Monday, May 02, 2016

Protests, anger and football - a bit of context

When is it alright to protest at a football match? Discuss.

It's always your right to protest, to wave a banner, but while sometimes it's a legitimate expression of popular will, at others you just end up sounding like a spoilt brat. The rest of the football world looks on  and makes a snap judgement based on a shallow reading of the facts.

As the season draws to a close the banners come out. The frustration, the broken promises, the problems with the board, they all bubble to the surface. The common thread is often a feeling of powerlessness. But who are we to judge? What do we who follow another team know of the back story, the daily reality? Here are a few examples.

The Justice for the 96 campaign has at times been sneered at and patronised. But by God they were right. Persistence, pride and passion directed at the police, media and a judicial system that has failed them.

Blackpool fans marched on their stadium on Saturday, outraged at the dire football, the years of goading by the Oyston family. Yes, I totally get that.

There was a pitch invasion against the board at fan owned FC United. No, I honestly can't fathom this. There is a mechanism, a democratic structure, to change things at this club. Pursue that by all means at the EGM that has been called, but this can be easily sorted without indulgent showboating.

FA Cup holders Arsenal are on course to finish in the top 4, but the placards were out calling for Arsene Wenger to be sacked. Arsenal fans are one of the minor reasons I don't listen to 606 any more (Robbie Savage is the main one). Supporters of clubs owned by oligarchs demanding more and more spending of more and more money in a season where Leicester City are going to win the league make me feel ill.

We have form about this at Blackburn Rovers. A mid table and unremarkable season under an unloved but plodding manager sees the surprise appointment of a Scottish manager (ex-Celtic player) who makes things worse. You know the rest.

Well actually you don't. On Saturday at Rotherham some Rovers fans sung: "Paul Lambert we want you to stay" (I didn't) and the blame was firmly directed at Venky's, our strange owners.

Loop back a few years ago and the anger was almost totally focused on Steve Kean. At the time I thought that was wrong. It personalised an issue, made the fans look like a baying bullying mob and got Venky's off the hook. The villain of the piece was the agent Jerome Anderson and his involvement in bringing Venky's to the club and tearing it apart. Kean was enthusiastically and willingly complicit, he was clearly out of his depth as a manager, but absolutely everything that was going on at the club pointed to a meltdown under Venky's ownership. The Shebby Singh circus that followed proved all those fears to be right.

The Rao family have been truly terrible owners, but they have kept paying the wages. I don't know how this situation is in any way sustainable. How on earth can they expect to keep writing the cheques to support an asset they have no operational or strategic interest in? I'll be honest, I'm surprised they've lasted as long as they have. The future has to be under different owners - preferably a fan owned co-operative and local businesses - but that is a pipe dream in truth. There can be a better future, but it is sadly going to have to get much worse before it does. That will inevitably mean administration, relegation and a rock bottom we may not have experienced before. Think Portsmouth.

I looked around at Rotherham on Saturday. A tidy new stadium (back up to 71 of the current 92) with a decent atmosphere, a run down town in the shadow of a bigger metropolis. A manager who has saved the season with graft and tactical nous. Is this our future? I hate to say it, but it might be. This was what I'd have settled for in about 1990. How does the song go, "If we hadn't had such riches, we could live with being poor".

Is that then a situation worth protesting about? Of course. But it's also one that has to go beyond anger and forces us to get organised. To be ready to take a full part in rescuing the husk of what will be left. It won't be easy, or pleasant, people will fall out and egos will collide. It may never be as great as the heights of the past. But this is our future, let's hope we can shape it.

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

On this day in 1943 - remembering my Grandfather Francis Edward O'Hare

On this day in 1943 my Grandfather died. He was Flight Sergeant Francis "Teddy" O'Hare of the Royal Canadian Airforce who served as Wireless Operator on board Halifax Mk. II JB-920 coded LQ-F during an operation to Duisberg.

The aircraft crashed 12 miles from Duisberg along the banks of the Rhine, all of the crew perished. They were the first crew lost by 405 squadron since it was transformed into a Pathfinder unit. 

Although he was born in Birkenhead, he joined the RCAF crew and his colleagues, like him, were all in their twenties and from Ontario, Saskatchewan and Detroit.

Thanks to the RCAF for continuing to honour his role and to Michael Oliver for his important work in creating the permanent memorial to the contribution of the RCAF at the National Arboretum in Staffordshire.*

 As my friend Tom Cannon said last week - they really were the greatest generation. Defeated fascism, created the NHS, rebuilt Europe, created the UN etc, etc.

None of us have anything but these pictures, facts and our genes to remember you by, Teddy. But your two daughters turned out fine. Wonderful women, the best mothers their sons and daughters could wish for. Amazing Grandmas, even a great Grandma now.

 To those that fell. RIP.

 * I've blogged about that here and here.

Saturday, April 23, 2016

Why I couldn't bring myself to celebrate a goal today - my Rovers is dying

An angry football fan of my acquaintance was railing against this team and that and I asked him if he hated every team?

"Yes."

"Except your own, obviously?"

"No, especially my own."

I feel like that at the moment. When Danny Graham's flukey second goal against Bristol City flew in this afternoon I stayed seated. I didn't applaud. I couldn't. At the end I'm pleased we didn't lose, but it's how I've come to feel. Numb.

I really, really find it hard to like anything at all about Blackburn Rovers at the moment.

A particular source of my ire is the search for green shoots and silver linings. There really aren't any. 

We saw a young lad Mahoney make his debut today. He was alright, my eldest lad likened him to one of his former team mates, a lightweight diletante, a tippy toes. He whipped in a couple of decent crosses in the second half and started to prove he was putting his marker under pressure. 

Then Lambert subbed him.

There were individual instances of professional incompetence that should warrant a formal warning for gross misconduct. Jason Lowe failing to take a throw in properly, Elliot Ward dribbling instead of shooting, Jordi Gomez backing out of challenges. Any of the midfield or full backs unable to turn an opponent and make a forward pass. 

In fact when Gomez got subbed I shouted that he should carry on walking all the way to Sunderland. His obvious skill and footballing brain is far outstripped by his cowardice and lack of application at this level.

There's that hopeless moment that you see mark out every struggling helpless team. A player holds his hands out as if to say - who can I pass to? Ward did it, Lowe did it, Marshall's whole body language is of a coiled spring wound tighter and tighter under the pressure of carrying a whole team. It's a terrible indictment of a team without a plan.

And what of the manager? He's a man running out of excuses. He's had plenty to say about Aston Villa's plight of which he must bear some responsibility. And I haven't heard a denial of any interest in the Celtic job. But if anyone from Glasgow was at Ewood wondering how a coaching genius could make a silk purse out of a sow's ear, they wouldn't have found him here.

We weren't going to come to Ewood today after last week's awful display against Huddersfield. But if there's one thing worse than sitting through another defeat, it's sitting at home and hearing about a spirited victory we could have gone to.

On top of this Louis broke his foot last week and needs an operation on Tuesday. He's not crippled, but is uncomfortable and not terribly mobile. We usually park in Lower Darwen and walk, which would have been a stretch. So I rang Rovers and asked about parking. Yes, £10, near the Darwen End. I didn't expect special treatment, but when I've been a corporate fan I've had my name on the list and been helped along by someone who seemed to care. I don't blame the lad who I spoke to, but it was a stark contrast to a Rovers I once knew. A time when this was a club that cared, where the default response would have been to bend over backwards to help. I don't particularly resent the £6 extra I forked out to park either, it was never about the money, but a one-off and slightly needy cry for a random act of kindness. 

We're off to Rotherham next week, mainly because it's a new ground to visit, but we'll want to see a good performance to add to the four we've seen in this appalling season. Maybe a decent parking spot to help the lad who'll be on crutches by then. But as it's not about the points, it will be about the manner of the performance. Some evidence to challenge my desperate view that we seem to be witnessing the collapse of an ideal.

 

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Good telly - it's about the writing - thoughts on The A Word and Undercover


No-one does TV drama like the BBC. The Americans do it very well, but not in the same way. But no-one gets it so annoyingly, irritating, piously and awkwardly wrong like the BBC either.

Let's get the good one out of the way first - the writing by Peter Bowker in The A Word is stunning. It brings to life the complexities of a family challenged by the sinking realism that their beautiful son has autism. The direction and photography and sense of place is spot on. Sometimes it's the little touches that make a difference. I'm sure a continuity anorak like me, but with more detailed knowledge of the English Lakes, will tell you what's wrong, but I liked the fact that they nip to Lancaster. You do, when you live up there. A lazier writer would have looked at a map and sent them to Penrith.

Apart from poor Joe, the 5 year old at the centre of the story, but always on the edge of it, the characters all drive you mad. Well, families do, don't they? Sometimes they work it out and sometimes they can't.

I hesitated before watching it, so I've binged on it this week. I don't need a TV drama to know what effect a child with profound special educational and emotional needs has on a family. It's uncomfortable, the shock, the stages of comprehension and the allowances you make are all there. But more than anything is the love, protective sometimes,irrational, confused and flawed, but real love. There are times I've hid behind the sofa in a way I haven't since Doctor Who, as there are reactions and emotions on display that ring too true. I read somewhere that it didn't speak a truth about one reviewer's autistic brother. Maybe so, but that's not the point. It didn't try to be the last word on autism any more than it is about the tensions of succession in family businesses.

The real skill is that actually, really, nothing much is happening. It's just the stuff of life. It's a sharp contrast in pretty much every way to Undercover on Sunday nights. There, SO much is going on. Undercover cop, man on death row, death in custody, drugs, sex, corruption, conspiracy. But it's all nonsense. The confusing 20 year flashbacks make no sense as the characters look EXACTLY THE SAME. 

I don't crave realism - I'm addicted to the Walking Dead afterall - but if you have to watch Undercover you must then suspend any understanding of police culture, the establishment and how someone who has never prosecuted a case can end up as the Director of Public Prosecutions and immediately throws her top team onto a pet project dating back 20 years. It's the BBC production department's view of racist Britain in 1996. No, it's just not happening.

I've sat at a bus stop in a rural Northern village with my schoolfriends and then watched a scene in The A Word and gone, yes, that works for me. I've seen teachers tip-toe around issues and I know how hard it is to fight for extra support. Yes, all good.

I've also been on a demo in East London against the far right in the late 90s, but it wasn't anything like it was depicted in Undercover. That wasn't accurate. What was said, who was there, how it was policed. Undercover got it all wrong. It's then about trust. If that's faulty, then what else is? The main character pops over to Louisiana with far less bother than the cast of The A Word go down the M6 to Manchester.

At the end of it all though it's the writing. You can create the most fantastic high concept of a story but without character you can believe in, then it's sunk.

Saturday, April 16, 2016

This is how it feels to be Rovers - more questions than answers after Huddersfield defeat

It took us the best part of 2 hours to get home from another dismal and depressing game at "Fortress Ewood" today. Stuck on the M66 near Ramsbottom as the police cleared up after a collision gave me time to ponder a whole new range of existential questions and some that have plagued me all season. Here goes.

1. Why does the team run out to Viva la Vida by Coldplay, a song about a soldier's loss of faith?

2. If that's inappropriate and ludicrous, then what would be right. This is how it feels to be lonely by Inspiral Carpets; This is a Low by Blur; When you say you have nothing at all by Boyzone; Heaven Knows I'm Miserable Now by The Smiths. All of the above?

3. Does Paul Lambert care any more? Not on the evidence of this performance. All we've heard is moaning about money. This is his team now, including the two he subbed off at half time.

4. Were there any scouts here to watch Ben Marshall? They may have been the only non-Huddersfield fans who didn't feel like they'd wasted a day.

5. Does Shane Duffy have that apology tweet to the fans on HootSuite, scheduled for half an hour after every game?

6. What does Paul Lambert say to the players through the week? Do they practice clearing lines, turning in midfield and any other the other things they never do during a match? Or does he just say, I wish I could get rid of you all and get an open chequebook from Venky's? Or is he just getting his excuses in before taking over at Celtic?

 7. What's with Jordi Gomez?

 8. Chris Brown?

 9. If we're safe, why not play the kids. Are any of them any good?

10. How long can the current operation run on present cash flow? When Venky's pull the plug, and they surely will, how will it work with getting rid of players?

 11. Can I be bothered to give up my afternoon to go through the same dismal day next Saturday when this lot play Bristol City?

12. Before the game we looked at rows and seat numbers with a view to choosing better seats in the Riverside next season. Shall we even bother?

Sunday, April 03, 2016

Altrincham Market should inspire Stockport



Took a trip to Altrincham Market today to see what all the fuss was about. The first people we bumped into were Proper Mag editor Neil Summers and his family on a similar journey of exploration.

It was even better than I imagined and the result of hard work, strong purpose and huge public enthusiasm. We had a nice chat to Nick Johnson, the gaffer, who didn't sugar coat the challenges. You can't click your fingers and make this happen - it takes time. But building anything new starts with a bold and brave first step. My conclusion, with Stockport in mind, the status quo is simply not an option. Change is needed. Excellence is worth shooting for, but you have to do it openly, carefully and respectfully. 
It's not a matter of emulating this, but learning from the challenges and making a leap into the 21st century. 
Definitely one for continued informed discussion with friends who can make this happen like Stockport MP Ann Coffey and Labour Group leader Alexander Ganotis and my colleague at MMU Professor Cathy Parker, head of the Institute for Place Management. 

Saturday, April 02, 2016

The psychology of a 2-1 defeat to Preston

It's said that golf is a sport played over 5 inches, the ones between your ears. I think we saw at Ewood Park today that football can be as well.

The game was basically turned on the incident when centre back Shane Duffy demonstrated his goalkeeping skills with a fine one handed save. A short sighted and ludicrous thing to do so soon in the game that gave Preston an equaliser from the resultant penalty. What goes through a man's mind when he makes a decision like that? How does he weigh up the risks and the consequences? Short answer is, he clearly didn't. With one sub already used it was a remarkably stupid thing to do by a player who has been riding a tide of adulation with a late winner at Brentford and a dream debut for Ireland.

How a team reacts psychologically to being reduced to ten is telling. In our title winning season I remember a 10 man performance against Leeds of such breathtaking courage, tenacity and raw passion that I felt the title was possible, even if we only gained the one point. Players did extraordinary things: Chris Sutton dropping deep and Alan Shearer grafting as a lone striker. Today told you a great deal about the character and quality of the squad.

Jordi Gomez is not who you need in a game like this. A stroller rather than a grafter, his whole body language exuded his lack of comfort in being asked to do that bit extra. Danny Graham was still sulking after being denied the earlier free kick that he allowed himself to be crowded out of the game and constantly chased decisions. You're less likely to get a decision if you are constantly trying to play the ref. Afterall, referees are psychological beings too.

Ben Marshall on the other hand seemed to want to win the game single handedly. For me, him and Darragh Lenihan were the most up for it and demonstrated the most grit. Marshall, sadly, seemed to let his determination get the better of him and got involved in some handbags at the end of the first half. He also got caught out trying to nutmeg Garner and that drained him of the confidence to take players on after that. All in the mind. 

I hate blaming referees for losing games. It lets the underperformers off the hook and provides an easy alibi for failure. The peek I've had at social media and the calls to Radio Rovers have made much of Chris Brown's penalty claim and the incidents I've already mentioned. Less has been made of Preston's dominance of the midfield and at least three clear cut chances that Preston should have scored, such was their dominance. 

There was one player on the pitch today who looked mentally prepared and focused and that was ex-Rovers player Paul Gallagher, provider of the second goal and a man with a clear job to do. He just couldn't believe his luck that Jordi Gomez was so willing to give him the freedom to do as he pleased.