Monthly Archives: November 2010

The Scrawls and Bawls Annual Anthology

Which ones will he choose?

I recently wrote a review of a compilation by Dandelion Radio for the Line of Best Fit. Since his untimely passing, the independent radio station have continued John Peel’s annual Festive Fifty chart, whereby listeners nominate their favourite tracks of the year. It got me thinking: what are the most popular songs from amongst my own friends, online associates and blog reader (s)?

Last year, I (as well as everyone else on the internet) marked the passing of the decade with a series of guest posts from friends and colleagues selecting their favourite albums of ten years. This year, I thought I’d poll the same cross-section on individual tracks. There is, of course, the risk that no track will be mentioned more than once.

On album lists, it’s logical that the same names will crop up again and again. Songs, though, are different. People personalize the records they buy. They often have a soft spot for a track many others consider the runt of the litter. Maybe it reminds them of something or someone. Perhaps the lyrics take on a unique significance when applied to their own lives… whatever the case, I’m banking on receiving some singular nominations.

Nonetheless, I hope this will be an exciting, interesting experiment with some enjoyable and educating results. If you would like to participate, please send your five tracks to finbarr.bermingham@gmail.com by December 15th. The only criteria is that the song or the album it comes from was released in 2010.

I am looking forward to hearing everyone’s choices.

The Calm at the Eye of the Storm: South Korean Kids on the Threat of North Korea

Korean School Kids: Oblivious

The news networks have gone into overdrive this week. The Korean Peninsula has once again come into focus for all the wrong reasons. By attacking the populated island of Yeonpyeong and killing four South Koreans, the North have made it clear that the accession of Kim Jong-un to Head of State will not signal an end to provocative, audacious behaviour.

It has been widely reported that the North have strengthened their nuclear position with the recent confirmation of uranium enrichment. The American scientist who visited the facility, however, has since warned against unnerving hysteria. Conservative commentators, too, have spoken out against sensationalizing North Korea’s nuclear capabilities. Isn’t that exactly what they want?

All the same, it’s brinkmanship that would test the mettle of many. For me, though, it’s served as a poignant reminder of how people live during times of ‘crisis’. It’s also highlighted the remarkable will that exists within humans to continue on with their lives, even when the world around them goes to pieces. Children, in particular, show impressive indifference in the face of adversity.

I’ve spent the past six months teaching in South Korea. I work in an academy in Gwangju, in the south west of the country. Whilst the international media has been reporting on the mood in Seoul, I have spent the past two days gauging opinion amongst the middle school teenagers I teach. The first thing I noticed is that not one child raised the issue of the North Korean attack when I inquired as to how they were, or how their day had been. The general reaction, when I raised the point, equated to: “oh, that!”

Further questioning revealed a mixture of disdain, sympathy, reactionary, half-hearted hatred and bemusement. But very few of the opinions were enforced with anything resembling conviction… more like eye rolling and heavy tutting.  There was little in the way of childish zeal; the sort one might expect if, say, America had been attacked by an enemy. Of course, I wasn’t grilling 11-year-olds for their opinions on the Korean Situation… I reserved it for the older kids. I wonder if I’d have encountered slightly more animation with the youngsters?

There seems to be a level of acceptance here that these things will, on occasion, happen. It’s apparent even whilst watching news broadcasts: compare those of CNN yesterday with Korean networks. Of course, this is huge news, but it seems as though folks aren’t as willing to get carried away. The calmness struck me as odd at first, but very quickly, I realized it was a sentiment I was well familiar with.

 

Yeonpyeong's Burning: Image by http://www.theage.au

I grew up in the 1980s and 90s in Northern Ireland: surrounded by The Troubles. It seemed like everyday someone had been shot dead; or a bomb had exploded somewhere. Sometimes when we’d be walking to or from school, we’d be greeted on the road by British soldiers, heavily armed. The town I lived in was often closed off because of bomb scares… occasionally, bombs. I was evacuated from a cinema in 1998 whilst playing pool. About an hour later, a huge fireball came rushing towards us at the top of the hill. The bomb had exploded. It probably never came anywhere near us, but it felt like it was right on my arse!

I had a laugh about the incident in school on Monday with friends. Nobody was shocked or surprised… these kind of things just happened. I only realized things like this weren’t normal when I left Ireland for the first time (also in 1998) and went to America. People would ask me how it was, living in Northern Ireland, as if it was a war-zone. I laughed at the very thought… “sure, it’s normal!” Would be the reply. And to me, it was.

‘Normal’ is whatever moment of history we are born into. This week I’ve had messages and emails from home asking me about the situation here.

“What’s going on?”

“It sounds terrible!”

“Is there going to be a war?”

“You’ll be on the first plane home!”

Probably the exact worries people had about our own circumstance in Northern Ireland ten or fifteen years ago. Without trying to make little of what is undoubtedly an anxious, lamentable time, Kim Jong-il was pulling stunts like this when my students were born. As shocking as it may be, for most of them, it’s unsurprising. One of the foibles of conflict still rings true today: the kids are alright.

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Now, enjoy this short audio clip of Sarah Palin promising support for our “North Korean allies” on Glenn Beck’s radio show.

IMDB 250 Challenge: #146: Million Dollar Baby

Made: (2004)

Starring: Clint Eastwood, Hillary Swank, Morgan Freeman

Director: Clint Eastwood

My Thoughts

  • Wow. Present day Clint Eastwood is growing on me like a husky, contemplative cyst. I wrote previously how shocking I thought Gran Torino was. This is in a different league. I love the fragmented storylines… there are three I picked up here: the battle of a redneck woman to make it in the boxing world, an old man still struggling to come to terms with the past and finally (the most potent, powerful and unpredicted) euthanasia. Whilst many movies struggle to establish one clear theme or issue, this one successfully juggled three.
  • I can’t remember ever watching a bad boxing movie (yes, I am including the Rocky series in that). Even in one that tackles such hard-hitting issues as this, the fighting scenes are inspiring. There is very little that can get the blood flowing like it. I really find a schism between reality and fiction on that front. Rarely do I watch a boxing match that excites me. Most of the time, the build-up is more intriguing than the bout itself. Perfect example: Audley Harrison’s laughable display against David Haye this month.
  • As much as I loved this film, I found the scenes in which they featured Irish people embarrassing. In fact, the crowd scenes in general were very poor and clichéd. An awful lot of Irish people can’t speak or read Gaeilge. That huge crowds of them would notice Mo Chuisle (‘my pulse’ is the literal translation, mostly used to equate to ‘my darling’) on Maggie Fitzgerald’s shorts and immediately start chanting it is completely unrealistic. But then, if the entire movie played out like real life, the fights wouldn’t have been half as enjoyable.
  • The depiction of the Irish in Hollywood has been a mixed bag. I loved Brad Pitt in Snatch. His accent was perfect and he had the mannerisms and wit of a few shady characters I’ve encountered. The worst I can recall seeing (including Leprechaun) is probably Sean Bean in Patriot Games. Absolutely horrible stuff. The clip below is an old favourite: classic portrayal of the Troubles for American kids

Various Artists: Broadcast One: New Music Handpicked By Dandelion Radio

It’s impossible to overstate the lasting legacy John Peel left on the UK music landscape. He inspired legions of musos – architects, purveyors and critics alike – to seek out and create the sounds they love. He presented a wholly inclusive viewpoint, that good music was good music, regardless of colour, code or creed. Subsequently, his Radio One sessions often became schizophrenic affairs: splicing the latest movements in underground electronica with garage rock and hip hop.

Dandelion Radio was established in the spirit of Peel in 2006 and picked up where Peel left off: by introducing its listeners to music they probably wouldn’t have heard otherwise. It’s an alternative that’s certainly more overlooked in this day and age, but one that should be applauded, nonetheless. Broadcast One is an attempt to capture their raison d’être on disc.It’s a thirteen track, chaotic, incoherent cross section of Dandelion at four. The great man would surely have approved.

Each of the station’s djs has contributed a track, the majority of them recorded on their own Dandelion Radio Sessions. The compilation is erratic and often feels random. But since “making it up as they go along” is a huge part of their ethos, it’s hardly surprising. The opening one-two combo of Rachel & The Lawn Growers’ folk noir, Nico inspired ‘Rain Again’ and the subdued Jorg’s German dub electronica of ‘Non Stop Luck’ set the tone. They couldn’t have paired two more dissimilar tracks and of course, it sounds somewhat incongruent. But this is Dandelion Radio, just as it was John Peel.

For the sake of highlighting the sheer breadth of music played on the station, I’m sure Dandelion were keen to mix things up, genre wise. That said, there are some tracks which seem to have earned their place on the compilation more than others. ‘I Like Birds and I Like Other Animals Too’ is a superb slice of pop-punk from The Lovely EggsEd Askew & Steve Gunn provide a star turn on the pared-back, reflective ‘When I Arrive’. ‘Black Hand’ byAtomizer provides a Cut Copy-esque change of pace and standout moments emerge throughout the record.

But Broadcast One and Dandelion Radio are not really about rationality. Nor are they too concerned with mixing, production or sequencing. They’re about providing a service that could well have been lost with the departure of John Peel. They’re about offering a podium – an international podium – to erstwhile unheralded acts. They provide listeners with an essential alternative to commercial radio and even to the more “indie-friendly” stations like 6 Music. In this case, the whole is arguably more vital than the parts. In buying this album, you’re helping to sustain an institution founded floating somewhere on the North Sea, on a cold day in 1967.

Written for The Line Of Best Fit

Logical Geography: The World’s Countries Sorted By Population

I’ve always been a huge geography nerd. One thing I regret is not pursuing the subject whilst at school. I know it’s not all maps and atlases, but I really find the whole spectrum fascinating. As a child, I used to pore over old encyclopaedias and Top Ten of Everythings. I never for one second thought that I would one day be living 6,000 miles away from my tiny island home, but there you are. I guess the world is flatter than we thought.

When I was alerted to this map earlier today, I felt an instant rush of excitement. MAP PORN! Over population is an issue I give some thought to, too. There is said to be no easy solution… but I guess this map blows that theory right out of the water. A bit of initial rigmarole and upheaval should be no barrier.

It’s simple, really:

Move the countries with the most people to the countries that have the biggest land area. Each country is allocated an pre-existent land area depending on how big their population is. Why didn’t we think of that before? You’ve got the likes of Mongolia taking up so much space, when really, they shouldn’t be occupying an area bigger than, oh, Belgium.

It's Earth, Jim, but not as we know it

There may, of course, be some nations that feel they’ve got a raw deal. Setting up shop in desert covered Niger may rankle with the British, who might also find cause for concern in sharing a border with Iran. The Canadians probably won’t be too pleased at the thought of swapping their beautiful, outdoor paradise for earthquake prone Pakistan.

The Italians are likely to object to being shoehorned into sub-Saharan Angola, Japan probably won’t take too kindly to upping sticks for Sudan and I’m not sure the German complexion is designed for the scorching, sandy plains of Saudi Arabia. Likewise, the tropical dwelling Vietnamese will take a while to acclimatize to their new homes in Greenland. But as we’re constantly being told: if we’re to save the planet, sacrifice is a must. We must all take our oil.

For some, the New Deal.2.0 works out quite nicely. The Kazakhs will no doubt be rubbing their hands together with anticipation at the thought of moving to moderate Germany. The Bangladeshis are bound to be delighted at the prospect of moving in next door, to India (who will occupy Canada). Eritrea will be promoted to Switzerland and Ethiopia will cross the Atlantic to Mexico (who they may pass, en route to Algeria).

In the interests of Middle Eastern peace, the solution makes perfect sense, too. As far as I’m aware, Estonia and Luxembourg have had no historical gripes, so their placement in Israel and Palestine respectively shouldn’t pose many problems. The aforementioned absconders will have to make do with Greece and Bosnia. Israel may not be best place about vacating the Promised Land, but the Palestinians are bound to be perfectly delighted with a country of their own, right on the Mediterranean.

Spare a thought for the Koreas. Despite being uprooted from their Oriental place of origin, they will share a border once more, in the shape of South Africa and Botswana. And as for us Irish? Well we’re one of only four countries that stay exactly where we are (along with the USA, Yemen and Brazil). We’d be sure to extend a hearty welcome to Tunisia and Tonga (who’ll move into the Isle of Man). Might boost our bid for next year’s Six Nations, too.

This wonderful map was produced by JPalmz, who is obviously a lot more productive with his free time than me.

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From the archives: British Sea Power interview, February 2008

Picture by Alisha Ahmed

I found this whilst looking through some old work. It’s an interview I did with Yan from British Sea Power at the beginning of 2008, around the time they released Do You Like Rock Music? I remember laughing all the conversation. This short piece doesn’t really do it justice and I’ll look for the transcript. I was sure Yan was stoned. He kept going off in bizarre tangents and taking the conversations to weird and wonderful places. The article ran with a picture of his head in the centre and all these coming off as thought bubbles.

It’s a bit how I feel about their music, actually. I’m getting a review copy of their new album this week, which I’m excited about and will update on accordingly.

On the Rock ‘n’ Roll lifestyle…

“The most rock ‘n’ roll thing I’ve ever done is probably eaten a Kit-Kat and a Jammie Dodger all in one go. That was back in my wild days. If I wasn’t in a band I’d probably be a gardener. I did it for about a year and my specialty was ‘clearing’. You know, when someone has a big bramble patch in their garden or something? Well I’d go and clear it. I remember it being as rewarding as getting a single out nowadays. I’ve got bulbs in at the minute, it’s exciting waiting for them, to see which ones will come up first! I can’t remember what they are though; I just know there are three different colours.”

On secret interests…

“Sometimes silly little things mean a lot, don’t they? I probably shouldn’t say, but I’m quite a fan of pigeons. I do get moved by the sight of them on occasion. I used to take quite a lot of pictures of them and go and feed them and that. I don’t keep ’em because I used to think I’d end up like a… I don’t know what you’d call them… a ‘male bag lady’. You know, talking to the pigeons and that?”

On the great outdoors…

“I’d fancy my chances in the great outdoors. I think I’d make a pretty good forager. I’m a vegetarian you see, so I like eating leaves. I could eat anything from dandelions to nettles. You know you can make a cup of tea from pine needles? Apparently it’s got more Vitamin C than Orange Juice. But I think I could give it a go. I think most of the things I enjoy in life are natural, so to speak, so barring a disaster I think I could do it for a while.”

On British Sea Power’s live shows…

“Whilst it’s exaggerated quite a bit, we do have gimmicks. We had an eight foot bear on stage and were having fights with it on our first tour. If that’s not a gimmick, I don’t know what is! To me, it’s a case of adding a weird and random factor which is also visually interesting. Depending who was in the bear suit, it could be a dancing bear or it could be a fighting bear. Sometimes, he’d be pulling our guitar leads out and everything. I think it has got an artistic kiosk quality to it as well as being funny. I wouldn’t fancy my chances against a real bear though. Have you seen that Grizzly Man?”

On rock music…

“With the title of our new album (Do You Like Rock Music?), we’re saying that rock music is a little dead. We wanted to breathe some fresh life into it and make it more expansive. We view rock music like you would view a… eh… deer in a forest; from a natural perspective. It should make you feel excited and alive. It seems that at one point it was an interesting, even dangerous thing. People like Jerry Lee Lewis, or Iggy Pop weren’t scared of looking a bit stupid, but everything’s a bit safe now. I’d have loved to have been around to see Elvis in his youth. Not in a dodgy kind of way, mind. I mean when he started getting famous!”

On rock’s ubiquitous cover stars…

“Johnny Borrell’s an entertaining moron. He’s sometimes funny, but not for the reasons he thinks he is. I’ve got no time for him. Pete Doherty has got some talent at least. It doesn’t show itself outwardly too often, but it’s there. The last time I seen him, he asked me how many press ups I could do – which at the time was about 60 – then just walked off. I probably scared him with my high number! He doesn’t really look like he could do a press up, does he?”

The times, they are a changin’

Image by Hugh

Welcome to the new Scrawls and Bawls! For over two years I stuck with Blogger, but had constant problems. First of all, I was never really happy with the template (or choice of templates). They look amateurish and clunky. I think that even the most basic WordPress themes look more professional, clean and are easier to read (I hope you agree!).

More recently, I had formatting issues. I would type something in one font and it would appear on the blog in another. No amount of tinkering could alter it. There was a lack of uniformity to the posts, stylistically and it annoyed me looking at it.

My mind was pretty much made up to leave Google after the Pop Cop got shut down by them last year on a ridiculous charge of copyright infringement. I don’t post many downloads on my blog, but it grated with me that an honest, community minded blogger’s freedom was impinged upon.

Reading user reviews, it seems that whilst WordPress is not perfect, it’s much more consistent than the Google option. I realize I’m forfeiting any SEO I may have gained from it, but that’s not a worry for me. The transfer was a bit of a ballache and I will spend the next while revisiting old posts and ironing out some problems. I’ll also probably toy around with the format for a wee while, but I hope to keep updating the blog with posts you may enjoy.

Thanks for reading!

IMDB 250 Challenge: #41: Taxi Driver

Made: 1976
Starring: Robert De Niro, Jodie Foster, Cybill Shepherd
Director: Martin Scorsese
My Thoughts
  • Generally, watching a film once is enough for me; particularly in a short space of time. Of course, there are movies I’ve habitually watched at Christmas and seen a dozen times, but I prefer to watch something new, given the choice. With Taxi Driver, though, as soon as I watched it, I felt I could easily have pressed play again and sat right through another play. It’s a subtle movie in many ways. It moves slowly and affords itself plenty of silences. There’s plenty to think about. There are some hugely impactual scenes, but it’s more moving as a piece (ironically, considering it has one of the most quoted lines of any movie).
  • When watching, I kept thinking back to a biography I read years ago of Timothy McVeigh, the Oklahoma Bomber. McVeigh had been a decorated soldier in the Gulf War #1. He struggled to readjust to society’s trivialities afterwards and having been discarded by his government, soon became scornful and embittered towards all aspects of the federal state. We all know what happened to him. Travis (De Niro’s character), having served in the Marine Corps, battles with what he perceives to be daily injustices. He bemoans the downward spiral of morality engulfing NYC and eventually, takes matters into his own hands. There are certainly parallels and I think Scorsese (and of course, writer Paul Schrader) have framed that frustration astutely. They can’t have been short of research subjects in the fallout of the Vietnam War.
  • I was genuinely surprised by the ending. I won’t spoil it, but I was certain it would conclude differently. For me, it made the movie. Up until that point I thought it was a good movie. The ending really seals it’s status as a great one.
  • I wondered about the main character’s insomnia. It’s something I think about quite a bit, being a mild sufferer. Was he a bit tapped beforehand, or was it the lack of sleep that sent him over the age? It has a great track record for ruining people; but equally, some of the most revered creative minds have been sufferers (Proust, Van Gogh, Napoleon, Monroe, Edison, Dickens, B. Franklin).

The War on Drugs – Future Weather EP

The War on Drugs’ excellent debut album, Wagonwheel Blues (2008), was a heady helping of roots rock that drew comparisons with Dylan, Springsteen and The Band. Since then, though, their success has been arguably eclipsed by that of one of their number. Lead guitarist Kurt Vile elaborated on the dusty Americana he’d been honing on his day job with the lo-fi, well receivedChildish Prodigy (2008).

A full length follow up to Wagonwheel Blues has been mooted for some time, but the fact that a lot of the material earmarked for it has wound up on Future Weather doesn’t augur well for the future endeavours of The War on Drugs, at least not in their current guise. In Vile and the mercurial Morrissey to his Marr Adam Granduciel, they have two huge talents jostling for primacy and on Future Weather, it seems that the latter has won out. Vile is a notable absentee and the biggest compliment I can pay this EP is that his presence isn’t missed at all.

The War on Drugs are at their best when embellishing on a classic template. Case in point: first track proper and set highlight ‘Baby Missiles’. Rhythmically and stylistically, it’s archetypal Boss. When you expect to hear a harmonica, there’s a harmonica. Where you imagine there might be a “whoop”, well, that’s exactly what you find. But fed through stratums and substratums of fuzz, reverb and organ it acquires a whole new identity. Strangely enough, it sounds fresh.

Similarly, ‘Comin’ Through’ is a sublime slice of textured mid-70s blues rock, reminiscent of that era’s Fleetwood Mac. It’s a thread darned throughout the EP, particularly on Brothers. The complexity of the pieces, however, and the immersive nature of the sound, belies such comparison, careering instead toward the most introspective, stoned moments of Urban Hymns (‘The History of Plastic’). And so it continues. The War on Drugs recall at one point or another, a dozen or more artists; but none tell the full story. Just when you you’re about to pin the tail on the donkey, it kicks you in the face.

Lyrically, there are some clues to Granduciel’s frame of mind at the time of writing. There are themes of loneliness, abandonment and severance. Whether he’s metaphorically mourning the departure of twelve ships (‘Comin’ Through’), wondering where all his mates have gone (‘Brothers’), or contemplating his friend who “rides all alone” (‘Baby Missiles’), it’s hard not to leap to conclusions. If that sounds a tad grim, then forgive me; for the record is anything but. Future Weather is one to get lost in and at times, it’s entirely joyous.

So used, as we are, to being pummeled with outtake, cover version and bootleg filled EPs, the expectancy has been substantially lowered. It’s rare to hear one as fully formed as Future Weather. Sure, they’ve used it as a platform to try new things – they are courting more experimental tangents than ever before – but they haven’t fired them all against the wall and waited to see what’s stuck. It has been arranged precisely, fluidly and coherently. I sincerely hope it isn’t, but if Future Weather is the last we hear from The War on Drugs, then it’s one hell of an epitaph.

 

Gwangju Sangmu 1-2 Ulsan Horangi-i


Gwangju Sangmu Phoenix turned in yet another mediocre performance, as they tasted defeat in their final game of the season. But if truth be told, Sunday’s effort was about par for the course on a season that’s seen them win only 3 games from 28, scoring a paltry 17 goals and conceding a 43. Both sides came into the encounter with different reasons for needing the points. Ulsan, twice K-League champions, were looking to maintain the good form that has seen them take a place in the Asian Champions League play-off positions. Gwangju, on the other hand, were chasing a victory that would keep them off bottom position in the table; a feat they managed to “achieve” despite losing, with Daegu’s inept showing at Chunnam Dragons (2-1) meaning they took this season’s wooden spoon.

Gwangju started brightly enough, penning Ulsan back in their own half for the majority of the opening exchanges and their early endeavour was rewarded with the opening goal on only 12 minutes. Cho Yong-Tae rose to meet a cross and knocked it past Korean international goalkeeper Kim Young-Kwang. Gwangju’s coach and supporters will have been disappointed that their team’s impetus was maintained so briefly. Only 7 minutes later, Ulsan were level. Paraguayan striker Jose Maria Ortigoza (a promising attacker, on loan from Club Sol de America in his homeland and who made his international debut earlier this year), latched onto a forward ball, beat the defender and rifled in a shot from a narrow angle. Kim Jee-Hyuk, in the Gwangju goal, got his gloves, but only enough to parry it into his own net. It was a fortuitous goal, but highlighted the lethal form Ortigoza has been in of late. Second top scorer in the K-League for the season with 17 (as many as the entire Gwangju team have mustered), he finished the league season with 7 goals in his final 6 games.

Proceedings were scrappy up until half time, with neither side wanting to seize the initiative, a pattern that continued into the second period. In the 54th minute, though, Ortigoza pounced again for the goal of the game. Played in by a midfielder he received the ball at the edge of the area, held off a couple of Sangmu defenders, before firing low into the bottom corner of the hapless Kim’s goal. At 2-1, it never looked as though Gwangju were going to get back into it. The players looked disinterested and demotivated and Ulsan were happy to knock it around, letting the soldiers chase their shadows. It was a disappointing end to what’s ostensibly the club’s final K-League season.

The newly formed Gwangju FC launched their website last month(http://www.gwangju-fc.com/ – Korean only) and an official foundation ceremony is mooted for December, at which stage they hope to be accepted into the K-League as the 16th member, competing as of 2011. It has been suggested that they will be allowed special dispensation (as Gangwon were a few years back) to select players from this year’s draft to flesh out their squad. They were previously said to be adopting the moniker “Gwangju Rayers” (supposedly because “ray” suggests imagery of light beams – a futuristic image that correlates with the growing city of Gwangju, and of course relates to Gwangju being the City of Light), but this has been put back for review (apparently due to some controversy over a local ray fish delicacy and the propensity of Koreans outside of the province to refer to Jeolla natives in derogatory terms related to the ray fish).

54-year-old Choi Man-Hee has been appointed as head coach and there is optimism that Gwangju will be able to shed the label of “whipping boys”. The prospect of a citizen team frees the coach to select the players he wants, not necessarily soldiers. It also creates the possibility of strengthening yearly and not building again from scratch once the players finish their military service. The potential to recruit international players, such as the hugely impressive Ortigoza, could also result in a welcome boost to attendances at the World Cup Stadium.