Wednesday, December 31, 2008

That was the year that was

I feel strangely upbeat as the year turns. We've had all the shocks and mishaps to contend with. I've got my money out of Iceland; yes, I kept that quiet. We don't feel in any way complacent about the extent of the horrors that may lie ahead and we certainly aren't smug about it either.

But for the record, for my peace of mind and for posterity, here are the ten thoughts about the year just gone, categorised by the top ten labels on this blog.

Family - our boys are all turning into wonderful young men. Elliot has started primary school, Joe has had a look round his high school and is doing ever so well at his football. Matt has invented the world of Gatlantis, which deserves an entire blog all of its own. Max and Louis have come on so well at school and in how they are growing up. We've mourned my Great Aunt Joan and Great Uncle Doug this year, as well as Rachel's Aunt Kitty in Dublin.

Friends - There never seems to be enough time to see friends, but making the effort to go to London and see John Dixon and his family, to work with Andy Coyne again and to enjoy a brilliant weekend away with the Dimblebys have been real highlights. As was the night out at the Radisson where we brought a few people together, like him and Mrs H.

Marple - There have been some wonderful community events in Marple throughout 2008, the food festival, the Christmas fair and our very own Glastonbury, the mud bath that was the Marple Athletic Junior Football summer tournament.

Manchester - That was a year when Manchester once again stumbled, I fear. The whole exhausting row over transport has set the city back.

Music - In a year when we've been to see Bruce Springsteen and Barry Manilow, we've done little gig going - but I've actually enjoyed seeing Marple rockers A Few Good Men, because they do such a good set and they do it so well. But seeing the Boss was something special. Best album - Elbow's Seldom Seen Kid just shades it over Glasvegas and Paul Weller's 22 Dreams. And I'm still learning to play the acoustic guitar. While I'm on, I did a random top 10 on best cover versions and put Hallelujah by Jeff Buckley at the top. It's not often I'm an early adopter.

Books - I've caught up on the back catalogue of Douglas Coupland and really enjoyed J-Pod. Best non-fiction book of the year was Jim White's You'll Win Nothing With Kids - also enjoyed meeting him at the North West Football Awards.

Namedropping - Our best namedropping story has to be going to a dinner party and having a good laugh with Phil Brown, manager of Hull City and his lively wife Karen. Even that beats the BBC Sports Personality of the Year Awards and the James Bond premiere.

Blackburn Rovers - there have been precious few highlights this year. I thought last season was pretty poor stuff as well. The Walker Trust haven't been able to sell the club, but seem to have taken more of an interest and reinstated their investment. I hope media interest like this from David Conn has had something to do with this.

Telly - this was the year we discovered The Wire. It was sensational. Quite enjoyed Spooks, Outnumbered and The Apprentice as well. But I have to say the best comment on telly this year came from Gareth McLean on the Media Guardian Podcast - the three most offensive words on the BBC - "starring Julie Graham".

Food - I have continued to search for a quality Manchester dining experience that isn't steak and chips. It's been pretty depressing to be honest. But on the bright side the Marple Food Festival unearthed a fantastic Turkish spread from the Golden Plate. Grenaby Farm won the pie contest, which I judged. Best food at a big do (this 40th) and at a dinner party (this one) were both creations of Martin Jones of With a Twist Catering. Delightful.

Some random book reviews

I've finished a few books I had on the go. In the usual fashion, here are some short reviews, told as if explaining in a lift.

Andrew Mueller - You Wouldn't Start From Here - Australian music journalist travels to trouble spots around the world (Iraq, Northern Ireland, Israel and Kosovo etc) and finds most people to be kind and decent, but encounters a few nutters and idiots. Quite amusing. 7/10.

Richard Carman - Johnny Marr - unofficial biog of Smiths guitar hero. Skipped large swathes of this hard going cuttings job, but found the later bits about The The, Electronic and Bert Jansch sufficiently intriguing to go and root out a few old tunes. 4/10.

Jeff Winter - Who's the B*****d in the Black - referee memoir. Starts off like staple hoolie-porn, he used to be a Middlesbrough boot boy, then tells his career story and settles a few scores. Completely deluded about the importance of referees. 2/10.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Football predictions - so far

At the start of the season I predicted this league table for the end of the season. Here's how I'm doing so far.

Chelsea (wrong)
Man U (rightish)
Liverpool (wrong)
Arsenal (right)
Villa (right)
Spurs (wrong, by a mile)
Portsmouth (rightish, but falling like a stone)
Man City (wrong, by a mile)
Middlesbrough (wrong, by a mile)
Everton (wrong)
Rovers (wrong, by a mile)
Newcastle (wrong)
West Brom (wrong, by a mile)
Sunderland (rightish)
Wigan (wrong, by a mile)
West Ham (rightish)
Fulham (wrong, by a mile)
Bolton (wrong)
Hull (wrong, by a mile)
Stoke (rightish)

As you can see, my punditry is pretty poor this time round. But the middle of the table will sort itself out. Stoke will combust.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

How did that happen?

Two texts straight after the Rovers v Man City game said it all. One, from a City fan who was at the game: "Sometimes a draw feels like a win". Another from a Rovers fan on holiday in Istanbul: "When a draw feels like a loss."

How did that happen? We were superb for 93 minutes. They scored in the 94th. A good ten minute opening spell when both teams looked up for a good game, then a lot of dross, but there was only ever one team likely to win. Us. Emerton was brilliant, Tugay was at his very best, Andrews was, well let's not get carried away but he didn't make any mistakes. Up front McCarthy and Roberts were holding it up well, flicking intelligently and causing City all manner of problems. Robinho was bullied by Warnock. 2-0 would have been a fair result. I can't explain and I just don't understand what happened. I took a City fan with us who could only offer an apology. Report from the BBC is here.

Anyway, the running total on the season tickets. Joe and Louis came to this one, plus two adults would have cost £55.70, I forgot to add the Liverpool game which Rachel went to with three boys and would have cost us £117, with booking fees. The Stoke game would have cost £63.55, as Steven came with his friend's son Anil. So by reckoning that makes the running total £627.25. We'll probably have got our value with three more games.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Merry Christmas

A very merry Christmas to everyone.

We're having a wonderful day, Grandma Eamon and Grandma Margaret are here. My Mum's best pal Sally Unsworth, who lives in Cyprus, has just popped in to say hello with her son James who I grew up with - more like a cousin than a pal. Lovely to see them both.

Me and Joe went to London yesterday to potter around with Joe's Godparents Rachel and John Dixon. It was also a chance to hang out with their beautiful children Ruth and Michael.

It's a great time of year and the kids are so excited, especially as we're tracking Santa, courtesy of NASA. See for yourself, here.

Squatters evicted

Sam Allardyce knows what he's doing. Nigel Winterburn and Robbie Fowler were two old pals of Ince who served no purpose. Bye.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Joan Lancaster RIP

It was a sad start to the Christmas period today. We held a service and cremation at Macclesfield Crematorium for my Aunt Joan Lancaster, who died last week aged 87. She was a lovely, lively and bright lady who my Mum was very close to. Her husband of 60 years, Doug, died in September. She had, as they say, a good innings, but it was a very sad day for us all. Doug and Joan were great dancers. Her signature tune was Misty, which was played at the end of the service

Top boy

Back in the day a group of lads used to come to the odd Rovers match and start fights. They called themselves a name which was overtly fascist and were led by one particular bloke (Blackburn's "top boy") with a semi mythical reputation as a local hard man - a Lancashire Keyser Sose. This particular bloke, who I'm not going to name as I don't want to attract that sort of internet traffic, was in the News of the World a couple of weeks ago. Link here. Nice.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

We've got our Rovers back

Smiling at the Rovers again. All that optimism was well founded as we won 3-0 against Stoke City. The players seemed to play with a lot of belief and were much better organised. Those smug sofa dwellers at Match of the Day even acknowledged a positive contribution from Eamon Andrews. I thought David Dunn was quality yesterday, a vice-skipper's performance. Still unsure about Robinson. He's a decent shot stopper, but is hopeless at judging crosses. Another bright spot was Benni McCarthy - I think he's an exciting and gifted player. He can score some awesome goals, and is capable of creating something out of nothing. Allardyce seems to have staked our future on him getting back to his best.

It was interesting listening to Dunny on Radio Rovers after the match. His apology to Sam Allardyce two years ago, when he snubbed him at Bolton to come to Rovers again, was probably the smartest phone call he ever made.

Before the game I popped the Marple Leaf flag over the front of the upper tier for all of two minutes before the chief steward came towards us following orders to prevent any obscuring of the full stop of Walker Steel. I spotted him before he spotted me and then confused him by removing it completely. I'd love it if we had a spot to but banners and flags, like the Europeans and Man Yoo seem to accomodate.

Also, the badge seller outside was moved on by Ken Beamish. I always wondered what his job was at Rovers. Now we know.

Pictured are Anil, Sean, Joe, Big Sam, Louis and me. All smiles, all happy. We've got our Rovers back.
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Saturday, December 20, 2008

Corporate Bubble

Phil Jones has got his momentum back with an excellent blog - The Corporate Bubble. I've added a link on the "my neck of the woods - local" panel. This now includes a few cheery business people from Manchester, a Marxist professor, some young arty types, my oldest son, some journos and a commuting cat.

I like all these blogs and visit them regularly. I take off links if the blog becomes dormant - say, less than a month without a post.

Ten thoughts on what's been going on at Rovers

I haven't been excited about going to see the Rovers this season - each game I've been to I've expected us to lose, and we did. Today we play Stoke and I'm really looking forward to it. I'm sure the game won't be pretty, but direct attacking football has its excitement as well.

I said all along that Ince was out of his depth, after initially being excited for about a day. The signing of Keith Andrews from MK Dons and Robbie Fowler from the St Helens Housing Association B Team were always going to define his performance. They did. Rubbish. And the best heckle on the subject came from Roland Horridge in the front row of the Jack Walker stand: "Ince, you'd have been better off buying Eamon Andrews".

The "football people" lining up to condemn Rovers chairman John Williams for sacking him after less than six months make me laugh. Of course Tony Adams and Tony Pulis were happy to see Ince at Rovers, six easy points, eh lads.

My source in all of this told me that back in June Sam Allardyce was told at his interview that Ince had been offered the job, but there was a problem with his coaching badges. That's when he pulled out of the process. There were other trustees who were violently opposed to Sam, but now see the folly of their ways.

I cost Sam Allardyce a boozy lunch last week. He was going to be coming to our lads Christmas do we hold every year, but as a Rovers director was also going to be there, as well as a football agent, a sports lawyer, the Blackburn Rovers "shadow cabinet" and a pesky scribe (me), he wanted to avoid an awkward moment and asked for Sam to be disinvited. Next year, maybe?

Oliver Holt in the Mirror has tried to make the hounding of Ince by Rovers fans a race thing. Absolute baloney. Race had nothing to do with fans wanting him out. But had a lot to do with him being appointed.

Tip for any player, manager or person associated with my football club. We're "Rovers" not "Blackburn". You might think I'm splitting hairs, but there's an important distinction.

Tip for any football club choosing a manager. Ask who the backroom team will be. Mark Hughes had a superb unit at Rovers. Ince had a rag bag of old mates and has beens (Nigel Bloody Winterburn for sooths sake). Sam Allardyce at Bolton embraced peak performance - look where it got them. Bring Mike Finnigan back to Ewood, I say.

Poor old Santa Cruz. Damned if he stays, damned if he doesn't. James Richardson on the podcast says he hasn't been the same since his commitment to Rovers was described as "lacking ambition". He's in the papers and on Sky today talking broken biscuits. Give it another season, son.

So come on, get behind the team and let's get three points in bag to warm us up for Christmas.

Other People's Annoying Children

Went to the Christmas concert at the Bridgwater Hall last night. A Roger Cashman type family were sat in front of us. His youngest daughter hooted like a red Indian at the end of every song and waved her arms around at every opportunity. All with her parents encouragement. What a pain in the backside.

I'm sure we must have the same effect on people who see our unruly rabble, but I thought that was well out of order.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Strutting for cancer care

My pal Ruth Shearn has done her bit for Marie Curie Cancer Care by doing a catwalk modelling performance alongside Harry Craig, Daniel's little brother. Trumps by Bond namedropping. Please support her. The link is here.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Sam is the man

I think he can scrap us out of this. Might not be pretty.

BBC News story here. Official site here.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Who's the Guvnor now?

This is good, from today's Fiver:

That's only one of the reasons for which Paul Ince is entitled to be sickened today. Another is that being sacked just before a home game against Stoke is a bit like the alarm clock going off just as you're about to compose the sheet music for your duet with Beyonce. And another is that, while he may have lost over half his 21 matches in charge, the sales of David Bentley and Brad Friedel and the injuries to Steven Reid and David Dunn meant Ince also lost almost all his top players. The Guv'nor was presumably looking forward to filling the holes in his squad in January. Indeed, he had perhaps already supplied the board with the names of his transfer targets. And it's not as if those names probably included a lower league journeyman, an England has-been and a portly property developer who looks like he'd struggle to finish a paper round let alone a Premier League match. Isn't that right Keith Andrews, Paul Robinson and Robbie Fowler?

Names doing the rounds - Sven, Allardyce, Laudrup, that Spanish bloke from Swansea, Coyle. I saw Souness yesterday afternoon at San Carlo restaurant. The Rovers board were meeting last night at the Lowry, about two minutes away. Sam Allardyce wasn't returning phone calls to a mate of ours today. I think he's our man.

Ince sacked

...and good riddance. Take your rag bag team with you. I'd laugh if it was Owen Coyle who replaced him, but think it's going to be Souness and Tugay until the end of the season.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Sports Personality of the Year Awards - what I should have said, could have said

Had a great night last night at the BBC Sports Personality of the Year Awards at the Echo Arena. I went as a corporate guest and managed to avoid speaking to John Prescott who was also in our party.

You've seen the awards on TV so you don't need me to run through all of that. It also really worked as a live spectacle for the 9000 punters. What was so impressive was the detail. Every seat was filled even if the ticket holder - named - didn't show, as was the case with Garry Cook, the chairman of Man City. I was sat just behind Prescott and Brave Kirsty Howard, and across from Brian Barwick of the FA and Andy Murray's mother. The Man United 1968 team were just to my right.

That moment when Jack Charlton came out was priceless. The ovation from the audience for Sir Bobby was lovely. And it was nice he thanked Liverpool. A class act.

I thought my pass might get me into some aftershow party for fellow corporate liggers, but was happy to find we were mingling with all kinds of sports stars I was far too shy to go up and speak to.

I've since thought of a ten questions I could have asked if I'd been the kind of nerdy pest that most other corporate liggers were turning into by the time I left at 10.30pm.

Ian Rush: Are you going to get as pissed as you did at the North West Football Awards?

Brian Kidd: You must be pleased Paul Ince is now going to replace you as the worst manager in Rovers' history?

Mike Newell: How come you got to sit next to Paula Radcliffe, in front of Lewis Hamilton and behind the director general of the BBC? Did Alan Shearer get you a ticket?

Lewis Hamilton: Do you realise you might have won if you paid your UK tax?

All the cyclists: Do you realise you've saved cycling from the clutches of the druggies?

Martin Bayfield: My mate John Fowler got mistaken for you once, by Ryan Giggs and his mates, how does that make you feel?

Bill Beaumont: Ince, rubbish isn't he?

Ricky Hatton: Do you want a lift home?

Chris Eubank's kids: Why don't you dress smartly, like your Dad? On second thoughts, don't answer that.

Denise Lewis: Do you remember we met at a drinks party at my pal Ross Biddescombe's flat
about 10 years ago?

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Elliot and Matt in their nativity plays

Elliot was Joseph in the school nativity play. He did ever so well. Lovely performance by all the kids. Matt was a King in his - another magnificent performance.
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Friday, December 12, 2008

Go Ince Go

I had a pang of sickness in my stomach seeing Paul Ince on the news tonight. I can't believe he is still our manager. I want him out as quickly as possible. Tomorrow will do. Bizarrely, I think we can get something at Wigan. We've still got a decent side with good players. The manager doesn't have a clue, and his backroom team is a shambles.

PS - This piece here claims all sort of inside info on the split board at Rovers. Well, I was with one board member on Wednesday who didn't even go. He went shooting instead.

The blunder of Woolies

My Grandad worked in Woolworths when he came out of the army after the war. He rose through the ranks and managed stores. They were proud places, back in the day. The greatest tragedy is that this wave of nostalgia - signifying some kind of affection for the brand - has not been tapped into by the recent management.

Time for Plan B

I don't take any pleasure at all in being completely correct about the result for the Manchester transport referendum. I just feel weary and slightly depressed about the utter waste of energy and effort.

All previous rants on the subject are here.

Ten nil, and as resounding as it was, is a savage result that must be hard for the Yes people to swallow. They fought an imaginative campaign at times, but even the mendacious way in which the arguments were pitched as facts worked against a proposal that was based on a leap of faith. They were utterly doomed. This is not a time for trust.

As I said on BBC Radio Manchester last night, I was looking forward to drawing a line under this process. I think it was wrong from the outset to concede to a government proposal to consider congestion charging. The need for Britain's most important regional city to have better trams and trains is uncontestable, a charge is too big a pill to swallow.

Stockport's pugnacious leader, Councillor Dave Goddard, said the money is still there if the right plan is put forward. SHB says it isn't. Actually he said, in response to a question about whether the money was still there: "What the f*ck do you think?"

Susan Williams, Conservative leader of Trafford Council, had it right here: "There is always a plan B and we must all regroup next week and call on the government to give us the money if they're indeed serious about the growth of cities."

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Could it be music?

Glasvegas played the Academy last night. They did a blistering 40 minute set in a small sweaty venue where the crowed bayed for more. Energy, raw action and ceaseless passion. Sounds brilliant. Sorry. Brullyant.

Except I didn't go. If I had gone I would probably have been one of the ten oldest people there.

Instead I was at the MEN Arena watching Barry Manilow. He did a emotional 1 hour and 40 minute set where the crowd screamed for Could it be Magic which he only teased them with. The arena was also quite warm. I can only put this down to the radiation generated by hot flushes from the women-of-a-certain-age who packed the place. I was definitely in the younger quartile of the audience.

TIF referendum, the winner is...

Apathy. Scepticism. Ignorance. With a very poor turnout - less than 50 per cent in any borough - even less in Manchester, the winner of this expensive and energy sapping exercise is looking like a "No" vote, but on a very low turnout. In Stockport the votes received add up to 89,432 so far, from an electorate of 216,973. A turnout so far of 41.2% is above the regional average of 38.2%.

David Ottewell is good on his blog here:

The three are mutually re-enforcing. Scepticism leads to ignorance and apathy (people who don't trust the system don't find out what's going on, or don't care). Ignorance leads to scepticism and apathy (people who don't understand the system don't trust the system, and so don't care). Apathy leads to scepticism and ignorance (if you don't care, you don't bother to learn or trust).

I have maintained all along that this plan has been doomed from the moment it went to a ballot. People are confused by the mixed messages about a plan, based on a deal, hinged on trust. They don't get it. The words I've heard which nail this thing are: "Well they say that now" about any aspect of the train service improvements, the rate of the congestion charge, the time of it, the place where it is levied. Everything you care to mention. The trigger to introduce road charging will be when 80% of public transport improvements are in place. Within that figure is 100% of all bus improvements. The easy stuff. So that means, as little as 60% of train and tram improvements.

Cryptically, Stockport Council believe there are more twists and turns to come.

After residents’ votes are counted, Leaders of the ten councils in Greater Manchester will meet on December 19 to discuss the next stage of transport changes for Greater Manchester.

I can't help but think that the AGMA leaders (SHB, in reality) will go to the Transport Secretary and say, hey Geoff, we tried. We put our reputations on the line, we thought long and hard about this, we campaigned like mad, we did everything. Come on, let us have some of the money. The public won't buy road charging if you ask them. Not in this climate. Come on Geoff, what do you reckon?

Monday, December 08, 2008

Best of lists

I do like lists at the end of the year, especially when they reaffirm what I like. Usually they don't. I will sometimes see a book or a music list in some achingly hip publication that contains nothing at all that I own, or have experienced.

Imgaine my surprise when opening this month's Observer Music Monthly and seeing their Top 50 picks of 2008. I haven't heard anything by Bon Iver, who they name as the best album of the year, but maybe I should. Amadou and Mariam has also passed me by.

The rest of the top 5 however is Elbow, Glasvegas and Kings of Leon. Also in the top 50 are Sigur Ros and Paul Weller's 22 Dreams. I'm not in the slightest bit concerened whether this makes me hip or not. It can't can it? But it's all good for the spirit of adventure. I blame the iPod.

And if there's a better music writer than Garry Mulholland I've yet to read him, or her.

Saturday, December 06, 2008

Winter wonderland

This is usually the point where I report on how our lovely family spent a beautiful wintery day in Marple for the Christmas market - another wonderful community event. We certainly went and it definitely is a glorious day. But don't kids wear you out? I want I want I want.

Rachel has taken a couple of them to Rovers - with a mate - I'm moderating the bickering with those who remain.

Apparently it was decided to host the Marple and the Marple Bridge Christmas events on the same day. Not sure that was such a good idea. Could have had twice the fun next week, as opposed to half the fun this.

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Another rant from me about TIF

Is here.

Revealed: Who is to blame for Rovers slump

Who is to blame for the FACT that Blackburn Rovers are second to bottom of the league without a win in ten games?

Paul Ince is clear. It's the critics. The "out of order" critics. Maybe they should stop printing the league table. Or maybe it's "them critics" - like this one - what is picking a midfield of Keith Andrews and Aaron Mokeona. Oh dear, the paranoia of a cornered man.

There's another word for "critics" it's "fans". And they ain't happy either. The supporters forum is fizzing with anger.

Then there's this, from Alan Nixon in the Mirror: the Walker Trustees have realised they won't get £50m.

A Man with Two Cows returns

I've updated my corporate finance blog this week. It's about the future of private equity. Apologies to anyone who has nodded off already. If you're interested it is here.

Marple grinds to a halt

It was only a bit of snow this morning, but the whole of Marple came to a standstill, maybe it's because we sit at the top of the hill. The trains weren't coping very well either. I sense a rising tide of anger over the whole TIF thing in Marple. There isn't anything in it for us, seems to be held in common consent.

Like this comment I got from a prominent Marple bod this morning:

1 cm of snow and the entire Marple road system gridlocked. Congestion charge proposals for cycle lanes, bus lanes, potted plants on Rose Hill station platform but nothing at all about road improvements and they expect us to vote "Yes" - what planet are these people living on?