Barack The Pros and Cons of a Career in Community Organizing

Barack Obama, during his time in Chicago as a community organiser

A big chunk of the book is given over to his many years spent as a community organiser in Chicago,  meeting community leaders, religious figures and ordinary citizens, understanding the harsh realities of their lives  their daily battles with unemployment, violence, drugs, poverty and neglect. Barack Obama writes candidly about his own naievety in trying to bring about change in people’s lives, his many failures and some notable successes.

In one moving scene he brings a community delegation  from a neglected, polluted and impoverished housing estate called Altgeld Gardens by bus to demand a meeting with the director of the Chicago Housing Association over fears about asbestos contamination. This after an earlier request was ignored. The delegation refuse to leave. Later a TV crew arrives and films interviews with residents of Altgeld. Amid all the publicity the residents are promised, on camera, that testing would start by the end of the day and that a meeting with the director has been arranged. They celebrate later on the bus ride home with caramel popcorn:

“As I chewed on the gooey popcorn, looking out at the lake calm and turqouise now, I tried to a recall a more contented moment.”

During his time in New York and Chicago, Barack Obama meets his sister Auma, who lives in Germany and another brother Roy who lives in Washington DC. Finally he makes the pivotal journey to Kenya, first to the chaos of Nairobi to meet some of his family and then he travels by train across the vast Kenyan plains to the Port city of Kisumu and onto Kogelo, to the tribal family homestead where he meets ‘Granny’ and hears the stories of his father, grandfather and their ancestors.

“Granny nodded and pulled me into a hug before leading us into the house. Small windows let in a little of the afternoon light and the house was sparsely furnished – a few wooden chairs, a coffee table, a worn couch. On the walls were various family artefacts, the Old Man’s Harvard diploma, photographs of him…”

From here the Young Barack Obama would make his way through the hallowed halls of Harvard and from there all the way to the White House.

It’s an amazing journey about a remarkable man, and its beautifully told.

obama family

A Young Barack Obama with his Kenyan family