In my time zone it is less than half a day before the year 2010 is officially over. Time to look back to the past year. As this blog is about travelling, football and music, I will mainly look back to 2010 in these fields. Also, as this blog is supposed to focus on both mainstream and the more obscure, I will try to cover some things here that may be missing in your average overview of 2010. I am sure I’m forgetting some things below but this is an attempt to at least focus on some things that I will remember 2010 for.
In football terms…
We cannot ignore the mainstream when it is a year that the World Cup has been played. Especially when I am living in the country that has lifted the Cup. Spain has, 2 years after its European Cup triumph, also lifted the World Cup. Even when the tournament began disastrous for the Furia Roja (0-1 loss versus Swiss) the team won all remaining games and lifted the Cup eventually. Being European and World Champions, I guess I can gloryhunt all the way and proudly say I live in the best country in the world when football is concerned. The most memorable games will be the semi final versus Germany (0-1 win via a header by Carles Puyol) and of course the final. The Spanish beat the very surprising finalists from the Netherlands 1-0. It did take extra times for the Roja to break the Dutch resistance, and only 4 minutes before the dreaded penalty shootout, Andres Iniesta made himself a Spanish hero forever by shooting the ball past Maarten Stekelenburg to award Spain its first world cup.
It was a tournament of many "firsts": for the first time ever both the defending world champions and runner-up of the last edition (Italy and France) were eliminated in the first round. For the first time ever a European team won the world cup when it was played outside of Europe. The tournament was hosted in South Africa, the first time an African nation organised the world cup. Spain was the first team to win the world cup after losing its opening game. Spain only scored 8 goals, which is a record low for a world champion. However, Spain also had only 2 goals against them, which is also a record for a world champion and confirmed Iker Casillas’ status as best goalkeeper in the world. The world cup saw South Africa get eliminated in the first round, the first time ever a host nation did not survive the first round.
What else will we remember from the world cup? There was Diego Maradona’s comeback on the big scene as coach of Argentina. The eccentric coach was already heavily criticised prior to the tournament, and when Messi & co were eliminated in the quarter finals by Germany (a humiliating 0-4 defeat) the relationship between Diego and the Argentine FA was over. He did give the tournament a bit of colour nonetheless.
I will for sure remember the German team. No more defensive, well-organised German team. The Germans played in a fashion almost alien to German football’s history: technically gifted players playing very offensive and pleasant-to-watch football with Mesut Özil and Müller as absolute stars of the team. The German team was very multicultural with several Germans of foreign origin (eg Miroslav Klose, Podolski, Özil, Sami Khedira, etc) forming a great team and making an excellent statement regarding the German society growing more and more cosmopolitan. Players such as Özil and Khedira proved excellent role models for immigrant youngsters and proved that integration can work perfectly. Both players were by the way rewarded for their excellent tournament as they were transfered to Real Madrid.
One of the other stars of Germany in the tournament was a less likely appearance: octopus Paul, living in a tank in a zoo-like attraction park in Germany, managed to predict the outcome of all Germany’s games + the final correctly. He made these hard choices by being offered mussels in two boxes, each time displaying the flags of the two nations facing each other. The box he opened first would be the winner he predicted. In all of Germany’s 7 games and in the final, Paul predicted the winner correctly. The octopus became a true sensation and was the world’s most famous animal this year for sure. He even received honorary citizenship of a Spanish village after the tournament. Unfortunately Paul will not see 2011 as he died from natural causes in autumn. People who were hoping to make money by following Paul’s predictions during Euro 2012 will need to change their plans and forget about their unlikely dream of making a fortune at the bookmakers’ offices thanks to an octopus.
The first world cup in Africa did not result in good results for the African teams. Even South Africa itself was eliminated in the first round, never before a host country was eliminated that early. The only African team to do well was Ghana. The Ghanese team played excellent attacking football and was a pleasure to watch. Backed by the entire continent and many neutral fans outside of Africa, they reached the quarter finals and nearly became the first ever African team to reach the semi finals of a World Cup. A penalty miss in the last minute of extra time against Uruguay lead to a penalty shoot-out in which Uruguay won. A dramatic exit for Ghana but they did conquer the hearts of many people around the world and made Africa proud.
Last but not least, I was rooting for the unlikely underdogs as my favourite national teams didn’t qualify for the tournament. With North Korea (Korea DPR) and New Zealand I quickly found two nice underdogs to support. New Zealand did surprisingly well. Everyone expected the team to be whipping boys but in a group that included defending world champions Italy, New Zealand got 3 draws out of 3 games and thus finished ahead of the dramatically bad Italian team which only gathered 2 points. New Zealand were not the whipping boys everyone expected, and even finished the tournament as only team unbeaten. The Kiwi’s can certainly be proud of their display in South Africa.
Even more unexpected was the presence of North Korea. The North Koreans qualified for the first time in 44 years. The team was a total mystery to the world. North Korea is the most secretive nation on earth, where independent travelling is not allowed and where the population cannot leave the country or have contact with foreigners. Hence it was impossible to know anything about the players, with the exception of the very few North Koreans playing abroad. The mystery team from the world’s most isolated country became an attraction at the tournament for that specific reason: nobody knew anything about them, and even when the reason was political, North Korea did get special attention from many people at the tournament. The first game resulted in a 2-1 defeat to Brazil but the world praised the good display from the North Korean team. We all remember Jong Tae-Se (one of the few of the team playing abroad) crying while the national anthem of North Korea was played, and the many Chinese actors pretending to be enthousiast North Korea fans in the stands (amongst them were a 50-some real North Koreans who were given permission to travel to South Africa to watch the team). The next two games were less positive for the Chollima as the team was called: a 7-0 defeat to Portugal (their worst defeat ever) and a 3-0 defeat to Ivory Coast. However, even if it was for political reasons mostly, people will for sure remember the fact that North Korea was there.
Except for the World Cup, what else do we remember? Some less well published facts:
– the Crossingstadium in Schaerbeek (Brussels), one of Belgium’s oldest stadiums, was finally broken down. Except for one stand, the stadium was in terrible state and highly unsafe. Only 1 stand (which is totally sealed off) remains. A heartbreaking fact for all Belgian groundhoppers as the historical stadiums remaining become very few in numbers now.
– with the promotion of KAS Eupen to the Belgian premier division, the German-speaking community of Belgium has a team in the highest division for the first time in Belgian football history.
– my favourite team Rosenborg BK won the Norwegian championship without losing a single league game.
– the Champions League saw some new faces. Debutantes included Zilina SK, Bursaspor, Hapoel Tel-Aviv, Sporting Braga, Tottenham Hotspur and FC Twente. Except for Zilina and Bursaspor, all of them did relatively well or downward good during their maiden Champions League appearance.
2010 in terms of music promised to be a less remarkable year for me: in 2009 a lot of my favourite bands (Marilyn Manson, Manic Street Preachers, Placebo, Sophia, Echo & The Bunnymen, Muse) released new material. In these days when bands don’t release an album per year anymore, this meant probably a lot of concerts but few new releases that I really looked forward to. It luckily became a relatively good year after all, partially because the few new releases were really good, and partially because the lack of new albums I wanted to buy gave me the opportunity to dig up some older records I had not heard in a really long time.
New releases first. One year after the amazing "Journal for Plague Lovers" which was centered entirely around lyrics left behind by the missing Richey James Edwards, the Manic Street Preachers released "Postcards from a Young Man". Unfortunately no follow-up to Journal For Plague Lovers, no more angry young Manics. The new record was an attempt to get to the mainstream and be played on mainstream radio shows. It alienated some long-time Manics fans and the decision to try to aim for mainstream success was not well-received amongst fans and music press alike. The reactions to the release of the album were varying a lot. I have not really given the album a proper listen yet, maybe undeliberately I want to spare the disappointment because Journal For Plague Lovers made me hope the old school Manics were back. I guess I will give the album a proper listen after all in the next weeks or months.
The good news then: Orphaned Land is back and as good as ever before. The musical pride of Israel and the godfathers of Middle Eastern metal took over 6 years to record and release the follow-up of the epic album "Mabool". It was worth the wait. "The Never-ending Way of ORWarriOR" (a wordplay was Or is Hebrew for "light") was once again a concept album and again was getting inspiration from the struggle for peace and peaceful coexistance in their homeland Israel and in the Middle East in general. The album was another epic, and with "Sapari" the band released a single and promo video which almost is as good as "Norra el Norra". Knowing that this is one of my favourite songs ever, I never thought I would be writing this. Orphaned Land established themselves as one of the most brutally underestimated bands on earth and as the true masters of oriental metal. Luckily the new record did get the praise it deserves from the press, including Iranian press! Never before an Israeli band managed to make the press in Iran but Orphaned Land did it. Their concerts in Israel still draw an audience of Jews and Muslims alike. The band once again is proving their music is bringing people together, uniting cultures and the message of peace is being heard.
I was not terrifically enthousiast about other new releases this year, luckily there were some good re-releases. Ever since I first heard the God Machine’s epic song "Purity" I was blown away and been in love with the band ever since. As the band lost the rights to their own music it seemed no shop could ever get the records in store again, and on eBay the few remaining copies were costing a fortune (in CD terms). I already accepted -with regret- that I’d never get my hands on a real copy, but then the God part of the band name seemed to do all fans a huge favour: after many years of waiting the two records of the band were re-released by the record company holding the rights. Not sure if this is a once-off re-release but I immediately ordered a copy of both albums via import from Germany. I never thought I’d ever own these albums, so to finally get them was amazing.
Also, after many years of being out-of-print, the Connells’ catalogue was re-released by Bicycle Records. However, so far only a digital re-releases. As I prefer a real CD with booklet and jewel case rather than a legal download, I keep fingers crossed that the Connells’ albums will soon be re-released as well in CD format. I especially hope to get my hands on their first two albums, Darker Days, and Boylan Heights. These include all Connells classics other than "74-75", such as the hauntingly dark "Seven", the Celtic-esque "Scotty’s Lament" (which is worth the purchase alone for the line "I delight in my despair") and the anti-war song "Over There" where Doug MacMillan’s vocals sounded as pure as can be. Fingers crossed to hold these CDs in my hands during 2011.
Last re-releases : the older Sophia albums have been re-released and my copy of "Fixed Water" which includes the hauntingly beautiful "So Slow" should arrive soon!
In terms of concerts: I didn’t do too many, but one I will remember for years to come. I have been an Orphaned Land fan for several years but each time missed them narrowly during the previous tours. This year I finally saw them live, and it blew me away. The music was so beautiful that I forgot about my depressive feelings for once, and on top of that I was able to meet the band. A night I will remember for a really long time. This, added with the new CD they released, makes me decide to name Orphaned Land the highlight of 2010 when it comes to music (just my opinion of course, although I hope and in fact am sure that the band has made a lot of people happy this year).
In terms of prospects for the next year… A band I love but never thought I’d see live in my life, A Perfect Circle, finally made the reunion concrete and did a mini-tour of the US east coast with a series of just over 10 concerts. It is unsure if new material will follow now and if the band will cross the Atlantic to perform in front of their European fans. However, I hope to see APC live next year, weither this will happen or not depends on Billy, Maynard & co. Europe is awaiting APC!
In travelling terms, I have mainly further explored Spain. I did make new plans for the moment finances allow more long-distance travelling. I started to read up intensively about North Korea and Cuba and am determined to visit them, just to see with my own eyes what the truth about these countries is. Documentaries and stories from those who have been there are often contradicting each other, so I am quite determined to witness with my own eyes. Especially North Korea must be an experience that haunts you for years: empty highways, a nocturnal city with hardly any lights, endless rows of high apartment blocks and sky high hotels which are mostly empty, … I realise travelling there funds the regime and that you will mainly see the propaganda and monuments rather than the misery of many locals, but the experience must be unique to experience and who knows that the presence of tourists can somehow contribute to better diplomatic relationships and better conditions of life for the locals. Maybe it is naive to believe that, but for sure the fact that locals realise foreigners are concerned about them must be a nice feeling for them. It would be great to be able to help out a few days with helping the locals in need there, although I am unsure if the guides who follow you during the travel would allow it. Hopefully…
Another destination I added to my list is the Russian Far East and Siberia. Especially Yakutsk. The coldest city on earth, with winter temperatures below -50 degrees Celsius, but still a quite vibrant cultural hub despite the harsh climate and despite the geographic isolation. From Yakutsk a long (and in winter dangerous) road takes you to the very isolated village of Omyakon, the "pole of cold". This is not a city (it is a very isolated small village) but it is the coldest inhabited place on earth where the winter climate often goes below -60 degrees Celsius. The lack of hotels means tourists who make it there have to stay with the locals, and thus get insight in the daily life in this remote place where the climate dictates the way of life. It must be incredibly fascinating to behold.
These destinations are now added to my wish list, but this does not mean the ones that were already there have vanished. I still hope to make a long exploration of the Middle East, Mongolia is still on my list, Australia in combination with at least 1 Pacific atoll, Hong Kong, the Canadian North, … are still countries I am determined to visit at some point. It aren’t the cheapest destinations, but I hope that over the coming years I can do it with some careful planning.
With this I conclude my overview of 2010. I wish all a very pleasant 2011 and if I manage to realise some of the plans I will certainly be documenting it on my blog.