Lesson #323?: Fulham’s Wet (Soccer) Footballs

Full disclosure: I am longtime Tottenham supporter. Because I’m a glutton for punishment. Their recent success is quite a nice change from my constant expectation that the other shoe will drop. Then again, a side without Gareth Bale (who is sure to leave) might return to old form. 

I heard a tidbit on a fairly reputable TV program the other day that I’ve been desperately trying to verify since because it was fascinating. According to this program, way back in the late 1800s when Fulham began play at Craven Cottage, and well before footballs were corporately sponsored, the team paid a man to row out and retrieve balls kicked out of the stadium. Now…let’s back up a bit.

Fulham’s grounds sit quite literally on the banks of the Thames. The ground has an interesting back story of its own, but what’s important here is that the bankside stand used to look like this,* so it couldn’t have been particularly uncommon for balls to clear the stadium and land in the river.

Unfortunately, the only information I can find on anything even remotely related is that Fulham paid mudlarks to retrieve balls that landed in the river, that four of them died retrieving the footballs, and that there used to be a plaque outside Craven Cottage dedicated to their memory. It was, apparently, replaced by the hideous Michael Jackson statue. But the site, while informative, is not exactly academic, and I can’t find anything to verify it. There appear to be no pictures of this plaque online (despite the fact that it was removed two years ago) and there’s no mention of anything to do with the mudlarks or a man in a boat on Fulham’s site.

So it occurred to me to go directly to the source and email Fulham and see what they had to say about it. Surely, they’ve got some knowledge of this? Anyway, I’m awaiting their response. I am nothing, if not thorough.

*This is quite literally the first time I have ever accessed a team site that wasn’t Spurs or Sparta (my Gambrinus League team). At least it wasn’t Arsenal.

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Lesson #322: Powderpuff Football

So…an old friend conned me into playing beer league American football this autumn. He didn’t really have to try that hard, to be honest, but I’ve never played American football in my life. His pitch was “you played rugby, you like beer, and the league needs girls.” Right, okay…I’m in.

Anyway, I was telling The Swede about this at the weekend and tried to explain my hesitations with, “I’ve never even played Powderpuff!” which left him blinking rather confusedly, as Powderpuff is not a thing that exists in Sweden. So this morning, I thought I’d send him a link to try to explain better than my, “it’s a Harvest Week* thing where girls play touch!” (like I thought he’d understand what any of those words meant together as a sentence) and threw the Wiki article at him.

But here’s the thing: it turns out Powderpuff has a longer history than you’d expect.

Powderpuff has been around since 1945 when Eastern State Teachers College in South Dakota fielded a team. The story of how it came about is quite cute. Because of the war, most everything festive had been suspended, but in the wake of the Japanese surrender, and the announcement at ESTC that there would, once again, be a homecoming — even though there was no football team to field — a bunch of girls got together and decided to field a football game of their own. And so Powderpuff was born.

The first game was played between those who lived in the dorms on campus and those who were commuters from the local community of Madison. It was decided that Eastern State’s colours of blue and gold should be used for the teams.

It became known as “Powderpuff” because, during the game, the girls opted, instead of heading for whatever they head for at halftime in American football, to re-up their makeup with powder puffs and all. A local journalist called the the teams, “the Powder Puffs and the Rouge Elevens,” which named Powderpuff as we know it (or don’t if you’re Swedish).

The game was then lost for nearly 30 years until Mark T. Sheehan high school in Wallingford, Connecticut** played a game in 1972 that became a tradition that spread to high schools and universities throughout the US and Canada. This actually makes a whole lot of sense. I had always assumed that Powderpuff had been a bastard child of the Title IX ruling; it turns out that Title IX came into effect in June of 1972.

According to Wiki, the longest running Powderpuff rivalry in the US (and probably anywhere) is the Samaha Bowl*** — named for Sheehan’s then-athletic director, Judy Samaha — which is played on the Wednesday before American Thanksgiving every year between senior girls of Sheehan and Lyman Hall High Schools (also of Wallingford, CT). Unfortunately, I can’t find any information as to whether or not the game, which is played to this day, is still limited to seniors.****

As much as I hate to admit this, Wiki has the best information here. It’s a lot of citation, so I’m more okay with it. Notice the theme here in my acceptance of Wiki as a source, but there’s still a part of my soul that dies every time I link to a Wiki article. But overall, it kind of makes sense; niche things tend to have quite well-cited Wiki pages, but not much else outside of it. Because it’s niche.

*My high school didn’t have Homecoming (although I think that has changed in the 15 year since I graduated). When I was there, it was called Harvest. So we had Harvest Week and the Harvest Game and the Harvest Dance, and I actually kind of prefer it because it’s less generic.

**Oddly, this is the second time Wallingford has come up in my life in the past few weeks. I happen to have an old, old friend who went to prep school in Wallingford, but the earlier reference came from my brother.

***I so wanted to be able to find a proper source for this, but the best I can find are some YouTube videos of the event, so here you go! A clip from 2012.  I will say that this game is way more organized, better played, better uniformed, better supported, and played by far more people than the Powderpuff game at my high school.

****Given the popularity of this game, I think it’s completely feasible to field a pair of teams of 45(ish) senior girls from a town of 45,000.

Lesson #321: The Great Smog of ’52

I’d like to start today’s lesson with someone totally unrelated to what will follow, but that made me laugh. In the course of an email thread between my parents and me yesterday, my dad brought up the Fortress of Louisbourg in Nova Scotia, which they took me and my brother to whilst on holiday in the Maritimes the summer I was 14.* I suggested that I’d need to read up on it because I had no memory of what he was talking about, to which my mother responded with this gem:

“Louisbourg: the French said to themselves, the back of our fort, from whence we get our fresh water is a swamp/ wetland. No one would be so foolish as to attack from that direction when we have such formidable water facing defenses. Well, gee, they forgot about the New Englanders who live in swamps/wetlands and have no trouble slogging through them, especially when there is a nice juicy fort to be had. Block the French’s access to their fresh water supply and it’s not long until they will consider a discussion about change of command. Turns out the English didn’t see too much advantage in holding the fort so eventually turned it back to the French. Some time later, it became a strategic position again so the English did exactly the same thing and came through the *still* undefended back door.”

Well told, Mom.

And now, on to today’s lesson. 

The beauty of the internet is random links allow you to find out all sorts of things you might never otherwise have learned because there are so many layers to peel back before you’d get to it in a book — by way, no doubt , of five others. Today, I was playing about on the Met Office’s website (see my very first post on the Shipping Forecast) and through a series of clicks came across the Great Smog of ’52.

On the evening of 5 December 1952, a heavy smog rolled in on London and spent the next three days wreaking havoc, made 100,000 people sick, and asphyxiated at least 4,000 people (a study published in the January 2004 edition of the journal Environmental Health Perspectives suggests the number is closer to 12,000) and some cattle. In some places, the fog was so thick that people couldn’t see their own feet, which, as you can imagine, made it very difficult to navigate streets even when people were in familiar areas.

All of this came about because of a chain reaction of factors. It had been a cold, snowy November/Early December,** and as a result, people had been burning coal in their fireplaces a whole lot more than usual. All of this coal burning caused an accumulation of smog that the low winter sun — and let’s be honest, the UK isn’t exactly known for its sunshine — wasn’t able to burn off. So now you’ve got a heavy smog that hasn’t been dissipated during the day and the not-insignificant population of London adding to the problem because it’s still very cold. Add to this a perfect storm, as it were, of meteorological conditions that I don’t exactly understand. And then add the pollution from industrial areas on the continent that the wind has blown over the city. And then the sun rises and fails to burn it off and the factories keep working and the wind keeps blowing and the sun sets and the citizens of London light their fires to keep warm and a vicious cycle ensues for a few days.

Needless to say, this brought air, rail, and bus travel to a complete standstill. Theatre and opera performances were called off when the fog moved into the theatres. But really, the way you know something is serious in England? Football matches were cancelled.

More can be read here and here. For a retrospective from The Guardian, including full articles reported at the time, see here. Photographs — which are actually pretty stunning — here.

*I give my parents a lot of (fake) crap about the fact that they’re terrible parents because they never took me to Saskatoon — to this day, I’ve not been to Saskatchewan — but they did take us to a lot of cool places and made sure that we were exposed to a lot of interesting learning-type things.

**And if you’ve ever spent a significant amount of time in the UK in winter, you know that heavy snow isn’t particularly common and therefore results in all manner of chaos wherein everyone reacts as if they’ve never seen snow before and have no idea what to do.

Lesson #320: The Glasgow Smile

Today’s lessons is less about me learning what something is and more about me learning it’s not called what I’ve always known it to be called. This should give you plenty of insight as to how I spent my weekends from August to May.

I got to the Glasgow Smile by way of The Black Dahlia.* I’m not even kidding. I was reading a blurb on her that mentioned the Glasgow Smile, which included a description of what that is.

Here’s the thing: I never knew that it was actually called a Glasgow Smile; in my world, it’s called a Chelsea Grin.

If you’ve seen The Dark Knight (the second, and best, in the Christopher Nolan Batman trilogy) — or if you’re familiar with character actor Tommy Flanagan, who legitimately has one — you know the Glasgow Smile. It’s the effect of scarring from having the corners of your mouth slashed with something (utility knife, glass, whatever happens to be sharp and handy) and then beaten to the point that because of the way the facial muscles contract, the beating winds up tearing the small cut basically from mouth to ears in a way that scars into the shape of a smile. Evidently, victims often die of exsanguination.**

Hilariously, one of the top results on Google for Glasgow Smile appears to be a fan-written love story involving the band One Direction. (I refuse to link to that — either the story or the band — on principle. Look it up yo’ damn self!) But at least I’m not the only one. I share my ignorance with teenaged girls.*** Awesome.

Anyway, there’s not a whole lot to go on here, source-wise. If you google Chelsea Grin, you get a band (see? I’m not making it up! It’s an actual term!) If you google Glasgow Smile, it leads you first to Wikipedia. So…here you go. The Wiki page (Chelsea Grin redirects) is here. Pictures — mostly makeup for those of you who are squeamish, and mostly healed for the ones that are real — are here.

*I was going to link to something on the Black Dahlia, but the second page that comes up is Wiki, and the first is a site that looks like it was built in the late 90s on one of those free sites (minus the excessive sparkle), and it weirded me out. I get that certain things, like sensational unsolved murders that get made into terrible movies starring Josh Hartnett’s eyebrows, lend themselves to devotees, but there’s something about sites like those that just make my skin crawl.

**Because this post is rather macabre, I feel I should note that exsanguinate is one of my favourite words. It’s so evocative. Also, it makes me think of Firefly, which is never a problem.

***Presumably, other football fans as well, and we’re many! It’s nice to assume I’m not sharing my ignorance with only teenaged girls.

For the record…

…I kick ass at research. I mean, I’m really, really good at it. Now, I realize this sounds a bit boastful, but I’m quite proud of myself at the minute. Last week, I spent a few days at a lake just east of the Adirondacks.* One of the nights, my cousins and I were sitting around reading. My aunt had put on this local radio station that is…eclectic, I think is the best word. Anyway, without cell service, and without knowing that our Soundhound apps have a function that allows us to save a search for when we do have connectivity, a song came on that we all wanted to know the title of. We were hoping that the super smooth-voiced DJ (I’m talking some Barry White type smooth) would tell us, but alas, we were out of luck. I remembered exactly one thing about the song: there’s a mention of the Manhattan Bridge. This is, as you’d imagine, not exactly the most useful thing ever when you’re doing a search.

So I tried the next best thing…to remember the name of the radio station. I didn’t. I did, however, remember the frequency. From there, it didn’t take too long to sort out which station I wanted and found its website. Then, it got a bit tricky. Like a lot of radio stations, this one posts its playlists. This one does it for a week. Unfortunately, that left me SOL because this was last Thursday, and I hadn’t remembered that I told the girls I’d look it up until this morning. So I pooled all my best resources — okay, the radio station’s website, Spotify, and Google — together and buckled down for a couple hours of listening to clips of every single song on the playlists (minus the ones that were done by women, and songs I’m already familiar with or artists that are clearly not in the right genre — in this case Jimmy Cliff, Steve Earle, Trombone Shorty, The Lumineers, etc.) in an attempt to find it. And I did. Because I rule at research. It took me less time than I’d expected, but no small amount of time.

The song: ‘Dreaming From the Heart of New York’ by Clarence Bucaro.

Along the way, I learned some pretty stellar band names. Among my favourites: Hot Club of Cowtown, Boy With a Fish, The Lone Bellow, Donna the Buffalo, The Dirty Gov’nahs, Trampled by Turtles,  Jukebox the Ghost, The Shouting Matches, Family of the Year, Crankshaft and the Gear Grinders, and Mungo Jerry (which I can only assume is a play on T.S. Eliot).

Best of all, as someone who lives in the land of, National Bohemian (which always throws me when I see it on a beer list because it’s almost always just called Boh, or at its most formal, Natty Boh).

*Also included, my first ever visit to Fort Ticonderoga. It was all very interesting, but at some point, forts just sort of stop being impressive because, in the end, they all did the same thing. They kept others out. Until they didn’t. And then they changed hands and kept others out. Until they didn’t. This, perhaps, explains my preference for urban fighting. The most interesting thing I learned was about how the French army adapted their uniforms and fighting for life in the cold/mountains/forests. Their uniforms were adapted from the garb of the Iroquois tribes who lived in the area and were designed to allow freedom of movement whilst navigating mountain and forest terrain. 

Lesson #319: How X Became the Unknown

Long story short, X is the unknown because there’s no “sh” in Spanish.*

This is honestly one of the most interesting things I’ve ever learned. It’s so concise and well explained, so I’ll just let Terry Moore take it away.

*Here’s the etymological breakdown for the word algebra in case you were unconvinced of Moore’s authority.