Saturday, May 31, 2008

Miracle at St Anna - Book review in a lift

My pal Paul got me this incredible book because the story is based around the part of Italy we both know so well. It's an incredible story that throws together so many back stories of loyalty, faith, spirit, survival and racism. It's basically about four black American soldiers who get caught behind the retreating SS in late 1944 in Italy. The ragged Nazis are at their worst, the Italian population are at war with themselves, while 4 terrified GIs who are treated like crap by their white officers are fighting for their lives and that of a boy they rescue from a barn during a battle. Unsurprisingly it's being made into a film, directed by Spike Lee, which will be released later this year. There's some press about the film here.

Role model

One of the boys got Match of the Day magazine last week, the issue dated 23rd of May. One of the posters this week, with a player profile and trailed on the cover, was Joey Barton of Newcastle United. On his fan site here, you can read about the fact he's just been jailed for 6 months for battering a teenager in Liverpool city centre. Great timing, eh?

Thursday, May 29, 2008

We got to that place...

I've waited 25 years to hear Born to Run by Bruce Springsteen played live. Last night we went to Old Trafford (Badlands) and saw as powerful a demonstration of musicianship, audience rousing and sheer energy as I've ever witnessed. The band played for 2 and a half hours, played 26 songs and covered the range of his music. It was worth the wait.

The official site here has the set list.

Monday, May 26, 2008

Music festivals - taking child cruelty to a new level?

After a couple of consecutive weekends with no football tournaments, no mad dashing around to see people and lots of happy children lolling about we have come up with the idea of going to a weekend music festival. All of us. I read about the Cornbury Music Festival in Oxfordshire in The Word magazine, where it was described as "Poshstock" and a cross between a country fair and a garden party. Lots of reviews and pictures make out that it's very child friendly, assuming the weather holds it could be amazing. Assuming it doesn't, it could be a rotten weekend as well as a very expensive one.

The line-up looks pretty good too: Paul Simon, Crowded House, Half Man Half Biscuit, Carbon Silicon (Mick Jones) and The Bangles.

None of these are on any of the kids' iPod playlists (Mika and Take That figure heavily) but they are on ours. Honestly, it's not about the music though.

Anyone out there got a view? Anyone fancy coming?

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Spirit of Radio

I recorded an interview yesterday for City Talk, a radio station in Liverpool. It's about the economy and why we aren't going to hell in a handcart, but things are blooming tough. The presenter Rob McLoughlin is always good to chat to and I wish I could hear more of it. It's on tomorrow morning from 7am to 10am but we can't get a signal here in Marple due to this new Rock Radio station in Manchester being on the same wavelength.

It's amazing to think that the Rock Radio licence was originally granted for a talk format. Still, they played all 8 minutes and 33 glorious seconds of the magnificent Kashmir by Led Zeppelin on Thursday when I was driving home late at night. I don't think my 8 minutes on Sunday morning will give anyone listening anything like as much pleasure.

History repeating itself

Gordon Brown's current predicament does have a historical parallel. In Australia in the 1990s Paul Keating - finance minsiter - grew impatient of waiting for Bob Hawke - a popular election winning Labour leader - to step aside despite a mate's agreement that he would do so.

Keating did become PM, he also had the balls to challenge Hawke for the job and won it. His was a prickly period in office where he lacked the touch of his more popular predecessor. Amazingly though, and against all the odds, he won the 1993 election - even though there was uncomfortable economic turmoil. His victory speech is an amazing piece of oratory, starting with the line: "this is the sweetest victory of all", going on to hail the "true believers" in the Australian way.

I can't see Gordon Brown having that sweet taste. Just more sourness. The Australian Tories - The Liberal Party - were still in a state of some flux - John Howard only went on to revive the party nationally after this defeat in 1995.

I was having a chat about all of this last Tuesday with Alan Gilbert, an Australian in Manchester, a fascinating character with a great wit and a wonderful grasp of people and issues.

Beer and whine

I agree with the sentiments expressed by Nigel Hughes, here, who also links to Brian Reade in some paper I never buy, but is here.

This whole NHS campaign against drinking is nonsense. It's a waste of money. It's patronising drivel with no basis in any kind of science.

I registered my protest against this in the usual way by popping into Majestic today. I'm particularly looking forward to getting stuck into a bottle of Ned Black Label Waihopai River Sauvignon Blanc. Served very cold it has that gorgeous gooseberry nose that I've always loved about the Marlborough Montana from the same region, but this is worth the extra couple of quid.

As it's a bank holiday weekend I thought it would be rude not to have some beer to offer guests so grabbed a case of Sol, a fruity Mexican beer.

Cheers. have a great weekend.

Friday, May 23, 2008

Revolution in Manchester restaurant scene, maybe?

There's a new bar in town - Ithaca - it's been two years in the making and is trying to introduce the private members bar concept to Manchester. ManCon is very fulsome in its praise, here, but warns about the risks of attracting gangsters.

I've also received an invitation to be a member, here.

One of the comments underneath made me laugh:

Ithaca and Michael Caines @ Abode more likely to fail than to get a Michelin star. There's not a big enough market for expensive dining out in Manchester. The only reason there is a market in London is all the foreign millionaires living there. In Manchester the millionaires are footballers (who deep down prefer eating at KFC), gangsters (who deep down prefer drinking champagne to fine dining), property developers (who are currently sh***ing it on account of the credit crunch), and the Cheshire set (who venture into town only rarely and who aren't very discerning at the best of times).

I shall pop in next week and make up my own mind.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Ten Questions on the Champions League Final

Watching the Champions League final last night was a curious experience, especially as I wasn't bothered about who won, until Chelsea scored. Then it dawned on me how awful it would be if they were to win. Here are ten other unanswered thought provoking questions.

In contrast to John "Chels Through and Through TM" Terry, how "bothered" did Sulky Nic Anelka look when he missed?

Sir Alex Ferguson says United deserved to win it because of the history of the club, does a club therefore have to have suffered a tragedy in order to deserve to win it?

When did UEFA introduce the rule that insists on bald directors leading the teams up for their medals, and why did Peter Kenyon, Chelsea's chief executive, get a medal, and why did Sir Bobby Charlton refuse his?

Does this say anything meaningful about character and class?

How come only Drogba got sent off for raising his hands in the handbags melee?

Wasn't it funny when Wayne Rooney had a wee hissy fit when he got subbed?

When did Joe Cole become the biggest moaner in a team of spitting and snarling moaners?

When the camera panned from Avram Grant to Abramovich, sitting in those outrageously grand official seats, the rich one was seen leaning over and saying something to his girlfriend, was I the only one who thought it looked like "kill him" a la Armstrong and Miller?

ManCon has found out a few things about the lack of an open top bus tour. Isn't it daft not to let them have a victory parade in Manchester and Trafford, or Cornwall, or Cork, or Singapore, or Bedford?

How long was it before someone started sending things like this around by email?

Monday, May 19, 2008

Business of Sport Summit

Insider put on some more terrific business events last week. We also did our first conference, the Business of Sport Summit. It was a great day to be talking about the North West as a sporting region as the city buzzed with excitement (and, clearly, incontinence) for the UEFA Cup Final. We obviously didn't know Rangers would be coming when we planned it.

One of the best speakers was Chris Ronnie, the chief executive of JJB Sports who did indeed confirm in answer to a question (from me, as the moderator of that session) that he is actively looking to buy Blackburn Rovers, he is acting in concert with other people known to me, but his interest is genuine and consistent with what Alan Nixon has reported in the papers he writes for and on the Rovers supporters message board, thread is here.

He offered the caveat that he is a business man who likes looking at deals. It may come to nothing.

Rothschild in London are handling the sale on behalf of the Walker Trust.

From my point of view, as a Rovers supporter, this all throws up concerns. The biggest of which is the waning interest of the Walker Trustees. Our April magazine carried a detailed feature on this by David Conn, author of The Beautiful Game and a regular columnist in The Guardian. If anyone is interested I can send them a PDF of it. Please leave me a message on this site with your email address and I'll send a copy, or I can post it if someone can help me get over that particular technical hurdle.

Saturday, May 17, 2008

Comic capers

A treat for all the boys at the weekend is a comic of their choosing. I remember my primary school teacher Mr Holmes encouraging us to read comics when we were small, as it gave us a love of reading and discovery. Some of the games and puzzles in Children's Favourites are just fantastic and I've just been cutting and sticking a Sponge Bob Square Pants landscape which Matt and Elliot are cackling over now.

Joe and Louis like Match and Match of the Day, which they seem to enjoy as much I liked Shoot when I was their age, while Max keeps us hiding behind the sofa with a Dr Who comic.

They're all pretty expensive though and the content is very pumped up with characters, brands and merchandising.

In the predictable spirit of nostalgia I've shared a few things from my vintage comic collection but it hasn't passed muster. They like Tintin DVDs but not the books. My treasured Victor annual has some good football stories, but a lot of the historical tales are very violent. In these days of tut tutting at Grand Theft Auto, it's easy to forget that we were reared on graphic pictures of "eat lead Jerry" and "Achtung" from Commando and Battle. Victor's Alf Tupper - Tough of the Track - seemed to think a good punch to the face was the best way to solve any dispute, but at least he wasn't trying to flog the kids his own brand of trainers. He would be now.

Chilled out

This is one of those rare weekends where we won't be racing from football tournament to shops to kids party to home and back out again. Just two kids parties and one football match for Max and Louis, the rest of us are chilling out. After the week I've had - out every night - it's a welcome break. Next week is looking just as manic.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

The sour smell of the urine of bears

Further to the post about the Rangers invasion, Manchester Confidential today is very good. It picks up the mood very well, how the reaction went from positive to irritable to outright negative in the same way as the smell went from fresh air to stale beer to urine.

Anyway, the link is here.

Ten thoughts on the UEFA Cup final in Manchester

When Manchester made a bid to host the UEFA Cup, they had one idea in mind - lots of well behaved Germans and Italians, for instance. What transpired was always going to be quite different.

The estimates at the numbers of Rangers fans who were coming seemed to increase by the hour. A supporters’ spokesman simply took the highest claimed figure for Celtic fans in Seville and added 10 per cent. That would be about 150,000.

The city centre yesterday was brilliant. The Rangers fans were drunk, sure, but it was all very good natured. The stories bandying around were like this: "Just seen a guy who used to work here and he lives just on the out skirts of town and he woke up this morning to find a load of Glasgow Rangers fans camping in his front garden hahahahaha .... he said they were sat on their deck chairs and didn't want to tell them to move they scared him hahahaha."

The thrill of going to a major final, in the UEFA hospitality area was just brilliant. A real once in a lifetime experience. Walking down the red carpet with Denis Law, sitting with Trevor Francis, was just great.

The game was pretty crap, as bad a first half as I've ever seen. But what we expected. Darcheville is a fairly artless blunt instrument on his own up front. Rangers occasionally play some neat passing football, but the style is to play deep with 4 centre backs and has been effective enough, so why change? Barry Ferguson did what he always does; look busy but with a poor final ball. The spell in the first 15 minutes of the second half was the chance to score and they missed it.

The atmosphere in the stadium was electric at kick off, but went flatter quite quickly. When it picked up it was really created by the Russians. Only when they made noise did that rouse the Rangers fans.

We missed the first goal because city council officials and the editor of the MEN were stood up around us as news came through about "riots" in Piccadilly. The bother in Piccadilly Gardens, which is written about here, was caused by a screen going down. So many pissed people were BOUND to have gone mental if the screen went blank.

I'm surprised the clean up didn't go on through the night. To arrive in the city centre through Piccadilly today was a disgusting experience with the smell of stale urine hanging in the air.

The question for Manchester is this: was it worth it? I think it was.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Max at United

Max was picked to join a team to play Man United's Under 7s today at The Cliff. He did really well bouncing around in goal saving shots from all angles. Of course they got a bit of a thrashing, but it was a great experience for them. Rachel wasn't allowed to take photos, clap, cheer, or shout encouragement. A bit like Old Trafford, then.
Posted by Picasa

Verdict - the fans have their say

Although I can't stand radio phone-ins I do like the fans comments in the Observer. The Rovers fan who contributes - Bill Boaden - seems like a nice bloke and I usually agree with him. Strangely, I can't find it online.

Copying the format, here's what I think.

How was your season? OK, a bit flat in places and lacked the highs of the last one. We dropped too many points at home to teams we were capable of burying.

Happy with the gaffer? Oh yes. he doesn't seem to rant at referees the way he used to and he did some great business in moving Savage along just as he was stirring things up a bit when he got dropped.

Who were the stars and who flopped? Santa Cruz has been absolutely amazing. Bentley can do things to turn a match, Friedel is the best keeper in the Prem. No-one flopped, but I was disappointed at McCarthy this season. he is class, but fell below his own standards and admitted he was tempted by Chelski.

Who were the best and worst away fans? I hate to admit that the devil has the best tunes, so Man United for noise, Everton for patience - we robbed them.

Top hate figure at another club?
Life's too short for hate.

Top five opposition players
Green (West Ham), Davis (Portsmouth), Lescott (Everton), Bullard (Fulham), Petrov (Citeh).

Thirsty work, this football

I mean, what can you do? Ten games in a morning takes it out of you. So what better way for three touchline Dads to ease the strain of watching our 9 year old sons than a pint of Extra Cold. Lovely.
Posted by Picasa

Season over - predictions revisited

Did OK in my predictions, not brilliant, but got the main one and surprisingly, got Rovers spot on. Not getting into Europe is a real blow. Not just for our travel plans, but for Sparky hoping to get players to sign and keep some of the so-called stars who've been analysed on the Big Four Scouting Special (Match of the Day).

Man U - spot on
Liverpool - two off
Chelsea - one off
Spurs - worst prediction of all, way off
Arse - two off
Villa - spot on
Rovers - spot on
Everton - underestimated
Sunderland - not this good
Newcastle - about right
Reading - overestimated
West Ham - about right
Portsmouth - underestimated
Birmingham - not this good
Man City - not this bad, but 8-1, on the last day, oh dear
Bolton - spot on
Middlesbrough - not this bad
And for the drop...
Derby - as yet undiscovered tribes in darkest Africa will have predicted this
Fulham - wrong
Wigan - wrong

Other tips:
West Brom to win the Championship, Burnley and Preston mid table, Blackpool stay up.
Forest to win League One in some style, Dirty Leeds to go down again.
Rangers to win the Scottish prem, Hibs to get third spot.
Spurs to do well in Europe, maybe even get to the final.
Rovers to do OK, but to parade the Intertoto Cup around in an open top bus

Championship was bang on, and a wish I had the courage to gamble. Shame Dirty Leeds did OK, Scotland is unfinished business. As is the UEFA Cup. Bring it on.

Saturday, May 10, 2008

How much football can one boy play?

Another mad football day today. Marple Ath under 9s entered the Urmston Meadowside tournament. The A team got to the semi-final, then won the plate trophy. We then rushed over to Stockport Power League for Joe's 9th birthday party with his pals and brothers. A football theme, obviously, as if he wasn't worn out enough by playing ten games in a day.

I've never been to the perfect football tournament, there's always something that's rubbish aboout it. Sometimes it's the catering - overpriced rip off burgers, but food and drink was reasonable at Urmston. No, the problem at this one was the time keeping. We were a full hour over by the time we started worrying about getting over for Joe's party.

Player of the Year

Last night was the Marple Athletic presentation night at Acton Court Hotel. It was a cracking awards do, every bit as exciting and professionally hosted as any of the business awards bashes I get involved in. Walk up stings, passionate speeches, audience participaton and an auction. Alan Keegan, an Under 7s Dad, and the MC at the Theatre of Dreams did a boss job hosting it.

High spot, proudest fatherly moment in the world: Under 9s player of the season as chosen by the managers, Clive Breed and Padraig Walsh, ladies and gentleman: Joe Taylor.

For the parents player of the year, like most people, I voted for Ryan Knott, a great lad. No nonsense centre forward full of running and honest endeavour. And a scorer of great goals this season.

Drink responsibly

I heard yesterday that Manchester City Council have cancelled a planned launch on Thursday of a responsible drinking campaign. It would have seemed odd doing so at the same time as mopping up puke and pish from the Rangers invasion of Manchester.

Friday, May 09, 2008

Under siege

Hyde is being dug up at the moment. Compstall Road in Cherry Tree has temporary lights. Offerton is as bottlenecked as ever. That's why I tend to let the train take the strain. It's like we're under siege sometimes.

Thursday, May 08, 2008

Israel at 60

I'm travelling today - Bristol and back - so I've been reading a lot as well as trying to do some work on Virgin Cross Country Trains. There's a lot in the papers about the 60th anniversary of Israel. The best thing I've read is this:

And yet, despite the hostility of so many, Israel at 60 thrives. It has absorbed huge numbers of immigrants from the Middle East and farther afield (indeed it has recently become a magnet for Sudanese refugees), it has enviable indices of human development, contributed a huge amount to science and maintained the only liberal democracy – imperfect, like all others - in the Middle East and all this in a context where it has constantly had to defend itself from attacks designed to be mortal. It therefore deserves the warmest possible congratulations on its 60th birthday and it’s to be hoped that Palestinians will soon be accepting congratulations for the foundation of their own state too.

From today’s Buenos Aires Herald, which you can link to here.

Wednesday, May 07, 2008

Watching the Apprentice - how did that happen?

As a rule we don't watch reality TV crap. None of it. All rubbish. It has all passed us by and we don't feel poorer for it. Bizarrely however, we are hooked on the latest series of the Apprentice. What's struck us though, is that this lot are such a weasly bunch of back stabbers. The challenge is to not get found out for contributing nothing. Maybe that's what work is like for most people, but I'm sure "Sralan" restrains from firing some of the halfwits because they'll get bullied mercilessly for the pleasure of the viewing public.

We're watching it now. How sad.

Not fun in the sun

There's a special offer on at Selfridges in Manchester where you get free prescription lenses in their choice of sunglasses. I was told yesterday by a young male assistant that the ones I wanted would be "no problem". When I returned today I was told that wasn't so and the lenses would cost an extra £125. When I asked which ones WOULD qualify, the woman on duty found THREE pairs. This country, unbelievable. This isn't the first time I've been underwhelmed with the level of service and products at Selfridges. I'm going to give it a swerve from now on.

Tuesday, May 06, 2008

Marple invades Fleetwood

If you noticed that Marple seemed quieter at the weekend it was because 233 of us were on a caravan park in Fleetwood, on the Lancashire coast, for a junior football tournament. The Cala Gran wouldn't be my holiday destination of choice, but we had an absolutely fantastic time. We had a great crack with the other parents and enjoyed their company very much. I saw a few parents this morning who have taken the day off to recover today. No such luck here, I'm afraid.

As for the football, Joe's team did well, finishing third in the league, just an unlucky bounce and a post away from winning a couple of games they drew 0-0. The six minutes each way format didn't do them any favours as they usually grind out wins through constant attacks. They looked exhausted by the end, but really enjoyed the presentation at the end where Kevin Ratcliffe (Everton and Wales) presented them with trophies.

Max and Louis played in different sides in the Under 7s and did really well, Max keeping a few clean sheets in goal.

There will be more news and photos on the Marple Athletic website, here, especially news about the win by our Under 10s and the Under 9s B team getting a "most sporting team" award.

We went into Fleetwood on Monday, a town that has seen better days. The fish was very good at this place on the front, but everywhere looked ever so tatty and tired. All in all a great weekend.

Friday, May 02, 2008

Ready for Rangers

I was advised to leave Manchester for a month last night as the city braces itself for an invasion by the supporters of Glasgow Rangers. I just hope they behave themselves better than the other team from their city. When Manchester is visited by green shirts and red necks it's a real pain in the arse.

I'm so chuffed to have a ticket for this one. I've always felt a small tinge of sympathy with Rangers. I went there, with him and him, in 1991 for a Hearts game, en route to see Chris Eubank batter a Mexican taxi driver, and with a Rovers wooly hat on. The lads around us were chuffed to bits to see us; buying us drinks and telling me Rovers/Rangers connections that had never occurred to me. By the time Colin Hendry had been and gone twice, Souness took us to Celtic Park with Tugay in his team and we tried the Barry Ferguson experiment, we feel like blood brothers. Add to that the connection that two of my best pals, Steven Lindsay and Alec Craig, are both Glasweigan-born true blue Rovers fans.

If anyone is reading this and wondering why a member of the holy church of the left foot is spouting this crap, all I can say is that religion should have sod all to do with football.

Thursday, May 01, 2008

Paint the town blue

We're running a Business of Sport Summit in Manchester on the day of the UEFA Cup Final - the 14th of May. I've also got a ticket for the game that night. Tonight is the big one - will Glasgow Rangers fans be painting Manchester Blue and White (and Orange), or will it be a sophisticated European festival of culture with the Bavarians and Florentines?