Sunday, 26 September 2010

Uncommon wealth

The English ladies Lawn Bowls team
were devastated to discover that they
had been provided with such
sub-standard accommodation

As I write, a team of twelve-year-old girls are feverishly hammering and sawing their little socks off to ensure the 2010 Commonwealth Games can go ahead as planned. The idea of employing fully grown and skilled tradespeople to complete this work seems to have eluded the organisers, who no doubt saw the crowds of youngsters displaced from the many bulldozed villages en-route to the stadium as perfect candidates for earning a little pocket money. And so, with just over a week to go before the curtain is raised on possibly the most pointless competition in the world of sport, the British seize their opportunity for a bit of a moan. Actually, the Kiwis are moaning as well, as is practically everyone involved. It is comforting to know that the mother country has at least bequeathed something to its many usurping offspring.

I have a question: exactly why do we need an athletes’ ‘village’? I’ve always been a bit baffled by the concept of these places, Olympic or otherwise, which for three weeks in a lifetime are inhabited by groups of opposing athletes who would probably much rather not have to bump into their detested arch rivals every time they pop out to the village shop. What exactly makes it a village? Perhaps there’s a little church hall serving tea and cakes and a graffiti-lined bus shelter crammed with steroid-injecting miscreants. Whatever goes on inside these strange little gated communities, I don’t see the point. Yes, competitors need somewhere to sleep, eat and have rampant sex with each other, but why can’t they do those things in a hotel? It’s good enough for footballers after all.

In a defiant move, the English Commonwealth team has sent some of its athletes to do exactly that in the run up to the beginning of the games, whilst the diligent workmen at the village site attempt to shake off the Dengue fever long enough to connect
monsoon-soaked cables to exposed sockets with their teeth. So the hockey team are all comfy in their five-star suites, and would probably rather stay there rather than have an air-conditioning unit fall on their heads. If every athlete (around 8000 in total) were to do the same, wouldn’t that be better all round? I don’t buy the argument about training facilities either. The lawn bowls team were the first to boycott the accommodation, and have more chance of recreating the conditions of a lush surrey bowling green in the function room of a plush hotel than they ever would have of finding a patch of suitable grass in Delhi. Plus, the runners can jog round the block, the weight-lifters can carry people’s cases upstairs and the if the rest have come this far and still need to practise, well quite frankly, that’s their fault.

I may be being a little flippant, but doing things this way would save an awful lot of money. The athletes’ village is to be sold as luxury apartments on completion of the games, and there isn’t a hope in hell that this money will find its way back to even partially reimbursing the government investment, and will instead line the already-jangling pockets of the Dubai-based property company responsible for the shambles. What is the difference then, of sprinkling a lot less money on building a couple more hotels, which takes no time at all (the new Premier Inn in Greenwich for instance, was built overnight) and constructing a smaller, centralised training facility somewhere near the stadium site? That way, the competitors would all be able to stay together with their respective teams, yet not have to share a lift every morning with the person that intends to trample them into the sandpit.

The biggest problem here is the questionable need to hold a Commonwealth Games in the first place. An anachronistic concept at best, there seems to me no conceivable reason to continue with it. The sheer expense alone surely raises questions about the viability of a ‘tradition’ that is as defunct as the empire itself. Things have moved on, thank God, and so should we all. If the enthusiasm is there for an alternative competition to the Olympic Games, why not expand it to include other nations that didn’t have the pleasure of having an British flag plonked on their native turf a few hundred years ago? Obviously you can’t let the Americans in, because they would take over and ruin it, but surely athletes want to compete at the highest level, and not just against the other countries from a Victorian atlas?

Nevertheless, these games will go ahead and everything will probably be fine. Anyone who seriously expected a trouble-free construction effort in Delhi was deluding themselves. The games are costing £1.5 billion, more than ever before, and yet the facilities are sub-standard. As much as it is regrettable to admit, a certain amount of corruption within the system and greed amongst contractors must have led us to this point, and the overriding feeling is that it was inevitable. It seems ludicrous that the condition of the buildings and infrastructure has only just been identified as unsatisfactory, and that the problem wasn’t spotted and rectified sooner. This is, however, partially down to the media’s love of scandal, as a felicitously timed expose can do wonders for the impact of a story (just ask any Premiership footballer).

Personally, I hope the people of Delhi defy the negative speculation surrounding them and put on a bloody good show of hosting these games. After all, if we have to have them, we may as well enjoy them (and try not to lose). But more than anything, I really hope the garden bowls team find a lawn without a pile of rubble on it. Poor things.

Thursday, 26 August 2010

Analyse This...

A spokeswoman for the BBC unveils
Radio Five Live's latest punditry signing,
whilst indicating the number of words
in his hastily assembled vocabulary

Perhaps it’s the bizarre human fascination with watching sport that causes us to treat its discussion and debate in an equally odd way. To some, indeed to many, the mere existence live sporting activity on television is beyond understanding. To these strange people, the very act of remotely witnessing a display of physical exertion from the living room seems a hypocritical display of indolence. If, in fact, sport is an activity that onlookers can derive as equal a pleasure as the participants, then surely the very concept would dictate that the viewer be present at the occasion?

This, as we all know, is nonsense, and is the sort of non-sequiter that is peddled all too frequently by those with no interest in sport whatsoever; a cruel and heartless bunch who take pleasure in seeing the football switched over to Eastenders. Shame on them.

I will concede that there might be a little too much sport on TV these days. If the sum total of any given week’s sporting output were calculated, it would undoubtedly amount to a period of time sufficient to complete every outstanding DIY job in the country, and countless piles of untouched ironing. Sadly (for some), we are where we are, and the fact that Sky TV alone churns out five channels of combative action indicates a stage in human development from which it is impossible to return. We are a nation, nay a civilisation, devoted to watching sport. I don’t intend to ruminate here on the merits or disadvantages of this fact, but instead to simply accept it, and move on. After all (if apocryphally) ‘Ours no to reason why / Ours just to sit and watch’

To the above-mentioned contingent, whose enjoyment lies elsewhere, nothing is more bewildering than the burning need of presenters and pundits to discuss, analyse and cogitate upon the action, whether speculatively or retrospectively. Each televised sport deals with its analytical requirements in different ways. Athletics for instance, has a great deal of time to fill between the periods of ‘action’ (for me this is from the time it starts to when it graciously ends). The presenters then, rely on having an endless reel of races, throws, jogs and sandpit dalliances at their disposal on which to pour comment. With televised athletics, it is necessary that these presenters are former athletes, for it is well known that anyone involved in track and field is either socially inept and incredibly boring (and therefore incapable of a career after competition in any other arena than commenting on athletics), or so strung out on opiates or steroids that they commit themselves to the nearest metaphorical high jump (citation required).

Cricket is always a divisive subject in this respect, and so I will neatly spring over its boundary rope long enough to make a superb catch at deep cover and maintain that no other sport has more successfully found ways of amusing itself between memorable moments than this glorious example. Here, anecdotes reign supreme, and I once heard a ten-minute segment of Test Match Special devoted entirely to the story of a pigeon that had incommodiously plonked itself at Silly mid-on. Magic.

I won’t dwell on Tennis for any longer than is necessary; for I am enraged to tears each time I consider how effortlessly Tim Henman has stepped into the studio to undo half a century of flawless BBC coverage. I firmly believe that his vacuous face and lack of charisma could have gone a long way in athletics.

The truth is that every sport has its pundits making Herculean efforts to speak coherently and sensibly on their respective subject, but none historically fail quite so spectacularly as the most beloved of world sports. It’s a well known fact that football punditry contains little of the coherence mentioned above, and even fewer instances of the sensible. This relies on a key tenet, one that ensures it will remain forever the exclusive domain of the moron and the halfwit; the ex-footballer. Given that the vast majority of pundits have shuffled off the footballing coil, it necessarily means that television studios across the land are filled with suited men of questionable literacy, grasping flailingly at fashion sense and doing their level best to state the obvious in such tangential ways that they hope to convince us of their perspicacity.

It must be noted that there is a vast gulf between punditry and commentary, and few would accuse John Motson and the like of lacking erudition. Commentators, on the whole, tend to be knowledgeable and articulate, chiefly because they have never played the game, choosing instead to spend their childhood at school.

Whether it be the booming ejaculations of Andy Gray, the bleating drawl of David Pleat or the tired groans of Graham Taylor, each channel broadcasting the beautiful game have apparently chosen the best they could find to comment upon it. If this is the case, then God help the likes of Joey Barton upon reaching retirement.
An ex-player has three choices as I see it; one, he can obtain his coaching badges and enter the maelstrom of football management (see Robson/Hughes). Secondly, he can lose all sense of perspective and direction, and become an alcoholic (see Gascoigne/McGrath). Lastly, he can take the comparatively cosier route on to radio and television and become a pundit, which an alarmingly large number are now choosing to do. It is not advisable to attempt all three, but that hasn’t stopped some (see Merson).

I have no problem in the slightest with ex-footballers becoming pundits, indeed it seems a natural progression. What does alarm me however, is the success that some of them enjoy for seemingly no good reason. Take Martin Keown for instance. He is no oil painting, and cannot claim to have achieved success for his scintillating appearance. Yes, he has some grasp of the defensive subtleties of the game, but given that sense of humour to him is as alien as a credit card limit to a Wag, how does he land a regular spot on Match of the Day? At least confine him to the gantry where he can do no more harm than lament zonal marking until they switch off the floodlights and leave him in darkness.

Alan Shearer’s presence on the MOTD sofa is (slightly) more understandable. He is undoubtedly a legend of the game, yet unfortunately this does not necessarily extend to his automatically becoming a legend of punditry. No, Sir Shearer of the Toon is the Duke of Obvious, commanding an army of statements that constantly battle with one another for the title of most pointless. He has improved slightly as time has gone by, yet his hair-tearingly annoying habit of confusing adverbs with adjectives has to stop. I realise it’s not Newsnight, but have BBC standards slipped to a level where even basic grammar is no longer required? As for his sense of humour, it’s there somewhere, but given the way he writhes around uneasily after making a joke, it looks as if he has had it surgically implanted, and that his body is rejecting the new organ with every chuckle.

Not a great deal can be said about Lee Dixon, other than that watching his hairline recede has become a pastime of mine. Nowadays, unfortunately, his forehead appears bigger than the screen itself and is becoming cause for alarm. I am in the process of drafting a strongly worded letter to the BBC demanding its immediate removal, at very least before the watershed for fear of scaring children.

Most alarming of all, and provoking in me a genuine concern for the sanity of the BBC Sports editor, is the recent inclusion of Robbie Savage on the punditry merry-go-round. Not only does he still play, which is cheating a little, but he is also irrevocably dim. Ok, I can forgive his appearance on the 606 football phone-in; his provocative nature and status as a hate figure are beneficial in engendering some liveliness into that all encompassing, excuse-laden term ‘banter’. Plus, it is useful to provide the callers with a presenter on a similar intellectual wavelength to themselves.

I draw the line however at his being permitted to co-commentate on Radio Five Live matches. I admit that Five Live has the tendency to occasionally descend into little more than adolescent, testosterone-filled shouting, but its actual coverage of football matches is second-to-none, and the professionalism of the commentary team should be sacrosanct; at all costs prevented from being undermined by the guffawing clownishness of Savage. To wit, listening to him commentate is like being forced to scrub your face with a cheese grater, only much less grammatically coherent.

I realise my vitriol has been primarily aimed at the BBC (as always seems to be the case), and although it produces a great deal of top quality sporting output (its Formula One coverage for instance is impeccable), the quality of football punditry is at an all time low. At least when Sky Sports customers wince at the fatuous comments of Jamie Redknapp, they only have themselves to blame for paying the premium. Everyone else with a remote interest in the game is forced to pay an unavoidable license fee to hear Savage habitually mispronounce a word, attempt to rectify it, and after realising he is illiterate, laugh at himself and encourage others to laugh with him. We’re laughing at you Robbie.

Put simply, as the self-styled Prince of punditry Alan Hansen would say (to whom nothing of the above applies), it’s simply diabolical…

Sunday, 4 July 2010

An Apple a day...

Reverend Jobs explains why the
light that shines from his
rear end is perpetually shaped
like a half-eaten piece of fruit

The curious thing about a cult is its ability to make you think that what you’re doing is correct and proper. The lengths gone to for it, the devotion shown towards it and the vehement defence given to it when questioned are all hallmarks of a deluded individual having undergone some vicious brainwashing at the hands of a sinister leader.

Cults are rare though, right? They’re reserved for young buck-toothed girls in straw dresses somewhere in the mid-west of America, duped into believing that the ‘Reverend’ has some divine calling that permits, nay demands, late night visits to their bedrooms.

Not so I argue, and elements of cultist activity exist in our everyday lives. It’s no secret that the lucrative world of consumerism has for a long time shown traits of underhand dominance; whether it be the ubiquitous advertising of Coca Cola or the constant and slippery reinvention of McDonalds, it’s well known that huge corporations employ swarms of executives to quietly persuade us to stay loyal and hand over our hard earned cash.

But some things in life are different. Or at least they seem to be. This thought filtered through my hitherto diverted mind a couple of hours after I got back from the O2 store last week. I refuse to admit that I queued for my new iPhone 4; I didn’t. I simply turned up nonchalantly around the time the shop opened and hung around looking inquisitive for a while before a nice chap gave me a number and told me to come back later to pick up my phone. A couple of hours later I breezed back in, gave them my details and went about my day, iPhone 4 in hand. Unfortunately, that isn’t quite how it happened. My nearest store is at the O2 arena, and the only reason anyone would (and did) go there at 9am on the day after the release of the new iPhone is entirely obvious. So much so that on the tube, I spotted at least five other men (for they were almost all men) with white earphones and a twitchy look of nervous expectation on their pillow lined faces. Stepping off the train, each one did their best to appear relaxed, yet began walking at a pace that wasn’t entirely reasonable for the time of day.

Despite what you might imagine, there isn’t a great deal to do at the Dome either. Two cappuccinos later, I was beginning to get a little restless and felt the need to anxiously check my wallet every 5 minutes for the slip of paper that guaranteed my new phone, in much the same way as a paranoid air passenger slides his hand into his jacket pocket repeatedly to check his passport hasn’t inexplicably dropped out and found its way into the hands of an Al-Qaeda terrorist.

After helpfully and perhaps a little smugly advising latecomers that ‘if your name’s not down you ain’t getting in’, I sat in the sunshine watching a swathe of identical looking men in short sleeved shirts and flip flops striding purposefully towards the complex, then seconds later trudging dejectedly back to the station, some frantically checking the online stock report on their (woefully outdated) phones and considering a day trip to High Barnet.

Back inside the store the atmosphere was strange, and looking back, it’s this that prompted the thoughts about the cult of Apple. There we all were, men and women from different walks of life, all unified with a common purpose. We bonded. I promised to make sure the couple with the ticket before my own didn’t get overlooked while they popped out for lunch. The man beside me engaged enthusiastically in a conversation about how silly we probably all were for sitting there like lemons waiting for a piece of plastic (although of course in reality it’s a beautiful, synergetic blend of glass and stainless steel) and for a short while, we became best friends. So there it was, Apple Corp. bringing us all together for worship in the house of Jobs. We had faith, like any subservient cultist, that they would deliver and bring us happiness. There was even a BlackBerry convert that was forgiven, blessed and baptised by the joyful throng.

A quick mention of the phone itself, and one feature in particular that could instigate some interesting situations. I’m talking about Facetime; a preposterous moniker I grant you, but this video calling facility might just alter the face of mobile etiquette as we know it. It may look all roses and smiles on the Apple promotional video, but what happens when the student’s mother 'Facetimes' her little angel, only to faintly discern a naked girl in bed at the corner of the shot, or the coffee table supporting the world’s largest bong? What happens when a wife calls while her husband is ‘working late’? Surely to reject the video call is just as suspicious? I suspect every local boozer up and down the country will reserve a blank whitewashed section of the gents for such occasions, in order that the explanation as to why Darren hasn’t returned home as promised remains partially believable. A quandary for sure, and not one considered by the sickly sweet marketing campaign from Apple HQ.

Back with the sinister goings on at Apple, another trait of the inducted cult member is the compulsion to defend their beliefs with gusto. Almost every iPhone user I’ve met falls into this category. If even a breath of criticism is levelled at their device within earshot, a vehement case is immediately argued. If, say, a Nokia is praised for its superior functions, the Appleist is quick to denounce it as a false prophet. The result is a worldwide community of salespeople in the places that matter, spreading the gospel amongst colleagues, loved ones and sometimes complete strangers. This thesis is beginning to make sense.

If you have accepted iPhone, Mac or iPad as your personal saviour, then Steve Jobs becomes the Creator. The Artichect. The Supreme leader. As every great cult has its enigmatic and somewhat elusive figurehead, Appleist belief starts and ends with the vision of one man. In the 80s, dodgy evangelists would take to the stage, spreading their skewed version of reality to hundreds of people, and thousands more watching on TV. This usually resulted in donations of millions of Dollars towards funding ‘evangelical’ work such as prostitutes and Ferraris. The same is true of Steve Jobs and Apple (though probably without the prostitutes, but who knows?) The keynote speeches, given by Jobs to pour hope and joy into the hearts of dedicated followers, are lapped up by industry professionals and consumers alike. Every word is analysed, every claim gawped at and every sales figure applauded. This man can get a round of applause for simply switching on a telephone. He can do no wrong. To add to his status as The Chosen One, he dresses like a despotic emperor from a 70s Science fiction series. The baggy polo neck jumper appears more ceremonial gown than San-Fran causal.

So there we have it, a cult very much in the ascendancy. Apple has gone from quirky, specialist computer manufacturer to market-leading world giant. Its share value recently surpassed the Church of Microsoft to make it the biggest technology company on earth, and possibly the universe.

Is Mr Jobs the anti-Christ? Does the iPhone carry the mark of the beast? In the future, will Apple wield total control of our online activity? Will its omnipresence ensure that, as the Bible tells us ‘no man might buy or sell, save he that had the mark, or the name of the beast, or the number of his name’? (Rev. 13:17) Maybe not, but I did just buy something from the App Store…

Saturday, 5 June 2010

How Do You Plead? England in the Dock.

The new England World Cup kit, which boasts
unrivalled comfort and freedom of movement,
has received mixed reviews from players
and fans alike.

Having just seen a decidedly porky John Barnes re-enacting his infamous rap on an advert for Mars Bars, it seems the World up is truly upon us. In the spirit of fairness, I’ve decided to weigh up the two sides of the equation and approach the difficult question of England’s World Cup chances from both angles. So, step up the 23 defendants.

The Prosecution

Three Lions on our shirt, Capello’s army, Cape of Good Hope; these and many other headlines will inevitably grace the front and back pages of the tabloids over the next couple of weeks. The problem? They are woefully misplaced, hopelessly over expectant and totally unrealistic. Hope overrides logic every four years as an excited nation gears itself up for a World Cup that will be unlike the last one, or the one before that, or even the one before that as the memories of white shirted losers limping pathetically from the field are inexplicably erased.

A leopard doesn’t change its spots, and likewise the lions on the shirts of our nation’s football team in time honoured fashion will almost certainly fail to roar. The countless disappointments provided by England sides over the years are no fluke; we are simply not as creative as the Brazilians, vivacious as the Spanish, or determined as the Germans. No matter how many times we persuade ourselves that this time will be different, the old ghost of failure looms threateningly over the team bus, as swarms of journalists do their level best to eek out positives from lacklustre group stage matches and narrow qualification to the knockout stages. And it is here that things invariably crumble. Some call it back luck, others a curse, but let’s face it; five penalty shoot out defeats in seven major tournaments over twenty years tells its own story. Whether it’s the stamina, mental strength or sheer grit we lack is debatable, but it’s one or the other. It is not simply a case of bad luck. If it were, then someone up there clearly has a grudge. What we should really be questioning is why we don’t make the decisive impact over 90 or 120 minutes instead and remove the need for the dreaded spot kicks.

Nonsense, you might say. This time, under Capello, we’ve got a real shot. No. And here’s why. To kick us off, the captain and key central defensive figure of Rio ‘I don’t wee into cups’ Ferdinand has crippled his knee after losing a tackle with a piece of turf. Bad start. Not that I would have felt completely secure with him at the back anyway, as his medical record is almost as colourful as team-mate Gary Neville’s, and that’s saying something. No, Rio’s bad season, with the unfortunate back injury that saw him start only 13 times for Manchester United, was always a bad omen. Unfortunately for us, the deputies for his position hardly instil confidence. There’s Ledley King, whose excruciating movement on his rickety knees is one part Sol Campbell, one part dry stone wall. Or there’s Jamie ‘crazy horse’ Carragher, who would still appear two yards off the pace in a stroll on Eastbourne pier. To complete the headache, Capello has drafted in Michael Dawson of Spurs. Yes he’s had a great season, but he’s never even worn an England shirt; is a testing opening game against the USA really the place to toss him in to the deep end?

Staying with the defence, JT will need to be on top of his game (a sight becoming ever rarer) to command the defence. Admittedly, Ashley Cole is superb, but Terry may have a job on his hands to cement over the cracks caused by Glen Johnson’s frequent brain lapses, during which he forgets he’s a defender entirely.

To add to our woes, for the first time in living memory, we have no first choice goalkeeper. David James let in more goals this season than a blind Derby County keeper, and though he had a weak defence in front of him, picking the ball out of the back of the net comes just a little too easy for him. Green too, has soiled a few clean sheets himself this year, so perhaps it’s down to the relatively unproven Joe Hart to sweep up the mess left by Terry and co.

As usual, faith has been put in the blistering attacking force of Emile Heskey, a player justified in his inclusion simply because he ‘holds the ball up well’. Thank goodness, for a minute I was worried they might pick him for his prolific goal record. No, that responsibility goes to Peter Crouch, who despite an impressive goal tally for the national side, is responsible for some of the ugliest goals in international football (the offside handball against Mexico being a felicitous example).

Rooney is the lynch pin, everyone knows that. I harbour doubts over his fitness for the duration of the tournament, and so if you’re going to use your Sun England prayermat for anything, plead for some stamina from undoubtedly our finest player in years.

Let’s face it, England looked shambolic in almost all areas for the first half against Japan last week, and the two own goals we received may have just spent their quota of good luck for the summer. Just to compound our penalty shoot-out fears, the usual dependability of Lampard has vanished just in time for the World Cup, and two misses in a row will hardly aid his confidence going in to the vital knockout phase.

So, with three lions our shirts, and with Jules Rimet gleaming somewhere in a Brazilian trophy cabinet, we stride into South Africa on a gale force wind of expectation. Unlike most, I can’t forget the pain of 1990, the misery of 1996, the disappointment of 1998 or the heartache of 2002. All the more reason for our luck to change, I hear you argue. Unfortunately, I fear not. It’s not a case of luck, it’s about ability, team spirit and strength, and as history has proved again and again, we just don’t have enough.

The Defence

Three Lions on our shirt, Cappello’s army, Cape of Good Hope; these and all the other inevitable headlines will grace the front and back pages of the tabloids over the next couple of weeks. Admittedly, this wave of nationalist fever has been misplaced in the past, but 2010 sees England’s most realistic chance of World cup glory for a generation.

At the helm, we have Fabio Capello. A master tactician, meticulous and thorough, he has a habit of winning things wherever he goes. After a dismal display of leadership from Steve Mclaren, England cruised through the qualification stages under the Italian, winning nine of their ten games including an impressive 4-1 victory away to Croatia, the team that denied Mclaren’s pathetic side qualification to 2008’s European Championship.

Capello has taken time and considerable thought over choosing his final 23-man squad, correctly omitting Theo Walcott and instead opting for the technically superior Aaron Lennon. Even the latest setback, Rio Ferdinand’s withdrawal from the squad with a knee injury, could prove to be a positive for England. His injury problems this season have left him looking a shadow of his former self, and far better for Capello and England that his injury prone body crumbles now and not during a key stage in the tournament. Ferdinand’s withdrawal has also made way for one of the finest central defender in the Premier League this season, Michael Dawson, to step up and bring some much needed youth and vigour to a beleaguered central defence.

In Glen Johnson and Ashley Cole, the England team have a world-class fullback package. The incision provided by Johnson down the right, coupled with Cole’s ability to tirelessly patrol the left flank provide real options for the attacking flair of Rooney and creativity of our outstanding midfield roster. Gerrard will hopefully be given a little freedom to dart in and around the opposition’s defence, working just behind Rooney in a role that has paid dividends in the past.

Like him or loathe him, Peter Crouch offers more than just height in the centre forward role. His remarkable skill for such a tall man allows for multiple approaches in the final third, ensuring England don’t simply have to rely on balls into the box or surges from Midfield by Gerrard or Lampard.

So, we have the team. Now all we need is the luck. Whilst penalty taking has an element of skill, there is a fair amount of luck involved. As we know only too well, lady luck has for far too long been cavorting on the other side of the fence. The penalty defeats of 1990, 1996 and the rest still occupy a painful place in everyone’s memory, but surely our luck must change this time around. My sincere hope is that penalty luck won’t be required this time around, and that we will finish the job over 90 minutes through the devastating presence of Wayne Rooney.

England may just have been dealt a decent hand for once too. A possible last sixteen encounter with Germany has been made a little more comfortable with the withdrawal of captain Michael Ballack through an injury sustained during the FA cup final, which contains a delicious irony somewhere. Yes, Spain remain a huge threat, but the Italians, Portugese and even the Brazilians do not enter the tournament with the strongest of sides, and the Argentineans remain as inconsistent as you would expect under the leadership of Diego ‘awful training sessions but throws a great party’ Maradona.

Despite a lacklustre performance against Japan last week, the England team have the key ingredients for success; a great manager, a solid player balance of experienced veterans and flighty youngsters, plus an impressive winning streak over the course of the qualification period.

The scene is set, and as England stride into South Africa on a gale of expectation, it truly feels that the same wind could see them glide back to our shores in a month’s time holding aloft the greatest prize in world football. Believe it, because it might just happen.

Wednesday, 19 May 2010

FA-ntasy Football

'Here's our bid Mr Blatter, but I heard
some Russian guys earlier saying
there might be a Buy It Now option?'

Right, so it seems England’s 2018 World Cup bid is on its arse already; inevitable, but still disappointing. For what its worth, David Beckham may as well have brought the coffin to the birth and called Sepp Blatter’s wife a whore whilst handing over the absurdly massive document last week. For in true British style (well, English really, but I won’t give the Scots the satisfaction) we have shot ourselves in both left feet and are braced to drag our bleeding bodies towards the finishing line, desperately trying to mop up behind ourselves as we go. I’m not just talking about Triesman here either, not entirely. Yes, showing off to his ‘friend’ about his presumed insider wisdom was foolish, but I suspect he’d already had a Martini or two by that time. Besides, who hasn’t found themselves drawn to the subject of Russian corruption after a slap up meal and a few cocktails? The truth is that Russians are corrupt; it’s not their fault, they just grew up in Russia.

Whether or not there is any truth in the accusation remains to be seen, but please, and this is the point; why must the British press insist on urinating in its own pint glass? It is something inherent in our mentality that drives these ‘public interest’ exposures. The expenses scandal yes, I can understand that (though not its longevity), but this bid saw our most realistic chance of landing football’s premier tournament for a generation. As perceived by Fifa, the main problem with England’s previous World Cup bids was our fans. Every country has its quirk; as the Italians eat pizza, the French refuse to shave their body hair and Irishmen sodomise choirboys, the English have football fans that smash up Piazzas. Hitherto, these model citizens have been thought to be too dangerous on their home turf to allow foreigners in for a pasting. But we’ve come a long way, and English football violence has diminished considerably in recent years. Admittedly we’ve confiscated the passports from the worst offenders during major tournaments, but there is a feeling these days that it might just be safe to open the doors and let the world in to what is without doubt the best country in the world for a major football tournament. Yes, America has bigger stadiums, but it takes ten days to get from one to another. Yes, the Russians have oodles of oil money to plough into facilities, but they also drink vodka from the tap. Yes, Spain has the weather, but it's also about as multicultural as Nick Griffin's spice rack.

The truth is that England has it all. Great grounds, passionate fans, diverse culture, good transport links and what’s more, we invented the bloody game. So why does the Daily Mail feel the need to expose Lord Triesman’s allegations to sell a few copies? Also, I take issue with the word ‘allegations’. They only became so after they were aired to millions. Before that, they were simply comments made to a friend over dinner. Admittedly, he was probably having an affair with her (libellous but worth the punt) but they were nontheless private.

I don’t see the public interest angle as acutely as some, who claim that we have a right to know if the chairman of the bid harbours fears of fraudulent activity, but how do we know he wouldn’t have made an official complaint to Fifa if he had gathered substantial evidence? He could hardly go to them with a hunch, or he would be accused of a far greater crime than he has already been made to stand down for, so what else can he do but discuss his thoughts privately? For all we know, on the same night, several officials in Madrid were chucking about claims concerning our bid. The difference of course, is that the Spanish press would never be so stupid as to scupper the interests of its own country. The actions of the Daily Mail have angered many, most notably Gary Lineker, with ‘Outraged Of Leicester’ taking the ironically Mail reader-esque stand of quitting his position as columnist over the story.

Who knows, maybe this will all blow over and the bid return to its status as a front-runner once the decision draws closer, but one thing’s for sure; if the British press continue their whirlwind of meta-journalism on the subject, it won’t fade from memory as quickly as the FA had hoped when Lord Triesman promptly stepped down as FA chairman. As for a permanent replacement, Lord/Sir/Baron Sugar, who seems to be picking up more titles than he can cope with, was quick to register his interest. I suggested in this very blog a couple of years ago that the FA should sign him up, if nothing else but to put his TV slogan to good use and get rid of the bloody lot of them. Given Sir Alan’s contentious views on association football (he once called all footballers ‘scum’ and that they would all be in prison if it weren’t for the sport) it’s probably not a wise move, and would end up making Lord Triesman look like a shining ambassador for the game.

Poor old Capello must be more confused than he usually looks at the whole saga. He has signalled his intent to remain in the manager’s job until after 2012, but might wish he’d never said that. What he actually said was "I have a contract with the FA and it will finish when they decide to sack me," which is hardly an unequivocal statement of resolve. The Italian cannot be blamed for thinking this country totally insane when it comes to its relationship with football. Like a deranged, controlling father to his son, we pour expectation on the England team every two years to deliver, and it is this unfulfilled wish that drives us to turn on it at every opportunity. True, failure in the national team is not exclusive to England and there are countless other countries that never win anything, but out continual and deluded expectation as creators of the game leads us to self destruction time and time again.

As for this year’s tournament, we can realistically expect a semi-final at best; consider our injury list, the lack of coherency in the recent squad and towering form of the Spanish. Rest ye worried minds however, because at least our cricket team have a World Cup to show for itself following last week’s Twenty20 triumph. And how many times have we been able to say that? So maybe then… Just maybe… You never know…

Friday, 30 April 2010

Ignorance is Bliss

'No, no, you're right. Your sixty years' experience as
a housewife in a small Lancashire town does qualify
you to make judgements on immigration policy.'

In a scene reminiscent of BBC’s The Thick of it, Gordon Brown slags off a ‘normal’ citizen on the campaign trail after retreating to the relative safety of his Jag. It makes you think, doesn’t it? How does Cameron summarise a grim afternoon kissing ASBO babies in Scunthorpe? Or Clegg after canvassing in a Tory stronghold of Thatcherist perms? We all know what Nick Griffin says when the camera is switched off, precisely because no journalist worth their salt would ever press the off button when he and his cronies are within earshot, be that at a party conference or a post campaign pint down the George and Dragon in Dagenham.

Of course politicians don’t like talking to real people with issues; they almost always fail to fit in neat legislative boxes, instead rather rudely choosing to have jobs, lives and children. Ungrateful sods. It must, however, be incredibly frustrating for the politicians themselves, as seemingly almost every man, woman and child on the streets of Britain seems completely ignorant to the bigger picture. Understandably, people in general care most about the issues that affect their everyday lives, and for the most part couldn’t care a hoot for wider monetary policy or voting reform. It is becoming increasingly clear from the ubiquitous broadcasting coverage this election has received that the majority of people are spectacularly uniformed (or perhaps just plain ignorant) to politics as a whole. In the same way that politicians are forced to generalise demographics into digestible statistics, the public on the whole seem equally as acquiescent in subscribing to the few general ‘truths’ about politics and politicians. You know what I’m talking about; take any of the endless and entirely fatuous segments on TV news as an example:

Nick Robinson on one of his interminable jaunts around the country inevitably stops off in some god-forsaken town to talk to the ‘voters’. There, he receives the same old narrow minded answers he gets from every other god-forsaken town he’s had the misfortune to visit after disembarking the BBC election wagon. Firstly, there’s the old man with no teeth and a flat cap who denies he has any interest in the political sphere, claiming that ‘they’re all the same aren’t they? Robbing bastards.’ Next, a woman with hoop earrings on a market stall selling pink velour sweat pants reveals that she’s voting BNP, due to her suffering business being a direct result of the Asian community’s indifference to buying her pink velour sweat pants. Next up is the lady with a respectable job (who took some finding) pledging her allegiance to Nick Clegg on the back of the last TV debate because ‘he seemed like a nice guy’. By this time, it’s clear that the BBC’s esteemed political editor is of exactly the same mindset as Gordon Brown after his run in with the ‘bigoted woman’; a thinly veiled expression of understanding and journalistic intrigue covering his true contempt for the utterly stupid British public.

It’s partly the fault of TV networks for over saturating the airwaves with election hype. Sky News managed to eek out an entire night of coverage devoted to the second debate, even recruiting body language experts to analyse hand gestures, not to mention the broadcast media’s obsession with ties. The most laughable of these innumerable analyses is ‘the worm’. All the channels have incorporated this piece of totally facile technology into their election coverage. If the worm has escaped your notice, it’s basically a real-time graph charting the reaction of selected members of the public to each televised debate Like a wounded snake, it drags its slow length along as the programme unfolds, with the wiggly red, blue and yellow lines moving up or down according to the audience’s opinion of how each leader is faring. It ranges (unofficially) from ‘nice geezer’ to ‘what a wanker’. It has proved itself routinely pointless however, as the lines tend to worm upwards whenever one of them speaks of ‘fairness’ or ‘tax cuts’, and take a dive should they mutter something about ‘austerity’ or ‘tax rises’, for obvious reasons.

On the issue of ignorance amongst the electorate, it’s clear from the TV debates that all three of the party leaders consider the majority of the audiences at home to be a bit dim at best. Having sat through all three, it became obvious that the same stock phrases were being rolled out again and again: ‘David wants to put the economy at risk’ from Brown, ‘stop the jobs tax’ from Cameron and courtesy of Nick Clegg, the worst of the three by far for pleb-friendly political strap lines, ‘put money back in your pocket’, ‘these two old parties’ and the perennial favourite ‘greedy bankers’. These sound bites are designed simply to dupe your average voter into thinking they have the magic remedy to our drunken economy, as it lies dribbling in a gutter somewhere trying to find its wallet for a taxi home. I’m not saying that Clegg, Cameron or Brown should plunge headlong into the minutiae of political theory, but give us some credit; if I wanted a catchphrase, I’d watch Fawlty Towers.

It was summed up nicely during an interview after the second debate with an audience member. ‘I’ve always voted Conservative’ she said, ‘but last week I was really impressed with Clegg, and so I thought I might vote for him’. She followed this heavyweight political judgement with the revelation that she had met Mr Cameron after the show, and that he seemed really nice and talked with her about the nice weather we’ve been having. That, she revealed, was sufficient to swing her vote back the other way. When asked what areas of Conservative policy she agreed with, a moment’s umming and ahing gave way to ‘all of it really’. I have a suspicion that she might be a little confused come election day when she can’t see David Cameron’s name on her ballot paper anywhere. Bless.

Luckily for me, I’m currently surrounded by students at university (and I never thought I’d say that). It was refreshing during the first debate to see contemplative undergraduates discussing the finer points of monetary policy over snakebite. I am doubtful however, that the same conversations will be replicated in pubs and offices up and down the country, and more’s the pity. In my experience, Eastenders receives a much higher billing in the gossip stakes, and should women’s soap opera chat around the office water cooler be replaced with deep ideological discussion, the TV debates would become unnecessary. It’s the same with men and football. I remember what my Mum said to me when I was collecting football stickers as a child for the Italia ’90 world cup; ‘if you spent half as much time memorising your times tables as you do learning the names of the entire United Arab Emirates squad, you’d be a genius.’ Incidentally, I can still name half of them, but I couldn’t tell you what 8 x 12 is.

A joke to finish, I think:

Q: what do you call a coalition government of porn stars?
A: A well-hung parliament.

You can have that one.

Thursday, 15 April 2010

Election Exclusive - Party Leaders Mass-Debate

Tension began to mount as the three remaining
contestants entered the big money round

Now I’m not usually one for up-to-the-minute reactionary blogging. I prefer to ruminate on a subject for a while until the volcanic dust has settled, and hopefully put some comments across that aren't simply a regurgitation of everything else doing the rounds. At least that’s the intention. Tonight, however, I feel I must say a little something concerning what will undoubtedly be the most blogged political phenomenon this country has ever seen. I’m already too late however, as the News at Ten are already giving me poll results at, what is it, 10.15..

I won’t delve too deeply into nitty-gritty of policy, but a few thoughts became clear as tonight’s election debate gathered steam. Firstly, my goodness! I understand that these debates were only announced relatively recently, but you’d think it was long enough for ITV to construct a set befitting the unprecedented occasion. It looked a little like the studio from the 1986 run of Blockbusters, and the wishy-washy backdrop screen behind the leaders’ heads was reminiscent of a bible belt Evangelical church. The construction work on their faces wasn’t much better. Cameron looked like he was appearing at a drag club. I’m just glad I wasn’t watching on HD.

I’m a little disappointed that the format deviated from the tried and tested Question Time system of the clapo-meter; half the fun is the applause, or more specifically the few that clap fervently at a seemingly well made point only to undergo an ideological 180 once they realise that no one else thought so. Interestingly, the questioners were even given a brief biog, like Sue from Oldham with a pub. Who’d have thought voters had lives and jobs!

As ITV is so promptly informing me, Clegg came out on top. He was always going to, right? Nothing to lose. To be fair to him and the Lib Dems, he is by far the youngest and most sober leader they have had for a while. Unfortunately, this sort of programme attracts the glory viewer; you know the one, claims he loves Rugby but only ever watches the Six Nations, during which he’s an expert. I doubt he’ll be tuning in to BBC Parliament any time soon. Lib Dem policies do make a lot of sense, but they require such an upheaval of the system that it’s unfeasible at best. Clegg, for me, was just a tad too obsequious towards the audience, particularly those who posed the questions. It all became a bit much during his closing speech however, when he name-dropped every one of the questioners and the issues they raised. He’s like the one in a group job interview who writes everyone’s name down as they introduce themselves and repeats them smugly in conversation to their potential boss, whilst everyone else doesn’t really give a shit.

Cameron looked uncharacteristically shifty to start with; this stuff is normally his bread and butter. I’m pretty sure that was due to the extra leg he and Brown had acquired in Clegg, which unsettled his practised role of slagging off the Prime Minister solo during PMQs.

Brown was Brown, simple as that. Heavy on fact, light on personality. But he played to it the best he could, and at least he hasn’t made the egregious mistake of trying to develop a personality all of a sudden. He did attempt one joke through gritted teeth, but that was simply a vehicle for an Ashcroft jibe, and was squeezed in between his ingratiating attempts at aligning himself with Clegg.

So, one down, two to go. One debate doesn’t make an election as they say (they do), and neither will three. Polls for this, that and the other on the back of ninety minutes of television are not persuasive indicators of a general election result, and with the current voting system, will probably do little to swing favour in the majority of constituencies that remain red or blue. It’s not like we have a dearth of election-based broadcasting right now either. The radio 4 schedule is almost entirely devoted to it at present, so much so that election hype has even permeated the sacred space that is Woman’s Hour. Having said that, I’ve probably undermined myself spectacularly by writing a reactionary blog piece on election politics. It’s worth getting it in now, however. After May 6th, we’ll never want to talk about it again..

On a lighter note following tonight’s frolics, I was disturbed to hear that the Royal Navy have lowered its recruitment age so drastically, after Cameron claimed to have met a 40 year old man who had served in the service for 30 years. The inadvertent chortle of the night however, came from the apparently budding doctor Clegg whose dodgy phraseology produced this gem;

‘I was at a Paediatric hospital last week, treating babies’.

His talents do not stop with public speaking, it seems.

Tuesday, 30 March 2010

It Just Doesn't Ad Up

Drugs are illegal, Government sponsored adverts
raising awkward conversations between parents and
children aren't. So blame Frank.

Now, perhaps it’s only me, but I’m really not sure I can take any more government-backed advertising campaigns. Yesterday, I panicked that I had forgotten to put my seatbelt on and nearly ran into a wall, realising just in time that I don’t own a car and was on foot to the bus stop. Phew, close call. I also lost concentration at work the very same day worrying that my gas heater was asphyxiating my cat with carbon monoxide fumes. Luckily I don’t have a cat, and all was well.

I am well aware that public awareness on certain matters is paramount; over 100,000 people die each year in the UK from smoking-related illnesses, and advertising campaigns promoting the available quitting options are essential to combat this dire statistic. That’s one poor sod gone while you’re reading this, and so I’m all for it. Except I’m not. Not entirely. Smoking, and a couple of other problems aside, government advertising on the important issues facing us in daily life has reached a totally disproportionate level.

I don’t intend to make light of any issues discussed, but come on; how many people don’t wear a seatbelt these days? Frankly, if you don’t (and God knows why you wouldn’t), you probably deserve to land on the pavement. 400 a year die from this particular brain-lapse; that’s only about one person per day in 60 million, producing such an obscure percentage on my calculator that I couldn’t even understand it. Do we all need to be subjected to this? All the more reason to highlight the issue you might say, given that one glimpse of Brian (who didn’t want to die, by the way) head butting his windscreen while you’re eating your morning toast is enough to jog the old grey matter next time you get in the car. Unless you get the bus of course, in which case you’re fucked. But that’s just the problem, not the bus, but the fact that you won’t see it just once. Or twice. Or even a few times; you’ll go on being subjected to Brian’s brains splattered over your screen for months to come, at all hours of the day. It’s even worse on HD.

More lamentable than the awful replay value of these things is the cost; in the financial year ending 2009 the government media advertising budget reached nearly half a billion. That could pay for a morning’s borrowing; well, ok, maybe a lunch break’s. There was a time when parents were expected to educate their children, but that day is gone. Good old Tele now provides all the answers to the difficult questions. Plus, Mum and Dad are far too busy these days running down motorcyclists or forgetting to fill in their tax returns to have time.

It’s not like they always get the campaigns right, either. Last month, the Advertising Standards Authority banned two press ads on climate change ostensibly aimed at children, including the Keatsian verse:

“Jack and Jill went up the hill to fetch a pail of water.
There was none, as extreme weather due to climate change had caused a drought.”


Accusations of scare-mongering followed, along with hundreds of complaints, which were upheld on the grounds that the text ‘involved uncertainties in the magnitude and timing, as well as regional details, of predicted climate change.” Evidently, it could not be proved that Jack and Jill’s hill would be adversely affected. They seemed unconcerned that the adverts, along with the TV campaign in which everyone burns and drowns simultaneously must have scared the shit out of unsuspecting children. The fact that they’ve got to live with the effects of their forebears’ carbon gluttony is bad enough.

Some public service advertising is totally ill-conceived. Let me tell you, nothing is going to encourage the onset of substance-related paranoia more than watching a ‘Talk to Frank’ ad with your parents during the break of The Bill. Furthermore, I wonder how many amorous lovers’ fiery sofa liaisons have been doused by a scantily clad model seductively whispering Gonnoorrrhheeeaa in their ears? Perhaps a good thing; it might save the world from acquiring one more poor little tike in a cerebrally inept generation that will grow up unable to think independently, relying on TV to tell him when to take a piss.

Tuesday, 23 February 2010

Bully for You

'Miss the next one and I'll
snap it in two.. Did I
mention I used to play?'

Great. Another ‘gate’. This time, it’s ‘Bullygate’, with one of Gordon Brown’s top civil service aides having taken the age old advice to anyone who feels under pressure and told a teacher. Good for him. Of course, no one would care about any of this had Andrew Rawnsley not decided to serialise his felicitously timed expose of life in the cut and thrust of the Brown administration. Whilst my (albeit unqualified) impression of the Prime Minister isn’t one of a man capable of inducing knee-quivering fear, I’m not sure I’d feel completely secure if ever his lazy eye angrily shot my way. He did play rugby after all, as he seems to be so fond of telling us, and anyone who has spent so much time with ‘Knuckles’ Prescott must have picked up a few tips. Fists, however, do not seem to be his chosen bullying tactic. A Cray-style grabbing of the lapels is more his style, plus an innovative take on cyber-bullying by lobbing a Blackberry across the cabinet table.

I agree that some level of control needs to be placed on workplace safety; no one wants to turn up for work every day fearing they might have a photocopier planted on their face, but seriously, come on; if you enter a life of civil service, working at very summit of politics, you can’t expect it to be all smiles and biscuits round the boardroom table, surely? I’m actually a little relieved to hear that Gordon Brown loses his temper every now and then; it makes him seem (a little) more human. If we carry on like this, every artillery private in the army will take their drill sergeant to a tribunal for asking them to get down and give them twenty (though I’m told in the Navy that means an altogether different thing).

Away from politics, Cheryl Cole has left Ashley. I’m a regular listener to Woman’s Hour and therefore a staunch feminist, and so I allowed myself a whoop and a ‘You go girl’ when I heard the news. The only question remains what to do with the 2 million unsold copies of her album that conspicuously remain with his surname plastered over the front.

The most hilarious news since Derby County announced they were donating 2000 items of kit from their club shop to Haiti, was the report that results from the latest BA strike ballots were delayed due to the Royal Mail van in which they were travelling breaking down. Of course it would have been funnier had they been on strike too, but then I wouldn’t have received today’s pile of junk mail that I live for. It comes as no surprise that the overwhelming majority voted for strike action; you cannot freeze pay for cabin crew when make-up and Brylcreem prices continue to rise above the level of inflation. It’s simple economics.

It was announced this week that at the current rate, a quarter of Scotland’s population will be obese before you can say ‘deep fried pizza’. This piece on BBC news was dispatched with the obligatory ‘on location’ piece from a Scottish high school, where a number of rotund and freckly youths exposed the startling revelation that at lunchtime they prefer to eat ‘chups’ to veg. Hardly news. It now just leaves first minister Alex Salmond (no slimmer of the year himself) to announce in the Scottish Parliament the positive news that over three quarters of Scottish people are of a healthy weight. My advice; order a side salad with your battered Mars bar.

Elsewhere, the government are proposing to cut funding for Homeopathic treatments, meaning that deranged hippies can no longer pick up their sunshine pills via prescription. Apparently, empirical scientific and results-led evidence is required to justify these things nowadays. Supporters of the treatments have denied that any success of these medicines is due to the placebo effect, maintaining that effective results can be delivered from a process that claims to increase the potency of a substance via its heavy dilution. Now I only got a C in Chemistry, but that’s not right, is it? Then again, it’s no more ludicrous than teaching Creationism in schools. Hell with it, let’s trial everything on the NHS. I prescribe Guinness and kebabs…

Sunday, 31 January 2010

The Good, The Bad and The Ugly

He does. I'm telling
you, he really does
look like a pterodactyl

Poor old Andy Murray. To add insult to injury, after losing his second successive Grand Slam final, he wept like a small child in front of millions. An uncontrollable overflow of emotion, you might say. Or was it? Seemed to me like Mr Murray has been taking acting lessons, performing with a the lump in the throat and a moist eye the fist-to-mouth, turn-from-the-mic-in-grief-stricken-humility move with decidedly more precision than any one of his many unforced errors this morning, or evening depending on your hemisphere. ‘I can cry like Roger, I just wish I could play like him.’ Oh come on, surely that was scripted, considering the most you normally get from the moody Scot is an eyes-to-the-floor monosyllabic grumble.

I felt most sorry for Sue Barker, who, with a beaming smile at the beginning of the coverage, looked every inch like she had been finally provided with her raison d’etre. Henman seemed pleased to be out of the house too, providing the kind of nuggets of wisdom we have become accustomed to from the most easily caricatured man in tennis. Apart from perhaps Boris Becker who, occupying the same sofa (incidentally in the MOTD studio hastily prepared with different coloured mood lighting) looks more and more like a pimp every time I see him.

I don’t want to take anything away from Federer, he was, is and always will be in a class above Murray. I was surprised to read that going into the match, Murray was ahead in their head to head standings, but when it mattered, Federer was sublime. The perfect sportsman? As good a candidate as I can think of, especially as it’s highly unlikely it will ever emerge that Roger has been knocking off his training partner’s wife, unlike some model sportsmen we could, and now can, name.

That brings me nicely onto the sorry case of JT. There’s a bizarre financial element to all this, to do with his extra-curricular sponsorship deals that plunges the whole affair (excuse the pun) deeper into ignominy. To conduct an affair with the wife of your friend and team mate is one thing, but to insist on its cover up primarily to protect your extra-curricular income, on top of the £150 odd thousand per week from Chelsea, is pretty rotten indeed. Strip him of the England armband? I don’t think so; most of the reprobates lining up to snatch it from him are hardly model citizens themselves. Rooney would rather pay to use other, more elderly armbands, while Ashley Cole would leave his armband at home while he took another one to a hotel for the night. Joe Cole would leave his at the bar whilst he went into the toilet to have a fight, and Gerrard would shove it down the DJ’s throat after his second successive song request had been ignored.

No, I would allow Terry to keep the captaincy and just let them all get on with it. As penance, a televised bare-knuckle cage fight between him and Wayne Bridge might suffice, though with sanctions on the sponsorship. We as a nation should rise above all this nonsense and do what the English are famous for, and what makes us proud of our great nation. At this Summer’s World Cup, we should all get behind him and the team, giving them our unwavering support. We can then quite justifiably lynch him when we crash out to Portugal in the quarter finals.

Monday, 18 January 2010

Managing. Just.

The Manchester City player in question
knew he was in trouble with the
manager after passing out in the
gutter and allowing the line painter
to run over his pristine new
away shirt

I heard Steve Bruce say a little while ago that no manager is truly safe in his job and is only ever six games away from an ignominious sacking, facing the frightening prospect of being left with only a multi million pound pay off for comfort. A nice little earner actually, and a tactic that Bryan Robson has been using for years.

Yes, the Premier League managerial merry go round does not stop to let anybody off. Gary Megson was the latest to be bundled off leaving him bruised and bloodied, the wary eyes of Rafa Benitez following his crumpled form as he continues to whirl at breakneck speed.

I do feel a little sorry for Megson, though none could defend his woeful season, leaving Bolton dangling precariously over the relegation precipice having failed to keep a clean sheet all season. I feel for him because he just looks so damn depressed all the time, and this push over the edge might just leave him on suicide watch. It’s hard to describe his character satisfactorily, but if he were a colour, he would most certainly be grey.

Robert Mancini on the other hand is certainly not grey. In fact, he is positively blue and white, judging from the scarf he so conspicuously insists on wearing. His tailor must despair. City could use their manager’s sartorial stylings on the pitch; their away shirt is frankly ridiculous and looks like a reject from Roy of the Rovers. Mancini’s blue and white may just carry a slosh of Chianti, having revealed that he takes a fairly liberal attitude to his players dining habits before a game. Pizza and wine; revealing that the Italians are still the easiest nation in the world to stereotype. So much so, I wouldn’t be surprised to see him ride onto the Eastlands pitch on a Vespa when they face United tomorrow night. It will be interesting to observe the erosion of his impeccable appearance that life in Manchester will inevitably cause; hopefully by April he will have switched to a trenchcoat, wear his hair plastered down round his face and develop a Gallagherian swagger.

Rafa Benitez has less of a swagger these days; his is more of a defiant meander. It’s hard to believe that only 12 months ago, Liverpool had one eye on the Premier League title. It was suggested to me, when Gerrard failed to show for the second half of last week’s disastrous FA cup tie with Reading, that he probably joined Torres in the media suite to check for a one way ticket to Madrid. It was a proposal that made me smile considering every fourth advertising billboard flashing around the ground was for

What is most perplexing about Liverpool is just where all the good players are. Despite Benitez’s 180m odd expenditure in his 5 year history at Liverpool, even a cursory glance at the squad roster reveals that only a handful are much use. It’s far more fun to name the bad ones; so Lucas, El Zhar, Babel, N’Gog and Insua, please stand up. Or just do something, rather than passing the ball to the opposition continually as Liverpool are wont to do of late.

Manchester United have had a blip recently too. The cup exit to Leeds was a shock, and though they fielded a depleted side, not even Rooney and Berbatov could make any difference for home side. Credit to the Leeds players though, who deserve to be playing at a much higher level and can hopefully piece together a decent cup run this year. Alex Ferguson gave an excuse I’m sure, though it seems, from the last press conference I saw, that his famous Scottish droll has finally become totally intelligible.

For me, Arsenal are the dark horses this year. If Fabregas can stay fit, there’s no reason they can’t mount a serious title challenge. As for the fourth spot, if Liverpool can take the gun from their head they may, just may be able to prize the final Champions' League spot if Spurs and Man City fall away towards the end of the season as I suspect they might, and if Villa don’t fold like origami in March like last year.

Elsewhere, Adrian Chiles of MOTD2 is beginning to look like Ray Mears after a week in the woods, though admittedly without any shortage of food. And forget the title race; the receding hair lines between pundits Lee Dixon and Alan Shearer is a far more gripping competition, with only a few follicles separating both as the season passes the halfway mark…