Saturday, April 30, 2011

No to video technology in football

I don't favour the introduction of video technology in football. I'm sure, as in cricket and rugby, it would be straightforward enough to introduce and wouldn't disrupt games. But for me, it's not just about the impact on football at the top level, but the grass roots. There is already a shrill sense of entitlement running through football as it is. See a comment under a recent post, here, to see my point.

This evening on 606, once again, we had Robbie Savage saying a decision was "disgraceful" having had the benefit of slow motion, freeze frame and replays. The referee has to make a decision based on what he sees. In the midst of this, there are 22 professional athletes trying to con him constantly with appeals, dives, leaving a foot in, shirt tugging, nipping, spitting, or to put it mildly, cheating. That ugly Real Madrid v Barcelona game is a case in point.

The constant abuse of officials is killing football. And it is in turn fuelled by a lack of respect for their decisions. Every TV programme, every radio phone-in amplifies the injustice - "come on ref" - making it harder and harder at the grass roots. Every decision is scrutinised on TV, so the sense that you don't dust yourself down and get on with it, you jump up and down and cry like a baby if it doesn't go your way. 

The game will not benefit from a fifth official with a replay. It will make the bigger problem even worse. To me the beauty of football is how the same rules apply to every game. The Dog And Duck v the Red Lion is 11 v 11, a ref, a pitch and a ball. Liners help sometimes. Same as Real v Barca. How soon before buffoons with mobile phone cameras start offering their services?

No, what football needs is a sense of perspective and this whole debate is a symptom, once again, of a sport that has lost it completely.

Well done boys

The eldest son's Marple Athletic team won a cup final today. It was a terrific game played at Mossley AFC's Seel Park against Stalybridge Celtic Juniors who have led the league all season. A swirling wind made the conditions difficult, on top of the extra effort required of 12 year old lads playing on a full size pitch.

Watching them every week I get used to the players, their limits, their capabilities and their team dynamics. It was fascinating to get a perspective from my pal Steven Lindsay who came along to watch. I think he expected hoofball, but he was full of praise for the way both teams pass the ball, control and try and play the beautiful game. It's a cup final, so there were tense and nervous moments, but it genuinely warmed the heart to see this game.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

The Ripple Effect by Dominic Holland reviewed

I tracked down this book after working with Dominic Holland at a live event we held down south. He was a very dry, but very effective comic host and I really liked him.

This book is a breezy, easy read. But it also has a savage cynical heart. It's about the rape and pillage of football clubs by property developers, corrupt councillors and assorted spivs. So much of the story - but not all - brought back memories of the trials and tribulations of Wrexham, but also there is a resonance with York, Brighton, Chesterfield and countless others. There can be a happy ending, but so often there is not. Lovely story, warm characters as well as excellent pantomime villians. Recommended. Track it down, especially for the mention of local scribes in the credits. One for Simon Binns from when he worked at Supporters Direct and for Real Journalism's David Conn, for his passionate polemics on the bad guys.

Cheerio Shelagh

The 6.30 alarm call won't be the same without Shelagh Fogarty's voice easing us into the day with news, a bit of a link to the weather, some Mickey Clarke, before the rampaging titan of the airwaves that is Nicholas Andrew Argyll Campbell crashes in to form the best double act in broadcasting at 7.

The send off on Thursday, the last day in the studio was superb. I was quite into the idea of Professor Anthony Grierson from Syracuse University and his views on DNA democratisation, political paradox, the inside of the inner tracks of the Beltway. Here is Shelagh asking him the "wrong question".

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

A few melancholy thoughts about Rovers

So, Rovers are still stuck in the relegation scrap after losing 1-0 at home to Manchester City. Here are a few random thoughts.

If you don't score goals, you can't win games. And we didn't have a serious threat on goal. In my heart of hearts I knew we were beaten when I saw Junior Hoilett outside the ground at 7pm. Without him, there is nothing special enough to beat a team like Manchester City.

Roberts and Benjani play to win free kicks and penalties. They go down very easily for strong men. Kalinic is similar. So, for all Steve Kean's witterings about the good work on the training ground, no-one was able to take a decent free kick. Where is the sense in that?

Phil Jones and Chris Samba are an awesome centre back pairing. They'll be off in the summer, come what may. Robinson is a great keeper too. He won't want to hang about.

David Dunn simply doesn't have 90 minutes in his engine. Rochina was a flash in the pan, a few fancy flicks, then he was chasing shadows. I can't make my mind up about Jermaine Jones. But he's like so many Rovers players - "alright". The better teams have a Silva, or a Berbatov, a ruthless assassin capable of changing a game. We haven't had such a player since Roque Santa Cruz v1.0.

Bolton Wanderers are beatable this Saturday. But so too were Blackpool, Newcastle and Birmingham.The players don't look as beaten as the 1999 team did at this stage. Or, to be fair, the 2004 team.

The  lads who were climbing on the Jack Walker statue after the match were out of order. But emotions are running high. I thought the fans were fantastic last night.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Can I have an alternative vote on AV?

"None of the above" was unlikely to have been an option on the referendum for the Alternative Vote, but it should be. The compromise on offer is far short of the fair system  of proportional representation that the country should have. And it's very short of what Nick Clegg really wanted when he struck that deal with David Cameron at the formation of the coalition.

It does give the second choices of the voters of less popular parties a say in who represents them.

I'm baffled by the argument that it will get rid of tactical voting when it will do precisely the opposite. Also, voters don't have to rank any candidates beyond 1. But to do so increases the chances of another party chalking up more on second preferences, so tactical voting is encouraged.

The "No" campaign has been dreadfully negative in the way that all "No" campaigns have to be, which leans me towards a "yes" vote. The message that democracy is expensive and wasteful is very mean spirited and wilfully dishonest.

I also get very irritated by the argument that one or other voting method is the best way of blocking out the BNP. No, the best way of doing that is the hard work of political campaigning and community activism. Attacking their lies at every turn. Not a voting system. And even if it was, then frankly, that's what democracy is meant to be: the will of the people.

So, I am all for change. I am all for plurality. But I am far from convinced about the merits of AV.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Marple Fine Food Market

Video via Stockport online, a video channel on YouTube

Friday, April 22, 2011

The Way We Wore by Robert Elms reviewed

Everyone seems to be so mean about Robert Elms. This is how Chris Morris managed to rip into him on the outstandingly funny episode of Brasseye when starting his Zeit Guest interview with Darcus Howe:

CM: “I’m sitting opposite a man, he knows nothing, he talks all the time, the result is he’s a trenchant buffoon, he had no idea how to present television shows, he looks ridiculous in that fashion wear. He swans around all the time hoping that people will recognise him, when infact nobody’s even remotely interested. He’s taken up enough time on this show already and he hasn’t even opened his mouth. God knows why he’s here, I’ve nothing to ask the guy. And for all I know he may be a coco shunter too.
DH: “What’s a coco shunter?”
CM: “Coco Shunter? That’s just what I’ve got, er, oh, sorry, that’s the introduction to Robert Elms. Sorry. Do you know Robert Elms? I’ve just read out the introduction to Robert Elms."

So, you kind of start with that thought in mind. And the memory of him sneering at "Northern Scum" on The Tube in, oh, I don't know, about 1985.

For all of that, I liked this book. I found it in Marple library and wasn't even aware he'd done it to be honest. I'd read his novel - In Search of the Crack - and it was alright. Very of its time and clearly written in an age and place he knew quite well. For someone who the default mechanism is to immediately dislike, he writes in a very self-depracating way. He tacitly admits he used to be a bit of an arse. In an era when the world is stuffed full of media rentaquotes and all round arses, he was ahead of his time in so many ways.

The tales of various fashion developments in London are fascinating.- a sort of social history. The inside story of the DIY nature of punk and the evolution of male narcissism are rarely told this well. His mate Tony Parsons did him the favour of calling it a "Fever Pitch of Fashion", which looked good on the cover, and it's true in the sense the book is a self-conscious narrative with Elms at the centre of it.

But I wonder if Elms maybe has another book in him. As a radio broadcaster and a journalist with a supposed interest in the world he's inhabited he could bring a lot more to bear on the movements and street styles that passed him by - casual, rave, new casual. Anyway if he won't, I know a man who just might.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Nero fiddles while Gordon Burns

There have been some fulsome tributes to Gordon Burns as he announces he is to step down from presenting BBC North West Tonight. On the whole, I think they are deserved. He is a decent bloke who has done a consistently good job over the years.

He's going to do some projects for BBC Radio across the North from Media City, but there will be a new face when the programme moves to Salford Quays in September.

Who will that be?

I imagine there is talk already of Stuart Flinders, who would be a popular internal choice. I think he carries a lot of local sway. No doubt Andy Crane will be in the mix too. Tony Livesey has been widely praised for his speedy progress from editing a porno paper to BBC Radio Lancashire and now onto Sport and Radio 5 Live. I don't honestly see a step to NW Tonight as career progress for him.

No, I have another hunch. Graham Liver. The BBC doesn't tend to make these plans on the hoof. They groom from within and project their favoured sons. A younger and more modern look for the programme, but with a good folksy northern journalist with charm and charisma. First we have seen Graham get the Breakfast Show on BBC Radio Lancashire and then notch up more TV experience doing the local news. Just remember where you heard it first.

Disclaimer. I'm not saying any of that because our Dads used to work together or anything. But they did.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

A weekend without football - a happy weekend

Sometimes I can only wonder what a life without football would be like. I despair of the way it seems to transform rational people into ranting idiots at almost every level of life and in whatsoever way it touches people. From the touchlines at kids games, to the terraces at professional games, there is much to dislike. And at the moment, for obvious reasons, I don't feel it is the beautiful game at all. It is the ugly game. Vain, violent, dishonest, exploitative and massively disrespectful of the contribution of the people.

We have really enjoyed a weekend pretty much free of football. Sure, the boys who like it in our house kicked a ball around. And I did listen to the second half of City v United on BBC Radio Manchester and I did keep up to date with another abject Blackburn Rovers performance at Everton.

Do not misunderstand me. This is not because suddenly Rovers are fading. This has been a long time coming. Previous lapses in form by Rovers have edged me closer to more irrational symbolic displays of loyalty. I bought season ticket number 0001 for season 1979-1980 AFTER we were relegated. I went to pretty much every game in season 1983-84 - which was memorable for what, exactly? I had an appointment at a tattooist if we'd gone down in 2003. The disgraceful destruction of the club by the Venky's, Jerome Anderson and Steve Kean should harden my resolve, but it's me that has changed.

It's the contempt for supporters by the football authorities and players which leaves me thinking we are all being taken for mugs. Why were City playing United in a semi-final at Wembley? And why on earth couldn't Stoke and Bolton play somewhere roughly half way - like, er, Manchester? Why is it so expensive? Why is cheating and diving so routinely tolerated and encouraged by the managers and the media. And why has no-one been fingered yet for financial corruption?

No, on Saturday night, oblivious to who squared up to who on the Wembley pitch we sat down to watch Verdi's Otello at the Bridgewater Hall performed by the BBC Philharmonic Orchestra and conducted by Gianandrea Noseda. Adoration from an audience, a peak performance by people at the very top of their game. Leadership. Passion. Charisma. I can't claim to have followed everything that was going on, but I felt part of something special. And at no point did I think - you lot are taking the piss out of me.

OK, so I'm thinking out loud. But this is a really important turning point in our lives and the lives of our children. There has to come a moment when you say, enough. That time is close. This may have been the first step on a long and slow walk away from football.

Friday, April 15, 2011

The only way is Wood

Me, my mate Richard Bell and the BAFTA on Twitpic
Tony Wood has some incredible stories to tell. He's worked alongside and inspired some of the best creative talents this country has produced. He knows about what makes a special creative space where good ideas can fly. And at Lime Pictures, where he's the creative director, he's now making what he thinks is the most ground breaking television he has ever been involved in.

But here are some things you might learn if you come to this event in Manchester next month. Like, how he won over 100 awards in his time with Coronation Street, including a BAFTA in 2004 (pictured, left with my pal Richard Bell and me). Why Jimmy McGovern walked out of Brookside twenty years ago this month. What it was like working with Chris Evans, Guy Ritchie and Mathew Vaughn on the TV series of Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels. How the highest rated kids TV drama in the USA is made in Liverpool.

And now? The Only Way is Essex. What's that all about?

There's an evening event I'm involved with next month - part of the MPA World Class Series on May 18 at Deloitte - hence the picture above. I'll be interviewing Tony in front of an audience. Come along. Details here.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

The tragic tarnished legacy of John Pilger

I used to be inspired and in awe of John Pilger, the Australian journalist who did so much to report the brutal reality of the cynicism of a defeated American military in Vietnam and Cambodia. He brought nobility and anger to authored documentary journalism.

Here is the citation in the New Statesman: John Pilger, renowned investigative journalist and documentary film-maker, is one of only two to have twice won British journalism's top award; his documentaries have won academy awards in both the UK and the US. In a New Statesman survey of the 50 heroes of our time, Pilger came fourth behind Aung San Suu Kyi and Nelson Mandela. "John Pilger," wrote Harold Pinter, "unearths, with steely attention facts, the filthy truth. I salute him."

And now? I read his column in the New Statesman on Friday, where he asserts that the military action against Libya is part of a long war for assets against China. That David Cameron's speech on multiculturalism was code for an attack on Muslims. And then: "President Barack Obama's historical distinction is now guaranteed. He is America's first black president to invade Africa." (sic)

Whenever I see this bonkers conspiracy theory I tend to wonder if the all powerful American-Isreali military capitalist cabal was so powerful, so cynical and so murderous, then how come Chinese companies are digging up Australia. But this isn't about picking apart these unsourced and ludicrous fairy tales.

I shall dig out some of his powerful and ground breaking journalism on East Timor and Cambodia. That's the memory he still deserves.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

We're playing twelve again

I don't believe that, by the way. I thought the reason Blackburn Rovers drew with Birmingham City yesterday was a failure to create momentum. Birmingham made that difficult with some negative time wasting in the long drawn out second half, which the referee didn't seem too bothered about, but the Rovers players simply didn't do enough. Santa Cruz is a major disappointment, Pedersen had a good first half, but he lacks urgency.

But this hysterical blaming of referees is starting to wear me out. The TV and radio pundits go on about decisions all the time. It fuels this impotent sense of entitlement that every decision can be challenged, attacked and, let's face it, used as an excuse for failure.

Three weeks ago, chatting with a Rovers director, we totted up the points we could accrue in the run-in. There were three "must win" home games. The first being the draw with Blackpool, the second being yesterday's draw. The point at Arsenal was an unexpected bonus, but we're still three points down. It's not looking too good.

Friday, April 08, 2011

A new Barbour from Bags of Flavor

I've just had my Barbour waxed jacket made into a bag and I bloody love it. I must admit I was pretty pleased with a classic Barbour waxed coat when I picked it up from a special vintage Oxfam shop on Oldham Street in Manchester last year. I scour some of the vintage shops in the Northern Quarter for rare pieces and enjoy unearthing the occasional thing of beauty. But, much as I liked it's rustic functionality, Rachel was right when she said it aged me by about five years. Needing a decent bag for carting around the things of life - mags, books, laptop, etc, and one that's a bit roomier than my current Manchester classic - I stumbled on the ideal solution: recycling.

I cannot recommend Rich from Bags of Flavor enough. He's got a terrific little shop on Tib Street with some vintage pieces - Adidas trainers, denim shirts, plaid, Fila coats, a magnificent 70s Belstaff that suddenly looks very contemporary - but his craft is making DJ bags, hence the name of his enterprise. He's done a cracking job with the bag: working original Barbour plaid lining and the waterproof waxed outer shell, he's embedded the label, reworked the collar clip and used the pocket as a handy front section as a bit of nifty custom detail. I love it, absolutely love it. Brilliant.

Here's the Bags of Flavor website.

Tuesday, April 05, 2011

Marple takeaway scores zero rating for food hygiene

Stockport Council run a food standards scheme and have rated local food establishments. Here are the scores on the doors.

Golden Flower, the Chinese opposite the Co-op on Hollins Lane got NO STARS. The report is here and was completed in early February 2011. "No Stars - Bad = General failure to satisfy statutory obligations."

There was just ONE STAR, meaning "Poor = Standards generally low" for the following:

The Hatters, Marple Express takeaway on Stockport Road.

Obviously if things change I'll update.

Where I won't be going for lunch any time soon

Thanks to Manchester Confidential for digging out the Food Standards Agency information on restaurant hygiene. They selected several which rated zero and many more that rated just 1. I have to say I was particularly dismayed at some of the places featured in the lowest rated list, most notably the Yang Sing on Princess Street which was last inspected in January 2011. I even recommended a friend to go there last week when he was up with work from London. To be clear and to be fair, a zero rating demands urgent improvement. You hope this was just catching them on a bad day.

Here are a few other places I've been to recently that only rated 1, which means "major improvement necessary".

In Chinatown: Pacific and Royal Orchid.

Sandwich shops: The Beautiful British Butty on Portland Street and Nicky's.

Northern Quarter: Kabana and Koffee Pot

Other city centre restaurants: Efes Tavern.

I'll be checking back to see if they have improved and in the interests of fairness will point this out.

Monday, April 04, 2011

Digby Jones - Fixing Britain - reviewed

Just as empires have been judged to have crumbled under the weight of their own contradictions, so too this memoir/manifesto from the enigmatic Lord Digby Jones leaves you wondering how it all came to this.

Even the starting point (and conclusion) where the bombastic Brummie professes to love his country, then likens it to Ancient Rome (just before it collapsed), he puts a familiar marker down with the pomposity and grandstanding that took him to the top of the CBI and into Gordon Brown's Government of all the Talents. I say all of that as someone who admired him as the Voice for Business. He always delivered a good speech. He clearly worked ferociously hard at the helm of the UK's most influential business organisation, touring the country and talking to businesses. But just as you always wonder if a good campaigning politician could effectively lead a great department of state, so you found yourself wondering where all of this tub thumping would take dear Digby.

During his time at the CBI, he boasts in the book, he was the most visible leader that the business organisation had ever had. He was also taken inside Tony Blair's big tent and listened to. He had the ear of government.

He was asked round for chats at Number 10 and was frequently consulted on policy. Politically, he skilfully sidestepped the issue of the Euro, pandering to his bigger members by not following the weight of business sentiments which was against entry to the single currency. And during a period of economic growth, business enjoyed a good run. And yet for all of that access, for all of the massive strides that Labour made to be seen as business friendly - a Labour government, a Labour government (as he paraphrases Neil Kinnock) introducing a 10 per cent rate for Capital Gains Tax - by his own judgement, by his own standards and analysis of where we are now, it must have been a era of failure. He charts all the tactical defeats in the book without a hint of self-deprecation; the implementation of EU regulations on working time, the hike in National Insurance in 2004, the climate change levy. And culturally, he moans that business people are always portrayed as the bad guy in soaps and that journalists don't understand where wealth comes from.

So, you ask this question, why did this happen on your watch, Digby?

As he stepped into a new career as a minister he is frustrated from day one by the stifling civil service culture. He cites, but doesn't name, a thrilled woman minister accepting the trappings of office for the first time. He turns his back on all of that though and gets on with the job of "promoting Britain". But at what? I dare say he shakes a lot of hands, refuses to make apologies to imperial crimes, makes a lot of speeches, but more than that he doesn't really say - apart from accepting without a crumb of modesty that he "played a blinder" on a number of occasions.

So what is to be done about the broken Britain that needs fixing? To be fair, politically, if you take the book as a series of stances to take on a number of issues, there's little anyone who runs a business and who cares about Britain could disagree with him on. He's fairly centrist and fair minded, he articulates very well the distressing culture of worklessness, indolence and welfare dependency. His is the politics of the common sense voice of reason. But he also goes further and isolates the importance of education in an age of globalisation. So far so good. But this is supposed to be a serious figure from public life, one of the most influential of the last 15 years. And while this isn't a policy document, it is frighteningly light on detail or evidence, all the more surprising as a former lawyer, lobbyist and minister. It's just anecdote after story. Personal confrontations where he always has the last word and the best line.

He dreams up initiatives - like compulsory training - that will have to be enshrined in laws and delivered by reluctant civil servants. More red tape, tut tut.

He urges the Great British Public to embrace public life, but deliberately doesn't endorse the Big Society, because he's apolitical, see.

Take a look at this BBC interview, here, Digby oozes charm and self-promotes his own achievements. He is an ordinary bloke from the Midlands, he says, who has voted for every party. This is him batting for business, his constituency. His country. Using short sentences. Like this.

But just as he swerved the Euro issue, so too he has surprisingly little to say on the financial crisis of 2008, just a plea to leave the bankers alone. Has Britain's banking sector failed his constituency? The hard working, honest, red tape snarled, beleaguered and unloved British entrepreneur. Where is his railing against the monopolistic abuses of power of big retail and their destructive effect on the high street and on their supply chains?

This book ultimately reads well enough. Pugnacious and passionate; a little bit "Richard Littlejohn" in its saloon bar polemics. But it's also strangely close to the consensual politics the coalition agreement represents. Sadder though, it reads like a wall of unappreciated noise from a man with plenty to say, but nothing left to do.

The subjects he raises are at the heart of what kind of country Britain should be. The conclusions he draws are largely correct. But they're also not far off what the inclusive coalition agreement mapped out. I feel slightly mean spirited raising a critical word, as his is a voice in the political wilderness, a man who embraced coalition politics for the good of the country before the coalition government, explaining that although he was ennobled, he made big financial sacrifices as he did so. It's placed him, for now, outside of the corridors of power and influence. But the only person who can explain how that has happened is Lord Digby Jones of Birmingham himself, the one person least able, and least likely, to do so.

Saturday, April 02, 2011

Remember the name, Patrick Monahan

We had a terrific day in Belfast on Thursday. Our conference and awards dinner seemed to go down really well with the businesses we were working with. As this blog isn't really about work I thought I'd just mention the comedian we used: Patrick Monahan. He was really funny. He hardly told a joke, just had a great way of interacting with the audience. He also came across as a genuine nice guy - someone who loves what he does, and loves entertaining and telling stories. He stayed in the bar at the Europa Hotel until 1am having a good laugh with the punters. So yes, I'd go and see him again. You should do. Or book him for a corporate gig if you do that sort of thing. A great talent.

April fool

I don't mind the tradition of April Fool jokes. Some are pretty rubbish, some are good fun though. I agree with Mark Solomons that none has ever beaten the spaghetti tree one from 1957 (yes, the date shocked me too). We did a school project on it in 1976. It was a great fun day.

Anyway, I was responsible for Insider's attempt at humour yesterday. It was a version of this mildly tailored for each region We fooled a few people, one bloke emailed our reporter accusing us of printing rubbish stories.