Chapter 1:

It is funny how often we find symmetry within our life. It is as if we are books and we would fall over without proper bookends to hold up our stories.

My bookends take the form of a football ground. Officially called “Coral Windows Stadium” for commercial purposes, Bradford City’s home is better known to the football world as “Valley Parade”.

It was only a couple of days after I first arrived in England in late August that I went down to watch the Bantams play vs AFC Wimbledon. The team and the ground is full of history: a history both personal and cultural; both joyful and tragic.

It was nearly a century ago that my Great-Grandfather played for Bradford City and it is also just over a century ago (1911) that they famously won the historic FA Cup. Since then, the clubs history has been a heart-wrenching mix of hope, fear, and tragedy.

In 1985, Valley Parade was the scene of a horrific stadium fire that killed 56 people and shocked the football world. Years of fluctuation and mediocrity followed, until in 1999 Bradford City finally returned to the pinnacle of English Football: The Premier League.

Hope sprang eternal for the newly promoted club until they were hit with some serious financial problems and relegated shortly after. This was followed by rapid decline and as recently as 2001 they nearly fell out of the Football League (comprised of the top 4 divisions) altogether.

This year has been another year of hope, as the Bantams heroically made it to the League Cup final at Wembley, beating 3 Premier League clubs on the way (Bradford is 3 leagues below the premier league). They are returning to Wembley once again for their league playoff final, where they can clinch promotion to the third tier of English Football.

Aside from the fire, thankfully, Bradford City’s fluctuating history of hope and disappointment is a familiar tale. It’s mine.

This first year of mine in England has been full of hope, but equally littered with it’s miseries. After arriving full of hope, was met with a slow and demoralizing start. I struggled to get into any team, at any level, until I was finally able to get into training with Guiseley AFC, a well-respected local side in the 6th tier of English Football. I eventually stayed on with them for the remainder of the season.

While I was personally frustrated with the lack of chances that I was given to play, it was an exciting club to be at as they were favorites to earn promotion to the 5th tier. We ended the season on 91 points, a club record. Unfortunately, it was not enough to win the league and earn automatic promotion (which it normally would have been). So, we entered the playoffs, which are just as nerve-wracking as they are exciting.

As I wrote recently, it was Squeaky Bum Time, which only ends one of two ways; with overwhelming joy or gutting pain. Unfortunately, for us, it was the latter. We lost the second leg of the semi-final at home 0-2 to our local rivals FC Halifax Town, who eventually went on to win promotion.

The following week was a chance for consolation. We had the County Cup final to play, where we once again played FC Halifax Town. On a dreary May night, after a lethargic 90 minutes plus extra-time, Halifax once again ousted us 1-0; leaving us with nothing to show for our record setting season.

While there wasn’t much to remember on the night, it did provide a perfect bookend to my first year in English Football. The game was played at Valley Parade only days before my departure.

I had hoped to play that night, but unfortunately it was not to be the case. This was a culmination of all the disappointment from the previous weeks losses.

However, in hindsight, I think about the progress I have made since I have been here and I can’t help but look at the positives. Nine months ago I visited Valley Parade as a fan and didn’t know a soul. At the County Cup final, I returned as a player and have gotten to know some fabulous people.

The first chapter of any story rarely ends with an exciting climax. It’s an introduction. It’s where you meet some of the main characters, get a feel for the setting, learn the rules, and finally, it should give you enough interest to start Chapter Two.

As I head home – via my Mission trip to St. Lucia – for some summer relaxation with my family(who I miss terribly by the way), I am looking forward, God-willing, to Chapter Two. I know I will be returning wiser, stronger, and equally hopeful.

Thus end’s Chapter One.

I may do a few special through the summer, so stay tuned!

Dedication: there are so many people I have to thank for getting me to this point, but I am dedicating this post to the Inglehearn family who took me in and gave me a home, while I got my feet on the ground.

Also, please spare any thoughts and prayers you can for my Great Uncle Francois Inglehearn who has just passed away.

Peace,

Seano

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Sir Alex Ferguson

Some say it is the football equivalent of the fall of the Berlin wall. Many were unsure that the day would ever come. Most are willing to show their admiration and respect. And a select and very special few think that the Black Eyed Peas have disbanded, due to “Fergie” retiring. Unfortunately, that doesn’t seem to be true.

Love him or hate him, Sir Alex Ferguson will go down in history as one of the best managers is professional sports.

He has been the epitome of continuity, consistency, and success in a football world fraught with change. He was an immovable rock jutting out of the tumultuous flow of the football world. However, even the toughest rock will not last forever against the constant battering of nature.

The inevitable day has come that all Manchester United fans have been dreading and all others have been silently, or not so silently, hoping for; Sir Alex Ferguson will retire his post as manager of Manchester United Football Club.

At this point, I’m sure most of us have heard about this already, and I could give you a litany of his accomplishments, but that has been done already all over the internet and on newspapers worldwide.

The one statistic, however, that I would like to know, is how many Manchester United supporters even know a Manchester United without Sir Alex? The growth of the premier league, on a global scale, means over the past 2 decades most new fans worldwide, haven’t lived without another United manager. This is like having the same president for nearly 27 years, you would begin to think he wasn’t going away. I would guess, and this is just a guess, that over 90% of United fans, have only ever known United during Sir Alex Ferguson’s era.

You have probably also heard about his newly appointed successor: David Moyes

Well, it’s controversy galore, as it was always going to be. Really, no one is going to fit into the shoes of Sir Alex, but here is my 4 cents on why I think Moyes just might be the man for United.

1: Respect of Players – During this weeks events, and ever for that matter, did you hear any past players show anything but respect for Ferguson. Similarly, did any of David Moyes’ past or present players show any doubt in his abilities or show any lack of respect to him as the leader of their team. Now, I know that both Ferguson and Moyes have had disagreements with players in the past. It is natural, and sometimes beneficial, to have arguments. However, even those players who have left these two managers in the past, have noted the respect and admiration they have for these two men. The same can not always be said for other possible candidates.

2: Liverpool – Ferguson’s main goal when taking over so many years ago was to “knock Liverpool of their @#%#$% perch”. This has led to one of the biggest rivalries in the footballing world today. The not-derby to end all derbies. After 25 plus years (in 2011), Ferguson was finally able to do that, in a domestic sense, after leading United to their 19th league title, and surpassing Liverpool’s record of 18. Ferguson’s successor had to be someone who understood this rivalry. The man who took Everton FC out of the shadow of their Merseyside rival, surely knows what it means to go to battle against Liverpool.

3: Stability – The biggest criticism of Moyes’ appointment was his lack of European experience. This is a valid point, considering he has very little. However, while Moyes may not have the European experience as others, he has shown the ability to provide something even more rare in modern football: stability. Stability is also something that Manchester United fans have grown accustomed to. Are there sexier managers? Sure. Are there more reliable managers? I doubt it.

4: Fergie’s Recommendation – If there is one thing that United fans have learned throughout the past 27 years, it is to trust Sir Alex. I, for one, have questioned him numerous times and it has nearly always ended the same way; me being wrong. After 27 years of him getting it right, I find it hard to argue with his recommendation to appoint Moyes his successor.

It’s never going to be an easy transition for the Club, but I’m looking forward to getting to know this new United.

As is always the case, only time will tell.

Thank you Sir Alex!

Welcome Moyes!

See you next season,

Peace,

Seano

Squeaky Bum Time

Sometimes it can be hard to remember how time zones relate to one another. Is it 5 or 6 hours ahead, or behind? What part of the country are you in…East? West? Then, of course, there are other things to remember, like the fact that daylight savings is at different times in different countries, so sometimes the zones are less or more hours apart? Sigh.

So, if you are wondering what time it is over here, the answer is squeaky bum time!

If that doesn’t help, let me give you a little background. You can not tell squeaky bum time on a watch, it defies the traditional use of timekeeping.

The phrase was coined by the esteemed Sir Alex Ferguson; 27 year manager of Manchester United – I know, let the bias creep in. According to Collin’s Dictionary online, it means  “the tense final matches (or minutes) in the race to a league championship (or any championship/achievement)”.

Squeaky Bum book

Another definition that I found elaborated even further, describing “Squeaky Bum Time” as the sound your bum makes shifting around on the edge of your seat during the most tense periods of a competition.

Frankly, I don’t care what you think about Manchester United, or Sir Alex Ferguson, the phrase is not only incredibly apt – not to mention, fun to say –  it is also something that most people can say they have experienced in some part of their life. I think it is safe to say that it is “squeaky bum” moments that really make the sporting world go round.

While the climax of “squeaky bum time” usually only lasts a few moments, the build-up can sometimes take weeks. The longer the build-up the squeakier the bums.

I am currently in the middle of a squeaky bum extravaganza. No, that is not my way of saying that I have really bad gas.

AT THE SOURCE:

To begin with, a few weeks ago, I was lucky to experience Squeaky Bum Time with Fergie himself, at the place that he calls home (well at least in footballing terms). I was offered the opportunity from a relative to go to another game at Old Trafford to see Manchester United take on Aston Villa. It was only after I jumped on the opportunity, that I realized that this game was a chance for Manchester United to mathematically claim their 20th Premier League title.

This time around; however, the tension was to a minimum. First of all, United was running away with the title and only needed to get a result in 1 of their next 5 games in order to win the title. Also, any concern that struggling Aston Villa was going to cause an upset was nipped in the bud when Robin Van Persie scored in the first 2 minutes of the game. He then put the game to bed with a hat-trick before the conclusion of the first half.

Compared to the epic conclusion of the Premier League last year, where United’s cross town rivals, Manchester City, won the title with mere minutes to go in the last game, this was, admittedly, less squeaky.

The consistency that United showed this year meant they won the title with emphatic confidence, rather than squeaky excitement. I am not saying that one way of winning is any less fulfilling than the other. I am sure the Euphoria is the same either way. However, on that Monday night against Aston Villa, the only squeaky bums in the last few minutes of the game, were those of the last few fans to jump up and join  in the celebrations.

To be at Old Trafford on the night United won a record setting 20th title is something that I will always remember. The highlight of the game was definitely the 2nd goal. I won’t explain it, I will just show you the video below. It was sublime!

One of my favorite memories of the celebrations was singing the Man United version of John Denver’s “Country Roads”: “United Road”. I could have stayed in the stands all night singing along with the players down on the pitch.

Van Persie’s 2nd Goal:

Here is the Song:

Also a few shots of my night at Old Trafford:

SQUEAKY BUMS AT GUISELEY:

Back at Guiseley, the Squeaky Bums have been so loud recently there have been reports of anxiety attacks and insomnia.

In personal news, I started my first league game so far this year. While the game meant little for the team in terms of final league positions, it was really only squeaky bum time for me; a chance to finally play significant minutes in a league game. In a way, it was like a 2nd job interview or audition.

I was excited for the opportunity to play. Unfortunately, squeaky bum time only ends one of two ways no matter how well you play. You win or you lose. In this case, we lost…to the team in very last place; Hinckley United. The only thing that could have probably made it worse, is if I had scored an own goal and then got sent off. It was a strange game. I, and no one on the team, played particularly poorly, but something was amiss. Also, credit to Hinckley who was up for it and played as though they had nothing to lose (which they didn’t). Sometimes life just gives you those days and the best thing to do is move on.

While I had my pout, as a club, we had bigger things on the horizon: Playoffs.

A playoff is the quintessential Squeaky Bum scenario. In this case, four teams from the league (Blue Square Conference North) make playoffs; 2nd place through 5th place. As 2nd seed, we drew the 5th place team; Halifax Town FC our Yorkshire rivals.

In the semi-final, you play two games; one home and one away. The team with the better record after two games will go through to the 1-game final. That is essentially 270 + minutes of Squeaky Bum football. The winner of the final earns the right to be promoted into the next division of football (Blue Square Conference Premier).

The 1st leg of our semi-final was away to Halifax Town and went relatively well. It ended in a 1-1 draw. We were under pressure for most of the game as they used the momentum of the home crowd to keep us pinned back in our half. They scored from a penalty kick early in the first half and gave us a few serious scares throughout, including one or two off of the woodwork. Fortunately, we weathered the storm and managed to score our own late in the 2nd half through a towering header from the ever trusty central defender Danny Ellis.

The remaining time was tense for both sides and but for a great reaction save from their goalkeeper from a Josh Wilson effort in the last minutes, we could have left town with all the spoils. In the end, we return home with all to play for at Nethermoor Park: home of the Lions.

Tomorrow (Sat the 6th of May) is the 2nd semi-final game, which is really just a final before the final because we have to win or there will be no final.

I know there are plenty of Guiseley fans who recommend me getting my head checked for supporting Manchester United. However, they would be happy to know that as I was singing and shouting after the game at Old Trafford, I couldn’t help but think to myself that the real celebrations will begin when Guiseley earn promotion.

As I said, the longer the build-up, the squeakier the bums. Guiseley has been to playoffs three years running, the bums don’t get much squeakier than that.

It doesn’t get much better.

WE ARE GUISELEY!!!!

Peace,

Seano

To note:

I would encourage you to follow the game tomorrow. Promotion is an equally cruel and exciting event and thus vastly entertaining! There will be a radio feed that I will try to get out to you before the game, but you can also follow Guiseley’s twitter, which will keep you up to date.

I would also like to thank all of you who helped me with the fundraising for my mission trip. You’re generosity is incredible. If you didn’t get a chance last time, I haven’t quite met my goals and it’s getting to be Squeaky Bum Time in that regard. So if you are so inclined, I could still use a few pennies here and there. Please visit Mission Trip Fund Page to help out 🙂 Thanks again!

Lastly, if you didn’t see it. I wrote a piece for the team website called A Mental Victory. I wrote it right after we beat the league Champions, Chester City, who have already earned promotion for finishing at the top of the league.

Begin Again

This may seem a strange title considering the fact that my first year (football season) in England is coming to an end. Luckily, the ever changing cycles of life always provide us with new opportunities to begin again.

It has been an eventful few weeks for me over here in the UK. To begin with, I was finally able to get out and see more of what this historic island has to offer. In other words, I shed the cloak of an inhabitant and once again donned my tourist cap.

The funny thing is, I really don’t like being “a tourist”. To me it is an awkward stereotype characterized by silly pictures, a limiting itinerary, and more often than not the asking of blatantly obvious questions. Despite my ridiculous insecurities, I decided to suck it up and take a trip to Edinburgh, Scotland.

Aside from touring a new country/city, I was able to play some football as well – surprise, surprise! One of my old managers had recently been named the Manager of a 1st division team in Scotland (the 2nd highest league in the country) called Livingston FC, which is just outside Edinburgh. Upon my request, he was kind enough to let me join in on a few training sessions while I was there.

Livingston's Stadium: Almondvale in West Lothian

Livingston’s Stadium: Almondvale in West Lothian

Livingston FC is a full-time club and is thus a more professional setup than where I am right now at Guiseley AFC. More is expected of players and staff in day-to-day proceedings and the facilities were better. This is not to say that Guiseley is not a well run semi-professional club, with good staff and good players, it is merely a matter of Livingston being a more comprehensive organization.

Overall, on the footballing side of things, it was a good experience to see how another club works on a daily basis. The training sessions were good and enjoyable and I am glad I was able to take part. Every opportunity and experience can help me learn and grow as a player and as a person in the future. It was also good to maintain my contacts inside the footballing world!

From a visitors point of view, I thought Edinburgh was a great city! It is very scenic and reeks of history. It provided literature, philosophy, politics, treachery, ghosts, crime, arrogance and bravery; as only the Scots know how. I literally walked around the city for hours on end and didn’t get to see everything I had hoped.

Getting to know a city is such a cool experience. It is kind of like reading a novel, or rather, a book of interconnected short stories. If it is a good book, you will enjoy the time spent walking through its pages, and if it is a great book then once through is not enough. It will call you back for another visit.

In keeping with the title, a new place can, in a sense, provide you with the opportunity to begin again. When you arrive, you are a blank  canvas, or a lump of clay, and the city, acting as the artist, will impress itself upon you in a way that no other place can. This process can be transforming in its own right and that is one of the joys of traveling.

Back to more details! The first day, I went of a free walking tour around the city. The most ironic thing about the tour was that it was led by an Aussie. Luckily, he was a very animated and enjoyable Aussie (not that I know of any other kind) and did know his stuff when it came to the city…or at least he had me fooled.

I always have a hard time picking a favorite anything, so I can’t say there was a favorite part of Edinburgh. The setting was fantastic for one, with the castle on the hill being the focal point of the city (see pics throughout). I was also fascinated by the “Athens of the North” theme that Edinburgh has in its history. It got the nickname during a period of enlightenment when big name thinkers, historians, and writers such as Adam Smith, David Hume, and Sir Walter Scott all made their names in their respective spheres of influence.

Sir Walter Scott - they love this guy here!

Sir Walter Scott – they love this guy here!

While I was wandering through what was said to be one of the oldest structures in the city (a wealthy merchants home just off of the main street) there was a nice lady who worked there who was answering some of my questions. During our conversation she said “oh to be a fly on these walls during the 18th century”. Yes, indeed! Could Adam Smith have visited his new business  acquaintance, the merchant, for tea and discussed with him the fundamental theories of “The Wealth of Nations”? Did Walter Scott lay out the plot of his new book “Rob Roy”, while puffing on his pipe and drinking a scotch after a game of cards with his good friend? Who knows…but that’s the wonder of it all, isn’t it.

While the nickname may have been appropriate to some extent, you could say the Scots got a bit carried away with it at times. For one, the statues of their heroes, such as David Hume, in a toga, seem a bit silly in hindsight. I also found it a bit humorous, for instance, when they had the bright idea of building their very own Parthenon to memorialize their relationship with the great city of Athens in the South. Then…..they ran out of money after building only 12 pillars, which remain today as a reminder that, well…this isn’t really Athens after all.

The almost Parthenon!

The almost Parthenon!

While there are many of them, my favorite literature connection with the city is that the character in Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde was based on an esteemed member of the Edinburgh community. He was a well respected lock-smith, named Deacon Brodie, who kept a copy of every key he made. Then he would steal from his clients and they would call him in for help again…a very self-fulfilling business plan. Don’t worry, they got him in the end.

The story of Deacon Brodie!

The story of Deacon Brodie!

Although I did see and learn much much more, the last thing I will mention is that I enjoyed visiting the castle quite a bit – let’s face it I’m a guy who grew up building forts in the woods with my friends. There was plenty to do there, including a few military museums and a chance to see the Royal Honors, which are the crown, the sword and the scepter used by the ruler of Scotland. They are such a visible and beautifully crafted piece of history. Unfortunately, I wasn’t allowed to take pictures of them, so you will have to go yourself.

One if the most memorable parts of the trip to Edinburgh was actually that I had someone to share it with – at least for a short time. During the walking tour on my first day there, I met a lovely Canadian girl from Montreal. I’d like to say we started talking because we had a mutual interest in the political musings of David Hume, but the fact of the matter is that the cutest girl on the tour looked, by chance, to have as many friends as me. Zero.

I thought what the hell, say hello and if it gets awkward, just slip down the next alley and come back and finish the tour tomorrow.

I’ve done a little bit of traveling by myself in the last few years and while it has it’s benefits and gives you an overwhelming sense of freedom, at the end of the day, it is a lonely experience.

After about 5 minutes of conversation, scattered between the ramblings of the Aussie tour guide, I got the impression that she agreed with my sentiment. She had been touring parts of the UK for the past few weeks and was as desperate for a companion as I was…actually probably more-so if she settled for me in the end.

After the tour, we spent the rest of the day together getting to know they city and one another. For lack of a better word, it was fascinating to get to know someone in this way. Usually, when you meet someone, at least one, or both of you, is in a relatively familiar environment with people that you know. In this case, we were both friendless foreigners and so in a strange way, the process of getting to know the city was intertwined with the process of getting to know each other.

I can’t really think of a good way to explain it, but it does bring us back to the beginning again. When you meet someone new, it is again like a lump of clay, and the corresponding relationship is molded from that lump. It is a chance to being again the fantastic gift of friendship.

In the end, we both agreed that the very worst part of travelling alone, is eating alone. If you haven’t had this experience before (and I’m not talking about at McDonalds), I would recommend you try it sometime just so you know. It is dreadful; there is only so much that you can pretend to do on your cellphone in a restaurant with no cell service; and there is only so many dessert and beer menus to read on a given table.

So, after treading numerous miles up and down Edinburgh, including a hike up Arthur’s Seat, we decided to enjoy a meal together. The most remarkable part about it all, was that we had spent all day getting to know one another, and getting to know the city, and didn’t actually formally introduce ourselves until we sat down for dinner. Her name was Blanche. Her first language was french and although she spoke English well, she had a strong accent. I am telling you this because it is a perfectly nice name with a French accent, but can be butchered by my far from sexy American accent.

After dinner, we went our separate ways and went on to what life had in store for us next. The moral of the story is that, if you have the chance to say hello to a cute girl/guy all alone on a free tour in a European city, don’t pass it up.

Here are the pics!

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Wow, this post has gotten quite long and I didn’t even get to tell you about the rest of the exciting things that I did the last few weeks. So, be sure to stay posted, I’m in a writing mood.

In case you were wondering, I would definitely recommend a trip to Edinburgh and like a good novel, it may even call you back again.

If you do go, go head first.

Peace,

Seano