Friday, 30 July 2010

The admirable Hodgson

Roy Hodgson, interviewed after taking charge of his first competitive game at Liverpool, displayed the qualities of articulate intelligence, good grace and composure which, with his excellent record of course, doubtless brought him to Liverpool's mind in the first place.

One of the first things a lot of managers do early in their reign at any new club is have a dig at the tactics, fitness, squad balance or dressing room disharmony bequeathed to them by the previous manager. Roy Hodgson instead chose to credit Benitez with leaving behind a strong and well-balanced squad, and also paid eloquent tribute to Fulham in wishing Mark Hughes well in taking over down there.

For me, Hodgson is a great fit for Liverpool and one of the first people I'd have looked to in their position. I realise that Van Gaal and others' names have been mentioned but Hodgson will, I think, do well there. Certainly better than last season anyway when, in my opinion, the main problem Benitez had was that he'd gone stale at Anfield and a change was needed, rather than any fundamental problem with his abilities as a manager. Apart from his baffling and sedulous selection of Lucas, of course. Hodgson will bring stablity and will get the best out of players that are not in the absolutely highest stratum of quality in Europe, given Liverpool's seeming inability (or unwillingness) to compete with City, Utd, Chelsea etc in spending.

I'm not a Reds fan specifically but believe that the top flight needs a strong Liverpool. They're stitched into the fabric of football history in this country, a fact acknowledged by Joe Cole when he signed for them, and it always feels like there's something wrong with the picture when they're not strong. I trust Hodgson carries the fans' good wishes at Anfield because he's a good manager, a football man in the mould of the old-fashioned Liverpool managers of the bygone eras. I wish him well.

Tuesday, 27 July 2010

Priced out, then charged to get back in

Heard a very interesting advert on TalkSport today. It featured Kris Commons (I think that's his name, the bloke from the BT ads at any rate) reciting a poem about how the modern game has changed and the average fan has been priced out. It then goes on to say that there's still an affordable way to watch your football, by subscribing to the new BT offering of the Sky Sports channels.

Now don't get me wrong, I think Sky do what they do extremely well, but they and BT must think fans utterly stupid if they believe we'll fail to see the inherent connections and contradictions in this marketing approach. Part of the reason (not all, I readily accept, but certainly part) that fans have been priced out of going to the games in the first place is the huge amounts of money pumped into the game (the top flight in particular) by Sky when paying vastly inflated sums for the rights to screen the bloody games in the first place.

"Ah - so we've helped make the game so commercialised and expensive that you can no longer get to the games? Never mind, join our lament for the good old days and you can then pay us for the privilege of watching a sanitised and over-hyped version of the same product on telly. It's just the same as going, honest..."

I'm not saying that Sky putting money into the game was a bad thing. I'm just asking that we don't be taken for fools when the game we were watching long before Sky turned up is sold back to us as a 'bargain' by one of the original agents of its over-inflation.

Cheats prospering quite nicely, thank you

I watched the German Grand Prix on Sunday almost in its entirety. You can probably guess at which point I switched it off. It started as a race with moments of excitement but deteriorated first into a procession and then into farce with Ferrari's blatant manipulation of the result. How utterly unpalateable to debase what should be sport through such bare-faced mendacity. Only Eddie Jordan, a man for whom I have, apart from his choice of shirts, a great deal of respect, had the strength of character to use the word 'cheating' outright, but let's be under no illusions, that's exactly what it was.

The problem with Ferrari is that they think they're bigger than the sport and have, through several previous lightly- or unpunished transgressions in the past, been encouraged in that belief by the milquetoast response of the FIA in dealing with them. Remember Schumacher trying to push Villeneuve into the wall at Jerez in 1997? Fortunately it went wrong for him and he lost out on the title, before being stripped of his second place in the Championship (he must have been gutted!)

Then there was, again, Schumacher's barging off of David Coulthard in Argentina, 1998. Entirely unpunished. And Schumacher again, parking across the last corner in qualifying at Monaco in 2006 and being demoted to the back of the grid (a punishment Jean Todt called 'disgusting'!) but still being allowed to race despite his recklessness, and pick up 4 points. And, though I can't remember the Grand Prix exactly, there was a further example where Schumacher (again!) delayed taking a drive-through penalty until the last lap, crossing the finish line and winning the race while doing so.

And yet Ferrari still somehow remain the biggest name in this tarnished sport. I realise they're not the only team doing so but compare the response of the F1 authorities to their transgressions with that of other sports' treatments of their big names. Rio Ferdinand, a big name at a huge club, banned for eight months for missing a drugs test. The standard 2 year, then life bans in athletics for drugs cheats. Cantona's nine month ban, fine and loss of French team place for drop-kicking a Palace fan, an act for which he should have in fact received a polite round of applause and a £5 postal order.*

If F1 wants to retain its place in the motorsport sun, and keep what remains of its reputation intact, it must amend the rules to allow the team orders which most of them carry out anyway, or start dealing properly with its transgressors, whoever they are. Otherwise they'd better get used to people on the podium 'celebrating' their points like Massa did, with the face of a lad who's just been told he's adopted or something, poor bastard.

*This is clearly a joke, before you write in. £5 would not be nearly enough.

Saturday, 24 July 2010

Born once, get one free

It's my girlfriend's second birthday today. She's not the queen or anything, but she is Spanish, and they have a handy second birthday because most Spaniards are named after saints, or at least have the same name as a saint. On the day of the saint after whom you're named (or at least whose name you share), you get presents from friends and family. If they remember, that is. I usually have to remind her mum because she's a bit rubbish.

Anyway, she's in Spain for a few weeks at the moment so I hope you'll forgive this self-indulgent post.

Feliz santo, guapinha. Besitos.

Knock knock knocking on atheist doors

So a representative of some religious order knocked on my door this morning, as happens from time to time. He was a very nice chap but I pointed out that he'd really knocked on the wrong door. My house contains, when everybody's in, two atheists, a buddhist and a fourth bod, whose views I'm unaware of, and who's rarely around anyway. So, to use a cricketing analogy, I played the usual dead bat straight away and we ended up chatting about Brighton & Hove Albion, as often happens when people talk to me for any length of time. To his credit he took no for an answer and went on his way, but these encounters always leave me wondering what they get out of spending their time going round knocking on doors when they have no idea what lies behind them.

How many people can ever, in the history of any one door knocker's door knocking, ever have been converted this way, or even been given pause to think properly on the matter when they hadn't been before? Surely anybody with anything about them would already have given these matters some thought and come to a conclusion of their own? What can a stranger on their doorstep say to anybody with a brain in their head that they've not already considered? And how would I be received at their house if I went round trying to persuade them to recant their theological beliefs?

There's always the possibility of course that they could call on some boggle-eyed psychopath and end up finding out what lies beyond rather sooner than they'd anticipated. Or a Muslim/Sikh/any other faith house where even they must be aware that they're wasting their time completely. I am, at least, always polite to anybody who comes calling in such circumstances, but leave them in no doubt that they're wasting their time in the hope they won't return. It was not always thus. When I was still living at home, when I was about 16 I think, Jehovah's Witnesses came calling during the Cup Final. My parents were out so I reluctantly went to the door to be confronted by two JWs who clearly had not the slightest idea that anything was going on that people may not wish to be interrupted from. So I told them I was a practising Satanist and shut the door, so I could get back to the game.

This was clearly the wrong approach as they must have gone away worrying about my soul. They came back one evening the following week armed with considerably thicker literature in much greater quantity, but had the misfortune to have the door answered by my mother, who is a small but formidable woman, and she didn't take too kindly to having her preparations for dinner interrupted by them. She shut the door on them in a manner than ensured they did not return.

So save your time, lads 'n lasses. I'm not buying and I'd be stunned to learn that anybody else is.

Tuesday, 20 July 2010


Controversy on the Tour. Contador breaks cycling etiquette by attacking Schleck while the unfortunate Luxembourgeois suffered a mechanical failure and is then, rightly, booed on the podium as he accepted the yellow jersey for the first time on this Tour. I gather he's since apologised but the initial response, trying to claim he didn't see the incident and was merely attacking when he originally planned to, patronises and insults those in the crowd who understood perfectly what they'd seen when they booed him and used the opportunity to express their displeasure. It's supposed to be sport. Is an 8 second lead really worth sacrificing one's self respect and sense of sporting honour for? I don't bloody think so.

A friend in deed?

I've just seen a piece on the Beeb about a new thing coming into Britain from the States (where else?) whereby it's possible to 'hire' a friend for an evening out. Sweet baby Jesus and the orphans. What. The. Fuck?

The Collins Dictionary defines 'friend' thus:

A person known well to another and regarded with liking, affection, and loyalty, an intimate.

An acquaintance or associate.

An ally in a fight or cause, supporter.

A fellow member of a party, society etc

A patron or supporter.

Now I know that the everyday, rather than dictionary, definition of a friend is much broader than it once was, especially in the era of virtual 'friendships' and the like, but somebody paid for for the evening is surely none of the above? What you're actually hiring is a complete stranger that you'd, at best, hope was a good conversationalist. Not even that if you're going to the flicks.

I realise that I'm far from being down with the kids, but this I just don't understand at all. We're in an era where there is, rightly, no stigma attached to, say, meeting your partner through the internet. Does this development imply that there's sufficient stigma still attached to going out alone that somebody feels there's a need for this 'service'? I'm most interested to see if the business takes off. It does raise some interesting questions of exactly what's being contracted for, as well.

What happens, for example, if you get on so well with your hired 'friend' that you end up going for, er, a 'lie down and a game of scrabble' that night? Do you have to wait until the contracted period has expired before you do this, in order to avoid them becoming an 'escort' rather than a 'friend'? Now that really would be stretching the definition to new horizons...

Monday, 19 July 2010

The Big Society?

My job requires that I watch a great deal of news. Not just national and international, I watch news from all the different regions in the UK, so think I have a reasonably broad view of what issues seem to be topical in much of the country. One thing a lot of people seem to be concerned about is the impact of the forthcoming round of budget cuts that every council in the country is going to have to suffer. With that in mind, today's pronouncements from Cameron on his "Big Society" struck me as rather like robbing Peter and Paul. If I've understood the many news items I've watched on the effects the forthcoming budgetary cuts are likely to have correctly, many initiatives of the type he's talking about are partly, or in some cases entirely, funded by Council money.

Croydon Accessible Transport, just to pick one at random from the stories I've seen - a service mainly for disabled people to enable them to travel into town and get out, and see other people, reducing isolation and allowing a degree of independence. Not a service I'd ever heard of before, or one I pick for any reason other than it's a fairly typical example of the sort of thing society is already doing which helps people and generally can be regarded as a good thing, I think? Now I have no wish to misrepresent anybody on here, so will readily correct this if I've got this wrong, but my understanding from a local news report was that the service was at risk of cancellation because of council cutbacks likely to be implemented after the budget cuts hit. Isn't this sort of thing just a tiny bit of a contradiction of the whole Big Society thinking?

I assume Cameron just wants private citizens to step in and fill the gap created by cuts in this service's funding, and others like it? I imagine this is considerably less likely to happen in an environment of economic crisis, with most people concerned about their jobs, their mortgages, their kids' futures and who knows what else. It's well documented that charitable donation drops during times of recession. So what's he expecting to happen?

I recognise that economies were inevitable given the spending done to keep the economy from total collapse. But, to me, your caring, sharing, Lib-Dem-loving Tories are no different from the party they were when Thatcher infamously announced 'There's no such thing as society'. But it's all right. If you're on a comfortable income, you can expect a tax cut just before the next general election, whenever that may be, no doubt paid for by savings made from such cuts as these. The Tories will then invite everybody to vote with their wallets, rather than their social conscience.

Fortunately, there IS such a thing as society, but it's already big, it already existed before Cameron, and I sincerely hope it'll continue to exist long after he's gone.

Watch and learn

Interesting contrast on the Channel 4 schedules tonight. Just watched an extraordinarily moving documentary on the efforts to recover and identify the bodies of the Australian and British soldiers killed in the slaughter at Fromelles in 1916, and the resonance the loss of these lads still has for their relatives and descendants today. Made with sensitivity and intelligence, and showing the suffering and futility of the trench warfare, it brought a couple of the lads' and their loved ones' stories alive powerfully. Quality TV and it shows Channel 4 can still commission bloody good programmes.

What was on directly after it? Big Brother. I have nothing whatsoever against any of the people in the Big Brother house, indeed I know nothing about them having not watched any of it, but I'd suggest that the Fromelles documentary should be required viewing for anybody entering that house, just to give them all a sense of perspective.

Monday, 12 July 2010

I get the feeling I may be a blogging 'black sheep'

I've just hit the 'Next Blog' button on here, and kept doing so, until I eventually came across something I could read which was not actively plugging Christianity. I don't know if the 'choices' the button makes are in any way affected by the labels I place on my own posts, but it took 21 hits of the button before I came to a blog not actively pushing the Christian message. I counted them, yes, I'm that dull.

I feel I may not have chosen the best medium for what may occasionally be anti-theological postings! I can, for my own part, only recommend that anybody searching for meaning or some great truth beyond their own mortality would do well to read anything written by Carl Sagan, a man who evidently knew where to find awe, wonder and beauty in the real and whose writings I've only just become aware of through reading Dawkins' latest atheist tract while on holiday. (Oddly preachy in places, since you ask, but passionately and intelligently argued of course). He quotes Sagan often, and it's inspired me to get hold of some of his work and read it. My favourite quote of Sagan so far? This, on the idea of an afterlife;

"The world is so exquisite with so much love and moral depth, that there is no reason to deceive ourselves with pretty stories for which there's little good evidence. Far better it seems to me, in our vulnerability, is to look death in the eye and to be grateful every day for the brief but magnificent opportunity that life provides."

Given the nature of most of my posts so far this may seem as something rather out of context, but I've been thinking about this stuff as a result of reading Dawkins' God Delusion and having seen the Milky Way for the first time in a dark, clear Galician sky on Friday night, unpolluted by the light from any city, and being overwhelmed with a feeling of utter insignificance, awe and wonder, all at the same time. Sorry to be all thoughtful and introspective, and stray from the footy for a bit! Normal service will doubtless be resumed in due course when some transfer news or friendly result or something trickles through from the Albion.

Joy and Spain

Just got back from a week in Galicia, having been out there for a holiday with mates, and had the pleasure of watching the World Cup quarter- and semi-finals there. The Spaniards always intrigue me with their muted response to winning these games. I was also out there for the quarter- and semi-finals of the European Championship they won a couple of years ago, and their response to their wins in those games was identical. They were extremely pleased but muted by comparison to English fans. In 1990 when England won the quarter-final against Cameroon there were thousands of people on the streets of Brighton, dancing in the fountains, generally ecstatic. No such response out there, at least where I was. Maybe it's a feature of the Galician nature that they only actually go properly bonkers when they win the whole thing. It's almost as if they don't want to believe it's going to happen until they actually see it.

I pointed out that if England ever actually reach, let alone win, a World Cup Final these days, there would be, with apologies to the great Bill Murray, buildings aflame, anarchy on the streets, dogs and cats living together, human sacrifice, mass hysteria. Nothing like the quiet satisfaction I witnessed during both the Euros and the WC. My only regret is that both times I've had to come back on the day of the finals themselves, so have missed what happened when they actually won them.

And, for me, the best team won. They may not have played the scintillating football they're capable of, they may have scored very few goals, but they've been the best team in the world over the last few years, they can play some breathtaking stuff, and the right team won on the night as well I think. Holland, for all their berating a ref who did his best to retain some semblance of a game of football in a morass of dissent and thuggery, would have more right to complain if they'd actually tried to play some football occasionally. They've also got players of very high quality, especially technically, but it felt to me like they were paralysed by fear of losing. They could easily have finished the game with fewer than the 10 they did finish it with. Total Football it bloody wasn't.

One happy bonus on the flight home, though. Flying over the Sussex countryside, and a left turn above Brighton, giving me spectacular views of the new stadium under construction. What a glorious site that was for an Albion man.

Friday, 2 July 2010

The football gods are truly evil...

Bloody hell. I thought we'd gone out in agonising circumstances in World Cups, but the Ghana lads have just set the bar at an all time high. As the bloke was coming up to spot the ball for the pen, I said to my g/f, "Bloody hell, how much pressure on this?" The vicarious dreams of an entire continent on his shoulders, poor sod. The weight of African football history weighing down on him, knowing he could have put an African nation in a World Cup semi for the first time. Is it any wonder he missed it? It was Langer over that putt on the 18th at Kiawah Island in 1991 for the Ryder Cup - that's the only other time I can think of in sport where the weight of expectation of an entire continent rest on a single fleeting moment like that. Langer missed too. I can't even begin to imagine how it must feel stepping up to that - it makes my head hurt just thinking about it.

Ghana were never going to win the shoot-out in a million years after that. Fair play to the lad for stepping up again and putting it in, balls of steel and no messing, but it was all over as soon as he missed in extra time. Suarez, in bizarre circumstances, may well now be viewed as something of a hero in Uruguay for preventing the goal that would have put them out. Amazing, frustrating, agonising, shocking, unjust and unpredictable sport, football. I bloody love it.