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.

Thursday, 12 August 2010

The old ones are the old ones

Having complained more than once about the paper-thin insubstantiality of the cult of celebrity and modern tabloid journalism before, I've just seen an extremely disappointing interview with one of the grand old men of football journalism, Brian Glanville, on BBC News. He's a man I've always respected as a writer, his book on the history of past World Cups is a definitive work for me. But he sounded like nothing more than a bitter old man, criticsing Capello's language skills, blaming him for handing out 'cheap' caps to Beckham, complaining about Beckham being present at the World Cup and comparing Beckham unfavourably to Bobby Charlton and Bobby Moore.

Now as much as I wish that football writers would write about football rather than transfer gossip and kiss'n tell bollocks, nor can we live in some kind of sepia-tinted past where the England players were virtuous paragons, revered thoughout a wide-eyed world, walking examples of rectitude which even Beckham fails dismally to live up to. I don't, frankly, believe any such world ever existed. Beckham may, seemingly due to his wife's influence if what I've read elsewhere is to be believed, have been a bit of a media whore. His example of dedicated professionalism, high standards, commitment to the England shirt, charitable work, coaching and everything else he busies himself with would though, I suggest, stand up to against pretty much anybody's record.

Brian Glanville has really, really disappointed with a string of negativism. I know people, men in particular, look forward to sitting in a bath chair, affecting deafness and being rude to people in their dotage, but there's no need to elevate it to a profession.

Wednesday, 11 August 2010

Things I don't understand

I thought that I basically understood the football fan as an animal, thought the same way as pretty much all of them. We're fond of saying that the things in football which divide us are far outnumbered by the things which unite us. However, the support at the England game have left me baffled. It's currently half time. The crowd were (largely) supportive when the team came out, and got behind them with the exception of John Terry and Ashley Cole, who came in for some mild barracking. Then, having watched a greatly improved first half performance in a more fluid system, they lustily booed them off at half time.

Go figure.

To boo or not to boo? That is today's question

Listening to TalkSport this evening, they were questioning early arrivers to Wembley for tonight's England game as to their response to the players this evening. Are they going to boo? The response was mixed. Some saying definitely yes, some saying definitely no, some saying it depended on how pissed they got before kick-off. (Good luck with that - you can't buy a beer inside the stadium, apparently us footie fans are all such atavistic reprobates that we can't be sold alcohol, oh no...)

Anyway, this made me wonder whether I'd boo them. The fact is, I've always thought that it's about the shirt. In one respect, if you're booing an England player, you're booing the shirt, the England team entity, which is blameless in all this. And if you boo, you're booing the also blameless 13 players who were nowhere near South Africa and cannot be faulted for the dismal performances out there.

However. And it's a big one. Certain members of that team, I'm not going to name names but it's Ashley Cole and Wayne Rooney, deserve to be told exactly what people think of them. Cole for his ill-mannered and graceless comments about the support after the tournament, Rooney for his during the tournament, on which I've already commented here.

I think, on balance, I'd probably refrain from booing, personally - it's probably not going to bother the mercenary sods anyway, and can only help the opposition. But I have no words of reproach for those who do boo them tonight. They've earned it, on balance.

Tuesday, 10 August 2010


So, directly after my last post, some wildly differing news items from footy this morning.



is to be applauded and encouraged. Southampton clearly think they can run a Stalinist state down at St Mary's. Well, in truth, they can, but what they can't do is control people's responses to it, or the imaginative ways they'll come up with to produce content while at the same time telling Saints to fuck off. They seem to be going out of their way to make themselves as unpopular as possible this season - part of a cunning Pardew ploy to foster a siege mentality in the dressing room, or just another depressing symptom of the direction football is going? I sincerely hope this ludicrous and self-defeating exercise in Evil Empire building is quietly dropped as soon as they're able.

On the Villa front (See? I've learned nothing...) it seems that Sven is interested, as is Southgate. Now Villa have to be extremely careful here. Sven seems an affable enough bloke but, while he is, bafflingly, a world-class seducer of women, he doesn't seem to have the same deft touch when it comes to management. Not lately, anyway. (Maybe it's men he has a problem with? He should be considered when the England Women's job next comes up - he could take us to World Cup glory... but I digress.) His appointment would, I suspect, be extremely unpopular among Villa fans and hardly suggest ambition on the part of the board, unless their ambition is to appoint a hugely overpaid boss with a wicked twinkle in his eye. Don't think that's the case, so I can't see it happening.

Southgate I've got a lot of time for. But he hardly covered himself in glory at Middlesbrough and would, under a more trigger-happy chairman than Steve Gibson, and that's basically all of them, have been sacked a long time before he actually went. It would be a sentimental rather than ambitious appointment and for that reason I don't think that will happen either. There is very, very little sentiment in football, at least where managers' jobs are concerned, anyway.

Since football never ceases to surprise, it may well of course be that one of them gets the nod. But I do hope not - Villa are a club with a rich history and tradition, one of the few with the foundations to build a club capable of challenging the very biggest of the big boys. Their next managerial appointment needs to reflect that.

Oh to see ourselves as others do

A fairly horrible realisation dawned on me this morning, thanks mainly to a perspicacious observation from a house-mate. (I don't like that word as it has connotations of Big Brother, but can't think of a better one). It further dawned, on reflection, that this is something which may well already have occurred some time ago to anybody who's bothered reading these posts from the start.

Somehow that fine institution of sporting news and speculation, Sky Sports News, came up in conversation. She described it as 'That mind-numbing thing with all the text running along the bottom'. I was of course defending it but rather undid myself with the case I used for its defence. I pointed out that yesterday I was able to let the Villa fans at work know that Martin O'Neill had resigned because SSN almost invariably gets there first and I had it on one of the screens. Kudos, whether real or imagined, follows for being the first with the story.

House-mate then says "Isn't that just like reading Heat magazine and having the gossip first?" I coughed and spluttered of course, but this was a hammer blow. The only response was to meekly 'lay down my king'. She's right, of course. For all my bluster and raging about the vacuity and superficiality of the gossip mags, caring about Martin O'Neill leaving a club I don't even support and then gossiping about it with workmates is basically exactly the same thing. A lengthy period of self-examination will follow, at the end of which I'll no doubt emerge transformed, butterfly-like, into exactly the same animal I am now.

Plain fact is, even with this new self-knowledge, and probably accepting that I'd secretly known this all along, it's not going to stop me watching Sky Sports News. Oh no. Sky moving it to pay only channels in a few weeks, that's what's going to make me stop watching Sky Sports News.

Sunday, 8 August 2010


What did I post during the World Cup, when a bunch of charlatans disguised as England internationals feebly attempted to pass themselves off as a national side? That Rooney would be back to his best the second he put a Utd shirt on, tearing around like a demented Duracell bunny and playing the football that prompted them to pay so much for him in the first place. Well, he's done exactly that in the Charity Shield, for fucks' sake, the very first possible competitive opportunity he had to do so. That is just taking the piss. He needs to think very, very hard before he criticises England fans again, when all he's doing is displaying the very attributes which made his 'performances' such an utter let-down in July.

A word on Hernandez, as well. How to endear yourself to a football public which is divided between people who 'support' Man Utd and people who loathe them. (Genuine season ticket holders at Old Trafford can consider themselves excluded from the quote marks around the word support.) Score the first goal by clearing the ball onto your own face, watching it trickle apologetically over the line before running off celebrating like you'd done it on purpose and then, the thing I hate most in footballers, kissing the badge of the club you've been with for a matter of weeks. I can tell I'm going to love him...

Saturday, 7 August 2010

What a start

Well, you can forget all that negative stuff I may have posted this morning, or over the last few days, or ever, in fact. A magnificent away victory at Swindon to get our season under way, with new boy Matt Sparrow bagging a brace. One of the great joys of football support (and one of its curses, as I've readily acknowledged in previous posts) is its gift of making up for all the rubbish and disappointment you have to go through on a day-to-day, week-to-week, month-to-month, season-to-season basis with tremendous results which leave you bouncing.

Well done, lads, well bloody done. This without new skipper Greer, and main frontman Murray, both suspended. Regrettably, work prevented me attending, but I've read that we did it playing football too, as pledged by Gus.

A great start to the season. I will of course look back on this post a few months from now and laugh at my naivete, my wide-eyed enthusiasm for a single result, but just at the moment, even in that full knowledge, I simply don't care.

Not even the Beeb can get their facts right

The verbosity inherent in many of my postings here is probably borne out of my desire, years ago, to be a sport journalist. That not having happened, this is therefore my outlet for writing about it. I still come across examples, though, in the professional broadcast or print media, of either gross inaccuracy, poor writing or research, or such badly formed pieces of writing that I'm convinced that there are plenty of people out there who could do at least as good a job as many of the pros. Two examples within about 30 seconds on the BBC, no less, this morning. Apparently (using the Beeb's own numbers) England's overnight position of 101-2 in the second Test represents a 40 run first innings lead over Pakistan, who scored a paltry 72. Now I realise that journalists need to be better with words than numbers, but that's pretty rudimentary maths even for me. An easy mistake, though. We'll let that one go. Much worse followed.

Trailing the first Football Focus of the new season, the presenter described Leeds v Derby today as 'one of the key games of the opening weekend'... What the fuck? I'd like to know what gives him even the slightest indication that this is a 'key game' over any other? What possible criteria can he have used to decide this? We have absolutely no idea where these two sides will finish NINE MONTHS from now. They could be 13th and 14th, and this game could have had absolutely no significance in the grand scheme of things whatsoever come May. It's just bloody lazy. They've looked at the two clubs, decided they've got decent levels of support, and on that basis alone have called this a 'key game'.

I realise that his is a very small matter to get worked up about, especially on a day when I'm having to work during the opening Saturday of the football season for the first time in my life, but I'm a relentless pedant, and we have a rich and varied language which throws up any number of words which could have been used in place of 'key' here, many of which are subjective and therefore couldn't be argued with.

Anyway, have a nice weekend, all. I don't know about you but I'm getting really excited about the big Forfar v Dumbarton clash in Scottish div 2. I reckon that could be a key game...

Thursday, 5 August 2010

World Cup antipathy hasn't dissolved yet

A couple of faintly depressing things this morning. Firstly a chap posting on Northstandchat, the Albion fans' most active forum, that he has four tickets for England's game with Hungary at Wembley which he bought months ago. He can not now attend, so is trying to sell them on at below face value. Initially £20 each for £35 face value tickets, now £15 each. No takers and a string of invective aimed at England players, the wounds from the World Cup clearly still raw. I hope the players and the FA (and the Premier League) don't ignore how strongly people feel about this as the new season gets under way. I suspect they'll have a fairly vocal reminder of people's feelings when the teams run out.

I'm not holding my breath though. The realities of Premier League thinking in particular where brought into sharp focus by an expert football commentator guest on Sky Sports News this morning. (Yes, I know, I know... That's the sort of telly I watch.) He was speaking specifically about the proposed Chinese take-over of Liverpool. (Don't even get me started on that. The club with possibly more sense of tradition and the old football values than any other is already in the wrong hands. Being sold on again to a different example of the same type of entity is another symptom of the worrying direction it's going.) But anyway - it's emerged than Kenny Huang may possibly be backed by the Chinese government. When asked 'Where do you see this going?' the commentator responded that he saw Premier League games being played in other continents in future.

Now my girlfriend would probably be delighted to read this, but the day that happens is the day football has forgotten its history, heritage and soul so completely that I give up on it. I don't say that lightly, but I mean it. It's bad enough that our clubs are being franchised already, moved from their home and their fan base to Milton Keynes for example, but the day the game itself is franchised is the day I want nothing further to do with it.

Sunday, 1 August 2010

Outrageously dangerous driving should cost Schumacher his licence

I've posted here before about my disappointment when the desperation to win means that the boundaries of sporting endeavour are transgressed, but never before have I seen it done with such blatant disregard for an opponent's safety, and potentially his life, as was demonstrated by Michael Schumacher in Hungary this afternoon. To have it, yet again, compounded by treating the watching public with utter contempt by both Schumacher and his team defending his actions, merely adds one last shiny turd on an already enormous shit cake.

Evidently his 'plan' was to move to the right early to 'show Rubens he planned to defend the right hand side'. You've got to wonder then why he moved to the right when Barrichello was already alongside him. Spare us the defence, for Christ's sake. We know what we're watching. Schumacher has, yet again, crossed the line between a will to win and such desperate, obsessive need to win, by so far that he's apparently prepared to put the life of an experienced, should-be-respected opponent in jeopardy.

He's been demoted by ten places on the grid for the next GP. Barrichello's instant reaction in the car was that he should be black flagged. Well, yes. But not just for the ongoing race. If he can't handle the reality of the place his career is in, and the reality of the qualities of the car he's in, then he should be removed from F1 before he causes a serious accident or worse.

Baz in boots

My first game of the new season yesterday, a friendly with Aberdeen and a day spent in the company of Aberdonian mates down for the day. Well, what a pleasant surprise - we outplayed them from the start, kept the ball on the floor as promised by Gus, and generally looked encouraging. Another screamer from Bennett, he doesn't score tap-ins, as they say, and a good time had by all. Apart from over 500 Aberdeen fans I suspect, a superb turn-out, they deserved better. I don't know if their side are any indication of an utter paucity of quality in the SPL, or if they simply didn't take it seriously, or what the problem with them was, but it could have been a cricket score.

We missed an absolute hatful of chances, which should worry me I suspect, but the truth is, if we finish 12th this season but play football like that all year, I'll be happy. We won't, of course, be allowed to play football like that all year. League One teams will close you down in three tenths of a second and kick anybody trying any fancy stuff up in the air at the first opportunity. But it'll be nice watching a team try to play football of a purity and fluidity which is often sadly lacking in England.

I am a bit worried for the oddly-prosaically named Argentinian new signing, 'Baz', who came on as a sub, sporting bright yellow boots, and proceeded to twice connect with bicycle-kick volleys which would no doubt have screamed into the net, setting it aflame, had they not both been blocked immediately. The germane point here is that he connected with them in the first place. If he thinks there's any place in League One for that kind of outrageous exhibition of technical abilities he'll be disavowed of such delusions pretty quickly by some of the more, er, 'agricultural' players in the division.

It's nice to feel so encouraged going into what will, praise be, be the last season at Withdean. As is always the case, and as I said I'd be guilty of falling victim to in an earlier post, the depression and rancour of the English World Cup failure is dissipating rapidly as the optimism and enthusiasm for the new campaign takes over.

Bring it on!