Archive for September 29, 2014

Ode To A Herring Sandwich

Those outside of Sweden are often spared the joy of hearing the views of the members of the Sweden Democrats, but now that one of them has been elected deputy speaker of the Swedish Riksdag it is in both the wider public interest and in keeping with this blog’s intent to share thoughts on political communication to reproduce some of their more remarkable public utterances. 

So to mark the ascension of Björn Söder to the position of deputy speaker, I have translated a blog post from the original Swedish that apparently has since been deleted. 

Söder, a senior member of the Sweden Democrat party started by neo-Nazis among others in 1988, is a man of strong views – among them that homosexuality is an aberration and that Islam is the single greatest threat to Western civilisation.

His politics could accurately be described as the kind of cultural conservatism beloved of the likes of Anders Behring Breivik and UKIP. 

In this post, Söder proclaims his love for Swedish culture through the medium of a herring sandwich at the Malmö festival, before deploring the “dark clouds” of multiculturalism. 

Björn Söder – likes herring. Dislikes gays.

The sun shone and spread its pleasant rays over my shoulders. Though it was half past seven on a Wednesday night it felt like the heat had finally arrived.

It was, after all, one of the first warm evenings, even though it was in the month of August.

The train was already in the station. Everywhere there were people walking and running who were on their way to Malmö to take part in the festival. Along with my girlfriend and some friends, I got on the train.

Outside the Scania countryside passed by.

Wonderful.

Farms and houses looked like palaces and temples of the Swedish summer heat. The trees and fields appeared one after the other and stood in contrast to the clear blue sky.

Feeling a part of that environment felt wonderful.  My thoughts began to turn to my ancestors, who along with others had worked hard to create such a heavenly realm like this.

I could feel a little pride swell in me. A pride in being Swedish. To have been born Swedish. Of having ancestors who built Sweden.

My thoughts were interrupted. The train slowed down at Malmö Central Station. We got out of the train and walked towards the city center.

There was life everywhere. People went back and forth across the streets and the cars had trouble getting around. We were met by people from some company that was about to the dragon boat competition.

They sang and whistled and the people in front of them moved out of the way to avoid being trampled upon. We followed in their wake – this way we avoided the throng of others, and were on our way to watch the competition.

It was now eight o’clock and my stomach began to rumble for food. During festivals usually it’s not a problem finding something to eat, and it wasn’t a problem this time either – if you want to eat something exotic and foreign, of course.

Everywhere there were foreign food. Latin food, tacos, busesca, falafel, Indian delicacies, Thai dishes, Nigerian specialties, kebab and more.

But where was the Swedish food? Is the traditional Swedish cooking so bad and boring that no one wants it? I searched frantically.

I had decided that if I could not find anything Swedish to eat then my stomach would have to put up with being hungry.

Suddenly. I saw a small light in the otherwise dark surroundings. “Herring Sandwiches” was written on the sign. I walked up with urgent steps. Past all the food stalls that smelled of garlic.

I felt a joy. The joy of that there was still Swedish food to be had. I threw down a twenty-crown note for my sandwich.

I received it and felt the wonderful smell of herring. Well worth the price, I let the sandwich disappear down my gullet, and a few moments later felt the satisfaction in my stomach.

Surely there is one and two other bright spots here at the festival, I thought, and proceeded to saunter.

After looking around for about another hour, we decided to head for home. You could feel the air getting slightly cooler and damper now that the sun had gone down.

We went over to Gustav Adolf Square. Outside McDonald’s, dark clouds gathered. By all accounts, it was probably a meeting place, or rather, a haunt for all the world’s different peoples – except the Swedes, of course.

Where the Swedes were gone I do not know. Then we crossed the square and went into a pedestrian area, and it was clear to me that the Swedes had fled the field.

Everywhere there were big black clouds in the otherwise clear night. The sound of the South American and Indian music mixed with languages from around the world, and the feeling that you were in a land far, far away grew.

Nowhere was there a bright cloud to be seen. The dark clouds hung everywhere.

My stomach was turning upside down and the tears started running down my cheeks. The pride in being Swedish that I had felt earlier in the evening had now given way to a hate inside.

Not a hatred of the people who were there, but a hatred of the decision-makers who caused it as my eyes now beheld. These decision-makers had not shown my ancestors any respect.

They had not taken any account of what the Swedish people – including me – thought. They had done what they wanted. They wanted to create a multicultural society.

With the tears on my cheeks, I hurried past through the darkness along with the others.

The evening had now changed from a warm, bright summer evening to a cold and dark night.

We got on the train to go home. The train was full of people. Many others had apparently also planned to go home.

I understand them.

When Tommy Walked The Tightrope In Stockholm

Tommy Tiernan in full flight

The voice, the body language, the manic movements are all familiar, but the laughter is different; it is not the side-splitting guffaws that normally accompany these performances.

It is the nervous, awkward kind, as if the audience isn’t sure if it’s allowed to laugh or not.

Eyeball to eyeball with the whole room, he’s not giving any clues either.

Abruptly, he announces the intermission, promising to return shortly and start all over again. Someone in the audience seems to be taking pity on him as he stares into the abyss, but he is quick to reassure them.

It’s all part of the show, and Tommy Tiernan is in control – it may be dangerously close sliding out of his grasp at regular intervals, but somehow, without a single line of scripted material, he remains in control of this packed comedy club in Stockholm, the audience bursting into laughter but at times baffled by his brilliance.

On Monday night on RTE the film about Tommy Tiernan’s improvised adventures in Europe will air, and I’ll be glued to the TV, just as I was to the stage that spring night in Stockholm back in March when he walked the wire in front of an audience expecting something completely different.

A few weeks earlier it was a lot more like what they would have expected. Passers-by stared in the window of my car at the tears that streamed down my face as I shook with laughter.

I was parked on a street in central Stockholm, trying to interview one of Irish stand-up’s top dogs, but it was proving nigh-on impossible.

On the speakerphone from “a hotel beside a roundabout in west Dublin,” Tommy was holding court about his upcoming European shows and how he still had “as much mischief in me as Gandalf.”

I was interviewing him for Totally Stockholm to try to give the Swedish capital some sort of fair warning as to what to expect at the RAW comedy club when he played.

“As you get older it’s almost like you come in, you sit down you have a cup of tea and people think you’re normal,” he says, barely able to breathe as he laughs at the notion.

“But as you’re leaving they realize you’ve pissed on the floor.”

What he didn’t mention to me was that the whole show would be entirely improvised and filmed, something that took the Friday night audience in March completely by surprise.

The seats at the purpose-built RAW comedy club were sold out as ex-pats and comedy lovers flocked to see one of the top acts from the international circuit. It quickly became apparent that the rhythm was different – edgy, jerky, unpredictable.

The regular riffs about sex and the church and bizarre people he’d met and his children were absent, replaced by observations in the moment, tied together with the thinnest of threads.

Surely he wasn’t going to improvise the whole show?

He was.

And he did.

In parts it was gut-achingly hilarious, in others cringeworthy. His few hours in the city had given him enough to hit the easy targets early and often – how well-run the country seemed, how beautiful everyone was, and how the Irish stood out in comparison.

The crowd tried to go with him but those with bellies full of beer and a distinct lack of understanding of the live setting interrupted the flow repeatedly with heckles, particularly when Tiernan tried to take the tempo down before quickening again.

It was like the lions realizing that the ringmaster’s whip and chair were no match for their teeth, but this particular ringmaster had a few more potent barbs in his arsenal.

Tommy ploughed manfully on – 18 years of dealing with audience members who all think they are funnier than you gives you certain coping mechanisms, even without the safety net of a script – never once seeking the comfort of familiar material.

Tommy Tiernan in full flow

It was a masterful, powerful, almost sickeningly brave performance, both physically and verbally.

This was a performer dragging us to the very limits, forcing us to stare into the abyss and then pulling us back and changing course. Only a few were lost over the side.

Finally, he took the enthusiastic standing ovation of the crowd; some applauded the jokes made up on the spot, while others applauded his courage and resilience.

Some clapped in relief that it was over, while others knew that they had seen something very, very special, even if they couldn’t put their finger on what it was.

Tommy himself seemed to breathe deeply for the first time all night. The pressure was lifted, at least until the next night of the tour.

By all accounts a very private man offstage, Tiernan had generously agreed to do a meet-and-greet with members of the Irish community, some of whom had been wildly heckling him from the safety of the darkness just a few minutes previously.

An exhausted Tiernan and Our Man in Stockholm following the RAW show.

They waited in the lobby to allow him time to collect himself before they were brought back in to meet him and take photographs.

We spoke for a moment about the show, and how it went; I wanted to ask him why he never told me the show would be improvised, but I suspected I already knew the answer.

If people know in advance, their expectations are already set and the challenge is gone. But if you fill a room full of people and beer on a Friday night and then completely bamboozle them you can take them – and you – to places neither of you would ever have dreamed of going as you made your way there.

I know a lot of stand-up comics. I love live comedy, especially the improvised variety (if you’ve never witnessed it, get down to the International Bar on a Monday night for the Comedy Improv and find out yourself how brilliant it can be).

I know how much being funny, even for ten minutes, takes out of these performers emotionally.

But I have never seen a comic so thoroughly exhausted as Tommy Tiernan was after that Stockholm show.

He was emptied, worn out, fatigued. The documentary cameras flitted around and it almost felt unfair that people wanted to take his picture, or film him.

The following night he appeared again, more or less unannounced, in the same club on a bill with Swedish comics.

The crowd was modest, but that didn’t stop him getting into the swing of it again. Without the ex-pats and the beered-up Friday night revelers it was somehow easier, but the spark of conflict was also missing.

I had sneaked into the back row just before he went on and marvelled once again at the skill of his stagecraft, his sense of where the room was and where he wanted it to go. The only problem was that they didn’t want to go too far, as they all seemingly had busses to catch.

I hung around a little afterwards, but not for long. I wanted to tell him that the improv idea was a brave one and a great one, but I quickly got the feeling that he wasn’t going to appear in the bar after the show.

The truth is, it didn’t matter what I or anyone else thought about his improv idea; he was going to do it anyway, and stick to his guns.

He was going to see it through to the end, be it bitter or sweet.

And that is the difference between your regular funnyman or woman and an artist willing to abandon his comfort zone and all he knows to see where the journey takes him.

You can see the results in “Tommy: To Tell You The Truth” on RTE this coming Monday evening. 

Ge oss bättre spelare, inte färre lag

Henok Goitom: lärde sig inte från koner

Jag har följt Allsvenskan ändå sen jag flyttade till Sverige 1999.

De senaste sex åren har det varit min uppgift att bevaka den, tillsammans med Danmarks Superligaen och Norges Tippeligaen, åt en av värdelens största nyhetsbyråer.

Och lösningen till Allsvenskans bristande kvalité är inte mindre lag – det är att utveckla bättre spelare.

Att ta bort två eller fyra eller sex lag gör inte den genomsnittliga allsvenska fotbollsspelaren bättre. Snarare begränsar det chansen för denne att blomstra eftersom det blir färre och färre platformer att glänsa på.

Gör vi det accepterar vi att vi inte kan producera fotbollsspelare längre. Det vore trist.

Att höja kvalitén på Allsvenskan och för den delen i landslaget handlar snarare om att göra om allt i svensk fotboll från grunden.

I några decennier har man konkurrerat på fysiken och attityden och en arbetsmoral som håller svensken borta från sprit och dumheter.

Det räcker inte längre.

För en modern toppspelare krävs allt detta plus en strålande teknik och beslutsfattningsförmåga.

Det får man inte från att springa mellan koner med en boll några kvällar i veckan, eller än sämre utan boll i långa, meningslösa fyspass för ungdomar.

Det finns inga koner på plan i Allsvenskan, eller Premier League, eller La Liga. När du ska tackla Cristiano Ronaldo eller gör mål på David De Gea finns det inte en kona i världen som kan hjälpa dig.

Vi måste tänka om från grunden om hur vi utbildar och utvecklar våra talanger och från vilka utgångsvärderingar.

Vi måste fråga hur man bäst lär sig att spela fotboll och att lösa de problem som uppstår på banan.

Det vi kommer att komma fram till är att de spelarna som båda drar publik och som ligger längst fram tekniskt – Zlatan, Henok Goitom, Imad Zatara, David Accam för att nämna några som har glänst i Allsvenskan – är de som spelade kopiöst mycket spontanfotboll som barn, och det nästan helt utan ingripande från vuxna.

Där är det gårdens regler som gäller och gallringen av ungdomar så älskade av de idiotiska  ”elitsatsningar” som finns i vissa klubbar sker på ett naturligt sätt – löser du inte problem på banan blir ditt lag slagen och du får vänta på din nästa chans.

Intelligens och teknik belönas när det kopplas till styrka, uthållighet och vilja.

Det blir färre och färre svenska spelarna i de stora klubbarna utomlands därför att vi producerar spelare som är lagom och inte mer.

De duger som utfyllnad i proffstrupper och gör inte så mycket väsen av sig.

De är pålitliga. Starka. Dugliga. Men knappast stjärnor och sällan de som får publiken att ställa sig upp och vråla.

En handfull sticker förstås ut men inget jämfört med vad det borde eller kunde vara.

Att banta Allsvenskan från 16 lag till 12 skulle bara dölja problemet istället för lösa det. Vi måste istället glömma allt vi tror oss veta om hur ungdomar lär sig spela fotboll. Sen måste vi våga låta de lär sig i sin egen takt.

När vi väl har gjort det kommer vi att ha en ny generation svenska spelare som den allsvenska publiken är beredda att betala för att se och som är attraktiva för utländska klubbar.

Och när vi ändå håller på kan vi sänka biljettpriserna så att ungdomar har råd att gå på fotboll.

Det finns inget lika motiverande som att stå på läktaren och se en kille från din ort avgöra en match. Då tänker man: ”Jag vill vara som honom.”

Vi måste helt enkelt riva upp varje marknadsföringsprognos och coachningsmanual som existerar och börja om där den bästa med fotbollen alltid börjar.

På läktaren. På gården. På gatan.

Bara då kommer svensk fotboll att må bra igen.