Tuesday, June 12, 2018

Why the trains are so bad - 11 reasons

As I squeeze on to my window seat, ready for the bedraggled multitudes of Romiley, Hyde and Guide Bridge to shuffle on in grave discomfort, we console ourselves that we don't live in Gorton as the train trundles in and no-one gets on. If we are able to move our elbows enough to turn the pages of our soggy Metro newspaper we will also be grateful we aren't commuting in from Wigan, Bolton and Preston. Or that we would attempt to travel at all in Cumbria.

I don't count these as blessings, or celebrate any of this. But I am pleased there's been an awakening. After feeling like I was just warbling like some eccentric uncle contesting the authenticity of the moon landings, I do feel a twinge of encouragement. Others are complaining, so I don't have to.

When I was a magazine editor, I campaigned forcefully for the Ordsall Chord - and all forms of rail infrastructure improvement. That it has been the catalyst for further problems, not eased solutions, should never be a reason to stop these improvements. There need to be more. Piccadilly station for a start.

Last week I had the good fortune to be in London, where I use the orange line. When I lived there in the 90s you just never would, it was horrible. Now, it's a high frequency service used throughout the day, connecting all parts of a bustling city. If you were looking for premises, or building a business it would be a major factor in where you'd locate.

Jonn Elledge of the New Statesman's marvellous urbanist arm, City Metric, has nailed it again. Please link here to his 11 reasons why the North's railways are in chaos.

Summary: poor planning, no investment, terrible industrial relations, more bad planning, indecision, poor stock management, the south matters more and dreadful regulation,

Friday, May 25, 2018

Sir Howard Bernstein interviewed in Met Magazine

Pic by Ade Hunter
I've interviewed Sir Howard Bernstein for the latest edition of Met Magazine, our University's very own award winning publication.

He's always a fascinating person to listen to. All of the accolades that have come his way over the last two decades are deserved. His vision, his workrate and his sheer determination to push Manchester ever onwards has been unstinting. I've interviewed him before in front of an audience on a few occasions, and done a couple of sit down profile interviews. One was just ahead of the Commonwealth Games in 2002, one of his greatest triumphs. The other was weeks before the referenda on a congestion charge in 2008, one of his rare defeats. Both are in my portfolio, if you’d like a copy, let me know by email.

I interviewed Howard in the offices of Deloitte, where he now has a base. It was a stark contrast to having a cup of tea in his old suite in the Town Hall, and so was a slightly strange experience. His old office was always full of cues and reminders, awards on the mantelpiece, a framed City shirt, two seats from the old stadium and a firm sense that this was his habitat. The same also applied when we'd have lunch at Wings, surrounded by signed plates of Manchester's great and the good and plenty of passing friends.

But the more you think about the lack of a sense of place in a 4th floor meeting room in Spinningfields, the more you focus on the challenges of a city still gripping big systemic problems. But then there's the very presence of the building itself, a part of town that barely existed when we first broke bread in 2001. He has always pushed the terms of what we should be talking about. The kind of city Manchester wanted to be, the notion that if you believed the work was ever finished, then the very idea of Manchester itself was finished. He is the ultimate progressive.

My agenda was very specifically to avoid the past and focus on the future. And as the headline reveals (right) I wasn't disappointed.

We covered a lot of ground - but a golden thread that ran through everything was the importance of partnerships to raise the ambition of Manchester. These apply equally in sport, the creative sector, devolution and housing.

I'm pleased with the end result. I hope people like it. But to be honest the whole of the magazine is quality. Covering a ton of things we're working on at Manchester Metropolitan University to make the city more successful, more tolerant, and more inspiring than ever.

Just a quick final point. I just can't stay away from magazines. A blog or a digital snippet is like a snack. A well put together magazine is still a work of beauty and nourishment. I can send you a copy if you'd like to be added to the list, email me here.

Monday, May 21, 2018

Paninaro - oh, oh, oh



For no other reason than the sun is out, and maybe thoughts have turned to great holidays, I found myself humming along to this 1986 Pet Shop Boys classic tune over the weekend. Paninaro - a youth cult named after a sandwich, as this piece from Vice says. It’s even inspired a tribute t-shirt from Casualco.com which predictably sold out within hours.

At the time I felt the Paninaro look was a real coming together of styles. The whole football dresser thing had gone a bit stale - splintering off from Italian sportswear into flares and cords up north, and slacks and big jumpers in the south.

I was a first year student at the time and heading for a summer in the USA and Canada. It's probably the look that fixed my own personal preferences for life.

Today, as a man who should probably know better, I've still got several items of that look even now - checked and cotton/ light denim shirts, plain blue blazer, the best jeans I can afford (then, Levis 501s; now, selvedge denim), brown sturdy shoes (then, imitation Timberland; now, Mephisto), a Breton striped t-shirt, and my staple for all time, a two-button Lacoste polo shirt. In my younger days I liked a bold sweatshirt, though now I prefer British knitwear from Sunspel and John Smedley. Back then my pride and joy was a white C17 parka with orange lining and two badges on the sleeve - Juventus and Fac51. Oh, and backpacks. I've always loved a good backpack: Karrimor, North Face, Patagonia.

As I said in this piece about the Northern Monkeys book: "It didn't have a name then, but this was the emerging Paninaro look. By the time of our third year in 1987-88 my mates were well into looking smarter too - we liked Chevignon, Chipie, C17 and Timberland for a night at the Hacienda or the Venue, way before the Madchester druggie rave scene."

The deeper satisfaction of all of these items is still layering on a look, grafting different pieces from unlikely sources. Probably my favourite clothing brand now is Albam, which can definitely trace a creative lineage to this time and place. And to quote Paul Weller from this time, 'our favourite shop' is either J. Simons or Oi Polloi. However, I can't afford to just waltz in and pick anything I like. And there's no fun in doing that either.

I've told tales before of the treasure trove that was Shop 70 on Lamb's Conduit Street in London's Holborn, from where I bought a Stone Island hooded sweatshirt, which I still have, and (tragically) a CP Company duffel coat that I don't.


In its stead, and as a cocked cap to the video above, I found my current favourite coat, my Adidas Originals yellow rain jacket, which I discovered in... Well, that would be telling, I just wish I'd bought the matching blue one as well.

Monday, May 07, 2018

The season's over - the view from the Riverside

We've recorded a BRFCS / Rovers Chat end of season podcast, which was a real blast.

It's got Rich Sharpe from the Lancashire Telegraph, Tom Schofield from Rovers Chat and the 1875 podcast, Scott Sumner from 4000 Holes me, Mike Delap representing BRFCS and superbly pulled together and edited by Ian Herbert.

We even try a Blackburn Rovers-themed "Defend the Indefensible" round.  It's all so massive we've done it as a two parter. Part 1 and Part 2.

In his typically modest and understated way, Ian has thanked publicly all of our panelists and guests this last season who all give their time for free. Their support is greatly appreciated. I'd like to thank him, it's no small effort getting us match fit and ready to be vaguely coherent. Hopefully you enjoy listening. Please spread the word if you do... The link on iTunes is here.

I think I've pretty much exhausted everything I can say about this great, great season. It's really been a lift and I'm chuffed to have made some good pals along the way. There's more than just the team to be proud of, as I say on the podcast the club is in good shape behind the scenes, the media is as good as it has been for a long time - Rich Sharpe at the otherwise dismal Lancashire Telegraph is a true pro - the social media team at Rovers are top drawer, 4000 Holes fanzine is really good (though the quiz is too hard) and I always look forward to Jim Wilkinson's Blue Eyed Boy blogs - very, very special.

I did promise to mention the home games after last week's blog about the away trips. We usually go the same way, we always park in the same place, we try and get a pie from Leavers, but in its own beautiful way, every day is different. As a fall back, an overpriced Hollands on the ground is alright, I suppose.

Best performance: Shrewsbury. That was great, it had everything including a dreadful referee. But we properly marked out our intent that day.

Best atmosphere: First half against Wigan. Amazing.

Most ashamed to be a Rovers fan: Never. I even can't be bothered to summon up the energy to be angry about the dicks that invaded the pitch before the end of the game on Saturday. I know we did it at Doncaster, on the whistle, but Saturday was a bit different and not very spontaneous. Quite liked the righteous disgust from the rest of us.

Best pre-match scoff: Leavers on Bolton Road is still the king of the pie. I'll take whatever they have by the time we've got there, potato and meat for Joe, or chicken and bean for Louis. I like their traditional meat pie best.

Best visiting supporters: You'd expect the North West clubs to bring a few, and they did, contributing some real energy to the season, Oldham and Wigan both did so. But Plymouth brought a fair old contingent for a Tuesday night when they were bottom of the league.

Most shithouse team: Northampton Town at home, as they were away. I'd sign John-Joe O'Toole just for the devilment.

Best team we played: The teams that beat us at Ewood deserve respect for doing just that - Doncaster and Wimbledon - but Bristol Rovers were robbed, frankly. They should have beaten us fair and square, they were brave and athletic and maybe like a few others (Southend, Peterborough), just lacked that consistency and X Factor - we've been so blessed with Bradley Dack and Charlie Mulgrew to pop up with some magic when it's needed.

Best thing about League One: We won most weeks and I'd forgotten how that feels.

Worst thing about League One: the referees have been absolutely dreadful. Most are unfit, all are inconsistent, they are either ludicrously fickle or stupidly stubborn. It evened itself out over the season though.

Best known faces in our stand: Tim Farron MP, fashion guru Gary Aspden, Councillor Dave Smith and former Deputy VC of UCLAN, Alan Roff.

Best thing about BBC Radio Lancashire when we jump back in the car: Tony Mowbray's interviews. I could listen to Mowbray all day. He describes a game I actually watched and he doesn't whinge or come up with lame excuses. He has genuine enthusiasm for the game and conveys that real authentic belief in his squad without ever coming across as one of the lads. He's probably the best Rovers manager at the post-match interview that I can recall. Dalglish never gave much away, Souness was great, but often lost his rag, Allardyce and Hughes very predictable, Bowyer dour, Lambert incomprehensible, Kean and Coyle spouted nonsense. Tony Mowbray is peerless, actually.

Second best thing: Morecambe boss Jim Bentley's interviews. "Three lads out there lost limbs today. Two actually died."

Grimmest day: Hull at home in the FA Cup was awful, but it turned out I was seriously ill at the time. Spent the next few days in hospital.

Best day: The build up on a glorious sunny day to the last game against Oxford was special.

Thanks to everyone again. All the people who sit round us make for a great occasion too. The old fellah behind with his dry asides, the young bloke who is so well-informed about other results he seems to have Jeff Stelling in his ear, then there's the loud bloke who berates the linesman every match and some berk who screams "Referee, get him off, he's an animal. He could have killed him!"

None of this would be the same without you, Rovers fans. It was even worth getting a speeding ticket on Grane Road on the way to the early Wigan game. Roll on next season.



Friday, May 04, 2018

Stockport local elections round up - a few thoughts

So Stockport still has a minority Labour administration. There were a few gains here and there between all the main parties, but through all of the triumphs and disasters for all three parties what we have is a return to pretty much where everything was before.

Labour will be particularly delighted at the gain in Cheadle Hulme North by the narrowest of margins (2 votes!) as well as a further consolidation in Manor on top of securing their heartland seats in their core six wards, two with new candidates. A by-election in Edgeley and Cheadle Heath to re-elect a sitting Labour councillor will be held in three weeks time.

The Cheadle Hulme North result is the most dramatic one of the night, a result that prevented a breakthrough to the Liberal Democrats possibly becoming the largest party. Labour's joy there will be tempered by disappointment in Offerton, which a new candidate held for the Liberal Democrats.
It was generally a bad night for the Stockport Conservatives, failing to take Marple South & High Lane and losing Hazel Grove.

What follows is analysis and commentary, I have no skin in this game any more.

Candidates and campaigns matter
The only differences between the results in 2014 and 2018, the same cycle, were the Labour gains in Cheadle Hulme North and Manor. Labour actually fell further behind in seats it came close to winning in 2014 - notably Offerton and worse still, Bredbury & Woodley, where the Conservatives took 2nd place in a seat Labour were 182 votes off winning in 2012. Identifying a seat as a key target and having an energetic candidate working the patch makes so much difference to the result. But the longer it goes neglected, the harder it is to persuade voters that the party is serious.

The more local the campaign narrative, the more it suits the LibDems
In wards where the local campaigning narrative is about intensely local things, then the more likely the Liberal Democrats will win. At a time when allegiance and voting habits are driven by how people feel, it's not to the LibDems advantage to have people think nationally. The Conservatives can't run a campaign to stop the left wing lunatics running the Town Hall because they're in no position to influence it even if they won. Plus, it's also not true. It's a fantasy of the Westminster bubble to make the elections about Brexit, or a trial run of the General Election. The composition of the ruling group never featured on the LibDem strategy. Just bar charts, local credentials and claims to be working for you all year round. They can do this effectively because it's what they are known for, it's their brand.  The other parties tried to compete on this terrain and failed, except in Cheadle Hulme North, where the LibDem habit of borrowing voters backfired. There's a new conversation on the doorsteps which Andy Burnham's landslide to be Mayor has changed.

It's about building for the parliamentary seat 
It depends how you define success. Note that the Liberal Democrat successes were in every single ward in the Hazel Grove constituency, which they lost to the Conservatives in 2015 and failed to make up ground in 2017. They once held all three seats in Manor ward, which is in the Stockport parliamentary constituency, now they have none. They have retained an office in Romiley where full time staff work alongside the candidate (now a Councillor) to mount a campaign worthy of a General Election. A narrow loss probably suits this objective.

But boundary changes change the optics
A new parliamentary constituency of Marple and Hyde has been recommended by the Boundary Commission and may well be formed in time for the next General Election in 2022. On the number of seats by winning party, per ward, it's LibDem on 4, Labour on 3 and Conservative on 1. But calculated on vote share across the 8 wards that will make this up, it will be a tight three way fight, but it will be a Conservative seat with them leading 8889 votes to 8280 LibDem and 8099 for Labour. However in two of the Tameside wards the Liberal Democrats failed to field a candidate and in all but one of the seats Labour failed to win, they came third.

A word on turnout
Most people don't vote. The contested wards saw turnout hit 50%, where getting 1800 votes still didn't win it. But while Davenport & Cale Green had 28% heading for the polls, it dropped as low as 22% in Brinnington and Central. 

No appetite for independent candidates
The Heald Green independent trio remain an anomaly. Attempts elsewhere, such as Marple North never got anywhere. And John Pearson got 49 votes in Manor for his anti-austerity crusade, 10 more than he did in 2016.

What will happen at the council?
There's always the possibility of defections changing the balance, this is Stockport afterall, where egos and emnities can run deep. But ultimately it will be back to business as usual and filling in all those pot holes the candidates have spent the last six months pointing at.


Sunday, April 29, 2018

We had joy, we had fun, we had a season in League One

In our darkest hour, we vowed to thee, my Rovers, that we would support our club in the hostile and unfamiliar terrain of League One. And we have.

Best place to visit: Shrewsbury. I like Shrewsbury, it's a really smart centre, decent places to eat and drink and though it's a hike from the stadium to the station, it's a more pleasant stroll than some of the other places we visited. And me and Rachel had a great pre-match catch up with our friend Father Tony McGrath.

Worst train journey: going to Peterborough away was like my morning commute stretched into three hours; hot, crowded, cramped, and never ending. Coming back in a great mood it started well enough as we were sat with Tony Leake, the former referee, then we got to Nottingham where we were joined by idiot Bolton fans, then Sheffield where noisy pissed-up Preston joined the party. I'm seriously too old for that crap.

Best away end atmosphere: so many contenders for this, Doncaster, Blackpool, Bury and Rochdale were all bouncing. But maybe because it was the distance involved and the constant noise, and the positive support throughout, I think Peterborough away was when it felt brilliant to be part of a fanbase that was connected to an improving team. Which brings us to...

Best performance: Nick Hornby's theory is that winning 3-2 is the best ever result because of the emotional journey, especially if the other team score first, and so Peterborough away proved. The second half spell, crowned by the sweeping move which led to the goal of the season from Dack was magic.

Most ashamed to be a Rovers fan: some berk shouting "MK Dons" at Wimbledon is just embarrassing, but being kettled with the Blackburn EDL at Bradford was a grave mistake. Having to walk to the match alongside people who should be locked up was truly depressing. The racism was disgusting, the wanton violence from scrawny scrotes who couldn't punch their way out of a wet paper bag was pathetic, but the looks of horror from the police and ordinary members of the public in Bradford city centre was truly shaming.

Best pre-match scoff: a few contenders here, but The Inn on the Green in Bristol with my pal Neil Tague was decent bar grub. Best take away was a massive piece of fish at Fleetwood, slightly edging it over cockles on Southend pier.

Best stadium: The stadiums in this division aren't great, if I'm honest. Including Ewood I've been to 20 grounds this season, 8 of them for the first time. Many are identikit new boxes on the edge of town like Scunthorpe, Walsall, Shrewsbury and Northampton. Or attempts at modernisation that create a mish mash of styles like at Bradford, Bristol Rovers, Peterborough and Fleetwood. The other failing of grounds at this level is the optimistic design. Swathes of empty seats in towering stands like at Coventry, Blackpool, Wigan and, ahem, Ewood, aren't great either. But for the proximity to the centre, a great view and a decent atmosphere, the best League One ground is New York Stadium, Rotherham.

Best station to ground signage thanks to visiting supporters trail of crude drawings on snow sprinkled car windscreens? Definitely Wimbledon, where every other car from Norbiton station to Kingsmeadow had been adorned with either a "BRFC" or a cock and balls. Thanks, lads. Which brings me to...

Worst ground, Kingsmeadow, the temporary home of Wimbledon isn't fit for purpose, as I said at the time. Best of luck on your journey back to Wimbledon, chaps.

Most shithouse team: Northampton Town, home and away, but especially away. Frustrating, hard to play against and celebrated a point like they'd won the league.

Best performance by a former player: Jack Byrne for Oldham was more Richie Smallwood than Richie Smallwood and more Peter Whittingham than him. A crime we never got the best from him. Terrific player.

Best team we played: I've been surprised how athletic and how fit most teams are at this level and no game has been a breeze, whatever the result. The main difference is that mistakes are more plentiful than the Championship, but for me the team that asked the most questions of us on the road was Scunthorpe.

Coldest: Blackpool was absolutely freezing.

Wettest: Rochdale.

Hottest Bovril: Rochdale, scalded hands.

Best cheeky diversion for one of life's delights: The Brick Lane Beigel Bakery after Southend.

Game I'm glad I didn't go to: the trip to Gillingham sounded dire, both times.

Game I wish I had gone to: I only missed six aways and three of them were midweek night matches, I refuse to go to Milton Keynes and had other plans for Charlton (I know). Plymouth was a stretch and the night matches at Gillingham, Portsmouth and Oxford just weren't practical. But I really think that win at Portsmouth was another positive turning point and I was gutted not to be there to see it.

Best flag day: We only had one outing for the flag at Doncaster (above). I sort of considered the pithy and curt "how does it feel to treat me like you do?" as a direct cock at the club in general and the owners in particular, so it's been folded up in a bag since Brentford last season. It wasn't until recently that I found myself listening to the song from which it comes (New Order's Blue Monday), that I reckoned you could view it another way. To "treat me" like you do. And we have been treated. Dack's magic, Charlie's leadership and his goals, the King of Ewood rarely giving the ball away, Danny Graham's poaching. It has been a treat.

Best thing about this season: Yes, winning again is great. But football is nothing without the fans. It's been a real blast to be fair. So thank you to you all for your contribution to the good times on the road this season: Robin Sager and Sam Taplin, Dave Smith, Mushtaq Khan, Andy Currie and Alex, Baz Dootson, Matt Dunham, Neil Tague, Stuart Shaw, Ian Herbert, Linz Lewis, Mikey Delap, Stuart Grimshaw and Matthew, Kamy, Jim Wilkinson, David Robinson, Kevin Bradley, Paul Oldrieve, Tony Leake, Danny Davis, Andrew Stirrup, Ian and Jan Currie, Andrew Currie, Matthew Currie, James Barrow, Tony Brierley, Steven Lindsay, Mike Kendal, Alec Craig, Trevor Curson, David and Pam Southworth, to all the Rovers fans who we've had a natter with on trains, concourses, stations, pubs and podcasts and most of all to my fantastic lads who've been on this trip with me, Joe and Louis.

Next weekend: Fortress Ewood?

Friday, April 27, 2018

A few thoughts on the local elections in Marple South and High Lane Ward

Here's a bit of a summary of my thoughts on the local council elections in my ward. It started with some tweets I rattled off in frustration at what was landing on my doormat, I hope I'm relaying the sentiment.

"Good grief local politics is so very shabby. Horrible race to the bottom to oppose speed bumps. Has no-one the courage to stand up for road safety? Dog whistle, dog dirt politics at its worst."

So started a tweet on Sunday morning, that became a thread and a bit of a rant. Sparked as it was by a truly appalling Liberal Democrat leaflet. It cut to the heart of everything awful about local politics. Jumping on bandwagons, lack of nuance, failing to lead, saying anything at all to get an angle.

At my snarkiest I summarised my disgust thus: “Yes, I went into politics to really make a difference. I got rid of some speed bumps. Saved the suspension on some boy racer’s Subaru. Three children died, mind, but it’s a price worth paying to get elected.”

But it also brought me back to what I think the role of a local political representative is. Being elected should be about leading a community, not following or reflecting back the supposed popular will. And claiming local credentials as the NUMBER ONE reason to vote for someone is beyond laughable. Yes, when I stood in an election I told my story. People have a right to know, but THIS! This is treating the electorate like fools. A BIG reason to vote for him? No, Colin. You had three goes and that’s your best?

Sure, all politics is local. But it also doesn’t have to be parochial. And so I've also nothing but derision for Liberal Democrat rubbish about the Burnham Tax.

Then the Tory leaflet arrives.

I'll be honest, I'm not thrilled about their stance on the green belt and speed bumps, but at least they explain their alternative. As a piece of political communication it is very effective. You get ten "positive reasons" to vote for them with strong visual indicators. I'm not surprised at this, one of their existing councillors, Kenny Blair, is probably the best local councillor I've ever had represent me; smart, considerate and dedicated.

We delivered the first Labour leaflet for the candidate, Chris Wallis, a guy I really like. Local politics needs enterprising, popular, funny, energetic people like him.


But I'll be honest, the more Labour nationally frame this as an endorsement of an alternative government, the less inclined I am to vote for them. The more this is about the make-up of a competent and forward looking Labour council in Stockport Town Hall, then I'm happy.

But when it's amateurs against professionals out there, you just have to ask yourself who you'd want on your side as your local representatives. 

V is for Victory

The Friends of Rose Hill station are delighted to announce that, following all of our efforts, the 17.34 from Piccadilly has been reinstated to run into Rose Hill instead of Marple in the upcoming new timetable.

"Through Northern, Network Rail are offering the service to Rose Hill until 31st August with discussions ongoing as to a proposal after that with the train running to Rose Hill as well as the Work Train. This would result in the return service being retimed earlier. Let’s hope that a satisfactory permanent solution will follow."

This is a real victory for common sense and a massive tribute to the power of small groups of dedicated people who can take on distant bureaucracies.