My grandmother used to tell us that Christmas is a time for forgiveness, not just binge drinking and belching your way through the Bond movie as the 6 pounds of turkey you scoffed at dinner threaten to reappear from the nearest available orifice.
Forgiveness, of course, is the last thing that springs to mind when Auntie Enid has just given you the latest Spice Girls CD or another bloody soap-on-a-rope.
Bolton Wanderers manager Sam Allardyce is familiar with that sinking feeling after unwrapping an exotic-looking package from Japan in the summer only to discover it was full of Akinori Nishizawa.
But, just as Sam has undoubtedly forgiven Cerezo Osaka for sending him faulty goods, let us forgive those who have conspired to make life miserable for the long-suffering soccer fan this year.
To jog your memories, I have come up with a short list of people who, in another life (or another column) might have come in for a severe roasting. As always, “The Bald Truth” refuses to stoop to that level. Let the others sling mud, we say.
As a gesture of goodwill to all (unless they play for Manchester United), my little bald helpers have cobbled together one or two awards and special prizes for the top sinners of 2001. May they all become saints in 2002.
* * *
The Spice Boy Award
Kashima Antlers and Japan striker Atsushi Yanagisawa wins this one hands down for pretending to be interested in a move to Europe and then “bottling it” at the last minute. What a surprise!
Despite having Serie A club Perugia eating out of the palm of his hand after his sensational goal against Italy on Nov. 7, Yanagisawa decided to stay put by signing a new one-year contract with Kashima earlier this month.
Obviously, we would not dare suggest that Yanagisawa is suffering from a Japanese phenomenon known as “Big Fish in Very Small Pond Syndrome.” Not at Christmas anyway.
Stocking filler: A year’s supply of cup noodles and girlie magazines are on their way to you, Atsushi, in the hope that you see the light.
The Bin Laden Award
Ever since his $26 million move from AS Roma to Parma this summer, Japan midfielder Hidetoshi Nakata has been as visible on the pitch as Osama bin Laden in his Tora Bora penthouse.
Nakata has, to use the vernacular, been slaughtered in the Italian press this season and was even demoted to the substitutes bench by Japan coach Philippe Troussier for the friendly with Italy in Saitama.
Parma manager Gedeone Carmignani insists that Nakata still has a future at the club, but at the same time Parma officials are attempting to lure Italian international Stefano Fiore, who also plays in the “hole” behind the forwards, back to his former team from Udinese.
Stocking filler: A tube of suntan lotion and the complete works of Charles Dickens. You will have some time on your hands over the next 12 months, Hide. I hear Tahiti is nice in June.
The Greg Louganis Award
What more can you say about Takayuki Suzuki that hasn’t already been said? “dirty,” “cheating,” “b*****d” are three words commonly associated with the Kashima and Japan forward, and who are we to argue?
Amazingly, Suzuki is collecting this award for the third straight year after being voted “Top of the Flops” again in 2001, narrowly edging out Kashima teammates Masashi Motoyama and Mitsuo Ogasawara.
Stocking filler: A straightjacket and a sturdy leash.
The Copper Wire Award
Rumor has it copper wire was invented by two Scotsmen fighting over a penny.
Japanese and South Korean soccer chiefs Shunichiro Okano and Chung Mong Joon attempted to put that theory to the test when they played tug-of-war with the World Cup trophy at the draw for the 2002 finals in Pusan earlier this month.
Stocking filler: A pair of woolly mittens each.
The Percy Thrower Award
Congratulations are in order to whoever is responsible for preparing the pitch at Saitama Stadium 2002, which resembled a lunar landscape during the Japan-Italy friendly, giving us all a good laugh on an otherwise forgettable night.
As former Nottingham Forest manager Brian Clough memorably asked on a visit to Japan in 1980: “Why can’t these people grow grass?”
Stocking filler: A bucket and spade.
The Roger Irrelevant Award
Kashima Antlers won the J. League again without being the best team over two stages in Japan this season. Somebody shoot me. I don’t want to talk about the stupid two-stage system anymore.
Stocking filler for J. League Chairman Saburo Kawabuchi: A brain.
The Smart Alec Award
Everyone knows the answer to the question, “Why do dogs lick their nether regions?” (*-answers below)
This award goes to Michel Zen-Ruffinen, general secretary of soccer’s world governing body FIFA, for insisting on using half-a-dozen languages during the World Cup draw, just to show he could. As a result, the draw dragged on for eight hours.
Stocking filler: Valium, plenty of it. Christmas wouldn’t be Christmas without it.
Answer to question, Why do dogs lick their own bollocks:
1) Because they can;
2) Because it’s cheaper than going to Kabukicho to pay someone else do it for you (so my friends tell me).