How I Would Keep the Winter Olympics More Or Less The Same But Complain About Some Things

Pyeong Chang

South Korea hosted the 2018 incarnation of the games. Credit: The Week UK

This article is a direct companion piece to the stupidly titled How I Would Ruin the Olympics for a Lot of People and has a similarly stupid title because they should match I guess. That article was a fairly nerdy deep-dive in to the ‘spirit of Olympic competition’ and what events I think should and shouldn’t be represented there. This article isn’t about ‘the spirit of Olympic competition’ for two reasons: 1) because I’ve learned that exploitation is the major ‘spirit’ of Olympic competition (but I’ll let the likes of Dave Zirin and Jules Boykoff explain that better), and 2) because, crucially, I have never seen the Winter Olympics in the same light as the Summer games. While I see as the Summer games as a competition of remarkable physical competition steeped in ancient history, the Winter Olympics don’t have that same heritage based on sheer physical prowess and indeed, are less than 100 years old.

I’ve always had a very soft spot for the Winter Olympics. It shares the trait with the Summer Games of featuring sports very few people at all consider in the 4 years before games, but aesthetically, it is so much more unusually striking and beautiful. Every event is competed in an arena of glistening white, and instead of in a stadium, they are usually on stunning hillside settings. Maybe it’s my aesthetic enjoyment of these games that mean that I think the types of artistic disciplines I would eliminate from the Summer Games suit the Winter counterpart; events like figure skating which is so uniquely beautiful and awe-inspiring it barely even seems feasible or, less majestic but similarly impressive, other judging-based events like the ski and snowboard half-pipe. I can’t stress enough how fondly I regard the Winter Games when they are on, until they’re over and I forget about them like everyone else.

mixed curling

Mixed Doubles curling emerged as an exciting new version of the sport where two people play more intimately and with extra intensity. Yes i’m talking about curling. Credit: Team Canada’s Official Olympic website

I have always loved curling, partly because of it’s inherent connection to Scotland, and partly because it’s a puzzle game which is both relaxing to watch but requires excellent technique. I’ve also always found the sliding sports wonderful. All of the sliding events require such incredible bravery, I can never even imagine what they must be like to do, especially Skeleton, which involved going down the track head first but also the slightly goofier bobsleigh which is no less dangerous. I also have an almost grudging like of ski and snowboard cross because, while they are based on activities I find kinda bourgeois, the quick, tight racing is competitive and exciting in a way most racing actually isn’t. Finally, mogul, while also based on skiing is the only sport which effectively and interestingly mixes racing and judged tricks. It’s so fast, mesmerising and impressive that it’s always something I look forward to at the Winter games.

This year though, I didn’t quite enjoy them as much as I had previously though, and that’s why we’re here. Don’t get me wrong, I still enjoyed watching some of the events, like the ones I have just listed, but I was able to put my finger on some reasons why it didn’t resonate with me as much this time, and it’s not just because they aired live in Britain between midnight and mid-day when I was at work.

Part of the problem was with some of the sports I’ve listed above as my favourites. Curling suffered from almost upstaging itself. The new ‘Mixed Doubles’ curling event was great – no less tactical but very exciting and made more sense. I only realised this after the Mixed Doubles was decided and they moved to the traditional 4-person men and women’s events and I realised that, while I still enjoyed the game, some of it’s slow pace and counter-intuitive rules made it seem a bit dreary in comparison. The primary problem is the relationship between scoring possession of ‘the hammer’ (the crucial last stone of each end). In the mixed doubles, like a serve in tennis, the teams exchange the Hammer alternately, regardless of the end result (pun intended). It’s an advantage which is necessary to the sport but shared equally for fairness and adding an interesting tension to the game, i.e. an advantage where there is pressure to press your advantage. This isn’t missing in the traditional game, but it is much weaker because the Hammer only switch sides when the team wielding it scores. Not only does that mean that often one team has the Hammer more than the other, but it often incentives ‘blank ends’. These often occur if an end isn’t forming the way the team with the hammer likes, and so they play to blank the end so they can keep the Hammer rather than risking only scoring one point and losing the Hammer. There are genuine tactics behind this, but a shamefully high number of ends are played through mechanically with each team knocking the others out of the ‘house’ until they run out of stones. This can take a while and has absolutely no tension to it. I still enjoyed watching it as I enjoy the sport, but the amount of time I spent watching meaningless playing of it became a disappointment.


Skeleton requires a lot of heart to do and is very cool to watch, just maybe not four separate times. Credit: Team Canada’s Official Olympic website

There were other sports I enjoy which didn’t quite land as much because of how the competition (as opposed to the sport itself) was designed. This included all of the sliding events, the winners of which were determined by cumulative times over four runs. I understand the strength of this, it measures consistency, but it doesn’t necessarily reward the fastest run. That, to me, is the most important measurement in the sports but, in some circumstances, someone could own the fastest run but still not win. Even worse, because the event is realised over four runs, by the time we get to the fourth run, it’s often a procession where the contenders only need clean, steady runs to win because the gap is small. This isn’t always the case, but it happened with a couple of the events and made for a pretty dull conclusion with more tension at the start, rather than the end of the competition.

Speed skating is another sport which I had an affinity for that the design of the competition kinda spoiled. I understand that this ‘long track’ version of the sport is more of a time trial than the short-track version, but the look of it gives off, shall we say, mixed messages. Two skaters would skate at the same time, pair after pair until the field had all raced with the fastest time winning. The problem was though, that while everyone was just plugging in their time, they were sharing the track with someone else. This looks like a race, but as the commentators couldn’t stop pointing out, the two competitors weren’t directly racing. It looked like a race, but it wasn’t, which meant that the competitive promise that came from how it looked, was lessened by the lack of racing which only served to dampen the tension of the event. It was stuck between two things: a race and a time trial but was kind of neither totally either (it really is a time trial, but you still need to be faster than the other person overall of course). Seen as the event isn’t really a race, I think it would have worked better with a smaller field and each racer going one at a time and taking turns, one by one, to get their time in. I think that would increase the tension and the focus of each person taking on the entire field and the clock.

Even worse and, frankly, absurd was the phenomenon of the Netherlands short-track team breaking the world record but only getting a bronze because they were in the ‘B-Final’. Short-track is generally the more instinctive version of the sport, but this event is a real thing of nonsense. It happened because there was such a small field of teams and the teams that didn’t advance to the final for some reason were put in Final B, essentially a meaningless, ‘Best of the Rest’ race but because only 4 teams were racing in the medal-deciding ‘Final A’ and two were disqualified, they gave the bronze to the winner of Final B, who happened to set a new world record. It seems less ridiculous in that description, but it is still terribly counter-intuitive. Either Final B should count or it shouldn’t be raced, and so either the Netherlands should either have won Gold, or be knocked out in the semi finals. For the record, I think it should have been the latter. If you have semi-finals to qualify for the final, it should be a straight knockout or there’s no point in it at all; and so even though the Dutch were clearly capable of more, they didn’t show it in the semi finals and wouldn’t be skating again. Final A should just be the final and 1st and 2nd should have got Gold and Silver respectively and no one gets a Bronze.


Biathlon. If they were really talented, they would shoot with the gun on their backs while they’re skiing. Credit:

Then there are the weird events, and not in an endearing way, in a puzzling or disappointing way. I’m thinking first of Biathlon, the combination the impressive but dull cross-country skiing and, for some reason, shooting. I have no idea why this happens, and I don’t see the connection between the disciplines unless you’re trying to find the most technically gifted (and therefore worst) potential Bond Villain – guys that maybe would have killed Roger Moore in The Spy Who Loved Me. Usually, weird combinations like this can be surreal and fun, but unfortunately not in this instance. Weird in a disappointing way were two versions of the Ski Jumping. The main version of ski jumping would be a great sport if it was just about measuring sheer distance, which , given the look of the event, it should be, but for some reason, they add in a judges portion for the style of flight and landing like that either significantly differs between jumpers, or even matters. It adds an x-factor to the most intuitive part of the sport and makes it a bit less impactful, though I still like it overall. I was very disappointed, however, by the Nordic Combined. I heard that it was a combination of ski jumping and then skiing and I was very down for it, imagining people jumping, landing, and then going straight in to a race. Instead, they did both sings separately, at different times of the day. Instead of being this cool, intense hybrid, it was drained of it by methodically separating them. I’m sure this design makes sense but even if it doesn, it doesn’t mean it’s interesting.

Finally, I want to talk about the trick-based judged snowboarding. As I said earlier, I enjoy snowboard cross, and I would like to add to that that you need to be very brave and talented to perform these tricks, but overall, I found the whole presentation fairly painful. To be totally unfair to the sport, I’m not used to watching it and it was rare that I really noticed significant differences between the tricks and could discern differences in difficulty and technique, so i’d be watching and someone would do something that looked great but would get a mediocre score, and then the next person would do something similar and the commentators would lose their minds. Maybe the sport is just fairly narrow in terms of what can be achieved, but for this reason, it somehow became a bit boring to watch even incredible stunts. The worst thing about the sport though is how ridiculously uncool the whole thing somehow is, from the big personalities, who all kinda seem like entitled douchebags (i’m sure they’re not, but they seem that way. Shaun White obviously is), to the try-hard, painfully hip commentators who can’t stop saying things like ‘gnarly’ and making lame jokes because I guess that’s the scene. It’s like Tim Westwood is commentating. This of course is a very personal and definitely unfair criticism but it’s one I had to get off my chest.

speed skating

The Netherlands won all their Golds in speed skating. They really like speed skating there for some reason.  Credit: SB Nation

Finally, and more seriously, while I have no interest in disqualifying events from the games like I would for the Summer Olympics, the Winter games do suffer from the same problem of medal weighting, doling out dozens of medals for some disciplines, and relatively few for others. There are 12 cross country skiing medals to be won, but only 4 for the luge, 22 for speed skating and just 5 for figure skating. Especially at the Winter Olympics, which has a limited selection of sports comparitively, this means that if a country specialises in a sport with a lot of medals, they can be over-represented on the medal table, for as much as that matters. Over half of Norway’s Gold tally came from cross-country skiing alone, and two more came from other skiing disciplines. Norway are excellent at skiing apparently and because there are lots of medals in that, they won the Winter Olympics. Every single one of the Netherland’s Golds came from speed skating, and because of that, they came 5th. Not only is this bad for the weigting of the medal table, but it makes for fairly repetitive action at times with events that are only marginally different from each other and allow for teams to pad their medal haul. I would like to see sports like skiing and speed skating have some of the events discontinued and try to diversify the events overall. I’m not claiming to be especially creative or a genius, but winter sports feel like a ripe setting to invent events for. However, for the fun of it, let me try:

Triathlon: Mass start snowboard slalom; 5k cross-country skiing; 1500m speed skating

Now this admittedly sounds absurd, but i’m not sure it is. Have it as a big race all at once and racers have to essentially change footwear at each stage. They are very different disciplines, but I can imagine there are athletes who can become proficient enough at all three to race. Athletes have to snowboard a longer slalom course all at once; they them change footwear in to skis and race for 5km (a thankfully shorter distance) and ski to/inside the speed skating arena almost like marathon runners entering the stadium; and then they speed skate for 1500m. Add that to the Winter Olympics.

Overall, I wouldn’t change much about the Winter Olympics, I don’t want to ruin it for anyone, but I do think there are ways to improve them, make them more diverse, and make them even more exciting by eliminating the more broken competitions. Regardless of the relative negativity here and the fact that i’ll soon forget about Pyeong Chang 2018,  I still look forward to the next games. There’s something magical about the Winter Olympics, even if they’re also a bit lame.


The Curious Case of Abbey A and the Question of Just What a Community Should Do

This article obviously references tweets made by people I know, like, and respect. Even if I disagree with these people on this issue, in most cases, I still respect them. I considered contacting people directly to let them know I was writing this but didn’t want to cause any arguments or further discord, so i’m writing this instead. Please know, this isn’t intended to ‘subtweet’ anyone, and in most cases, the positions or even wording I refer to are a composite approximation of many people’s. A full breakdown of what happened can be found here: Just an FYI, some of the content and images here may make for a difficult read.

If you’re a wrestling fan on twitter, and if you identify as a member of ‘wrestling twitter’, you will no doubt have seen mention of one of a number of controversies from Ric Flair selling then retracting branded sexual consent forms, to Powerbomb parting ways with co-founder Adam Lash over his public criticism of the streaming service broadcasting an IWA show featuring Michael Elgin, leading to strange debates about Powerbomb’s contractual obligations; and finally, the main event, the bizarre tale of ‘Abbey A’ and her clear faking of cancer and later death. The whole soup was a real mess, but this article will deal mostly with the Abbey A situation, and most specifically, what could, and possibly should happen to her as a result.

Until late last week, I had never to my knowledge heard of Abbey or read any articles or anything else by her while she was a somewhat well-known wrestling writer, so I had no preconceptions of her when I saw the story of her supposedly faking cancer and soliciting around $10,000 of donations for treatment. Indeed, when I first saw her tweets, I believed her and even tweeted something along the lines of ‘this is unbelievable, I can’t believe people are doing this to someone with cancer’. Moments later I was deleting that as it was clear that something was at least fishy about her situation.

A combination of twitter users did some digging, and the whole thing became, I admit, a bit addictive. One reason it garnered so much attention was that Abbey’s attempts to fool people, including the infamous use of a google image search picture of jelly, were so pathetically transparent that it made for easy jokes and memes. Another reason for it being such a talked-about topic was that it’s almost a caricature of evil – a person claiming to both friends and strangers that she had a terrifying terminal illness to grift money from them. As many people pointed out, no wonder it overblown comic and dastardly undertones appealed to wrestling fans so much.


Notable in it’s needlessness, Abbey faked nearly everything, even having a cup of jello. Credit: @Llamaoftruth

Though it was easy to laugh at Abbey’s ridiculous forgeries of doctors letters and the improbable appearance her ‘sister’ who took over her twitter after Abbey ‘died’, and to imagine what Abbey might do next, it shouldn’t understate how serious her crime is.

I want to be clear, what Abbey did isn’t serious because it’s a crime, but it is a serious crime. She defrauded many people of a total amount in to the tens of thousands of dollars across numerous crowdfunding sites. Yes, most contributions were fairly small, but not all of them, with some of them being substantial or repeated donations. I would also argue that the size of the donation is a minor point anyway. $20 could be a significant amount for someone who is kind enough to donate it – the reality of living poverty is a big reason why people create and donate to crowdfunders in the first place, so we shouldn’t assume these losses are insignificant. Indeed, not presuming is going to be a bit of a running theme here. My point is, this wasn’t a faux-pas, this was a con of people; many of whom clearly considered Abbey a friend. The fact that it was a particularly sick con – including the theft of a real (and unfortunately now deceased) cancer patient’s photo – doesn’t necessarily make it worse as a crime, but it does make it harder to forgive.


Abbey stole this image to legitimise her story. The picture is of Emily Agnew, who had died of cancer when Abbey used this picture Credit: @Llamaoftruth

Indeed, to my surprise, the final subplot of this whole messy saga was what exactly people should do about Abbey, if anything. While those at the forefront of outing Abbey encouraged those affected by her con to report her to the authorities, a not insignificant collection of twitter users, some of whom I genuinely respect a lot, started to openly mock and criticise the idea. One tweet that I think summed up this initial tone best read

“lol at all the fucking cops outing themselves on wrestling twitter right now”

Initially, I put this down to a kind of meme-style language you see online all the time, e.g. ‘if you believe X, you police’. To be fair though, this led to more detailed arguments, but arguments they were, and in time-tested twitter tradition,  these disagreements were drawn diametrically and with at least a sense of ill will; with, to paraphrase, one side believing that the police be informed about Abbey’s crime, and the other side not thinking so.

The ‘no police’ side’s argument, from what I can tell is that, while they didn’t like what Abbey did, they were worried that getting the police involved could be a mistake because she could end up being killed by the police. I don’t write that with any sarcasm, I understand the thinking. The world has seen many cases of the Police in the US, poorly trained and armed to the teeth, killing people and getting away with it, regardless of whether or not the person was a danger. I believe that most of the people cautioning against involving the Police indeed were just concerned about Abbey’s well-being and the potential of this befalling her being tragically disproportionate.

That said, I fall largely on the other side of the argument. While this fate absolutely can befall anyone, including white people, let’s not kid ourselves that the police are anywhere near the same level of threat to a white person suspected of fraud who they would go to investigate than they are to a young black man on the street. Similarly, even-though these tragedies do happen, the way people were talking about this, you would think it was likely that a call to the Police would end in the death of Abbey, with users discussing the weighing up of the crime with a person’s life. I’m no defender of killer cops, but even a suspicious person must concede that only a miniscule proportion of police call-outs, regardless of circumstance, will lead to death. I struggle with the notion that a logical person can reasonably believe Abbey being reported to the police would have any significant chance of leading directly to her death. It comes from a good place, but it’s hysteria.

There was another element to this argument, and that’s that the ‘no police’ side seemed to think that those who thought the police should be involved were ‘European’, didn’t understand the US justice system, and supported authoritarianism. Not only was this aspect of the disagreement insincere and needlessly partisan, but I don’t even think it’s true. In my line of work for a charity working with many of the most vulnerable in society, I am super suspicious of areas of government and police divisions, and I know all too well that the US and the UK at least share a lot of the same judicial problems. Our systems are geared to punish petty, largely victimless crimes as much as anything else (I’m thinking mainly of drugs, but there are many other similar kinds of crimes), and target vulnerable and/or minority groups disproportionately because that satisfies the tabloid right wing and boosts the profits of corporations involved with prisons. The only difference is that people aren’t shot in the streets in the UK because our police usually don’t have guns.


Fraud is nothing new to Abbey, and there’s no reason to think she wouldn’t do it again if left to her devices. Credit: @Llamaoftruth

So I can’t stress enough that my belief that Abbey deserves to be reported to the Police doesn’t come from an authoritarian stance. If she was taking drugs or even defrauding a corporation (i.e. if she was committing a victimless crime, or a crime which only ‘punched up’) I would never support her being reported, but I can’t stress enough that I think there are real victims of her actions, and so restitution can and should be pursued for them at least without wringing our hands about it. People are assuming that ‘she must have needed the money’, that ‘she is obviously going through mental issues’, and/or ‘she needs help’ but do we really know that? As I say, I don’t really know anything about her personally, but they seem like leaps of logic for people to defend their position and make further assumptions that her victims don’t need the money, that her victims aren’t going through mental issues themselves, or that the trauma she has caused for people by deceiving them won’t create or exacerbate existing issues. These seem to be purely assumptions, but they are all in Abbey’s favour when, to be frank, I don’t believe she deserves that benefit of the doubt, especially given that further digging has shown that this isn’t her first time defrauding people and so it can be fairly deduced that a great deal of this was premeditated.

The next bit is not even an assumption on my part, but a general feeling – I can’t help but feel that giving Abbey so much the benefit of the doubt isn’t incidental, and that, in fact, it is to protect her from accountability. Abbey was a fairly well known personality in wrestling twitter, and one who seemingly outwardly displayed tendencies which are quite common in the community: e.g. mental health issues, depression, and, well, the love of this weird niche interest we share. Many people felt betrayed by Abbey specifically because they felt close to her, and I think this may explain why some of the ‘no police’ side are so protective – through the disgust at what she did, they possibly still recognise a peer they relate to, someone they like.

‘Accountability’ specifically has become a dirty word in this argument, but I think it’s exactly what should be aimed for here, partly because it’s something a lot of these recent wrestling controversies have lacked. Abbey has hurt people, stolen from people, sullied reputations, and on this occasion, has done so in a criminal way. I think that warrants a fair, balanced restitution. Her reputation is already shot, and whatever the punishment for the brand of fraud she has committed is, she deserves to face. Nothing more, but also nothing less. The wrestling community can’t go on shielding people from accountability – it’s a cloud that hangs over the whole culture and one that can really ruin the magic of it. While there isn’t equivalence in the crimes, we can’t in one breath call for the punishment of the likes of Bram and Elgin and then say it’s wrong to do the same for Abbey. Again, while the victims of what Bram and Elgin have done have suffered a lot more, there are still victims of what Abbey has done, and that shouldn’t be forgotten.

The Last Jedi: Good, Bad, but Not Much Grey


Rey was great in the TLJ but there was still someting … darker missing from her story. Credit:, Disney

I have a bit of a weird relationship with the Star Wars franchise. I watched the prequels first, and then watched the original trilogy. It was only with The Force Awakens when I marathon’d the whole thing that I really started to enjoy it with any passion. That leaves me in a place where I enjoy the films, but i’m not defensive about it. This Thursday was the first time I’ve wanted to see a Star Wars film the night it came out, and imagining a sort of cultural magic to seeing ‘the new Star Wars film’ on it’s first day, I decided I was going to do so. Walking out, that magic had dissipated though. This was a good, fun film, with some excellent premises, but not one that did a lot with them.

One thing that has untied all reviews, both good and bad, is that this movie has somehow taken Star Wars in a ‘bold, new direction’ is one that baffles me. It’s more light vs dark, Empire vs Resistance, and people being tempted or knocked to either the light or the dark. An eternal struggle indeed, and well-suited to a franchise knocking out a movie per year. I think what people are referring to is Luke not being a babyface hero and Kylo being conflicted in his darkness. Maybe it feels different, but I didn’t see anything materially different about the fabric of this film when compared to the others. The battle between good and evil is not something I am upset about, and is important to my favourite parts of the film, but depending on what happens in the third film, I think they pulled back from some interesting genuine development to the universe in favour of essentially keeping the whole thing ticking over til the next movie.

I don’t know how cynical I am about that. I completely understand that Disney will want to milk this cash cow for a much as it’s worth, and longevity in that sense is achieved by making the least appreciable progress possible with each film. At the same time though, it’s clear that a lot of love and attention go in to these films, and that the production of them aren’t purely mechanical. I don’t think they would be successful if they were made with that mindset.

That all said, there were aspects of this film that I loved, aspects I didn’t really like or understand, and aspects I liked but feel left some great moments on the table, depending on what happens in the next installment. Of course, i’ll talk about them now.

Rey and Kylo

The parallel journeys of Rey and Kylo was perhaps the most successful aspect of the film. Credit: Den of Geek, Disney

I’m going to first discuss, in the interest of positivity, my favourite part of the film based on a really well-realised premise, and that is the conflict and relationship between Rey and Kylo Ren. It’s so hard to create a heroic character with really well-defined motivations, and in Rey, someone who was essentially orphaned through negligent parents who has found a purpose in this intergalactic moral war though she is still at a fragile place within it. I could buy both that she would choose the light, but the film does a great job in making it believable that she could find meeting in this somehow kindred spirit of Kylo Ren and go dark. Kylo was similarly let down by a mentor figure and so it’s easy, as it always is with villains, to see how they became as they are.

One of the best established conceits in the film was this connection fostered between the two, both wanting to bring the other to ‘their side’, both predicting they would do so, and both apparently demonstrably doing it, only for the whole thing to fall apart because neither had really changed. There was a red herring of an almost clichéd heroic coming together devastatingly undermined by a logical crashing to earth. I believed Kylo was turning good, imagined how great and different it would be if Rey went dark (more on that later), and was genuinely shocked by the revelation that their intentions had mirrored each other enough to fight together for a short time, only to realise that they weren’t, indeed, on the same side, all flirtation and hope dissipated.

Spectacular. That, to me, was the crucial conceit of the film. Not the only good thing about it, but the bit that made it work at it’s best.

Another aspect of the film I liked was more thematic, and it seems a subtle theme in that I haven’t really heard anyone talk about it much, and that is nihilism in the face of this universe. The best avatar for this is a character I liked a lot – DJ. Before getting to his ‘place in all this’, I would just like to say, not that it’s important, that I was of the opinion that he was the character they were looking for and he just lost his distinctive pin in some sort of gambling caper. Regardless, they found DJ, and his approach to the whole thing interested me. From the get go, he realised how the battles of light and dark would never end and that for some people who aren’t somehow a fated protaganist/antagonist of the battle, you just have to make the best of it. For him, his approach is that he’ll risk his life to help you as long as it suits him. He isn’t two-dimensional, he’s touched enough by the meaning of Rose’s trinket to give it back to her, especially seen as he gets to loot a ship anyway, but ultimately, he puts himself first because he realises that his actions won’t really affect anything. He knows that the war is between a ‘good’ side and a ‘bad’ side, but that both weren’t as clear-cut as we may seem, as was shown through his revelation about both sides buying weapons from arms-traders. His betrayal hurt and was certainly a surprise in the moment, but at the same time, he just looked after himself. They were caught anyway and so he cut himself a deal. He’s a heel for doing it and he knows it, but he doesn’t believe that anything can change, so ultimately, he doesn’t care. Maybe it’s just me, but I completely understood and to an extent, admired what he did. I didn’t need quite such a pronounced stutter though.


The doubts and indifference shown by DJ and Luke Skywalker at points were part of an understated nihilistic theme which I enjoyed and would have liked to have seen more of. Credit: Digital Spy, Disney.

Luke Skywalker had some matching sentiments too, at least in the early going. In the original films, I basically thought Luke was a well-meaning milquetoast hero but here, with the benefit of actually experiencing the ups and downs of war, Luke wanted no part of it and realised how flawed the Jedi were. Ultimately, he will always side with light over dark, but he too has realised that the dark will never be stopped, and dejected, he took himself out of the fight. Even when he came back to fight on the side of the Resistance, it’s not that he’s changed his opinion about the Jedi, but more because he decides it’s the right thing to do based partly on his own history. There is a realism to this thematic approach which otherwise gets lost within the size and weight of the general Star Wars universe by the end of the movie, but it was one of my main takeaways coming out of it, and something I want to see more of going forward.

Another character I really enjoyed was Laura Dern’s Admiral Holdo. This was perhaps one of the film’s best set-ups of a journey for the viewer. I think I was probably in the majority watching her apparently bring the whole Resistance drifting slowly to a whimpering end with frustration and wanting Poe, who was the only person with the plan it seemed, to take over. There are fair questions about why she couldn’t just tell him what they were doing, etc, but I think it was worth ironing over that for the power of the reveal that she was indeed sacrificing herself and her reputation for the ultimate safety and future of the resistance. By the time she had smashed herself at light-speed through Snoke’s ship, the most successful 180-turn of a character in such a short amount of time was complete. The quiet, slow-moving scenes of her actions were met with a palpable awe in the audience and were some of the most engaging and arresting in the whole film.

Speaking of arresting scenes, I would be remiss to not mention how beautiful some of this film was. I’ve seen a lot of people praising the battle/fight scenes. To me, if i’m honest, a lot of the battle scenes in Star Wars merge together for me. It’s all impressive, but nothing ever stands out. There were some beautiful parts in this film though, and i’ll highlight the two that stuck with me most. First, Rey in the dark side cave, reflected in a an endless time-lag. It was like a purgatory, and the sort of place that you can well imagine would make someone question themselves and their existence. A cool scene that genuinely seemed like it was happening in a unique, significant place. Secondly, the aesthetics of the planet Crait were stunning, even if it was just so other-worldly and different. Red dust shooting up over a white surface was a beautiful combination and I can say no more or less than I just loved who it looked.

The final positive point I will talk about is the Force and Luke’s explanation of it. His begrudged training of Rey was cool, but it was his expanation of what the Force actually is that appealed to me. Until now, it’s been hard to define – it seemed like something you could inherit in someway, a kind of honed skill which only few can wield. In some ways, that is true, but this film goes a long way to democratizing it. Yes it’s mainly an elite who get the chance to use it, but ultimately, it is just an element within life, keeping order, as real and invisible as gravity, but something that can be tapped in to and utilised if someone has patience and training enough, and something which really brings a balance to the universe. It is neither for good or bad, in fact, it almost ensures balance between the two. In that context, it is even more clear that no one side – the light or the dark – will ultimately ‘win’, but the explanation of it was a really satisfying one to help understand the universe. This isn’t always something Star Wars bothers with.

Flying Leia

Instantly meme-worthy, Princess Leia seemingly flies to safety in the middle of space. Credit: Disney

Now to start piling on the negative i’m afraid – speaking of the Force, that is where things also started going downhill. I don’t particularly care about the lore of the Force and certainly don’t have a problem with writers adding to that at times. There are two instances in this film that stand out as … not great though. The innocuous one is the already infamous ‘flying Leia’ scene. We know Jedis and people who are tuned in to the force can defy gravity somewhat and she’s in zero gravity anyway so who knows anyway; the problem was how ridiculous it looked. The explanation of the force as this democratic force of nature that can be tapped in to with great patience, skill, and concentration was a little undermined by the way this was shot, which reduced it to look more like a shitty Superman/Mary Poppins scene. What I felt was genuinely a bit of a leap though was the new feature of being able to see people before you through the Force. To be fair, this was central to two fairly important conceits of the film: Rey and Kylo’s Skype-like conversations, and Luke’s tricking of Kylo during the end battle. So I must admit, I don’t know how you achieve these key moments without the feature, but it doesn’t change the fact that it kinda stuck out to me as a convenient shoe in – more a fix of convenience than a tweak. I think to boil down why it stuck out so much, I thought a few times while watching: “Why has no-one ever done this before in a film?” The problem is the feature is so fundamental to the lore of the Force that it seems weird that the likes of Darth Vader or Luke (until now) or Yoda or Obi Wan (i.e. some of the real masters of the Force) wouldn’t use it if they had it. The Force is the equivalent of nano-machines in Metal Gear Solid, it can be used to fill in holes of logic or storytelling. When someone is needed to do something new, the Force can do it. That’s OK in itself, but I suppose here, this deployment of it seemed more nakedly utilitarian than other times.


Snoke went from larger than life to cut in half with a hand motion he should have seen coming. We never knew ye. Credit: Disney

The real driver of this conceit was Snoke, and that brings me to the next point, one that seems to be shared by many. A disclaimer here: I don’t have any particular love for Snoke so i’m not sad he’s dead or anything. That said, in The Force Awakens, there is no doubt he was set up as significant to the whole universe at that point. What he turned out to be – a stepping stone for Kylo to coup détatch his top half from his bottom – was again, useful overall, but it did seem to leave something on the table. I don’t have a problem with Kylo killing Snoke, but it happened after we had seen Snoke only briefly and in a much less powerful light than in T.F.A. To use wrestling terms, even if Snoke is there to put Kylo over, it doesn’t mean you shouldn’t tell his story. The more powerful he is, the more it adds to the perception of Kylo’s power when he kills him, and while his pre-death moments are impressive, I feel everything would have benefited from more work being shown with regards to Snoke – what did he want, where did he come from, how did he choose Kylo etc; I don’t even need loads of depth, just enough to make it a more meaningful shock than just a shock. If I had my druthers, this would happen in the next film. I know this may have been asking a lot, but just more of this and less of, say … side-quests that don’t really affect much.

Speaking of which, I cared so little about the Finn and Rose side-quest to find a hacker to open a door which neither succeeded or mattered. I don’t mind setting up expectations and then subverting them but this didn’t even really add any value to the film while taking up quite the chunk of running time. I mentioned before how I liked what DJ had to add and I like the idea of exploring Finn as more of a mercenary with himself and Rey in mind (even if that’s not the endgame) but that was lost among the weird buddy/love story between Finn and Rose. Rose wasn’t badly played and I am glad to see an Asian-American actress in such a role. I just had so little interest in the role itself that it kinda ruined it. Finn and Rey are always asking after each other but Rose is kinda inserted in to it all and not for the better. The one moment Finn is going to do anything of consequence (martyring himself to big battering canon) she stops him in a way that doesn’t make sense for her established character. She wouldn’t let him leave because her sister died for the Resistance but when he’s about to do something to help it, she stops him because she suddenly loves him. We’ll see if he even reciprocates, I guess, but after all of that, we see him and Rey just once together. I’m not necessarily ‘shipping’ them for chrissakes, characters are more than that, but they obviously care very much about each other and their reunion didn’t feel that impactful, undermined instead by a character I personally could have done without from a story I could have done without.

Kylo reaching

Rey and Kylo were so close, but so far away from joining forces in one of the best bits of the film. Great as it was, there was potential for them, together, to form something more interesting than they did apart. Credit: Disney

I’ve talked about what I could have done without, but here’s something I could have done with. The trailer seemed to hint at Rey being truly tempted to the dark side, and to be fair, the film does play lip service to this at times, but as soon as Kylo shows his true (dark) colours and she outright rejects it, and it’s clear that there her understandable questions about her ‘place in all this’ were never the same as a true temptation to the dark side. I’d heard a lot beforehand of ‘grey Jedi’ and it sounded like a great direction for the movies to go in at some point. As I mentioned, I loved the scene where they briefly fight together only to realise they are still on different sides; and while I never believed Rey was going dark, I did like they idea that their new-found connection led to some sort of new grey faction within the overall fight. I’m not sure exactly how that would look like – perhaps an anti Empire/Jedi Council/Princess faction who reject elitist ways and take a genuinely populist stance. That is something a better writer more knowledgeable about the universe could come up with. I was extremely excited when I saw the possibility of something like that because, to be honest, the fight has gotten a bit stale. This plays in to the ultimate impression I had of the film too, but the battle between light and dark doesn’t seem to be going anywhere, quite literally at this point. It’s like a big long argument where you can’t even remember why you’re fighting – you just are. To go back to wrestling terms, it’s 50/50 booking: sometimes the Empire is dominant, sometimes the Resistance seems to be turning the tables, but I never really buy in to any jeopardy for either side. I enjoy this battle, but maybe adding some genuinely differently-motivated actors to the story/universe wouldn’t hurt at all and would more likely prolong the franchise further in a positive direction.

The franchise, but especially this film, is really lazy about defining what the fight is actually about. Don’t get me wrong, it’s obvious that the Empire and Sith are evil – we’ve seen them blowing up planets and killing innocents, but mostly the film relies on us more or less just knowing that the bad guys are bad just because. It is a battle largely between elites and we rarely see how ordinary people are affected, and in this film we didn’t even have any state atrocities or anything, it was just team red vs team blue and we like team blue because they seem nicer and we know them. Going back to the nihilism, DJ is the closest thing to a common person without bias we meet, and he ultimately supports the Resistance, but he knows the morality of it all isn’t black and white. It would be nice to see a bit more of that rather than wondering about it as a viewer. This is where the Grey Jedi could come in I suppose. Basically, I genuinely support the Resistance and it’s clear I should do so. I just don’t really know what i’m supporting. Maybe a few films down the line the Resistance could overcome the Empire, take over, and we could see what they would do with it. That could be interesting.

I have a feeling it wouldn’t be likely though. Despite the second half of this article, the first half rings true. I did enjoy much of this film, and had a good time seeing the action and the effects and the characters we like, and that is worth something. If you asked me how it moved the overall plot along though, i’d be hard pushed to take up a lot of your time. The plot of the film is almost comically spinning its’ wheels. The Resistance are ‘on a string’, running, being caught, running again, being caught again, running, being caught again, and escaping. We lost Luke (though you’re never really lost in Star Wars), Snoke died but what did he ever do anyway, and the same for Captain Phasma, Holdo died but we never really knew her anyway. If JJ Abrams so wished, he could recycle the first scenes of this film almost exactly in the next film and it would make sense. That betrays a lack of story development. It’s clear why this is the case too. Disney want to milk every drop of money out of this as possible and so they need to make as many films as possible, and so they need to progress the overall story as little as possible. That is what happened here.

This to me was good, but also just kind of another Star Wars film. It promised a bold new direction, but pulled back from most of it to give people what they like and are used to, though with some wonderful scenes in for sure. This isn’t some unforgivable sin, but it will always have a limited impact on me, personally. That is basically all I can say. Lots of people love the film and I am happy to see that, but for me, as fun as it is, it is in danger of diminishing returns.

Reflections on Eli, his Career With the Giants, and the Hall of Fame

NFL: New York Giants at Dallas Cowboys

It seems the sun is setting on Eli Manning’s career as a Giant following his sudden benching as Quarterback. Credit: Newsweek

Probably should add this disclaimer: I’m a New York Giants fan, so biased and a bit emotional as I write. Some of what I write about his benching may be a bit messy through this prism. That said, this is about more than that, it’s a reflection on the career of a fixture in my sports fandom.

I can’t really remember when or how I got interested in American football. Vague memories of the Channel 5 broom-closet studio in the UK with Mike Carlson and others talking about the game before it got to the (relative) level of notoriety it has now in the country with the ever-expanding slew of International Series games. I have vague memories of staying up to watch the Patriots first Superbowl win against the Rams in 2002, so i’ll go with 2001/2. Regardless, something must have grabbed me enough to give it a try, and after getting my head around the basics, I was hooked.

I also don’t know why I chose the Giants as my team. I remember going on a college trip to New York in 2006 though and being desperate to get a Tiki Barber jersey (I ended up settling for Jeremy Shockey, not being able to find a Tiki jersey and, if I remember correctly, choosing between Eli and Shockey – as an aside, having learned a bit more about Shockey’s character, and knowing the kind of guy Eli is, I very much regret that). So maybe it was to do with Tiki, or to do with visiting New York, i’m not sure, but though I clearly liked them before then, it was that trip that cemented the Giants as my team. There probably wasn’t a better time to latch on to a team either, as within two years, they would be winning a Superbowl with Eli at the helm.

It’s easy to both over-estimate, and under-estimate Eli’s role in both Superbowl victories. For me, 2008 was all about Defense, good coaching, and Eli managing the whole thing well while he was, I believe, a more active part of the success in 2011/12 becoming a post-season monster that year. What is clear though is that you don’t win two Superbowls by accident, especially at the Quarterback position, and his achievement in this regard is too often downplayed. The fact that he has won both Superbowls he has played in, and that both were against the Brady/Belichick Patriots makes it all the more remarkable.

Super Bowl XLVI

Better times. Credit: nfl spinzone

Eli was never one of the very best quarterbacks in the game, and further, was usually not even the best player on the Giants. He alone was not the reason for the Giant’s two Superbowls, especially not for the first one he won, but he was absolutely capable of magic. A smart, steady quarterback, it was often said (to the point of cliche at times) that there were few players teams would want in the post-season more than Eli – something about him could become irresistible at his best. His throws to Manningham and Tyree are the most memorable of course, but there were lots more, as well as the times he’d take it too far and it would end … less well. It could certainly be a roller-coaster.

Manning’s Giants tenure was, in another way though, the opposite of a roller-coaster – his streak of 210 games starting is a remarkable achievement, especially thinking of how common injuries to younger, more athletic players are now. It’s not just remarkable as an achievement for that reason though; that would be more trivia than anything else, but its the aura it brought to him and the team as a whole that was significant. Eli was a constant, a consummate professional, someone to depend on to play and give you a chance. That is something so many teams have lacked chronically in a way that has left them, be they talented or not, without many prospects. He may not have ever been the best, but he was always there, and he was always good. Sometimes great, sometimes not, but always good.

If i’m honest, that magic has indeed been less present in recent years, and talk of Eli being in the ‘back 9’ of his career seemed accurate. At the start of this season, however, the Superbowl window seemed firmly open, and my thinking was this would be the last chance for Eli before retirement. In that context, Eli and the Giants being in the place they are now is … surreal.

Getting to the grimy business of the benching, I probably don’t have much original to say about it. The essence of assessing the talent the Giants have makes sense, but the nature of it is curious. I have time for Geno Smith as a player; I think there have been flashes of talent and that he’s had a hard time of it in his career, but the notion that any sane management team believe he could be the answer at starter next year is patent nonsense. The only player it makes sense to show any significant time to is young prospect Davis Webb, drafted by the Giants in this year’s draft. The fact that Geno is starting and not Webb strongly hints that the coaches don’t feel Webb is ready. If this is the case, Eli should be starting, and therein lies the rub.

The fact that Smith is starting because the QB position must be ‘assessed’ smacks of scapegoating of Eli – it’s why the move is being referred to as a ‘benching’ rather than being part of a true ‘rebuild’ or ‘evaluation’. In the context of the pressure that Ben McAdoo and Jerry Reese are under, it comes across even worse, as them shifting the blame for the seasons’ failings on to a team legend to help save their skins. If the Giants were a playoff team except for the failings of Eli, it might be OK, but Eli is the last person to be the cause of this season’s problems. If anything, Eli has shown a slight upswing in form this year, keeping is tidy and doing what he can (an admittedly limited amount) with a threadbare cast of offensive linemen protecting him and weapons to throw to and compliment him. There are few Quarterbacks who could do significantly better than him if put in the same spot.

Eli Geno Davis

Eli with his temporary successor, Geno Smith, and possible long-term successor, Davis Webb, who he has vowed to support through this period. Credit: NY Daily News

Even if we take McAdoo at his word about the intention here, the treatment of Manning, and the position it has put him in is unacceptable and disrespectful to a true legacy player. In it’s sudden, casual nature, it shows a contempt for the team, Eli, and their achievements. Now it must be said that there is some mutuality to this. Eli was informed of plans to let him start and then hand over to Geno in the second half, in order to keep his starting streak going – an offer Eli, to his credit, refused. Of course to a player like Eli though, this was a false choice, not because of egoistic pride, but because it doesn’t measure up as playing to win, and having faith in him to do so. My feeling is that the offer was one that McAdoo and management knew Eli wouldn’t take, and was instead a way to cusion the impact of the move. Again to his credit, fighting back tears in a locker-room interview, Eli promised to help Geno and Davis prepare for games from a backup role. I won’t pretend to know much about Eli as a person away from the game, but everything I do know about him in the context of the Giants screams that he is a class act. That this is likely the way his Big Blue career ends belies all of that, and those responsible should be held to account.

The sheer shock and dismay (sometimes furious in nature) of Giants legends and former team-mates like Victor Cruz, Justin Tuck, David Carr, Osi Umenyiora, Shaun O’Hara, many more, and even players who never played with him like Carl Banks show what a class act Eli was for the Giants, and how respected he is and always will be. This feels like a big blow for the whole organisation, one that might have a long-lasting legacy, and a black mark on a team and ownership which is usually held up as a classy outfit. That John Mara allowed this to happen and agreed to it when he wasn’t even present to talk to the parties involved makes it all the worse.

Up until today, I presumed, with good reason, that Manning would be a ‘one man, one club’ guy and retire a Giant. He still may, but it has never seemed more possible than now that we could see him in new colours, perhaps those of Jacksonville, reuniting with Tom Coughlin. If Eli does move on, as long as he doesn’t play for a rival team (I suppose Washington would be the only possibility there, and that seems unlikely), I will pull for him. Given an offensive line, he still has a lot to offer, and I would like him to show it, not as revenge against the Giants, per se, but to show those responsible for this debacle, and also because I certainly wouldn’t grudge him one more success.

To end this on a more positive note, I come to the question that has followed Eli for years: the Hall of Fame. Now I know his career isn’t necessarily over yet, and people have different definitions of what a Hall of Famer is, or should be, but I think I can put this frankly, and briefly. To me, the Hall of Fame should be based on a mixture of the success and significance of the player in question. A Hof-er shouldn’t need a Superbowl ring, but if they don’t have one, they had better have been spectacular otherwise to get in. For me, I’ve already stated that Eli was never the greatest quarterback, but he is a two-time Superbowl winner and MVP, both times defeating that Patriots, who have never been otherwise beaten in the Superbowl with Brady and Belichick, and who were otherwise undefeated in one of those seasons. Not only is he a two-time Superbowl winning quarterback, but he defeated significant opponents both times. He is in the top 10 of all time for passing yards and touchdowns, he was a true ‘ironman’ playing 210 consecutive games, a Walter Payton ‘Man of the Year’ winner, and was one of the most recognisable figures in the game. If you don’t think that is Hall of Fame worthy, I don’t know what to tell you. See you in Canton, Eli.

A final, more personal note, as this blog might make obvious, the role of sport in everyday life fascinates me, and even nourishes me, and I’m suddenly faced with some questions I didn’t expect. The NFL and the Giants are happily acquired tastes for me in a way that football isn’t; football is something I was practically born with. Because of that, I don’t think I’ve ever been in a situation where one single person has been so closely linked with my enjoyment of a sport. Eli was always the central figure in my NFL fandom. The respect and love for Eli that I have will always be there, but given the nature of this event, and the lack of a figure to fill the Eli void, I can’t help but wonder how it might affect the nature of my following of the Giants. I suppose i’m about to find out.

My Disappointment With the Rebirth of Rangers, and Losing Love for My Football Team


Around 18 months ago, I wrote an article here about the St. Louis Rams move to Los Angeles, and perhaps surprisingly, one of the most salient points from it was how some of the magic of football comes from everyone being born in proximity to a team; and in fact, that everyone almost spiritually finds a team as something of a birth rite. In my case, Glasgow Rangers were the team I was born to. That will never change and Rangers will always be “my team”, almost in the way that you can’t remove a birthmark, but I am facing a bit of a crossroads in my fandom that is making me fall out of love with the team, and that I can’t ignore any more. There is a problem with Rangers and it’s culture, and it’s time it get’s challenged more by a progressive fanbase willing to push for a more progressive rebirth of the club.

Being a Rangers fan has been a bit of a blessed experience, certainly at least, in my life time. At it’s height, Rangers have been a significant European power featuring iconic greats like McCoist, Gattuso, Laudrup, Kanchelskis, van Bronckhorst, Gascoigne, De Boer, and so on, won 9 league titles in a row, made it to a Uefa Cup Final, and is one half of what I still feel is the greatest derby match in the world. I would often wonder what the experience of fans of a truly middling club, in the middle of Division 1 or 2 in England was in comparison. It wasn’t all rosy, like with Le Guen’s time, but they were always a power, and felt like a power. As a younger man, less politically engaged, and addicted to that feeling of blissful success, I never really questioned much about the iconography surrounding Rangers. Frankly, I never really paid much attention to it. As the years have gone on, and I’ve talked football with fans of both Rangers and other teams, and when talking about Rangers I’ve defended my team’s culture with some justified refrains:

“What you see is just skin deep.”
“Both Rangers and Celtic have insincere fanbases.”
“There’s bad on both sides.”
“Of course not all Rangers fans are like that – i’m not.”

That last point is both crucial and obvious. People characterise both Rangers and Celtic fans in fairly one-dimensional ways, and it isn’t always justified. In many ways, I am the opposite of a typical Rangers fan: socialist, independence-supporting, anti-monarchy. You can find better, extensive descriptions of how we got here elsewhere, but my view of the “Old Firm” is that each fan-base reacts primarily to each other, and the political/cultural stands that are taken are largely (though not exclusively) paper thin. It’s common sense that there’s nothing drastically different between the actual fans of each teams where they are, to a person, so vastly politically separated; there are progressive Rangers fans, there are xenophobic Celtic fans, and so on and so on. I think Celtic fans (in terms of the common outward symbolism they often share, at least) have a mix of insincere, and even nonsensical allegiances, as well as some positive aspects which are hard to criticise (as much as I hate Celtic as rivals). However, this is the thought process that leaves Rangers off the hook. Both fanbases share divisive nonsense, but I think the culture of Rangers is worse, and one that is not dissuaded enough by the Club as an institution. I have a healthy sporting hatred for Celtic the football team, but they aren’t my team – Rangers are, and as a fan, I need to hold them to account.

The turning of my stomach regarding the culture of my team, Rangers FC, has intensified specifically in the last couple of months. The Orange march is something I’ve always – again – largely ignored, and i’ve probably given it too easy a pass, seeing it as something more silly than problematic. It’s not my thing, but let them march, I guess. To be fair, I’ve seen the positives of it. I used to work in youth work in Sighthill and with one boy in particular who didn’t really have much in his life. He was unspectacular but dying for attention, and as a young lad, got to feel like he was part of something to be proud of when marching. That is undoubtedly positive, but unfortunately, it is tied to a kind of generational violence like most intolerance is. He would sing songs that he heard from his dad and his friends, some of which were fine, but some of which were really not ok, sprinkled with words like ‘Fenian’ and the rest. I would talk to him about the songs, but overcoming that sort of part of a young kid’s life is difficult. In the Ibrox stands, you will sometimes hear these songs (though again, by what is noticeably a minority), and that is something it is nigh-on impossible to control, though they have tried to publicly. That doesn’t change the fact though that there is a definite cross-pollination of that toxicity from the march to the stands. This year, some footage came out and was widely-shared locally of the march as it went down the Broomielaw showing drunken louts, many of whom in Rangers shirts, singing “the Famine is over, why don’t you go home?” – a sentiment aimed at the largely Celtic-alligned Glaswegians of (albeit, often insubstantial) Irish descent to the tune of the absurdly-dressed marchers drumbeat.


Rangers’ choice of orange in previous kits was significant and deliberate. Credit:

As bad as that is, in the past I have given Rangers FC a pass with the somewhat logical position that while the Orange marchers are overwhelmingly Rangers fans, that isn’t something Rangers as a club have real control over. But the reality is that they do, and far from trying to discourage it, if anything, they tacitly support it through their iconography. The red, white, and blue of the home shirt is fine. It’s mainly blue and white and never, in itself, reminds me of the Union flag that is so symbolic of the politics of the loony Orangemen. Even then, there’s nothing inherently wrong with support for the Union, even if I disagree with it. When it comes to sectarianism though, choosing orange as a kit colour is significant, and though the home shirt has never featured it, I have personally owned orange coloured Rangers shirts (namely the 2002 away kit and an orange goalkeeper shirt from around the same time) and orange is a colour that has consistently featured in Rangers away and goalie kits. That is a conscious choice by the club, and one only made to play to the ugly part of the fanbase. Making an orange shirt gives orangemen an excuse to express their societal views through the prism of the team while providing plausible deniability for both fans and team. Admittedly, I think that 2002 kit was the last orange outing, but it’s impact remains. One of the catalysts for writing this was seeing a man wearing this kit recently on the street. You still see it occasionally, and hints that certain fans held on to that shirt due to it’s political significance.

Rangers as an institution don’t avoid orange altogether though. Like all big organisations, they have a carefully curated social media presence, and while most of it is innocuous, bits of Orange Order/Ulster iconography continues to sneak in. Below is an image I saw last week which made my heart sink for several reasons.


Almost parody: begging for royal dominion and complimentary aggressive, divisive images, and all from official Rangers twitter. Credit: Rangers FC

Among the litany of things in this image is the orange-coloured Ulster flag being held by a fan. While the picture I think aims to show the busy, lively atmosphere of a Rangers game (which it absolutely is), I know from my time there that it would be super easy to get a picture without an orange flag in it, and in fact, it’s probably hard to find a flag like that. I won’t go so far as to say without evidence that it was a conscious choice on the Rangers social media team’s part, but it is certainly a reckless from them given what it tacitly waves on through as acceptable and even laudable from fans. This is the public image of Rangers, and there;s an orange flag in it.

More undoubtedly clear through the club’s outward image is the utilisation of the word ‘loyal’. Now of course, loyalty is great, and other teams talk about it too. Unfortunately, when paired with the Ulster/Union flags and iconography, it takes on a more sinister tone and is easily conflated with ‘loyalism’ – the more militant, fundamentalist clique of Unionists. Again, at best, this is careless, but I fear in this case especially that there is a degree of consciousness of what they are doing, playing up to this divisive part of the fanbase. What is worse is the picture below of t-shirts was one I got from the Rangers Youth Development Co., instilling that message in to young fans from the start.


Credit: Rangers FC


A lot of ‘loyalty’, again published by Rangers social media. Credit: Rangers FC

Rangers (alongside Celtic) do work in the community to publicly combat sectarianism, but with all of this use of iconography, I think the club are, at best, unconsciously undermining their efforts, or at worst, deliberately cultivating that part of the some of the fanbase’s identity. Right now, it feels like this sort of imagery will remain part of the Rangers furniture.

The final straw before writing this article was an altogether sadder experience. I work in the east end of Glasgow, and on the bus home with colleagues, we traveled past the Dennistoun location of the Louden Tavern. Said colleagues aren’t big football fans and asked why there were so many people there; and when I mentioned that Celtic were playing Linfield, I of course had to explain why Rangers fans were turning out in such numbers for a different team. For the uninitiated, Linfield are a team from Belfast (the spiritual home of sectarianism) with a traditionally Unionist/Protestant following, and therefore have something of a spiritual bond with Rangers. So when Linfield lined up against Celtic, Rangers fans publicly supported them. On the surface this is fine, but to outsiders, this ridiculous layered proxy war between Rangers and Celtic is just a bizarre turn off. As I was explaining it, it just struck me how pathetic it all was. Jumping at any chance to oppose Celtic, especially when it’s a vessel for a political identity which I think is fairly hollow anyway just made me feel pathetic as a Rangers fan.

In some ways, all of these things seem small, but together, it has created and continues to allow a culture among some of the fanbase that undermines the best of the club overall. I remain convinced that the worst of the fans, when it comes to xenophobia, sectarianism, etc, are a minority, but as in most arenas, the minority have a voice louder than their size, and it has started to dampen my love for the team. No one likes us, and i’ve started to care. Last year, Rangers scored a historic victory over Celtic in the league cup. Their first Old Firm victory in years, and a sign, it seemed, that Rangers were back to relevance. That hasn’t really materialised yet, but at that moment, jumping up and down hugging strangers after a dramatic meaningful victory was (and will always be) a powerful memory for me. That elation though has been ripped away by the consistent visions of the dark side of the Rangers culture, and now, finally, the shite surrounding the club has started to overcome that pure love.

When Rangers were demoted to the bottom tier of Scottish football in 2012, it was certainly a justifiable punishment for the club at the administrative level, though it was a tragedy for fans, and I think self-evidently, for Scottish football. The only winners, in the short-term, are Celtic, but while they have dominated Scottish football in the mean time, what real historical significance is there in beating a group of nobodies? Rangers, Celtic, and Scottish football are stronger in an even rivalry, and while they are enjoying the trophies, I think the fans of Celtic have felt a similar way, begrudgingly missing their nemesis. Through this destabilising period though, which was so difficult for Rangers fans, there was, for me, something romantic therein. Many players understandably left, but the likes of Lee McCulloch stayed, Rangers started to base itself on young players, and hungry players drawn to the opportunity to play for the Famous Glasgow Rangers. The quest back to the top was on, and Rangers were suddenly on a journey it was easy to get behind while bringing the aura of such a big club to tiny grounds around Scotland. Though the notion that the Rangers of 2012-onwards is a new club in any real way is a nonsense narrative peddled by gloating rival fans, the journey did feel like something of a rebirth. This was full of potential, but increasingly, Rangers have fallen back in to their old ways.


The world famous Glasgow Rangers playing in the Third Division in front of small crowds on their way back to the top. Credit: Zimbio

So what do I want? I want to reclaim this feeling of a rebirth, keep the history of the club, but show less tolerance for the bullshit sectarian iconography, active or passive. While i’m happy that the likes of Bruno Alves and Niko Kranjčar want to come to the club, and there is limited room for such talented veterans, I would love to see the club return to that 2012-2016 spirit where young Scottish players were the backbone of the squad, led by a club legend like Ally McCoist (as Rangers were for a number of years). Rangers have the facilities and money to pursue this, and even if it extends the length of time for Rangers to truly challenge Celtic, I think that would make for a more admirable club and playing mentality. Thinking of the rise of Swansea which was based on hungry, talented, home-grown players based around an exciting style, this is something I would like to see approximated by Rangers.

But more than that, I think this rebirth could be used as a whole opportunity to build a wider club mentality that really allows fans and even outsiders to “Follow With Pride.” Don’t get me wrong at all, Rangers and the Rangers Charity Foundation do a lot of good charitable work, they could certainly push the boat out more and make that something of their identity. In terms of the Glasgow fishbowl, Rangers don’t do any less than Celtic in terms of charitable work, but Celtic – for whatever reason – are better known for it, perhaps even just publicising it more, and this is something I would like to see Rangers focus on: more charitable work and more promotion of it. When I talk of promotion, I don’t mean just for good PR, but working for a charity in the east end, I see how much Celtic publicise what they do, and how it encourages others to get involved. That is key. The club should be a bastion for the community, and I want to see Rangers doing as much as possible, and lead by example. The fans and community stuck with the team through their plight for the most part, now it’s time for the team to do all it can for the community.

That is fairly vague, but I have a specific desire for Rangers that would address some of it’s aesthetic concerns as well as a specific need on it’s doorstep. Ibrox stadium is in Govan, and Govan is where the majority of asylum seekers who find themselves in Glasgow are based initially. As a result, a collection of new communities and fantastic projects such as the Govan Community Project and Unity have sprung up in the area to address this reality. Football is a powerful medium to swing public opinion more positively, and indeed a number of football teams and projects have done a great job of popularising a welcoming atmosphere for refugees which other professional teams (especially in Germany) have also adopted. Rangers and Ibrox will be an ornamental fixture of life for asylum seekers in Glasgow, at least until they are dispersed throughout the city, and I would love my club, in that context, to make an extra effort to welcome them. There are countless ways you can do this, and it’s not just financial. Fundraising events at Ibrox with club legends, donations of boots to football programmes, celebrating different cultures on match days, and so on and so on.

Rangers have long been associated with the Union flag, and that’s fair enough – I wouldn’t insist on that being wiped away or anything, but as well as the Union flag and the Saltire flying above Ibrox, I would like to see the flags of troubled countries to, in solidarity. Rangers will always be red, white and blue, but rather than that being divisive and unwelcoming, I want the club to be a pillar of the whole community.

While having this crisis of love for my team, I have been wondering how to progress. Should I try to build up shares and try to influence the team in whatever small way I can in that way? Or do I even have the energy?

Though I have plenty of progressive pals who are Rangers fans, I want to tap in to this even more, so in the event that you happen to read this and agree, I would like to hear from you. If there’s a taste for it, I think there’s a gaping need for a progressive Rangers fan group who could try and influence the club a bit. If that’s you, comment below or feel free to tweet me @RTVWOW.

Also, I have now started what I would initially call, a ‘Fan Group’ on Facebook. More information can be found there, but in a nutshell, riffing off the idea of ‘Follow With Pride’, I had the idea of a fan group called ‘Together With Pride’ which would essentially pressure the club to follow the ideas in this article and more. Let’s see how it goes. The link is here.

Interpreting the Electorate: What the Public Expresses With Their Vote


credit: BBC

The 2017 UK General Election has provided just the latest in a string of surprising election results in the name of a form of anti-establishment populism. A common refrain this time was ‘the winners look like losers and the losers look like winners’ with runner-up party leader, Jeremy Corbyn, even claiming a form of victory. The election was indeed a huge success for Labour who performed far better than most predicted and not only scuppered the Conservative goal of increasing their Parliamentary majority, not only reducing that majority, but in fact, costing the government their majority and causing a hung Parliament. In the age of 24-hour news and social media, talking heads and hot takes flood the post-election space with reaction and analysis, and following this election, many narratives became common here. Most common was that the loss of SNP seats in Scotland reflected a weariness from the Scottish electorate regarding the prospect of the ‘IndyRef2’ referendum on Scottish Independence that the SNP had been planning; while another one I saw repeated was that the UK voters have rejected both Prime Minister Theresa May and Opposition leader Jeremy Corbyn by providing neither with a majority; and another being that the failure of May was a clear rejection of her ‘Hard Brexit’ project. These are conclusions that certainly can be drawn circumstantially – of course the election is a measure of the voting population’s acceptance of each party’s manifesto and political beliefs, but can we really draw any specific conclusions about a voter’s opinion or the electorate’s overall desires result based on their vote? Thinking of the examples above, I will argue that you probably can’t, and further what the ideal voting system would be once that is considered.

Looking at these examples, how secure are the conclusions that were drawn from the final vote? The most common one, that the loss of seats for the SNP showed that the population had no appetite for IndyRef2 was one that even SNP leader Nicola Sturgeon stating that the prospect of the vote was a factor in the results. There’s no question that it was a key issue in the 2017 election, being at the forefront of the Ruth Davidson’s Conservative campaign and indeed a common part of every Unionist party’s campaigns, and when considering only that, you can conclude that the voters were calming their interest in independence. It would, in fact, be a nonsense to suggest that indyref played no part in the election as many Scots are dead against it while others who aren’t will indeed be against another vote so soon after the last one.

That wasn’t the only issue in play during this election though. In terms of policy, Labour – until recently a lame duck in Scotland – found a resurgence in the generally more left-wing Scotland with their largely progressive, anti-austerity manifesto, eating in to the SNP’s vote by echoing their values. Practically too, it is now clear that Labour, the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats colluded to damage the SNP vote share. It has been reported that while each party fielded candidates in every constituency, they in some cases fielded “paper candidates” that wouldn’t actively compete in target SNP constituencies and in so doing, would consolidate the Unionist vote. This was a key factor in the SNP losing seats in areas such as Moray and Edinburgh. Finally, the context of the 2015 election result must be considered. The SNP won an absolutely unprecedented 56 out of 59 seats in that election, and it was only to be realistically expected that they would lose some seats this time. Bearing in mind the anti-austerity surge of Labour likely resonating in Scotland, the coordinated tactical attack on SNP seats by Unionist parties, and the fact that the SNP were likely to lose some seats anyway, an interpretation of the Scottish results becomes more complicated. With that in mind, I won’t argue that despite the vote, there is still an equal appetite for independence, but I will argue that it can’t be concluded that the Scottish people are no longer interested in independence. The results of the next UK election and especially the next Scottish election will be the most telling indicators of the future of Scottish independence.


What people think of Brexit and feel about it is the defining political mystery of the decade. credit: BBC

Of Brexit, given that the Conservatives represented a vote for a ‘Hard Brexit’, it can understandably be concluded that their lack of majority reflects a lack of majority confidence in their approach to Brexit and a desire for a ‘softer Brexit’. Many people certainly seem spooked by a Hard Brexit, but it’s important to reiterate that there were many issues at play during the election with austerity, social care, and national security being equally potent and visible in the build up to the vote. This vote wasn’t a referendum on Brexit and though it may seem apparent that Brexit is less popular now, the only referendum we had on Brexit came last year and was (narrowly) won by the Brexiteers. As is the case though in Scotland as well, while a conclusion on the issue can’t be definitely reached, it is certain that there will be a practical result of the conclusions drawn; in the case of Scotland, the prospect of independence has been damaged, and with Brexit, thankfully, it seems possible that the government’s approach to Brexit may be ‘softer’, perhaps including negotiation to remain in the European single market.

What of the notion that the hung Parliament means that British electorate rejected both May and Corbyn? As an amorphous group, the electorate certainly didn’t favour either party, but that doesn’t amount to a rejection of both leaders. Starting to think more specifically about what a vote denotes, an individual voter can’t really predict how the UK-wide electorate will vote and in no way can vote for one or the other as part of a rejection of both; there was no option on the ballot paper stating ‘Neither May or Corbyn’, and in fact, the only votes that can in any way be seen as against May and Corbyn as Prime Minister are the ones that weren’t for Labour and Conservative, amounting to a significant minority of votes. 82.4% of votes were for either the Conservatives or Labour, and when those people cast those votes, they accepted that who they were voting for could end up governing, and as a consequence, the votes can only be seen as – at the very least – a vote supporting a preference for either leader. Far from both leaders being rejected, the support for each leader was significant, just not to the extent where one had much more support than the other.

I’ve argued so far what a vote doesn’t represent, and it seems extensive given the complications involved in elections, but there are certain things we can infer, though it requires an almost puritanical logic based on how voters interact with a ballot paper which itself represents something very specific.


What British voters see when they vote, credit: BBC

So what is the least we can honestly interpret from someone voting for a candidate representing a party in a local constituency? The answer to that depends on what the ramifications of that vote is, and so, what voters know their vote could result in. In many ways, it’s very simple. I think it’s very clear that voters understand their vote for a candidate is also a vote for a political party, and that if that candidate wins their constituency, it is a vote that boosts their party’s chances of becoming the government. That doesn’t mean that voters are always voting for someone they actively want to govern, though they often do, but it does at least mean that the voter understands that the party their vote supports could get in to power, and so – at least – that they accept that result. In other words, it is inarguable that when someone votes for a certain candidate representing a certain party, they accept that party as their governmental preference.

There are certain complications to this – there are many parties and especially independent individuals who could never form a government on their own, parties who don’t stand in at least 256 constituencies. In this case, using a similar logic as before which assumes nothing beyond what the voter understands of the consequences of their vote, when a voter votes for a smaller party or individual, they understand that the person or party they support could wield some form of power either in coalition government or in opposition.

This all sounds well and good, but the power this theoretical voter has is somewhat undermined by the current First Past the Post voting system. While it means that each constituency is represented by its voting majority at Westminster, it means that smaller parties who are well-supported, but not enough to come first in many seats can be under-represented at Parliament when compared to the overall vote they attract. This is perhaps most obviously the case with the Green Party, who attracted over half a million votes nation-wide (or around 1.6% of the popular vote). Parliament holds 650 seats, 1.6% of which would amount to – roughly – 10 seats. Instead, they only have one seat at Parliament and a tenth of the power they should wield based on the votes they attracted. Other parties are similarly under-represented at Parliament based on the votes they attracted in this election. The SNP slightly complicate matters by only standing for seats in Scotland, as other parties like Plaid Cymru in Wales do. The SNP especially own more seats than their vote share would usually gain in Parliament as they concentrate their votes in target constituencies (i.e. every Scottish constituency), but this is a quirk of UK elections that can neither be condemned or changed.


Voting reform is an important issue, but the right system is crucial. Credit: The Conservative Party

Generally speaking though, when it comes to UK elections, the voting system needs to be reformed so that the MPs at Westminster and the parties they represent are as representative of the voting share of the electorate. Going back to the voting booth and the philosophy of voting, when enough people choose to accept or actively support a certain party being in power, and that desire isn’t represented in Parliament, there is something wrong with the system. Many people and politicians already support voting reform, but there are many voting systems being advocated for, so which system best reflects the role and will of the voter as well as best representing that electorate as a whole?

One of the most commonly suggested voting systems for reform is Single Transferable Vote (STV). This is already used in familiar territory – in Scotland for council elections, Northern Ireland for various elections, and elsewhere across the world. In this system, a voter is asked to rank candidates with their first preference receiving a ‘1’, their next favourite a ‘2’, and so on and so on, though there is no obligation to rank any more than one candidate. In some ways, this sounds positive – the ability to but lack of obligation to rank candidates gives voters a lot of leeway to express themselves. Problems come though when you move to the counting and seat dispersal stages of an STV election. For its faults, with First Past the Post, the electorate self-evidently understand how their votes become seats, but I would like to hazard an educated guess that this isn’t the same with STV for most. I’m not claiming any specific intellect, but I am currently interested in politics enough to write an article about voting, and I struggle with understanding it. This is how it works:

-The election starts by counting every voter’s first choice, with a candidate who reaches or exceeds the number of votes required for a seat is elected.

– If any such elected candidate has more votes than the quota, the excess votes are transferred to other candidates. Votes that would have gone to the winner go to the next preference.

– If no-one new meets the quota required to win a seat, the candidate with the fewest votes is eliminated and those votes are transferred to each voter’s next preferred candidate.

This process repeats until either a winner is found for every seat or there are as many seats as remaining candidates.

It’s not impossible to understand, but it requires the effort to research it or have it explained to you, and it’s arguable that huge swathes of the electorate are disengaged enough to not do so, and so I think it’s safe to conclude that a large number of the electorate, when using this system, wouldn’t fully understand how their vote works. Understanding that process is important, but a bigger problem comes, I think, with the fundamental characteristic of ranking candidates.

When discussing the logical baseline of what a vote represents, I concluded that it represents support for a party or candidate who the voter at least accepts being in power. For some, they will support who they vote for very strongly, while in other cases, they just may see them as ‘the best of a bad bunch’. In ranked voting, you can assume the same for a person’s first preference, but what can you assume about a second, third, or fourth preference? You can probably still assume that a lower preference vote for a party or candidate represents accepting the idea of them ending up in power, after all, they still showed them some support, but how strong is that support? When someone votes once, or as a first preference, it’s clear preference for a favoured party or candidate, but as layers of preference get added to that, the situation gets muddied. As an example, in this past election, I voted SNP, but hypothetically, in an STV election, I could, and possibly would have voted SNP as 1, Labour as 2, and Green as 3. Parties with anti-austerity manifestos who – crucially – weren’t Conservatives would have received more votes and be in a stronger position, and I would feel glad that I could vote for all of the parties in some form as I like them all. Imagine next, a different person who casts the exact same vote, possibly as an anti-Tory vote too but who voted for the lower preferences mainly because they damaged the Tories and simply ‘didn’t mind them’. This is a very realistic hypothetical, and one which gives me pause as it’s clear the strength of conviction, especially with the more preferences selected, will differ between voters yet carry the same weight for each of them. One person’s fourth preference could be selected with more conviction than another’s third or second preference. Of course, even when people only cast one preference, the enthusiasm in doing so can differ between voters, but there is always that baseline assumption there that whether you’re wild about them or simply accepting of them being elected, you have chosen them above all to lead, and there is far less variance of meaning in a vote. In fact, in some ways, there’s as much power in who you don’t vote for as in who you select as a lower preference.

It must be remembered that though a lesser preference vote is undoubtedly a show of support, it is essentially a contingency for if the person’s preferred party of candidate isn’t elected, and while I understand the allure of that for the voter, it conversely makes voting a less active and arguably more negative prospect; as opposed to simply picking the single party or candidate you think is best suited to lead your country, you end up voting for a block of candidates you  would object to the least.

There are several voting systems reformers are interested in, including AV which was voted on in recent years in the UK, or MMP, which is used in Scotland and Wales for elections to their devolved governments, but the system I think is the ‘most perfect’ is a Closed Party List system. There are variants of this system used in various elections across the world, but the system I would propose would retain the single vote, and a fairly simple to understand connection between vote and elected officials. In this system, the UK would be split in to larger regional constituencies consisting of major cities and counties towards which everyone in that area would vote once for a party or independent candidate. The votes cast for each constituency would be divided by the number of seats available in that constituency, that amount constituting a quote required to earn a seat. That sounds more complicated than it is, so to illustrate, I will use the 2017 results from Glasgow.


The SNP won 6 out of 7 Glasgow seats, but did this represent their level of support? Credit: The SNP

In reality, this is what happened:
256, 179 votes were cast to elect 7 MP’s which ended up being 6 SNP MP’s and 1 Labour MP. In several cases, seats were won with very small majorities and so the SNP won 6 out of 7 seats despite only receiving 7, 748 more than Labour and just over 41% of the vote.

In the proposed Closed Party List system though, this is what would happen:
The 256, 179 votes would be divided by the 7 seats to determine a quota amount to win a seat (36, 597). Starting with the largest party, the SNP, their vote total of 105, 318 would be divided by the quote amount to work out how many seats they won (2.87, rounded up to 3).
The same process would be repeated for the second, third, fourth party etc until the constituency runs out of seats to be awarded. In Glasgow, the final allocations would be this:

SNP (with 41.2% of the vote) with 3 seats
Labour (with 38% of the vote) with 3 seats
Conservatives (with 16.4% of the vote) with 1 seat

That would harm the cause of the party I supported, so it is with disappointment that I admit that this seems a much fairer allocation of votes based on the proportion of votes cast.

Each party would pre-prepare and publish a list of candidates and once the results are in, the lists would be used to take the allocated seats (SNP’s first 3 candidates on the list get a seat, the same with Labour, while the candidate at the top of the Tory list gets a seat). This is the only real weakness of this system as it takes away the active connection between voter and representative. I don’t see it as a fatal flaw though as, in reality, I think it is fair to state that most people already vote party first, regardless of the candidate. An SNP voter will vote for whoever the SNP candidate is, the same with Labour, and so on. A compensatory bonus to this, though is that, with the bigger constituencies, voters would now have multiple representatives than the single one their current constituencies have. Perhaps you prefer the Tories to the SNP, you can approach them for a query rather than one of the SNP representatives if they wish.

Under this system, regional representation would be retained (rather than simply taking a proportion of UK votes as a whole to calculate seats), but the overall feeling of the electorate would be more proportionally represented in terms of seats for their region. While that may skew the nationwide allocation of seats to a small degree, it would lead, I think, to the best possible representation of the will of the electorate. When you vote, you would be selecting the party you most accept to form a government, and the overall desires of the electorate is translated proportionally in to seats of power for the parties that earn it.

WrestleMania 33: Looking Up at the Lights, and Going Out on Your Back

Taker last ride

The Undertaker salutes the end of the greatest career pro wrestling will probably ever see. Credit: WWE

As someone who attaches emotion and meaning to everything I enjoy, WrestleMania is a very intense week for me, from the floods of tears during the Hall of Fame, to the Christmas-like anticipation for the event, to the awe I have watching it that will never go away. WrestleMania’s come and go, and whether they are good or bad, they are always significant – the platitudes about it being the ‘showcase of the immortals’ and ‘WrestleMania moments’ are, incredibly, not really exaggerated. I enjoyed WrestleMania 33 which I found to be consistently enjoyable, even if it lacked a real show-stealer match. The moment I can’t shift from my head (the reason we’re here) came at the very end, when Undertaker, after struggling to his feet following a loss to Roman Reigns, started to leave his gear in the ring. If there’s one thing Taker has always excelled at, it’s exuding meaning and emotion (despite often being near emotionless outwardly), and after he removes his hat for the final time, he takes this huge breath, a sigh not quite of relief, but of rest. The ride is finally over, and he can rest. I immediately burst in to tears.

I am going to write the qualifier I have seen several people write. The Undertaker wasn’t ‘my guy’, and yet there is something about him that seems to engender total respect and reverence. He’s not the best talker, but he is the best character; he’s not the best wrestler, but he does have some of the best matches ever. He understands wrestling and performance better than anyone, and takes it seriously, and everyone respects him for it. He might not be your favourite, but whenever you hear a gong, or see him toe to toe with someone, you know, almost by definition, that something significant is happening. He’s the best of pro-wrestling, and represents 20+ years of some of the most vivid, memorable years of it.

Perhaps that is why he is loved so. He has been a legitimising backbone of this crazy travelling roadshow we love and has dedicated himself to it longer, frankly, than his body would allow. He helped build WrestleMania and created many of it’s most special moments. His passing of the torch and leaving the ring no longer a warrior may well be a crucial moment in wrestling’s future, and it was sure one of the most moving in wrestling’s history.

Taker coat

Undertaker, leaving his iconic hat and coat in the ring, symbolising the end of his storied career. Credit: WWE

Though I am more than happy to wax eulogistic about Undertaker’s career though, that beautiful end is only around half of the reason i’m writing this. Undertaker was the main reason I decided it was ‘now or never’ for attending WrestleMania 30 – I decided that I had to see him on his greatest stage before I lost the chance, I had to see that entrance. And I did. For that event though, I chose to wear a Bray Wyatt shirt. Bray has been a real darling of mine ever since I started watching him on NXT, and there are certainly similarities to Undertaker in him, mainly in his dedication to a character which bends the rules other characters play by, occasionally traipsing in to the supernatural. Wyatt, in fact, is a far better talker than Taker ever was, and with his commitment to every part of his character, I had never been so excited about the future of a wrestler and my related enjoyment of them.

The difference between him and Taker is, and remains, that it’s never really gone anywhere. At WrestleMania, I had the honour of seeing ‘The Streak’ broken, and the joy of seeing ‘Yes-tleMania’, but under that, I had the disappointment of seeing Wyatt fall to Cena when a victory could have really set him along the course of a phenom himself. The next year, Wyatt lost to Undertaker fairly handily to help Taker recover from the loss of the Streak, and then last year, Wyatt made the best of being booked alongside The Rock, but would never be able to overcome Rocky being important and easily murking him and his family. Wyatt has never won at WrestleMania, or really won a significant match on a big stage. His strength of character and performance though has seen him recover of late to the point where John Cena insisted on putting him over clean for the WWE Championship. A significant achievement for sure, but it lacks the historical significance that the real top guys have propping them up. The significance, say, of defeating The Undertaker in his final match.

Wyatt Rock

The Rock, delivering the People’s Elbow to Bray Wyatt at WrestleMania 32 after quickly dispatching the rest of the ‘Family’. Credit: WWE

Writing this isn’t intended to throw shade at anyone other than the decision makers who booked Wyatt to lose this year, not even Orton, who probably could have spoken up to lose as Cena had earlier.

Part of the respect that the Undertaker commands without demanding it, is that he will always do what’s best for the business, and rule #1 in that regard is that, when you go out, you ‘go out on your back’, giving someone else the chance to profit from it, and by extension, the business. Roman Reigns has become something almost other to wrestling. For his part, Reigns has grown quietly but enormously as a performer, especially in recent months, and he was a big part of making Taker’s final match powerful and entertaining. He clearly hasn’t been handled quite right though, to the point where, regardless of his performances, he will be booed. Fans treat him like the most boring or lazy denominator almost regardless of what he does. Usually, the honour of ‘retiring’ The Undertaker would be the biggest lay-up of all time to stardom for a persons career, but whether that happens for Roman, remains to be seen. The hope is that either he will somehow inherit Taker’s inherent respect value (after all, this was a metaphorical transferring of ‘the yard’ to Reigns), or he can build a white hot heel run from his actions.

With Wyatt though, there is a feeling of complacency on management’s part in a way that may be due to his success at portraying the character. Losing in itself has never really seemed to damage Wyatt – he can always ‘turn it on’ and be mesmerising. But after years of constant losing on big stages, it’s hard not to see diminishing returns from him, regardless of his exceptional efforts. He recovered miraculously from it when he was reduced to comic jobber to The Rock, but this slip up when he had returned to his most powerful may be even more damaging.

Everything about his match at WrestleMania 33 seemed geared to be his moment, to showcase him in a way that suited only him. The most memorable part of the match was the recurring projections of imagery of death, disease, and pestilence on to the ring. Regardless of what people say in retrospect, coloured as it is by the match result, at the time, fans were losing their minds over this, including me. It was different, and though simple, was shocking due to both the fact it had never been done before, and the nature of the imagery. Initially, Orton and everyone else involved sold these projections. That is until Orton hit a trademark unexpected RKO for the win to become a 13 time champion. Wyatt falls short again.

Wyatt cockroaches

Though later mocked by some, the various visuals of decay projected by Wyatt on to Orton and the ring were shocking, and unlike anything ever seen before in WWE history. Credit: WWE

Again, with no disrespect to Randy Orton, why does he need a 13th championship here, at a time when Wyatt could have taken a big step towards lasting significance? The disgusting projections even provided him with a ‘get out’ for the loss. What do we get from this? Orton doesn’t need a win basically ever these days and can have whatever feud management want down the line. It has been suggested to me that this was the natural ending of the story – a point I understand, but it is also important to realise that sometimes (not often) the bad guy wins, and it could have lit a fire under Orton too. Meanwhile, Wyatt seems almost goofy for trying his antics in a loss. Even if he wins his rematch, it’s on a much smaller stage. If Wyatt wins this match as it was produced, he gets a big showcase win, a championship retention, and a memorable WrestleMania moment; what happened instead was people viewed him as a loser and started mocking the projections too. Once again, he was forgotten, looking up at the brightest lights there are, with management neglecting the gift he is. What happens to him in the weeks following this year’s WrestleMania and at next year’s Mania will be very telling about how damaging this was. I hope i’m wrong.

Most losses aren’t significant gestures to the future as Undertaker’s was, and it is there that him putting Reigns over in his final match will hopefully benefit him. There is a chance though, that it will just further complicate Reign’s relationship with the fans and be wasted. Further, Reigns is already treated like a top guy, and clearly will be going forward. It’s just a shame that another veteran in Randy Orton couldn’t put over Bray in a similar spot, and so the difference between Undertaker and Wyatt remains – one is an outlaw that went out on his back, and the other is a pretender that has been left on his back for three WrestleMania’s in a row. I can’t help but wish the stars had aligned a little differently, and the best Bray Wyatt had faced Underataker this year. Not only would their characters have gelled well once again, but Taker’s final sacrifice would have had the definite result of making Bray Wyatt, overnight, one of the most significant superstars in the world.

Taker coat 2

After the fans were gone and the ring was being taken down, Undertaker’s hat and coat remained untouched in a startling and moving show of respect. Credit: @samirkh75387729 on Twitter

Thank you Undertaker.