Saturday, October 30, 2010

That's why they're champions

There really will be very little to stop Chelsea this season. Blackburn Rovers out played them and harried them for the first half, but lost a lead. In a more even second half, a winner looked more likely from Rovers than the champions. But they have Anelka, Drogba and any number of sharp eyed attack minded midfield players. Rovers had Jason Roberts. I've said before that several passages of Rovers match reports can be written before the game - Grella limps off injured, Pedersen ineffective, Robinson brilliant, Roberts misses one-on-one with keeper and blasts wide.

My eldest lad plays at left back and we both kept a close eye on Ashley Cole today. He was incredible. When Chelsea attack he plays very far forward; more an out and out winger than an overlapping left back. The other player for them that stood out was Mikel. Nothing fancy, nothing fussy, but he passes so well.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Parc Life revisited

At the risk of sounding like I repeat myself, my verdict on Center Parcs is pretty much the same as it was this time last year after our half term break. The link is here, but I said the staff are great, the other people are nice, but it's starting to get a bit tatty. Well, it's even more in need of love and attention and a bit of investment. On the plus side it has universal wi-fi now, but the other changes were all cost cutting measures. The canyon slide in the pool is now an unmanned free for all, which is fine.

Ironically, the news over the weekend was a hint that the Forestry Commission would sell off land to leisure developers like Center Parcs. Ecological vandalism, it has been called. Honestly, I think the Whinfell Forest is pretty well looked after. But it seems like an odd idea.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

An open letter to Balaji Rao and the Venky's people

Let's go round again. In June I wrote an open and welcoming letter to Saurin Shah, one of the supposed bidders for Blackburn Rovers. In August, I wrote a slightly updated one to Ahsan Ali Syed. Even then I had a natural suspicion of anyone who blabs before a takeover is complete and felt something wasn't right. Bizarrely, he has been probed, prodded and investigated and looks like he has not been able to complete the deal afterall. However, he has made some very generous donations to Blackburn charities.

Here's an open letter to the latest bidder, reported as Venky's, an Indian-based poultry company. And here is Alan Nixon's story in the Mirror, detailing the strategy. There is talk of a tie up with an international agency. This is a worry. But, hey, forever positive, here goes.

Good luck in your efforts to buy our wonderful football club! I just wanted to mention a few things that might not pop up in your commercial due diligence.

First of all, thank you for conducting your negotiations with grace and privacy. The other lot made a mockery of our club by sounding off. Your interviews have also been polite and respectful, without bravado. That is the way of our club and I think it puts a positive marker down.

Fans are realists, we know football is changing. We know football is a global industry with television audiences expanding in your home country. But don't be fooled into thinking anyone will want to come and play in front of empty seats. Make sure the club is looked after too.

Our fans are the future of this club. Their loyal support has kept this club in a special place. To make it work for you, you need to engage with them and help that support grow even more. That doesn't mean walking round the pitch shaking hands and signing autographs, it means involving supporters in the running of the club as a community asset. Be open to any positive suggestions that may come your way on this.

The fans are frustrated at the moment because there haven't been any new signings. The manager is frustrated too. But make sure we sign the right players.

Exciting young players connected with an emerging sports agency are one thing, players who play with pride are another altogether. Don't let agents and middlemen turn your head. And please don't use this club as a feeder club or be used as a commission earner for these sharks.

Be patient. Our local talisman, David Dunn, is an injury prone genius. Our goalkeeper was a reject who was written off but has missed out on the World Cup because he plays for an unfashionable club. But they are stars. Our stars. So is Phil Jones - a teenager from Chorley. They are adored. And Steven N'Zonzi, our player of the year, is a young man plucked from obscurity, who has just signed a new contract.

Our fans are usually right. When Jack Walker owned the club he didn't like a certain type of flash player and blocked some transfers. There are players who just aren't Rovers players, learn about that and treasure it as a core value. Rovers fans like a solid centre pair, a free scoring forward and attacking football. We're not getting that at the moment, which is frustrating the fans.

The season can seem long and a grind. When we lose at Liverpool, draw at home to Sunderland and lose at Stoke it tests your faith. We're fourth from bottom. So, you will look at these wealthy players who don't seem to be able to perform and despair. But you have to stick with it. Form can dip, the manager can seem negative and grumpy, but at heart he's a good man. There are voices amongst the fans who want him out, Don't listen to them. Stick with it. He has a good scouting network, he finds gems, like our player of the year. Don't get your head turned by younger managers with fancy methods, something good is building at Rovers. The Academy at Brockhall is a treasure trove. Extend it. Make it the place the best kids want to come to. That's the place where investment is needed.

Blackburn is a multi-racial town, but Rovers supporters are mainly white working class men. This has changed a bit over the years, but don't expect to see much of an affinity with the local Asian population without a long hard effort to win hearts and minds and don't expect them flocking overnight. The current marketing and management team have been focused on shoring up what we have, but with your help greater links with India, with Asian communities and with other sports can expand Rovers as a brand.

You will have seen other owners of football clubs in the Premier League see their dreams shattered because they splash the money and lose it. Rovers have a heart and soul and a family spirit that is very much in touch with the roots of East Lancashire life. But it is just one aspect of our community. Build on that, extend deeper into that, and build the links with your own heritage - it could well yield commercial rewards and enable this club to move further forward.

Be realistic about what that could be. Be modest, be strong, value quality and there is a good chance that in the future there could be a statue of you next to the one of Uncle Jack.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Enron - How?

Doing what I do, the story of Enron and its collapse like a house of cards into a sea of oil was the most incredible story of our times. It was all the more remarkable that it took business magazine journalist Bethany McLean to first ask the question that no-one else would - is Enron overpriced?. Not an analyst, a regulator, a bank, or even a whisteblower from within, but a magazine journalist from Fortune.

The story has been made into a feature length documentary and a stage play. I saw it at the Lowry last night and it's terrific. A brilliantly staged production with some powerful devices to tell the story - the monsters in the cellar to represent the off balance sheet SPVs that Andy Fastow set up, for example.

It's a test for us as storytellers to make these tales compelling, but a test too to keep asking questions. Ironic that one of Enron's slogans was "Why?" the question that keeps being asked retrospectively is "How?"

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

The first cut is the deepest

There's nothing to celebrate about the government's deficit reduction plan. The billing that this was the moment that the public sector workers would learn their fate was always fanciful - it's not government by Radio 5 Live. There will be much to work through now, and much more detail to implement. But there is some comfort in the fact they're getting on with it. It had to happen. Every party supposedly understands the need to make the cuts. The question the Labour Party can't answer is which departmental spending cuts would they support now, and which ones  they wouldn't implement. That's the beauty of opposition though. It's not a privilege afforded to the Liberal Democrats, many of whom aren't naturally inclined to govern, just to make speeches.But they're now going to have their resolve tested.

Speaking of which, these set piece occasions always skim the surface and lead to pundits uttering the inevitable - "the devil is in the detail." 

Science budgets are protected, but the projects that were named were all in the South. It hopefully tilts the argument towards carbon capture and other green technologies being centred on the North.

There was a nod in the direction of rail improvements, but with price increases for tickets. The projects that have been identified initially were for electrification. I'm not sure that's the best use of resources. What about the Todmorden Curve, or the small improvements for massive gain that the Northern Hub will deliver? Details, details.

And what about those exciting plans for Local Enterprise Partnerships? They must have been in his speech when the sound went down. Or maybe not.

Monday, October 18, 2010

A sorry lot

AA Gill in the Sunday Times (behind the paywall) has re-ignited the Manchester Food Is Crap debate again. He reviewed Rosso, Rio Ferdinand and Mahmoud Kamani's Italian restaurant at the top of King Street, chosen one assumes, because it's a living breathing symbol of that blingy, WAG, faux gangsterish side of the city centre. "A sorry lot," he observed. First, I've not been to Rosso, so I'm in no position to defend it. Second, he's clearly a bit of an arse, but he plays the role well and would therefore have enjoyed the backlash in the Manchester Evening News, here and on Manchester Confidential, here.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Pendle prepares

Rachel's home town features in the Observer today. Nelson's demise is charted with some trepidation as the government prepares cuts. Despite Housing Market Renewal, the efforts of Ant and Vet to offer a bright future for Pennine Lancashire, jobs haven't been created and the place hasn't found a fresh purpose in the modern age. Re-reading the report seems apt now. It spoke of bottom up community action to revitalise the area as much as top down large statements and icons. More than ever it needs bold thinking.

My mate #8 - Jon Johnson

I've dabbled with Facebook and thought it wasn't for me. Being asked to "poke" young people isn't my thing really. Anyway, as I said yesterday I've piled in again. I'm glad I have for the connection to an old friend called Jon Johnson. We were mates when I lived in Western Australia in 1988-1989. He introduced me to an eclectic and bohemian crowd in a laid back city and contributed to a memorable year down under. I was thinking of him as we watched the last episode of series 3 of Mad Men last week, not for the mild Don Draper comparisons, which are real enough, but for a tangential episode with another character. Jon had a mate who followed him to London called James Martin, or so I thought. It turned out he was called something else. An engaging enough rogue, the last time I saw "James" was in Jon's flat in Holland Park as this bizarre unravelling took hold.
Another of our "crew" back in the day in Perth was an amazing character called Roy Jopson, who I shared a house with. Roy died in 2004. As I've chatted to JJ on Facebook this weekend he's recounted the detail of Roy's demise. It must have been a painful experience for Jon and other friends as they watched Roy bewildered in hospital as he reeled from brain cancer. Memories are one thing, but staying in touch with friends is much better and makes it more real.

Back on Facebook

I've registered with Facebook again. I got round to thinking I couldn't ignore it any longer. Anyway, it was instantly proven to be a good decision. I'm back in touch with an old pal now living in Tasmania. We had failed to find one another using other social media and searches, but bang, there he was. Another mate has started a new job in Dubai, and clearly uses Facebook to keep in touch much more than he uses email.

I also had a couple of chats last night with a mate in Morecambe and a bloke I know in China.

I'm going to keep it very social, much as I do with this blog I suppose. But look forward to staying in touch.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Some random October links

Tony Blair and Christopher Hitchens to debate the future of faith.

Finnish news reader gets sacked for this. Harsh.

There's a very excellent music video website I've discovered. Muzu TV.

I remember the RCP. This is where they went. Nutters.

Truly great interview with Gore Vidal in the New Statesman.

A magnificently stupid polemic by John Pilger in the New Stateman.

A website that is so brilliant it defies description. But look.

Norman Geras on leftish miscalculation.

Philip Blond interviewed by Ed West in the Catholic Herald.

The Marple underworld - car causes obstruction

I was rather taken with the stunt from Greater Manchester Police to highlight EVERY incident that is reported over a 24 hour period. Apart from learning that a car caused an obstruction in Marple, we were able to sleep in our beds safely here in leafy land.

Here are the stats:

"Between 5am on Thursday 14 October 2010 and 5am, today, Friday 15 October, the force has dealt with 3205 incidents and posted details of every single one on Twitter."

The cops reported it had been a success too. Here's the MEN report. Here's the BBC.

It ticks a lot of boxes about accountability and accessibility. More of that, please. It also gets across a harsh truth that the "hard working taxpayers" don't always like to confront. Not only are there a small and irritating number of horrible people out there doing a lot of horrible things, there are also a lot of very stupid people wasting time.

But I also noticed that the chief constable mentioned the decline of local media as a reason to use new technology like the social media channel Twitter. This is a good point. The facts bear it out too. I'm sure there was a heyday when the local daily paper, the local BBC and Granada would touch everyone. All the chief had to do was make a statement and it would be reported. Everyone would share the experience, most people would have a view. It's just not like that now. There may be many more outlets, including the daily news service in our office where a hive of activity spreads a dozen or more regional business stories every morning. But overall, we know so much less.

Knowledge and engagement about public services, indeed, anything that goes on around us has never been poorer. In a world where we supposedly can know everything about a bunch of rescued miners in Chile, or the takeover of Liverpool Football Club, we are surprised and outraged at what our local police have to do on a daily basis. There have never been as many ways to tell us stuff, but there actually seems to be less understanding of more things.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Celebrate 25 years of Marple Athletic at our Gala Dinner

I'm involved in organising a 25th anniversary dinner for Marple Athletic Junior Football Club.

The basic idea is it's a reunion dinner for players and managers from over the last quarter century in November.
The evening will be a chance for players to get together from over the years, as well as managers and coaches and anyone who has been involved in the club since Alan Rainford and Geoff Ryan started it all in 1985.
One of the players from the first ever line up is Tim Ryan, now the player-assistant manager at Stalybridge Celtic, who has enjoyed a career in professional football.

The guest speaker will be Fred Eyre, local football legend, BBC Manchester broadcaster, manager of many clubs in Greater Manchester grass roots football.

We've also got Justin Moorhouse, star of Phoenix Nights, Key 103 radio and a top stand up comedy performer.

The dinner will be held on Friday the 12th of November 2010 at Stockport County Football Club. Tickets are priced at £35, with discounts for a table of 10.  There will also be a memorabilia auction, a DJ for dancing and hopefully a few other special guests.

You can download a form on the club website.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Three cheers for Jimmy Armfield

I was lucky enough to get an invite to the North West Football Awards on Monday night. It was a long evening for a school night, but came to a lovely conclusion at 11:38 when Jimmy Armfield took the stage. The wise and warm BBC Radio 5 Live summariser was given a lifetime achievement award by Sir Bobby Charlton. Seeing the two of them share stories on stage about overlapping full backs was just amazing. A truly great moment.

I've always liked him. He always talks sense and is always fair minded. I remember him being linked with the Rovers job once and was quite excited, but he packed it in after spells at Bolton and Leeds. The only bad word I ever heard about him was at Bolton, where it was alleged by an ex player that he got rid of old photos as the club was living in the past.

Anyway, I could only find one link to the award as a story, here, in the Blackpool Gazette.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Who Let the Dog Out?

To be completely honest, I wasn't totally sold on getting a puppy. We have a lot to do as it is and she got under my feet to begin with. Today I think was a tipping point in my acceptance and my embrace of Martha, our border terrier. It was a glorious day. Clear sky, sunshine and very still. I just had the youngest two to look after as the older three went on a church trip. Getting our boys to go on even such a modest walk as the one to Mellor Cross from Mellor Golf Club would have been a nightmare three months ago. Today, all I had to say was "let's take Martha out, lads" and they were ready.
So here are the boys and Martha, in the foreground, at one of our local marvels.
What a view, eh?

Real ale, the Lakes and a ramble round Ambleside

There's a cracking blog post from a pal, over here. Just as it says in the header.
And some belting photos...

Wednesday, October 06, 2010

Downtown - everything's waiting for you

There's a feature on the Downtown Manchester in Business newsletter called Who Are Yer. Anyway, it's my turn this week. Nothing revealing, but it's here.

In praise of Bowers and Wilkins

I think I have discovered the company with the best customer service in the world, Bowers & Wilkins. My speakers were making a humming noise. I tried everything to fix it, but it wouldn't go away. I contacted them and they have made it right. More than that though, they were delightful to deal with. At every stage I've been kept informed and updated. And the speakers are bloody brilliant as well.  I can't account for musical taste, but as I type Tom Petty's Free Fallin; has never sounded so gorgeous.

Nobel prize winners at University of Manchester

Two scientists who discovered graphene at The University of Manchester have been awarded the Nobel Prize for Physics. There's some news here, from Wired, as to why.

Professor Andre Geim and Professor Konstantin Novoselov got the highest accolade in the scientific world for their pioneering work with the world’s thinnest material. Graphene was discovered at the University in 2004. It has rapidly become one of the hottest topics in materials science and solid-state physics.

This is great news. A real boost to this fine institution. I'm just ever so slightly sad that Professor Alan Gilbert didn't live to see this day. He'd have been so proud.

Monday, October 04, 2010

An open letter to...

There is chatter at the Rovers that a new bidder is soon to emerge. This time it's the Mahindra Brothers. I'll polish off that open letter again, but maybe I'll wait until they've actually done a deal. Happily, they won't comment on speculation.

Sunday, October 03, 2010

Why local papers are in decline

I buy the Stockport Express most weeks. I believe in local media. I want to support it too.

Now, last week, in Marple there was a festival. No-one got glassed, there wasn't a fire and no animals were harmed in its making. It was just a load of people eating food, listening to music and enjoying a fine community spirit. In fact, the week before the paper got into the mood by plugging it, here.

Would you know this from reading the local weekly paper this week? No, there is no mention. Surely this is a good story, a source of pictures, feel-good district news? The pie competition had a brilliant outcome - the winner was made from crayfish caught in the local canal. That's a good story on lots of levels.

And there is hardly any local junior sports coverage now. I'm beginning to wonder if it even exists in Stockport, and yet I know it is thriving.

Critics from the blogging fraternity will argue that this void will be filled by bloggers and citizen journalists. It won't. I'm a local blogger but I haven't written about it. I was away on a lad's trip to Munich. It has to be part of a systemic, organised and disciplined news organisation with values and priorities. And resources.

There is also a school of thought that says that community organisations, through the internet, will disseminate their own information through their own channels. Well, they haven't done so here. The Marple festival website is a guide to something that has happened. It's over. There are other sites promoting it, but not covering it.


Choked at Stoke

Three times in 18 months I've been to the Britannia Stadium to see Rovers play Stoke. Three times I've seen us fail to score. Three trips, three defeats. If it wasn't for the fact that the hospitality is so good and the trip is a relatively short one, I'd not bother next time.

It was frustrating, again, because I just don't think Stoke are much cop. The margin between victory and defeat can be narrow, yesterday it was too. They were there for the taking and at times Rovers were well on top in the first half. But Sam seems to think we have to compete with teams like this on their terms. So he drops the skillful Kalinic and goes for more hoofball.

Andy Cryer in the Lancashire Telegraph blog talks about the need for investment being crucial. He says the signing of Kenwyne Jones is proof that Stoke have a narrow edge over Rovers. I disagree. It's not about money, it's about tactics and attitude. You could pass around Stoke for fun, a few balls to feet and the likes of Huth and Shawcross would be in knots. Kalinic doesn't play, new Diouf is invisible. Old Diouf is our best threat. He gets taken off. We try more hoofball.

There's also this second half thing going on. Kevin Gallacher was in our lounge before the game and said pretty much the same thing. I don't know if it has anything to do with Sam being in technical area in the second half, but the difference in performance and tactics was noticeable.

Amazingly, it wasn't last on Match of the Day.