Thursday, 30 December 2010

The definition of resolute

It's that time of year when, of course, people make entirely doomed efforts to change their lifestyle/diet/health/weight, whatever it is, with the poorly-named New Year's resolution. I never, ever make them precisely because, if you were genuinely resolute about making a change to your life, the date is entirely irrelevant. Why should Friday becoming Saturday, as New Year falls this year, make it any more likely that you'll give up smoking than Friday becoming Saturday did on October 8th/9th, for example?

So, while I've never understood why people celebrate New Year quite so vigorously, I hope you all do so unencumbered by these pointless and futile gestures and enjoy it guilt-free.

Friday, 17 December 2010

Goodwill to all men

Because I was feeling pissed off at something else entirely, the dropping through my door of an otherwise innocuous religious leaflet created an exaggerated sense of indignation this evening. I was going to e-mail the man responsible for the leaflet's production and ask him (politely) not to put any further missives through our letterbox, but since he's from the church literally across the road and our little triangle of streets have formed a small, friendly and quite tight community which is rare in London, and in which my girlfriend plays an active part, (though not through the church of course), I thought better of it.

That doesn't stop me taking out my frustrations on you though, dear reader. It seems, from the wording of the leaflet, that I 'need' God to have a fulfilling Christmas, and that I can't find peace at Christmas without Him. Well, excuse me for thinking the love, company and happiness of my friends and family would be enough. It's always been enough to help me struggle through Christmas before, having instead to get my enjoyment of the season from the very real and human interaction with those same people, the exchange of gifts, the odd glass of ginger ale with a dash of lime and a pressie or two.

Now I'm aware of the contradiction inherent in my enjoyment of the gifts in particular, given what the Church would like you to believe are the original reasons for gift giving at Christmas, but what the hell - I still get a kick out of giving presents to people I care about and, yes, receiving them. I get a bigger kick from being surrounded by people I care about deeply and having the opportunity to spend a bit longer in their company than is usually the case. In short, you enjoy Christmas your way, Mr Vicar, and I'll enjoy it mine. The difference being that I don't shove leaflets through your door telling you that the way you do so is hollow and inadequate.

What if I did, though? Some kind of atheist polemic, urging them to forget the Church's definition of Christmas and revel in the more human (possibly pagan in origin, it's all a bit muddled) way of going about things this December, printed up and posted through his letterbox, maybe? Perhaps, if he had kids, one of them may pick up said document and ask him about its contents. It may be that, while respecting my opinion, he wouldn't be too happy to have it pushed through his door. Funny that - if that's how he'd feel, then we'd agree on one thing this year at least.

Thursday, 16 December 2010

Bonfire of originality

The success of the reintroduction of Doctor Who to our screens in the last few years seems to be in the vanguard of a rash of other programmes being dusted off, re-worked and introduced to a new audience. Or re-introduced to people already very familiar with them.

Just yesterday I saw that Upstairs Downstairs is to return to our screens after an absence of 35 years. A mini-series will evidently pick up some time after the 70s incarnation left off, even containing one of the original cast members, with Jean Marsh, one of the co-originators of the series, reprising her role as Rose. Doubtless, if it proves popular, a full series could follow.

Then this morning I learn that that scourge of the middle classes, William Brown, is also to return in a new version of Just William. Anybody of my age, even if they're unaware of the original books, will certainly remember Violet Elizabeth's threat to 'scrtheam and scrtheam and scrthream until I'm thick...', coming from the perfectly cast then child actress Bonnie Langford. Given that this will be the fourth time this has been made for television, following series in the 60s, 70s and 90s, there will doubtless be those of other generations who recall their own version of William's nemesis just as clearly.

Now don't get me wrong, if they're done well, it'll be great if these new versions introduce what are viewed as classic characters and tales to a new, wider audience. But it could be said that this re-hashing of existing work is a sign of the paucity of quality of original work available or, worse, a reluctance on the part of those mysterious powers that be to make anything written by new writers or containing new ideas.

Wouldn't it be better to spend at least some of the money going into these on some new work? Just a thought. Or, perhaps, given the frequency with which William in particular seems to crop up on our screens, we're merely going through part of an entirely cyclical phase in which TV endlessly recapitulates its content, and it's always been this way.

Tuesday, 14 December 2010

Parliament, know thyself

I have to watch a lot of live coverage of Parliament in my job. This is not always as dull as it sounds, but one thing it does show is the huge difference between what I suspect is the majority of the public's view of the Commons and what's actually going on there.

Except where there's some important statement and/or debate like this week's tuition fees version, most people's exposure to the workings of the Commons is limited to the chimps' tea party that is PMQs. Commons fills up for this worthless exercise in mud slinging, yelling, paper waving, self-serving questions planted by the Government side, and food throwing, I shouldn't wonder, if they were allowed.

The Speaker, when calling for order, frequently reminds members that the public hate the barracking, cat-calling and general childishness, but it never seems to make any difference. We've had frequent calls for a more grown-up approach, with a less 'yah-boo-sucks' approach to the House, particularly after Labour leader John Smith died, and after the Dunblane massacre, when the best of the House was evident. But it always quickly degenerates when PMQs comes round.

And it's a shame, because if you watch it for any length of time, you'll see that the Commons is a much harder working and more collaborative place than many people think. Any debate which only has around 30 members sitting there will inevitably be conducted in a more dignified manner because those MPs present will be the ones who genuinely care about what's being debated, and often those who sit on Select Committees working with members across the political divide.

Frankly, there's a case for switching the cameras off only during PMQs (I recognise of course that it's been like this since long before the cameras came in, but at least they wouldn't be projecting that to the world then), but it's another example of our sound-bite culture that the few bickering exchanges during PMQs are those best suited to being put into 30 second clips for news bulletins and presented to the viewing public as 'today's events in the Commons'.

It's actually half an hour of the (visible) worst of our political system, the Commons showing her ugliest face to a disappointed electorate in a bizarrely stubborn, almost proud manner. I can't believe PMQs has ever actually achieved anything. Time for a change.

Thursday, 9 December 2010

There's names, and then there's names

Congratulations to my friends on the recent arrival of their first-born. You know who you are. I'd just like to go on record that Algernon is the greatest middle name of anyone I know, second possibly only to Emile Ivanhoe Heskey. Utterly wonderful.

It even enabled the babe concerned's shortened first name and initials to match. Nice work, C&L. I look forward to meeting him.

Tuition fees debate could define this Government

Most interesting to see the goings-on in Westminster today. With anarchy on our streets, mass hysteria, dogs and cats living together, Cameron sat behind Vince Cable as he delivered his speech, mugging furiously for the cameras as all MPs seem to do nowadays when they're sitting down. The moment, the very moment Cable sat down, he patted him on the shoulder... (Why do they always do that? Even when the Chancellor had to stand up and deliver a bitterly divisive austerity budget, he got congratulated by his front bench like he'd just won an Oxbridge debating competition. They should have been sitting there grim-faced.)

...anyway, he patted him on the shoulder and left the Chamber. He didn't even remain to listen to Cable's Shadow's response. Not only is this faintly discourteous, it also shows a lamentable complacency on his part, I think. With rumours of up to 20 Lib-Dems prepared to vote against the Motion (at least before Cable's latest amendments) and who knows how many abstaining, he could have been walking away from the first defeat the coalition faces since its formation.

I recognise that, as PM, he's probably got one or two other things to be getting on with this afternoon (that laundry won't do itself, and then there's the groceries to be collected...), but this could be a defining (and divisive) debate for the coalition. The debate still goes on as I type, some hours after the initial statement, but would it have killed him to show willing and sit there at least long enough to hear the Shadow's response?

A very, very interesting division bell will be rung this afternoon, I think.

Wednesday, 1 December 2010

Religion? Shit it.

Forgive me quoting a sweary Stephen Fry as a title, but I saw something on the Beeb last night that made me incandescent with rage at the cruelty of religious dogma. A programme called 'Limbo Babies' related the experiences of a group of Catholic women in Northern Ireland the mid/late 20th century who'd given birth to dead babies. Traumatic, straight away. Worsened, considerably, by the fact that those babies were taken from their mothers literally immediately and buried in a swamp in unconsecrated ground next to their church graveyard. The reason? Unbaptised. Therefore not allowed in a Catholic graveyard.

The suffering of these poor women of losing a child, something unimaginably horrible and traumatic to anybody but those who've experienced it, was made much worse by this insult to their children's memories. The Catholic faith carries with it the concept of Original Sin. We're born with this, and only baptism can eradicate it. If you're not baptised, you can't get into Heaven, and that's it. If you die unbaptised and you've led the life of a saint, or too brief a life to have committed sin in the first place, you go to a place called Limbo. Forever.

Though the Church's position has supposedly softened on this since these outrages, of which more in a moment, at the time this was an absolute position. One woman, clearly still desperately upset about the loss of her child 50 years on, related how, on asking the priest why she couldn't have her baby buried alongside her grandparents, said, "I spoke to the priest, and he said, 'You couldn't have had that anyway, because the baby wasn't baptized. And she'll be in Limbo now, until the end of time.' " A priest, a man supposed to bring the comfort and love of the Church to people, said that to a woman who had, just days before, lost her child.

I don't suppose it helps of course that the Catholic clergy is entirely populated by men, so there's not a single member of it, from the Pope himself to the newest inductee, who could possibly even begin to relate to the suffering of a mother who's lost her child. But this cruelty, this twisting of a knife into a mother's already suffering heart, beggars belief.

Despite their Church telling them otherwise, some of the women displayed a much more thorough understanding of what a faith should, I think, if you're to have one, be all about. A woman, frail and elderly now but still crying for her child of almost 70 years ago, said, "He shouldn't be in that ground. What did the wee baby do? Nothing. Nothing. They're all innocent, and not only mine, like. All of them that was buried there." She clearly understands the reality of sin far better than her Church.

It made me glad, once again, of my atheism. Somehow, despite its supposed role in life, the Church had found a way to make atheism look like the more comforting belief. These women suffered so profoundly already. Losing a child and then wracked by guilt, they genuinely believed that their children were in Limbo. Had they been atheists, at least they'd have been spared that further agony.

I mentioned earlier that the Catholic Church had softened its position somewhat in what should be more enlightened times now. This, for example, from the International Theological Commission in 2007: "We may hope for the salvation of the children who have died without baptism. The reasons for that hope are very great indeed." While better than the absolutist brutalism that the mums were faced with during their youth, this is basically a fudge. They can't back too far away from the basic concept of Original Sin completely because it's too far entrenched in the Catholic belief system, as this very modern quote from a Catholic priest on the same programme demonstrates: "Baptism was necessary because humanity had fallen away from God. There was the fall, we often speak about Original Sin. And everybody was born with Original Sin, baptism corrects that, and baptism then becomes the gateway to everlasting life, and the vision of God."

So all they can basically do is 'hope' that, in the face of that all too human dogma, some leeway is allowed by the man upstairs. I only hope that these poor women eventually find comfort. After a long campaign by some of the mothers, and siblings who never got to meet their brothers or sisters, the ground in which their children were dumped, (literally unceremoniously, having been denied even the sacrament) has been re-consecrated so they can draw some succour from that. But unless the Church changes its position on one of the most fundamental tenets of Catholicism, they'll go to their own graves believing their children are in Limbo.

Like I said. Religion? Shit it.

Monday, 29 November 2010

Opening eyes

Because of the strange hours I work, I often finish a shift after the point at which it's possible to get public transport home, in which case I'm entitled to a cab. I therefore spend several late evenings, often after midnight, talking to cabbies about whatever's on their mind. I've had some extremely interesting coversations with some of these lads but, perhaps because many of the drivers are Muslims and their faith is important to them, the most frequent topic of discussion seems to be theology, or the relationship/debate between theology and science.

These discussions have, without exception, been friendly, mutually respectful and interesting, however strongly each speaker may have held their beliefs, but something I learned the other night nonetheless left me saucer-eyed with surprise. A chap driving me home had never even heard of the theory of evolution. It wasn't that he didn't believe in it, or had been taught some other theory, he had literally never heard of it. Only by talking to me did he learn that not everybody thinks that God, or Allah, or whatever you call your deity of choice, made animals and plants exactly as they are now. I had to explain how the theory works - what evolutionists think happened (and is happening, of course). He asked the same questions that everybody who doesn't subscribe to evolutionary theory thinks, though in his case he asked out of a detached interest in my beliefs rather than to try to refute them.

He asked: If Man came from apes (a simplistic explanation given the likely tangled routes of our hominid evolutionary past but the best I could do to explain it to somebody who had never even heard the theory before), what was before the apes? And what was before that? And before that? And where did it come from in the first place?

Why aren't apes still evolving into humans? (A question I've heard before, but one which so completely misses, or misunderstands, the point that it's hardy worth answering).

Why aren't we, and all other plants and animals, still evolving?

I answered as best I could but I'm not an evolutionary biologist, my grasp of divergent evolutionary theory is not sound enough to be thinking about passing it onto other people and the cab ride was only 25 minutes.

For his part, his biggest surprise was that, just as he's completely committed to his beliefs, so am I to mine, despite that fact that mine contains bits marked 'I don't know'. For him, the central beliefs by which he lives his life are utterly certain. Mine are not, and he couldn't reconcile what he saw as a contradiction between my committed atheism and belief in science, and the fact that science is full of uncertainty, indeed built upon it. There are gaps in our understanding of the origins of the universe, and of life on our planet, but I'm as committed to my beliefs as he is to his. For me the beauty of science is that it's principal position is 'we don't know'. It's still capable of new revelations, of new beauties, of changing a position you believed in completely before with some startling new piece of knowledge.

But I started this post really not to write about my bumbling efforts to explain evolutionary theory to a man interested in hearing it but absolutely 100% committed to a different belief, but about my shock at the fact that there is anybody out there, anybody at all, living in a Western culture in the modern media age, who's never even heard of it. I find this so staggering that I just had to put it down here.

Monday, 22 November 2010

More good telly

I know that the lives and loves of early 20th century young, posh Oxbridge students are not the most original subjecs for a telly drama, but that doesn't mean they can't be good.

Sunday evening's Any Human Heart on Channel 4 featured a fictional elderly writer, living a lonely end to his life in a rural cottage, reflecting on that life and those loves. A melancholy Jim Broadbent the perfect choice for this one. Cut to his earlier years, starting with his desperate efforts to lose his virginity in his last year at University some time in the 1920s.

Oh to have been young and rich in England in that period. Cars, clothes, manners, even indiscretions were exquisite. I love pretty much anything set in this era - Jeeves and Wooster, Prohibition-era mobster movies, anything. So I was predisposed to like this, but it was also thoughtful, well acted and, let's be honest, liberally scattered with attractive ladies dressed and made up in the type of glamour so redolent of that time that makes these things eminently watchable.

It was the first of four parts on consecutive Sundays and promises much. Recommended.

Saturday, 20 November 2010

The big split

OK, so I've finally made the split and set up the Albion-specific blog, which is called 'You can tell them all that we stand or fall...' Those of you familiar with Brighton & Hove Albion will know what that's all about. Those who are not, well just be assured that a crack team of naming experts worked round the clock to come up with it.

I'll tweak the design over time, as it's extremely plain at the moment. It can be found here:

Tuesday, 16 November 2010

A marriage made in the media

Left-leaning though I may be politically, I'm not some Republican, anti-Monarchy, class war activist. I don't believe Britain should throw away the cultural trappings of history and pageantry lightly, especially when there does seem some genuine merit to the argument that they bring trade and tourism to Britain, and they have demonstrably increased giving to charities to which they've lent their patronage.

However. Today's announcement of the engagement of Prince William and Kate Whats-her-face is not what I call news. It's utterly drenched the media today, who have clearly had their pieces ready for some time in anticipation of the event we're all talking about. Well, they're talking about.

So the economic crisis, the compensation paid out to the Brits held without trial in Guantanamo Bay, all the various long-running genuine news stories (Darfur, Pakistan, Indonesia, Burma, just to name a few picked at random) have utterly disappeared into a morass of fawning, gushing, delighted news readers and reporters. They all seem to have put their best pearls on for the day, and can be seen grinning like Stepford Wives as the news that's being described as 'breaking' even at 9pm on the News Channel is repeated for the 43rd time today.

It's utterly, utterly meaningless. In what's already a story entirely constructed of fluff and fill, we've been blessed with the news that Esther Rantzen is 'delighted' (we can all sleep soundly in our beds knowing that), that Sophie Wessex is 'thrilled', and that Royal Crown Derby had been pre-prepping plates for the occasion for four years, among countless other inconsequentialities. I've even found out that Camilla Parker-Bowles is down with the kids, describing it as 'wicked'.

Surely, surely, most of us simply don't care, do we? The news that the Royal family has invited in a bit of common blood (surely a necessity as the Royals of Europe are so inter-bred that they must be in danger of sprouting extra limbs out of inconvenient places) would, in any society not utterly obsessed with celebrity, be relegated to a footnote after the actual news.

As they look back over the day's 'events' for the umpteenth time, I do wonder if some of the journalists responsible for regurgitating this over and over again wonder what happened to the news, dammit.

Thursday, 11 November 2010

Slaughtered with a Blunt instrument

I bought a Sunday paper the weekend just gone, a rarity in itself these days, as I had the luxury of the time to sit and read it on the train back from York. Not being into music, and being a self-confessed ignoramus on the matter, I usually don't bother to read reviews of singles or albums, but I did happen to catch their review of the new James Blunt album. The digital version is here, should you wish to read a review as vituperative, venomous, angry and scathing as any they're ever likely to publish.

The passions that this bloke incite in people have always intrigued me. A mate who's into his music in the same way I am football is moved to visible fury just by talking about him. I suggested that he's just an inoffensive warbler, but that was what seemed to move my mate to such ire in the first place. Mr Blunt's very inoffensiveness was what so offended said friend. Apparently he, and others like him, would rather listen to a diabolical, assault-on-the-senses cacophany than any of James Blunt's efforts because at least they incite a visceral response, even if it's a negative one.

This idea baffles me. You could probably put Blunt's album on in the background and, unless you're of a similar mind to my muso mate, not even notice it's there. The same could not be said of loud, tuneless, cacophonous shite. This is probably one of the reasons I'm not really into music, I just can't see what can get somebody so cross about something because it doesn't offend you. I simply don't care if it's just musak, fit for the lift or as hold music. Let it go! You musical types out there are a funny lot.

I suspect that there are plenty of people out there who will buy this thing and I seriously doubt Blunt gives a toss what the IoS make of his album as the royalties come in, but it's most interesting to note the almost plaintively furious response of the critics like Simon Price, who seems almost personally affronted that he should put it out. Unlike many of the things that get me wound up (X-Factor being the main culprit, surely a more deserving candidate for such ferocious opprobrium from music professionals) it's not sufficiently ubiquitous as to be unavoidable, so just don't listen to it.

That said, the album cover is faintly irritating.

In the meantime...

I will get to that split, I promise, I just can't think of a bloody name for the Albion one. This may seem like a trivial matter to you, but to me it's vital that such a venerable and august institution as they be afforded the respect of proper consideration of a moniker when writing about them.

For now, let me bore you further with my latest bit for Wonderlance. They let me write about Star Wars!

Friday, 5 November 2010

Parting is such sweet sorrow

Following advice from both my girlfriend (who, to be fair, said this from the start) and lately others, I'm going to split the blog up into a football-specific one and the any-other-business one. Hopefully this will mean that anybody who reads this who doesn't, unfathomably, give a damn about football in general or Brighton & Hove Albion in particular, will not have to wade through the increasingly hysterically happy nonsense that's being posted on their progress.

This'll probably happen next week, when I've got time to set up another one for the footy. Any comments or feedback as to the wisdom of this move are welcomed.

Wednesday, 3 November 2010

Danny Baker

Get well soon, Danny Baker. The distressing news that my favourite broadcaster in any medium is suffering from cancer was horrible to hear, though depressingly expected given his mysterious absence from many of his recent programmes 'poorly', as the Delphic explanations of his co-presenters had it.

He has, of course, reacted with the positivity which so strongly characterises his show and makes him such good listening. A constant string of new and inventive subjects and the widest cultural referencing you'll hear anywhere make him absolutely peerless in terms of what a 'talk' DJ should really do, rather than the deliberately provocative tripe that comes out of most of their mouths.

His refusal to cloak himself with anything but the scantiest of Emperor's clothes when it comes to the whole showbiz veneer thing (a typical introduction to a guest is often 'Tell us about your new project. We wouldn't gather here with an aerial on the roof without good cause.'), he nonetheless refused to let negative talk of his cancer 'infect' his shows. He sees and speaks for the best in all of us and is genuinely funny with it, the affection for him from his listenership clear whenever he sends out a call for their participation.

I download his Saturday show ('Take the sausage sandwich game judge's adjudication seriously or the whole thing's pointless...') as a podcast for later, and often repeated, listening, to make my journey to work pass quicker. The airwaves will not be the same without him as he fights his illness. If goodwill and best wishes were any medicine, he'd have beaten it already and returned to work with a skip, such is the outpouring of support from his listeners, but sadly they're not. That's not, though, going to stop me wishing him all the very best for a full recovery.

4-0, 2-0, 3-0, 3-0

Our last four results, all in our favour! A frankly easy win against Exeter last night with some lovely football played. It's a bizarre feeling, heading toward Brighton for home games lately expecting to win, and then having those expectations justified by the players! I'm not quite used to it yet.

Monday, 1 November 2010

'Nightmare at London Road'

So sang the massed Albion fans behind the goal at Peterborough as Posh's self-styled 'Cup Final' went horribly, horribly wrong for them. I'm just running out of superlatives for the way the boys are playing at the moment. I've been going for 25 years and it was the best performance away from home I've ever seen. But fans who have been going since the 50s were saying the same thing. We utterly, utterly thrashed them. Their goalkeeper, who was their man of the match by a country mile, and who made a string of saves, including a penalty, to stop the score becoming an absolute embarrassment, had been quoted as saying that Albion played 'total football'!!!

It's an absolute, unbridled joy to watch at the moment. Passing, movement, goals in the side, three clean sheets in a row, 8 points clear at the top of the league which is otherwise bunched up. I can't remember enjoying it so much. Not even when we won back to back titles and we had Zamora, the best player I've ever seen in a Brighton shirt, did we go to grounds like Peterborough, the top scorers in the entire country and averaging 3.5 goals per game at home, and completely dominate them.

Some comments from their podcast: "Men against boys," "They dominated from minute one," "Some of their short, quick passing was superb." A Posh fan came up to me at the station afterwards, shook my hand and said we'd 'shown them how to play football'.

It makes us Albionites want to burst with pride, frankly. What an absolute pleasure it is to watch them and write about them at the moment. We're at home to Exeter on Tuesday night. Surely, surely the wheels have to come off at some point, don't they?

Saturday, 30 October 2010

Linda Norgrove

I wanted to make reference to Linda Norgrove on a day when her parents have displayed extraordinary grace, dignity and forgiveness when faced with what must be unwelcome media scrutiny, all while still dealing the the grief of the loss of their daughter. Linda was the woman who was killed during a rescue attempt in Afghanistan after being kidnapped while undertaking humanitarian work out there. She was working out there out of a simple desire to help other people. No religious impulse or imperative drove her out there, she was there because, we're told, she grew to love Afghanistan and simply wanted to do something to help people.

I have no desire to debate the fact that some of the people out there don't want Westerners' help, it would do her memory an injustice and in any case should not be used as a dilute solution to water down the purity of her altruism. It's an entirely separate argument as far as I'm concerned. She was there simply to try to make a difference, understood the risks, and ended up making the ultimate sacrifice for it.

Her parents, as well as allowing part of her humanist funeral to be shown, have made it plain that they do not blame, nor want anybody else to apportion blame on, the Americans who it seems inadvertently killed their daughter while trying to rescue her. Their response to this whole thing, when they must be filled with despair at the loss of a daughter they must be rightly extremely proud of, speaks volumes for their qualities as people. It was clearly in their image that such a courageous and empathetic daughter grew up. I didn't know Linda and will never know her parents, but in a world in which superlatives are thrown around all too easily, and heroes acclaimed on the flimsiest evidence or achievement, here are three people we can all look up to.

Wednesday, 27 October 2010

The definition of greatness

The Beeb ran a debate on their website last week on the hoary old topic of who was the 'greatest', Pele or Maradona. It is, of course, a matter which provokes diametrically opposing views, generally with English and Brazilian people on the one side, and Argentinian and other nationalities on the other. For me, this is not even a matter for debate, unless the debate is about the definition of the word greatness.
Hundreds, hundreds of responses, many of them quite heated, were posted to the Beeb site. Many of those who speak for Maradona point to him 'single-handedly' winning a World Cup and seek to excuse his, how shall we say, indiscretions, as a compensatory by-product of his genius.

I've got a lot of time for the idea that genius often has a flip side which can be self-destructive, whether in great sportsmen, artists, musicians, there's a familiar pattern. However, that does not in itself mean that those destructive impulses can be discounted from the reckoning if you're to weigh one player against another as the Beeb asked.

Maradona may well have played a significant role in Argentina winning a World Cup (though to suggest he won it on his own for them is not only an outrageous exaggeration of his impact but a slur on some high-quality players he had around him in his prime). But Pele won three World Cups. That's three. And Pele was not kicked out of any World Cups for failing a drugs test. Nor did he see fit to cheat in a major game, say, a quarter-final, by punching the ball into the net. A move a clubmate of Maradona at Barcelona, Berndt Schuster, later said he'd seen him practice in training sessions.

A bitter Englishman, still, 24 years on? You bet, I freely admit it. However, and this is what marks the one out from the other for me, in the Venn diagram of greatness, there's no part of the 'ability' circle overlapping another circle marked 'cheating'. If Maradona had done what he did in '86 to, say, Belgium, I'd have felt exactly the same way about it (the concept of his cheating that is - I'd have been considerably less furious from a supporter's point of view, but that's inevitable). His propensity to cheat takes Maradona out of the running completely, in fact. In any list of the greatest players, you can put him some distance behind not only Pele, but Best, Puskas, Di Stefano, Cruyff, Garrincha, Platini, and plenty of others in my book, because, put simply, they weren't cheats.

This may well be the must unexpected post ever...

It is, to say the least, rare indeed that you'll read any praise on these pages for the PLC that is Manchester Utd but credit where it's due - they've done a good thing this week. Nobby Stiles, a man who managed to combine the twin achievements of winning a World Cup Final and proving that men should not dance, is such an unassuming chap that, according to his son, you'd never know what he achieved during his career on entering his house. No medals, shirts, caps, trophies on display. His medals were, apparently, in the bank and it was a matter of time before they were sold, and ill health has brought about that sale. Well Utd have bought them, and paid handsomely for the privilege, benefitting Mr Stiles' family in the process.

Stiles won his trophies while a Utd player, a European Cup for example, so the fact that they'll probably end up in the museum at Old Trafford means they're going to the right place if he cannot himself keep hold of them. I've been to the museum at Old Trafford and it's a place redolent with their history, with the Munich disaster section done movingly and tastefully, so it's a suitable home for his mementoes.

I can't of course, leave it without a bit of a dig at them, so here it is. As heartening as it is that there's clearly somebody in authority at Man U who's still got a connection with their past, it also serves only to place how far away they've come from that sense of history under the Glazers into sharp contrast. The recent 'Rooney-gate', to use a term the press might, is the best possible example of exactly that. Perhaps he should be led around the museum and shown Nobby's medals as a reminder of exactly what it is he's playing football for.

Tuesday, 26 October 2010

Sorry about this one

I realise that blogs are by their nature self-indulgent, but this post is extremely so. This is now, happily, not my only outlet as I've been trying to be a bit more active about getting my writing out there lately. First thing that came through was the chance to do some stuff for a new online magazine called Wonderlance, the link for its second edition, which contains my first pieces, is:
Mine are the reviews of Inbetweeners and 30 Rock.

And secondly, I applied to be Brighton & Hove Albion's representative among 92 bloggers (one for each league club) for a new website being launched by BT, called Life's a Pitch, and was given the nod. So the first couple of efforts are also up there, to, in the Fanzone section at:

If you're some kind of weird masochist, or merely enjoy hooting at my laughable literary efforts, check them out. Always grateful for feedback, even if it's just, "You're shit, stop kidding yourself."

Saturday, 23 October 2010

This is getting ridiculous

Most Albion fans had a bit of a bad feeling about today's game, if the web chat was any barometer. The sort of game we've cocked up in the past when we've been expected to win. Well, we brushed Yeovil aside today. 2-0 and comfortable. 78% possession. 78%! That is outrageous. Another clean sheet, a cracker from Calderon, and six points clear at the top.

To say Peterborough looks like a good game on Saturday would be a considerable understatement. Thousands of us going again, a covered terrace, and first against third. Bring it on!

Wednesday, 20 October 2010

Once a blue, always a mercenary

It'll be difficult to keep a note of glee out of this entry, given the news coming out of Old Trafford that Rooney wants away. This is not just because of my usual anti-Utd tendency, though I freely admit there's an element of that involved, but also because of my experiences of the Utd fan base's attitudes to their players, and other clubs' players, in the past.

I've been to Old Trafford about 20 times, about half a dozen of which have been to see United play Liverpool. During a period when United had Alan 'I'll never join Man Utd' Smith and Wayne 'Once a blue, always a blue' Rooney in their ranks, they nonetheless took great delight in singing a song aimed specifically at Steven Gerrard which alluded to him 'kissing the badge on his chest' and putting in 'a transfer request', to quote them directly, after his alleged near-move to Chelsea. The clear implication from this song and the general demeanour of their fans when you talk to them was that only United's players had loyalty and integrity, and United were so great a draw that any player, no matter how loyal to their club, could be prised out of there by the glamour and allure of the biggest of the big boys.

Happy, happy days, then, that they're now seeing the mercenary nature of that same Wayne Rooney, seeing him for what he is and experiencing the potential loss of one of their star players. But where to? Now, putting aside the fact that I genuinely believe he'll end up staying there anyway, in the end, and just for the joy of indulging in some ABU fantasising, let's speculate for a moment. They'll never sell him to Liverpool, who in any case have neither the money nor the cachet to get him at the moment. They'll never sell him to City either - Ferguson would surely resign in protest if that happens. He won't go back to Everton, however romantic that may seem, as he's taken some fearful stick there, Everton are not a Champions' League regular, and they don't have the money. Arsenal? No chance - Ferguson again. Sell him to Wenger? Not bloody likely. Chelsea? Just maybe, but I'd be extraordinarily surprised if Ferguson sat by and let that happen either. Spurs? Hmmm. Just possibly, if the money could be found. But no - it's got to be abroad.

Only two realistic possibilities. Real Madrid seem to have limitless cash, certainly have the allure, and have already shown their ability to get virtually anybody. But during the protracted sale of Diving Cheat from United to there, Ferguson said he 'wouldn't sell that lot a virus'. So he'd probably be apoplectic if Rooney ended up back alongside the Winker - it'd be quite amusing to see his face going purple with fury if that happened.

Barcelona? Maybe. Got the cash, got the team, got the Champions' League chances. A definite contender. But I'd be very, very happy if a certain Mr Mourinho continued his glorious habit of getting the better of Fergie and did indeed get him to the Bernabeu. What larks.

The usual platitudes are of course being trotted out by fans - 'no player's bigger than the club' being the main one, to convince themselves everything's OK and the old order is not changing. But I rather fear (fear? That is to say, I rather hope) that Ferguson's legendary temper, mind games and general ill-grace are finally getting the better of him and damaging his club, as top players in this era may well not be prepared to put up with it. It's also a possibility he thinks he is bigger than the club, and behaves accordingly, having run it like a private fiefdom for so long. But the reality facing Utd under the Glazers is that when sufficient money is dangled for even the very best players, even they are now a selling club. They're having to face the same realities that have faced plenty of clubs, plenty of big clubs, whose players they've cherry-picked so easily in the past.

That's why I'm enjoying this situation so fully. I suspect, as I say, that all this will blow over and Rooney will stay put, but the discomfort it must be causing within the Old Trafford walls, and in their support, gives me warm, fuzzy feelings.

Edit: See? The very next day it emerges he's signed a five-year extension, no doubt on even better money. It was fun while it lasted but I knew he wouldn't go - that would just have been too good.

Saturday, 16 October 2010

Reasons to be cheerful - 1, 2, 3, 4

Oh my giddy aunt, I wish I'd held that Henry V quote back for the Charlton game. What I witnessed this afternoon was the best Albion performance, certainly in an away game, since I can't remember when, frankly. Passing the ball beautifully, defending resolutely, attacking with verve and invention and basically completely outclassing a Charlton side on their own turf, and all in front of over 3500 Brighton fans. The lads even had the common decency to stick three of the goals into the net at our end. Coupled with Palace losing (again) it was just about the perfect Saturday.

We really are looking like a decent side now. If you pay much mind to these things, the statistics will show you one league defeat all season, 8 games unbeaten in the league and 63% possession today, away from home. The Charlton fans, those of them who stayed to the end at any rate, knew what they'd seen. All credit to them for applauding our lads off as they left the field, they were in no doubt as to the quality of our performance either.

We're blossoming under Poyet. The belief in the side is evident, his tactics working, the squad sufficiently deep and containing enough quality to be able to rest players when he sees fit (Elphick and LuaLua both benched today, for example), and the football is an absolute joy to behold, especially on days like this. One of those rare ones today, where you're rewarded for loyalty and commitment during times when things are, frankly, a bit shit. What happy blue and white striped bunnies we all are this evening.

The surreal to the ridiculous

An unusual moment at work today. I had to get out of a lift I was about to use because the alarm was going off, indicating it was loaded above its maximum weight-bearing capability. Not that odd, really. But what was odd was what was responsible for the bulk of that weight. A ball of chocolate about the size of one of those weird blue exercise balls that you're supposed to do God knows what with, dragged on a wheeled trolley by five lads. I was reliably informed as I bailed out of the lift to leave them to get on with it, that it weighed in excess of 250kg. Now I eat a fair bit of chocolate but that's impressive by any standards. I later saw it being pawed at by Chris Evans as a prop on The One Show, which is filmed in the building in which I work. Got to wonder what's happening to it afterwards, though.

Moving on to today's news, though, there was as usual something in there to irritate me today. It seems that the new installation in the Turbine Hall at the Tate Modern has been roped off, and punters prevented from interacting with it in the artist's desired manner. For anybody unfamiliar with it, the entire floor of the hall, save for a walkway down one side kept clear, has been carpeted with 100 million (yep, 100 million) hand painted porcelain sunflower seeds. The point was for visitors to walk among them, to sit on and among them, to handle them, to interact with the installation. And so they did, for a day or so, until the most dread phrase in the modern news vernacular struck it down, and it was closed for health and safety reasons. This is the utterly ludicrous world we now live in, where men genuinely risking their health and lives underground in mines in Chile are not sufficiently protected because of a blithe disregard for genuine Health and Safety considerations, but people in no real danger and capable of determining the risk level for themselves in London are denied access to an art installation because of porcelain dust. Or, more accurately, because of the risk of being sued by people claiming to have inhaled porcelain dust.

Really, truly, we Joe Public have only ourselves to blame. The opening up of advertising to the ambulance-chasing solicitors has exposed the grim venality of a British public all too willing to take quick and bare-faced advantage. It appears that the Tate Modern has paid off claimants who reported injuries received using previous installations such as the giant slide or the crack in the floor. Somebody was evidently insufficiently prescient to work out that a slide involved downward movement at high velocity, and another that a bloody great crack in the ground represented a trip hazard. OK, fair enough, don't let small kids loose on these things unattended, but for an adult to blame the gallery for such incidents of their own stupidity, clumsiness or bad luck, and then claim money for it, leaves us with logical, extreme and depressing result.

Good things to those who wait

When you watch as much news as I do, you become reasonably inured to all the shit you have to watch going on in the world, so not much moves you on telly, even the visceral, emotive, all too real stuff involving people dying. So it was with a modicum of surprise that, staying up late to watch the last of the lads come out of the Chilean mine, I found myself reacting extremely emotionally powerfully to what I was watching. It's not too often that 'good' news gets such blanket coverage but the best of us, the best of people, was there for all to see in this one and it was a story fully deserving of the attention it received. That such ingenuity and determination can be brought to bear to get these lads out, and that the men themselves can show such resilience, positivity and composure, especially in those first 17 days of what must have been abject terror before they knew anybody was coming for them, speaks volumes for the very best of humanity.

It will, no doubt, turn sour. Lawsuits will fly. Negligence, dereliction of duty and a cavalier attitude to the lives of the men in the employ of the mine will doubtless be revealed, to infect the joyous atmosphere enveloping Chile as it rightly celebrates a major achievement, a stirring of national pride for all the right reasons. But just for now, they fully deserve to bask in the glory of what they've achieved without worrying too much about what's to follow.

Monday, 11 October 2010

The linesman's an onanist of the first order, chaps...

I promised mention of the apalling theft of two points by an absolutely diabolical officiating decision at the very end of the game on Saturday, and here it is. First, I'll apply the caveat that I absolutely understand that if we'd have taken any one more of yet another string of chances which went begging during the preceding 89 minutes, it would have rendered the officiating inompetence a broadly irrelevant irritant. No more, no less.

However, the fact remains that the single most frustrating thing, for me at least, as a football fan, is when the result of a game is influenced or changed by the refereeing team. Great if it works in your lot's favour but it never bloody does, does it? First, it appears that pushing your elbow into the face of a centre half, in direct contravention of the clear instruction in the law, now warrants a yellow card, not a red one. So we should have been playing ten men for a significant chunk of the game. But we'll let go the clear implication that the ref and linesman had absolutely no idea what had gone on and therefore settled on some sort of compromise that they thought would please everybody, to concentrate on the utterly bewildering decision they made in injury time to award Bournemouth a penalty.

A free kick for handball, which may or may not have struck a Brighton hand in the first place, was given by the ref outside the penalty area. The linesman then intervened to tell the ref, wrongly, that it was inside the box. So we had the extremely rare sight of a ref changing a decision he'd already given, ultimately to deny us the win. As I said, I recognise that we should have had the game won by then anyway, but the fact is that without the officials giving this penalty the score would have been 1-0. The process by which that score had been arrived at, in terms of how many chances each side had created to arrive at it, is broadly irrelevant. Only the fact of the matter remains - it was 1-0 and therefore the decision was absolutely crucial and result-changing.

It's bloody frustrating and absolutely typifies the standard of officiating at our level, which is, frankly, shocking. Again, I realise they have the hardest job in football, and I wouldn't want to do it for all the money in the world, but why is it that when they make mistakes like this it's always, always a mistake which ends up changing the damn result?

Sunday, 10 October 2010

With apologies to Shaky and Henry V

A night in the company of a group of friends who count among them an incredible number of excellent singers and musicians yesterday, to effectively banish the memory of an abhorrent couple of points dropped at home to Bournemouth, of which more in a later entry.

Gathering at a less than salubrious but extremely accommodating and very welcoming pub in Colliers Wood, I found myself as usual surrounded by mates whose talents for music-making leave me gasping for breath. Put together in a few weeks, a mixture of styles from Rage Against the Machine rock to self-penned Country & Western parody, all performed with elan, ostensibly to mark the ever-nearing arrival of the first child of a couple of friends, but really I suspect done for the mere pleasure of doing so.

A fantastic occasion - shit karaoke it wasn't. I'm amazed at the singing, song writing and musicianship of many of my mates, and find myself a barren, rocky outcrop of musical incompetence in a sea of talent. The upside of this is that I can just stand by the bar, have a drink, and bloody well enjoy myself. I loved it - years from now, those Absent Without Good Reason will look back and think themselves accursed that they were not there.

There was mention of doing it again in the closing words. While I suspect the poor sod who had to organise it, play with several of the acts and then pack much of the kit up afterwards may have had palpitations at the very mention of it, a very high benchmark has been set which it would be an absolute joy to see them try to better in future. Cheers, all.

Thursday, 7 October 2010

A positive post about telly!

Best thing I've seen on TV lately, oddly, I didn't see on TV. Just caught up with Alan Davies' teenage diaries on the Channel 4 equivalent of iPlayer because I missed it when it broadcast, and it was comfortably the most intelligent and well-written thing I've seen on telly lately.

He spoke with wit and passion of his experiences growing up in an era in which Britain was bitterly divided politically and seemed at war with itself over disarmament, gender politics, the union movement, anything you care to mention. It resonates with anybody of a certain age. I'm a bit younger than him but remember watching coverage of the miners' strike, Greenham Common, the poll tax riots etc on television through opening eyes, just as he describes his own experience. I'm of course a bit biased because I share his politics, so his views on Thatcher and her ideology for example, which featured heavily, chime nicely with mine.

But it's close to home and a bloody good watch for anybody of a certain age. And for those of you not yet of a certain age, an instructive tour of how things were and, frankly, how things might yet be again given what are likely to be swingeing cuts in public spending later this year. One of the things he did very well was contrast those times with the relative comfort and apathy of, by comparison with that era, a de-politicised society today. Certainly a de-politicised youth culture, at any rate. The obsessions and fads of today's student generation seem pale and wafer thin already, but especially so when compared to those of his era. Maybe it'll take some catastrophic denudation of our public services to open a few eyes as his were.

Anyway, there's about a fortnight left before it disappears from 4 OnDemand or whatever it's called. Catch it while you can.

More televisual conceit

Watching an interview with the first candidate ditched from the new series of The Apprentice this morning was a faintly depressing experience. The slot comprised a few moments of the bizarre way in which Lord Sugar is supposed to judge somebody's potential as an employee (selling sausages they'd made only the previous night) and then the 'fired' candidate himself having to defend his performance.

The whole thing is, of course, a farce, and I don't and won't watch it because it's a completely fabricated for television experience that can bear no resemblance whatsoever to the realities of corporate exigency. If this was even vaguely real, similar techniques would be employed in real recruitment. But oh no, they will persist with this bizarre interview, experience, possibly trial period form of finding their new bodies. It's proven and trusted, so why should telly take any notice? Coz it's dull and functional, that's why. Don't make good telly, m'lud.

But what can Sugar possibly, possibly learn about somebody from such a set-up? He'd as well have them conduct a Rorschache ink blot test, get a phrenologist in, run them through a Krypton Factor assault course for all he'd know about the candidates after this nonsense.

The sacked candidate himself said that what was seen on TV was an 'amplified' version of himself, thereby giving away the fundamental problem with the construction of the show. That which you study you change - a bonkers sausage-fest followed every moment by TV cameras, later edited to suit the director's view of dramatic structure and how he wants us to perceive the candidates, and served to Lord Sugar as some sort of litmus test of a candidate's business nous can't be anything but entirely artificial.
So it's no wonder the candidates come across a bit funny sometimes. Or a bit bitchy. Or a bit ultra-competitive. Depends on the role they're wedged into by the director dunnit? God help the poor bastard's real future employment prospects who happens to be the one chosen to be 'Dopey' by the director.

I realise that people watch this show for entertainment. Plenty of people derive an odd satisfaction from seeing the conflicts, the bombast, the squirming in the boardroom and Sugar delivering the coup-de-grace. But on the odd occasions I've seen bits of this show, I keep expecting Steve Carell to turn up as one of the 'characters' and give away the fact that it's all utterly false. Enjoy it, if it's your sort of thing. I think I'll pass on it.

Wednesday, 6 October 2010

If at first you don't succeed...

...exactly repeat the mistakes already made, regardless of their apparent failure. The newspapers this morning full of talk that Steve McClaren is being considered as a replacement for Fabio Capello as England boss when the Italian steps down after the next European Championships.

I've read that one of the definitions of madness is the repetition of the same action over and over again in the expectation of a different outcome. That may well be apocryphal, but the simple stupidity of even considering this is extraordinary, and could possibly only happen in such an organisation of nitwits as the English Football Association. Not only has he failed in his mission to get us to the last European Championships with a set of players largely similar to those we have currently, and certainly no worse than those we have currently, but he's also got the same problems with his CV which are being levelled at Capello now.

Capello is such an easy target because he's foreign, it's all too easy to point out that his English is not good, but other things fired at him include the fact that his club CV is strong but his national team CV not so. Well, does the mere fact that McClaren is English blind the FA to the fact that this is something that McClaren can equally be accused of - he's done very well at club level, of that there can be no argument. But he's already had a go with England and failed.

And need I remind you that this is the man whose idea of a foreign language appears to be to speak English, heavily accented with faux-Dutch? How does that make him a better communicator that Capello? There are plenty enough reasons to give up caring about the England team as it is, many of which I've gone into here already, particularly during the World Cup. If the FA are so unimaginative, and stupid, as to reappoint Steve McClaren to the top job in English football, then it will be very, very difficult to find the will to care at all.

Tuesday, 5 October 2010

Unmatched drama in Wales

During the World Cup I made a passing mention of Bernhard Langer's putt at Kiawah Island, made with an entire continent willing him to make it, and another one willing him to miss. It's not often that kind of drama comes round but so it was again at the denouement of an epic Ryder Cup yesterday. The normally gentlemanly, almost genteel atmosphere of this game is temporarily replaced by adrenaline-fuelled chest-beating, chanting and rabid excitement of the type usually reserved for football in what's possibly the one event which makes Brits feel European.

And the way the matches are set up is absolutely perfect for such extreme examples of sporting drama as were played out yesterday, should the competition be close. Watching that McDowell putt on the 16 was absolutely agonising, I actually missed it drop into the hole because I had my hands over my eyes, thinking he'd lipped it. When it was all over I felt absolutely knackered from the nervous energy expended just watching it, so I have no idea how the players even stand up and hold a club, let alone make good shots, under such enormous pressure.

This is sporting endeavour at its absolute purest and finest - players who win millions in other tournaments absolutely desperate to win one in which they're paid nothing, performing under the sort of intense pressure they'll never feel in any other event, no matter how much money is at stake. Footage of the players' passion and will to win, and most of all, ability to handle that pressure, should be compulsory viewing for our national side the next time they pull the shirt over their heads.

Monday, 4 October 2010

Sky's powers need a limit

This caught my interest yesterday:

You'll see, if you read the piece, a reference to this case potentially being the Bosman of broadcasting. That may not mean anything to you if you don't follow football but it could mean a complete freeing up of broadcast consumers' right to choose, with pub landlords such as Ms Murphy being able to buy their satellite football coverage from suppliers based overseas. Personally, I wish her the best. I realise that it's the Premier League who have brought the action, not Sky, but we all know who stands to benefit most. Sky's water-tight relationship with the Premier League, and their resultant dominance of football coverage in this country, is so overpowering that they're changing the face of the game, and not necessarily for the better.

I'd like to know which other business limits your right to choose so zealously - if you want a Mini, for example, you can buy one not only from any Mini dealership but plenty of other sources. The good people who make Minis are not going to come after you for failing to buy them from a single outlet, nominated by them, who charges you ten times the price of the bloke down the road.

Ms Murphy is not even stealing intellectual property in my opinion, because she's been paying an authorised supplier of the images, merely one that's authorised in another territory. She describes Sky as 'greedy' and argues that they run a zealously guarded virtual monopoly, free to charge pubs for example, almost what they want for their coverage in this country.

I realise it's not as simple as that - I know that Sky supply a lot of the infrastructure and bandwidth on which many other satellite channels rely, for example - but anything which prises open Sky and the Premier League's vice-like grip on football can only be a good thing for me.

Sunday, 3 October 2010

ET hits home

Just like to congratulate Emma Thompson on her accurate and admirably measured comments on the language kids use, and its affect on peoples' perception of them. Anybody who knows me knows that the mangling of our language is a bugbear of mine - I fully recognise my girlfriend's standard response that language evolves and changes, but evolution is a slow and measurable process in which the strongest elements in that process are supposed to be those which get to multiply and flourish. It's not supposed to be crow-barred into place in under a generation by an agent such as the media or social networking sites which create and reinforce the changes among a certain group, and then mangle the form out of shape and launch it on an unsuspecting and ignorant world.

Again, I recognise that kids create a vernacular expressly to exclude those from outside their peer group from understanding them. We've all, willingly or unwillingly and knowingly or unknowingly, used and encouraged shibboleths in our lives to reinforce our own membership of a particular group or subscription to a way of thinking. But most of us are capable of distinguishing between those linguistic forms and the more standardised, formal English which remains essential for, for example, job interviews or employment itself and which remains a resource capable of great beauty, flexibility, force and clarity of expression.

These kids' vernaculars, whether text speak, phonetic spelling or the bastard verb children of what should be nouns and vice-versa, cannot be allowed to become the dominant and accepted form of English because, as Emma Thompson pointed out so accurately, they make intelligent people look stupid and inarticulate. They are, for me, incapable of the virtues I've listed above, and that's one of the reasons I've got a problem with them. There are plenty of others but I simply don't have the space here to get into all of them without getting ranty and extremely boring. (Too late! I hear you cry).

So I'll try to make this the first and last expression of frustration on this subject within these pages, given that all of you who know me have already heard this a thousand times. I fully expect at least one response to this post containing references to medalling, s'k'edules, tuxedos and the like, damn you in advance.

Missed chances the story of our season

Being in Brighton for the weekend I found myself in the unusual position of being able to listen to live commentary of Albion's trip to Tranmere on Radio Sussex. Why this is possible on the radio but not the internet is beyond me. Sitting at a computer on a Saturday and trying to get live Radio Sussex commentary of Brighton games invariably results in full commentary of Crawley Town or Eastbourne Borough. I have absolutely no idea why that should be the case but it's bloody frustrating.

Anyway, an utterly dominant first half in which chances were created and spurned, Glenn Murray's wonder volley excepted, was followed by the inevitable response from a determined opponent who waited until three minutes from time before delivering a deserved but frustrating equaliser. It should have been game over at half time so we were left to hear Poyet bemoaning the fact that it felt like a defeat.

I suppose in one way this is a measure of our progress. Given our absolutely abysmal record on the Wirral, we'd usually take a point up there if offered it, I think. So to go there, dominate one half and come away disappointed with a point shows that we've come on and expectations have been raised. But it's also slightly worrying in that this performance exemplified us as a team at the moment. We missed a host of chances, and Barnes, who's already divided the support as to his merits, seems the main culprit where this is concerned in particular.

But we're not losing, we're still top and we've a home game to come on Saturday, albeit a toughie against third-placed Bournemouth. We're actually on Sky, no less, which itself give cause for concern for the performance. But I'd rather be grumbling about missed chances to win at Tranmere and go five points clear at the top, than grumbling about being bottom three, leaking goals alarmingly and worrying about relegation.

Wednesday, 29 September 2010

Cheers, Hilary

I won't bore those of you not interested in the so far magnificent achievements of my three-points-clear-at-the-top team after last night's battling victory over Brentford, because something interesting in the programme caught my attention.

A local resident, a Mrs Hilary Ball (oddly appropriately), had taken the trouble of writing to the club to congratulate our fans on their behaviour during our ludicrously drawn-out tenure at Withdean. She wrote, "I had visions of beer bottles, cans and all sorts of rubbish dumped in the front garden, maybe windows smashed if a visiting team lost..." (No need to worry on that score most weeks...) "...and not being able to park outside my own house. I'm pleased to say none of this happened."

This is mainly due to the fact that, since a team of supporters volunteers to do a litter-pick in the area round the stadium after every home game, the area is actually cleaner after we play each match than before kick-off. It's one of the countless arrangements we had to come up with to get permission to play there in the first place. Her letter was in stark contrast to some of the other residents who must think we're no less than the spawn of Satan, as my own experience once showed.

I was walking the route from Preson Park station to the ground, an unpaved, muddy path through woods at the back of a line of private residences, on my way to a home game a couple of seasons ago, when a resident happened to come out of his garden to collect an empty cardboard beer crate that somebody had thoughtlessly dumped in the lane. Spotting my Brighton shirt, he gave me what can only be described as the skunk eye and muttered about 'hooligans dumping rubbish outside his house' in my direction. This could not go unchallenged, of course. I asked him why he was addressing his complaint at me, since I was clearly not the person who'd dumped the box. Again his eyes went to my shirt. That was all I needed to know.

The shirt had weighed, measured and found me wanting in his eyes. More than that, simply because I had the shirt of my football club on, he clearly viewed me as not only exactly the same as the dick who'd dumped the box outside his house, but somehow personally responsible for it. I told him, politely, that a shirt does not a boor make, that whoever dumped the box would be a dick whether they sported a football shirt or not. Whether they ever even watched football or not, in fact. But this clearly didn't fit with his preconception of the shaven-headed, drunken, inarticulate, snarling wretch that is doubtless his exemplar of fans everywhere, so back into his house he went, huffing and puffing.

So as we near the end of our tenure there, I hope that fans and local residents have learned something about each other. We're not all mindless hoolies, and they don't all hate us. Mrs Ball even complimented the new stadium blossoming on the hillside in Falmer, saying, "It will be a magnificent building when it is finished and a huge asset to the city. I might even be tempted to come and watch my first professional football match when you move."

Good on you, Mrs B. Glad we've been good tenants. Unfortunately though, should we leave Withdean this season with some silverware, Mr Beer Box will doubtless assume we've nicked it.

Monday, 27 September 2010

Sandaza way to do it

6th minute of injury time. 1-1 in a game we'd largely dominated and missed plenty of chances, against good oppos. Step forward Senor Sandaza, on his home debut, hitting the net with almost the last kick of the game from sufficiently close in that the media would usually joke 'he's deadly from there', sending us top in the process. Cue bedlam in the stands. The sort of thing that you see against you all too often, but very rarely seems to happen in your favour. What a moment.

I've heard people worrying that we've 'gone top too early'. What??! We're top! Top! It builds confidence, gives the players something else to play for (ie staying there) and it's where you want to bloody be. Some people can find negative things even in being top of the league.

Home to Brentford tomorrow night and a chance to consolidate, if we don't balls it up. It's all rather fun at the moment.

Thursday, 23 September 2010

My diamond shoes don't fit and my fifties won't fit in my wallet...

I didn't hear it, of course, because I don't listen to music radio, but the furore over Chris Moyles' rant has meant it's not difficult to know what's gone on and what he said live on air yesterday. Apparently Mr Moyles hasn't been paid for a couple of months due to some kind of administrative error. Now if this happened to most of us, we'd: 1) Fret about the mortgage and 2) Take it up with HR.

My Moyles, however, has the advantage of being able to air his grievances, quite literally, to millions of people. It's his show, he can say what he likes within the law and his contractual obligations, of course. But did he really think this was particularly politic? Especially as he then blasted a listener who had the temerity to point out that on what he earned he'd probably cope with a few weeks without pay. "You know nothing about my life," he said in response to said texter. Well, Chris, actually as you're BBC 'talent', we know something about your life. We know you earn £500,000 per year. Which comes from the licence payers.

The ONS website has the mean gross annual income for a man in the UK in 2009 as a little over £26,000. To put that another way, Mr Average Joe Public would have to work for a little over 19 years to earn what Mr Moyles does in 12 months. Now I'm not suggesting that he should just put up with not being paid, the contract he signed obligates the Beeb to pay him just as any other employer, but I do think he should think a bit more carefully before he uses the medium which enables him to earn so handsomely to bitch about it so loudly, especially when he's doing so at the very people who pay for it.

Wednesday, 22 September 2010

Eating up the Greens

Make that three clean sheets in a row, second in the table and off the top on goal difference only. A thoroughly professional win at Plymouth in what seemed, looking at the stats and the post-game comments, like a deserved and dominating one.

Most encouraging. A Plymouth fan apparently noted that we played 'tippy-tappy' football but still scored two 'agricultural' goals. I find this particularly encouraging - the passing game has not been, and will not be, abandoned by Poyet, but they're also obviously hitting the right ball at the right time. Our second goal involved Bennet outpacing his man to get to a ball into the channel, a quick cross and goal. So we can mix it up, clearly.

We've also, oddly, scored our goals lately thus: 2-0-2-0-2-0-2. So we're due a zero, if that sequence is to continue, at home on Saturday. However, a) I don't believe these sequences are any more than statistical quirks which have no bearing on the actual outcome in advance and b) even if I did, we've not yet failed to score at home in a league game. So you can prove anything with statistics. The only number that really matters is the one alongside your position in the table.

This is all going worryingly well. Dismal defeat on Saturday will surely follow, to give the naysayers who so love their fishing on the internet something to crow about. But I've said before, I'll take 12th in May if we play decent football every week, and so far I've got no complaints at all.

Monday, 20 September 2010

Back to the important stuff

A flurry of negative stuff on NSC recently requires a bit of redress. People starting threads like 'What's the point of Ashley Barnes' and 'Poyet is a clown', even if done solely to get a rise out of other fans, cannot go entirely unanswered.

A few simple facts will suffice:

3 points off the leaders' total, with a game in hand.

One league defeat so far this season, at then top Sheff Weds, tight and unfortunate.

Only five goals conceded, behind only Carlisle as the tightest defence in the division so far. Quite why so we're focusing on the perceived shortage of clean sheets is beyond me.

Unbeaten at home in the league so far, and above all, we're playing football. The ball is on the floor most of the time and even though we're not always fluent in doing so, people would do well to remember that we're a League One team, not bloody Barcelona, so that's inevitable.

Poyet's doing well, the players are behind him, the start to the season has been positive. I realise it's just a start, we should not get too dizzy at this stage of the season, but we have plenty of reasons to be cheerful.

Sunday, 19 September 2010

Sorry to bang on about it

I know some of the recent entries have contained little other than criticism of the theological tide washing over us at the moment, one the media are all too happy to surf upon, with wall-to-wall coverage on BBC News, a channel run by a publicly-funded organisation let's not forget.

But yet again I've been stirred to write on something the Pope said in last night's vigil, which was preparation for today's beatification ceremony of Cardinal Newman in Birmingham. The following is a direct, word for word transcription of what he said;

"At the end of his life, Newman would describe his life’s work as a struggle against the growing tendency to view religion as a purely private and subjective matter, a question of personal opinion. Here is the first lesson we can learn from his life: in our day, when an intellectual and moral relativism threatens to sap the very foundations of our society, Newman reminds us that, as men and women made in the image and likeness of God, we were created to know the truth, to find in that truth our ultimate freedom and the fulfilment of our deepest human aspirations."

I've got very serious problems with this part of his speech in particular. Firstly, the idea that intellectual relativism and moral relativism are somehow the same thing is bizarre to me. Just because I had a different education, and share different mores and cultural influences to those proclaimed by the Catholic Church, does not mean that I am incapable of establishing a firm moral code, for example, which is one of the implications I took from this passage, whether that was his intent or not. His fundamental problem with this relativism, as he describes it, seems to be that my morality will therefore likely be different from his absolutist morality, and no such freedoms are permitted within the 'truth' handed down by, and from, the Church. Surely, the 'ultimate freedom' he speaks of is only possible when I am free to make up my own mind? How can his peculiar absolutism ever, ever be freer than this matter of personal choice which he, and Cardinal Newman, even in the 19th century, found so threatening?

That's one of the Church's fundamental problems - people with the freedom to choose for themselves may reject the values and beliefs the Church works so hard to inculcate into them. Reason enough to reject the teachings in the first place, if they leave no room for doubt, no room for question, no room for even the possibility that they could be wrong. I just, frankly, didn't think the Pope would be quite so open about his Church's rejection of such (what I see as) open-mindedness.

Sorry, probably a bit dry this one! I'll get back to the matters in hand, namely Albion's excellent point at Carlisle yesterday, in due course.

Friday, 17 September 2010

Infiltrate! Infiltrate! Infiltrate!

Oh, the joys of the papal visit. "They're standing 20, 30 deep to catch a glimpse of the Pope," they tell us on the Beeb. Well, possibly most of them, but I seriously doubt the bloke with the sign reading 'The Pope is the Anti-Christ' was there for that purpose. In a move which highlights one of the many absurdities of religion, this made me laugh out loud. "My religion's the right one." "No, mine is." "No, mine - your religious leader's actually the devil. See how far up you've let him get in your heretical 'church'?"

What a job on the part of Satan that is, if he'd actually managed to sneak in and rise to the rank of Pontiff. You'd have to applaud his audacity and, given some of the homophobic, misogynist, anti-family planning messages coming out of the Vatican, the loon with the poster has got plenty of 'evidence' to back up his claim.

Thankfully, of course, there's no such entity. The ammunition which the poster-carrier sees as the machinations of the anti-Christ is of course a result of all too human failures. Blinded by faith and desperately allying with each other against what they can see is a hugely secular tide washing over this country in particular, they are modern day Cnuts, I hope. They're wasting their time. The freedoms, tolerance and understanding of ethnic minorities, other sexualities and, yes, the freedom to practise religion of any colour, are born out of this country's secular humanism. They want to be careful what they wish for - if they win their supposedly holy campaign to turn us all back to spirituality, how long would it be before the more zealous among us started burning each other at the stake?

Thursday, 16 September 2010

Fred deserves a place in the pantheon of sporting greats

One of the greatest spectating moments in my life occurred at the Oval in the decisive Test of the last home Ashes series. A full house that was as pumped as a football crowd when the teams came out, knowing that they could be there to witness the Ashes regained, had been quietened by a long partnership between Australia's admirable skipper Ricky Ponting and Hussey, who between them had added 127 for the third wicket. They looked set fair to bat deep into the day, frustrate England and deny a full house the chance to see the urn lifted.

Step forward Freddie Flintoff. A direct hit from mid-off as the Aussies run for what looks like a straightforward single sends the off-stump cartwheeling and Ponting back to the pavilion. The run-out had to be checked by the fourth umpire but Flintoff knew, already knew, that he had his man. Standing with both arms in the air on the last day of his Test career, the stage was his and he'd turned the Test back towards England in an instant. It was a fantastic moment, a colossus of world cricket standing like a victorious invading king, dominating a stage suitably grand to host his talent and his impact on the game.

So I got to see England lift the urn on the fourth day of the fifth Test of the 2009 series, comfortably the best moment of a long few months which saw me out of work, in debt to friends and family and generally feeling at a low ebb. All that, everything, just for a few glorious hours, was forgotten, and with the exception of those clad in green and gold in that stadium, spirits were lifted into the stratosphere by a team galvanised by another moment of genius from a man who'd provided so many of them.

Flintoff was hugely popular not just because of his ability but because of the man he was, and is. A modern-day Botham, unpredictable, unconventional, aggressive, intimidating to play against, and with, I wouldn't be surprised to hear. He battled jibes about his weight early in his career, the disapproval of the men in suits (and his own coach) with his off the field antics and the expectation of the most boisterous and numerous supporters in Test cricket. Cricket fans loved him because he came across as one of us, but with all the talent we weren't born with, collectively, distilled into him. He was seen basically shit-faced on the celebratory open-topped bus after the 2005 Ashes series victory. What a disgrace, the stuffed shirts said. What a hero, the equally inebriated fans thought - he's celebrating as hard as we are, there's a man who knows how much it means to people because it means as much to him.

For me the moment which defines him as a great is the iconic shot of him consoling Brett Lee in the immediate aftermath of England's victory in the Edgbaston Test of that never-to-be-forgotten 2005 series. Australia so nearly hung on to dash England's hopes of victory, only to be denied, desperately, at the last. Amid wild celebration, Flintoff took a moment to console the Aussie paceman and congratulate him on what he'd come so close to achieving with the bat. It showed, in one moment, that Freddie Flintoff understands cricket better than anybody who'd criticised him for any of what they thought of as his misdemeanours, and fully deserves the plaudits that will doubtless rain down on him now. Enjoy your retirement, Fred.

Tuesday, 14 September 2010

Even the police are in on it

I realise that everyone notices different things in the same images. Not the big stuff, the main story, as it were, I'm sure that's pretty much the same for everybody in the main, but the smaller details. Watching the images from George Michael's sentencing today, an odd thing occured as he was driven off to begin his few weeks in prison. I'm not going to comment on his imprisonment itself, largely because I just don't care, I don't proffer comment on anybody else who's committed to jail for a few weeks so I don't see why he should be any different.

However, as you'd expect, large numbers of people had turned up to see him. As the prison van moved away from the court after he'd been sentenced, there was the usual scrum of photographers, police, public etc. The photographers persist in trying to take photos through those darkened windows even though I've yet to see the results of their efforts ever published, and suspect they're wasting their time.

Anyway, as at least a dozen photographers raced along the road alongside the van, trying to get shots through said windows on all sides, a couple of fans ran down alongside it aswell. The police chased them down and stopped the fans. Just the fans - two or three of them. They made no attempt whatsoever to stop the photographers, who ran on much further, in the road, at a higher speed, at presumably greater risk than the public as they were also trying to get close to the van and take their photos.

Does a camera somehow grant the paperazzi immunity from the same attention of the police that the rest of us get? If one of the fans had armed themselves with a camera, a posh one, mind you, with the sticky-up flash thingy and the big fuck-off lens, would they have been able to sprint by the police and get near to their hero? Are even the police involved in some great collusion with the fourth estate to get us all obsessed with celebrity culture? I think we should be told.


We keep being told that we live in straightened times and cuts are inevitable across the board in public sector expenditure. I don't think this will come as a great surprise to any of us - we've all seen or experienced job losses for ourselves lately regardless of the sector we work in.

So I was moved to quiet fury a few minutes ago when I saw on the news that the forthcoming visit of the Pope to Britain is going to cost, in addition to policing costs, between £10 million and £12 million. This is a man who, let's not forget, as the figurehead of one of the world's most widespread religions, thinks that there's no place for women in the priesthood, nor even for the discussion of the matter. Who thinks that, even if a man is infected with HIV, that the wearing of a condom during sex is a sin. And that even if a woman has been raped, if she falls pregnant she should not have the choice as to whether to carry the foetus to full term.

So we're all picking up the tab for this individual (a former member of the Hitler Youth) to come over hear and preach to the no doubt already-converted in their thousands. I'd like to know why the Catholic Church doesn't pick up the bill, if they want to listen to him. They are, after all, charging people for the so-called "Pilgrims' Passes" which allow people into the Mass in Cofton Park in Coventry. 52,000 tickets at £25 a time. If the Church can't or won't pick up the bill, then why not invite Catholics in this country to cover it? I don't see why I, and millions like me who have no truck with the man's messages, should have to cough up for this while at the same time I watch public services and charities across the country, as I've written about before, gird their loins for swingeing cuts which are doubtless coming in the forthcoming Comprehensive Spending Review.

This sense of priority is absolutely staggering to me. The Church says his visit going to be 'good value for money'. For them, no doubt. For the rest of us? I think not.

Tuesday, 7 September 2010

Recapitulating the sins of the past

Something in the news today beggars belief, and demonstrates the dangers of religious fundamentalism of any colour. A pastor Terry Jones of the White Dove Outreach Center (sic) in Florida is going to hold 'Burn a Koran Day', in which he plans to do rather as the title of his jamboree suggests - he's openly encouraging people to throw copies of Islam's last holy text onto a big bonfire. Signs promoting the day by name, and saying 'Islam is of the devil' have been put up around his church.

It's utterly bewildering that he can be allowed to do this. I fully respect and admire the American veneration for freedom of expression, but is there nothing in their constitution which prevents such outrages on the grounds that they're prejudicial against religious belief? Picking on a particular group for their ethnicity or religion of course carries all too familiar echoes of a past we're all aware of. We've all seen pictures of something similar to the Pastor's idea of a jolly weekend. They're mainly in black and white because they depict the fervour of the Nazis as they burn books written by Jewish authors in the 1930s.

Exactly who Terry Jones' centre is trying to reach out to is clear - fundamentalist anti-Islamic zealots of the worst order. I recognise that this lunatic is in no way representative of the typical feelings of most Christians, let alone Christian churches, but could such zeal grow and thrive in the mind of anybody, for example, who didn't believe in a devil to create this perceived 'evil' in the first place?

General David Patraeus, US Commander in Afghanistan, has said it will further endanger the lives of American troops in Afghanistan, and will cause problems 'not just in Kabul, but everywhere in the world'. You know you've got a shit-storm on your hands when the US military represent the voice of reason and moderation in any scenario. An opinion poll conducted earlier this year evidently showed that 53% of Americans viewed Islam unfavourably and such events, if allowed to continue, can surely serve only to further stir such sentiment. I sincerely hope that the silent millions in America who must be appalled at the idea of this outrage, regardless of their religious views, make their voices heard and this nutcase is somehow prevented from conducting this bonfire of the sanities.

Monday, 6 September 2010

It gets worse

Literally moments after posting that last entry, I see the Beeb trailing a new dramatised version of the events leading up to... the commissioning of Coronation Street. Another televisual turn inside itself, this time with the Beeb spending licence payers' money telling us about how a programme that's been on the other side for decades nearly didn't get made. Sounds gripping.

Coming soon, doubtless: An inside look at the how the programme about Coronation Street nearly not getting made, nearly didn't get made. Complete with exclusive behind-the-scenes footage of casting. While I suspect the TV executives who must live off this stuff can't wait, I think I'll be giving it a miss.

What's the opposite of a virtuous circle?

How does already micron-thin televisual credibility shave yet another nanometre off its already translucent girth? Somehow they (whoever the mysterious 'they' may be) keep suggesting, and another 'they' keep approving, increasingly mind-numbing ways to do so. There's an episode of Come Dine With Me, a show which is already solely redeemed by a catty, knowing voice-over, due to air shortly in which all the contestants are former Big Brother 'winners'. This is TV turning in ever-decreasing circles, clamping its sucker-mouth onto its own belly, one already distended through lack of nourishment. How much more self-referential, how much more pointless, how much more banal is it going to get before it disappears up its own anus and, please, please, some quality TV appears to fill the resultant void?

Everybody who's tried to create a perpetual motion machine has failed - the law of diminishing returns always wins. TV is trying to feed off its own excrement and part of me hopes it gorges itself - with any luck it'll leave the landscape clearer for something interesting to follow on behind. Regrettably, this will doubtless result before that happens in "Come Dine With Celebrity Cash in the Big Brother Attic", or "X-Factor Flogs Talent", or some other monstrous hybrid.

One of these shows' 'concepts' has given me an idea, though. I believe there's one where people set their house up as an instant restaurant, produce food for visitors, and the visitors pay whatever they think the meal's worth. Would that we could do the same with the licence fee. "I've seen your offering for the past year, and frankly, it was shit. Bland, texturally disastrous, soggy, unimaginative, derivative and it left me feeling queasy. You get twenty quid, and nineteen of that was for the new Attenborough documentaries." That'd learn 'em. Unfortunately it would only give them the budget to make even more such tripe.

Thank whatever it is you swear by for books, DVDs and Radio 5Live Sport.

Wednesday, 1 September 2010

On windows, scandals and unmaskings

So the artificial thrill of the closure of the transfer window has come and gone. There were, of course, countless shots of reporters standing outside stadia or training complexes desperately filling as, as far as we could tell, absolutely nothing happened for hours at a time. And then the usual rash of last-minute deals going through, either dashing or perhaps in Stoke City's case exceeding the inflated expectations of fans. I always wonder why these deals couldn't have gone through sooner - all the top flight managers must have had some idea of the composition of the bulk of their 25-man squads for this season, for example, so why all the frantic wheeler-dealing at the last minute? It almost seems as if the whole system was concocted by the authorities to give the media another set of scaffolding to construct yet more temporary and rickety 'drama'.

Anyway, in the end Albion signed a speed-merchant with no final ball who's well known to us already from an earlier loan, a completely unkown to us teenager from Scandanavia and a striker from the Scottish Premier League. A mixed bag if ever there were one, time will tell if the increasingly polyglot squad has what it takes.

More genuinely newsworthy and infinitely more depressing was yet another scandal surrounding the Pakistani cricket team, I'm sure you're all aware of the details. It's a depressing fact that a sport that was once seen as a bastion of fair play and good sportsmanship is increasingly seeing that coda erroded by the malicious influence of money. No longer is it immune from the same ravages which afflict football in various parts of the world, all spawned out of money, be they greed, corruption, match-fixing, whatever it is.

My natural bleeding-heart liberal tendency is to feel some sympathy for the young players involved, thrust from poverty into a very, very different world and doubtless taken advantage of with the promise of more money than they'd seen in their young lives, but the fact is that the book absolutely has to be thrown at anybody who besmirches sport in this way. Pakistani cricket has a long, ignoble and entirely regrettable history of seeming to punish such wrongdoing to the fullest possible extent in the past, only to then soften or entirely retract those punishments when later circumstances made it desirable to do so. If it happens again this time, Pakistani cricket may as well lose their Test-playing status. Bad enough that their own country cannot host cricket due to the security situation, their cricket board appears beset by internicine strife and corruption, and their players are dismally failing to represent the honour of millions of people suffering desperately from the floods by underperforming so spectacularly. If it turns out that underperformance was even partly deliberate, they'll have spat in the faces of a loyal fan base and deserve never to play Test cricket again.

And a brief comment on the unmasking of the Stig. Speaking as an only occasional viewer of Top Gear, it really doesn't matter to me who's under that mask - it's only a TV conceit for Christ's sake. But if the bloke exposed as Stig signed a confidentiality agreement, how has he been allowed by a court to tear up that agreement? Surely he was in breach of contract? I don't understand the decision, as it seems that even in court, as on the cricket fields, honour counts for less and less these days.

Tuesday, 24 August 2010

My first and last post on the X-Factor

I don't want to be part of the process which feeds these abominable programmes so will not make more than this one comment on the X-Factor 'scandal'. The emerging 'news' that digital chicanery is apparently involved to tweak the sounds emitted from the tortured souls who take part in it is the least surprising of this week's headlines.

I don't watch the show, so was sitting in the next room during its broadcast while everybody else in the house watched it last weekend. I could hear the caterwailing screeches of some of the contestants who are clearly put on stage for people who get some kind of enjoyment out of large scale personal humiliation, one in particular sounded like a desperate fox being stabbed while attempting to copulate with a confused and unwilling cat.

But the idea that what viewers are hearing on telly is not even representative of the actual efforts of the poor bastards, that the producers do not even allow an unadulterated version of events to be broadcast, surely renders utterly meaningless any pretence of a point that the show had as a talent competition? Or am I being naive to think that this was in any way the point of this type of endeavour these days? The idea of a TV talent show is, of course, a very old one, going back through New Faces, Hughie Green and possibly even before him for all I know, but at least then the heart of the show was worn on its sleeve.

It was then an opportunity to showcase undiscovered talent. The people who made it to the screen had, I assume, gone through some kind of filter already whereby those who sounded like they had no place on stage did not get that place, thereby preventing the kind of infamy which some people bizarrely seem to actively seek these days. They might as well, with many of the modern incarnations of this type of thing, openly admit that they're only there for the money that can be made from phone calls, record sales, media tie-ins and God knows what else.

I much prefer that sort of bare-faced (dis)honesty to the charade they're currently undertaking, where they seem unwilling to admit that they have the ability to fix the show completely in favour of those they think will sell best, look best, make the best puppet. What a tawdry affair it all is - entirely in keeping with the whole platform, if you ask me.

Monday, 23 August 2010

And I thought I was negative...

So a tight and, by all accounts, unfortunate defeat away at Sheffield Wednesday, one of the teams most fancied to challenge for this season's title. Not good enough for some of our fans who clearly seem to think it's vital to be top of the table in the first month of the season. There's a thread on Northstandchat in which the author claims we should 'write off the season' and that our squad lacks depth and 'we won't challenge with a bench like that'. Well do me a favour. When I was a kid, you never even saw a league table until six games in, and even then you got a quick look at the top six, nobody took them too seriously. But now in the new era of instant gratification and shortening attention spans, success and failure must be weighed and measured immediately.

Well, not for me. It's utterly, utterly ludicrous to make any comment whatsoever about the entire season in August, for God's sake. AUGUST! There are nine months ahead of us. A transfer window, yet to open because the current one hasn't even closed yet, dozens of managerial changes, injuries, suspensions, who knows what drama to be played out yet, but some soothsayer within the Brighton support is sufficiently prescient to make a declaration on the season already? I'd venture a guess that this 'sage' is in his early 20s at the absolute oldest, and his jaundiced view is just another symptom of the culture of immediacy that surrounds us now (it's all the fault of mobile phones, I tell you...)

I might run a book on when the first call for Poyet's head is made, in the likely event that we're not 20 points clear at the top by Christmas, with over 100 goals scored already and Barcelona knocking on our doors with desperate bids to prize our footballing super-Gods from the ostentatious luxury of Withdean to the prosaic functionality of the Nou Camp in the January transfer window. Some people would do well to remember that it's not a bloody computer game.

Tuesday, 17 August 2010

The rich get richer

A couple of things irritated me today (something of a common theme in these posts, you may be noticing) and one of them was, again, sparked by the radio. West Ham, a club I have a lot of time for, are clearly having problems shifting tickets for this Saturday's game with Bolton. They were, on TalkSport, advertising 'Kids for a Quid' tickets when you buy an adult's ticket. Not a bad idea of course, and to be applauded. However, the adults' tickets were being sold for 'just' £36. Thirty six quid! For West Ham versus Bolton?! How the hell is that 'just' £36 (plus, of course, the £2 booking fee they mentioned right at the end)? So we're now being sold the idea that, for such a run-of-the-mill fixture, £36 represents good value in the Premier League. And that is doubtless not even close to the best, and therefore most expensive, seat. That's how far from the true value of the sport, and the lives of the average fan, the game has moved.

Worse followed. One of my main bugbears with Manchester Utd (yes, I know I've got loads) is that they seem to genuinely believe that they can act in a way which is acceptable if they do it and unacceptable if anybody else does. Alex Ferguson has apparently today criticised the spending of some clubs, calling it 'kamikaze' and saying you can't just get success by buying it. This is the same Alex Ferguson who has, while bringing through young players at the same time, I completely accept, spent*: almost £31 million on Dimitar Berbatov, £20 million on Wayne Rooney, almost £19 million on Michael Carrick, £30 million on Rio Ferdinand, £17 million on Owen Hargreaves, £12.25 million on diving cheating winking fucker, £19 million on Ruud van Nistelrooy, I could go on. They simply identify the best player at any club which dares to stick its head above the parapet and challenge the established order, wave a huge cheque at player and club, and lift him out. Just as Man City, the unnamed but obvious target of his ire, are currently doing.

So it's all right for Ferguson to spend large sums of money on players, but if any of the pretenders dare to have a go, it's 'kamikaze', somehow unacceptable. When I meet Utd fans and express my dislike for their club, the accusation most frequently levelled at me is 'jealousy'. Well, firstly I'm not nine years old and my feelings toward them are slightly better thought out than that, and secondly, if it were that simplistic, I'd have the same feelings for Chelsea, Man City, anybody else with success, money and trophies. So I'm going to indulge in some reciprocal juvenile name-calling for once. Ferguson is jealous of the spending power of the nouveau riche Premier League clubs, knowing that he's hamstrung by the huge debt foisted on his club by the Glazers, regardless of his protestations to the contrary, and nervous that the Utd hegemony is coming to an end in the new order. So there.

*Figures are from Soccerbase.