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.