Tuesday, November 30, 2010

A World Cup worth winning?

How dreadful is FIFA? I mean, really? What a horrible and corrupt organisation. The bribes, the backhanders and the greed of officials is bad enough, but the contract that host countries have to sign up to was the single biggest thing that appalled me about Monday's Panorama. So, there's a chance now that the bid will be lost. And already they're lining up to blame "the British media" and the investigative reporter Andrew Jennings, a long time critic of FIFA who has waged a war against the organisation.

Jim White in the Daily Telegraph asks - was that it? - World Cup 2018: only loser is the BBC as Panorama programme fails to deliver knockout blow.

But as Paul Hayward asks in the Guardian - Do we really want to pay this price to host the 2018 World Cup?

This is a balanced and reflective piece from the Daily Maverick in South Africa.

I think it will be fun to have the World Cup here. And Manchester will be a central location for major games. On balance I still hope England wins. The decision will be broadcast in a live screen in Exchange Square in Manchester on Thursday. Then there are plans for parties around town. Or wakes. I suspect the only party will be at St Petersburg restaurant.

A few more links for the end of the month

Blair v Hitchens. Is religion a force for good. I think the odds were rather stacked against TB.

A Phil Townsend jigsaw. Right, that's Christmas sorted. For the record, I really like Phil. I think he's a genuine bloke and hope he can take a joke.

New issue of Proper is out soon.

How the Irish stimulus package works

My pal Tim Murphy forwarded me this, allegedly from the Irish Independent....

IT IS a slow day in a sleepy little Irish town. The rain is beating down and the streets are deserted.

Times are tough, everybody is in debt, and everybody lives on credit.

On this particular day a rich tourist is driving through the town, stops at the local hotel and lays a €100 note on the desk, telling the hotel owner he wants to inspect the rooms upstairs in order to pick one to spend the night.

The owner gives him some keys and, as soon as the visitor has walked upstairs, the hotelier grabs the €100 note and runs next door to pay his debt to the butcher.

The butcher takes the €100 note and runs down the street to repay his debt to the pig farmer.

The pig farmer takes the €100 note and heads off to pay his bill at the supplier of feed and fuel.

The guy at the Farmers' Co-op takes the €100 note and runs to pay his drinks bill at the pub.

The publican slips the money along to the local prostitute drinking at the bar, who has also been facing hard times and has had to offer him "services" on credit.

The hooker then rushes to the hotel and pays off her room bill to the hotel owner with the €100 note. The hotel proprietor then places the €100 note back on the counter so the rich traveller will not suspect anything.

At that moment the traveller comes down the stairs, picks up the €100 note, states that the rooms are not satisfactory, pockets the money, and leaves town.

No one produced anything. No one earned anything. However, the whole town is now out of debt and looking to the future with a lot more optimism.

And that, ladies and gentlemen, is how the stimulus package works.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

An apology to my children

The most extreme optimist in me anticipated making an apology to you this weekend. I had a few invites to Old Trafford for the Manchester United v Blackburn Rovers match, but I chose one that didn't include any of you. I chose instead to go with a mate in an executive box, have a few drinks, have a chinwag and had all the best intentions of witnessing a good match. So, in the back of my mind I had that pang of guilt that you might miss out on the one game when Rovers sprung a surprise. Fat chance.

In life we all have choices. I hope you feel you have had the choice of football team to support. Three of you have followed my preference with great enthusiasm. One of you isn't bothered at all and one of you has bravely chosen to support another team entirely. In doing so that declaration comes with baggage. In this case, you support a team that has been battered by the team that most of your mates at school support. Because of that choice you will have to face all manner of jibes at school on Monday. Sorry.

I hope I've always been honest and realistic about what Rovers means to me and what it can mean to you too. A "small town in Europe" has been as good as it's got for us in your lifetimes. And some semi-finals. Brave, plucky, occasionally surprising, but always dogged and honest. I see some of that in the way the two keenest Rovers fans amongst you play football. Never fear anyone, stand up to bullies and give all you've got.

Oh dear. The Rovers performance at Old Trafford had none of that. Instead it was awestruck, gutless, leaderless, incompetent, weak, defeated, pitiful and humiliating. Sorry.

All I can say is that it's the worst I've ever seen. I first saw Rovers in 1975. I've been going regularly since 1977. The previous worst result was a 6-0 defeat at Manchester City in 1983, but that was a one-off, we had a good season that year and finished sixth in Division 2. I can't promise a bright future, but it will get better. Stick with it.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Rosso - my verdict

It's taken one year, two days and a few false starts, but I finally got to eat in Rosso restaurant yesterday. I have tried to go, but they had a burst drain, as I explained here.

Rio Ferdinand and the Khamani brothers have made a bit of a splash. At the weekend it's quite the place for a certain crowd. And you might remember AA Gill gave it a stinging review, link from here, which Roger Cashman valiantly defended here.

Anyway, it hasn't changed too much from when it was Establishment, a fairly lavish restaurant that closed down. The overwhelming elements are still the quite magnificent domed ceilings and the marble surfaces. If they have spent some more, then I didn't spot the difference apart from rather tacky photos on the wall of the footballers and various celebrities who've been in.

To try and be fair to the food I ordered a prawn starter and a Vitello a la Milanese, my house favourite at Piccolino. Neither were as flavoursome or well cooked as the original. One of the lads I was with had a splendid seafood medley for a starter, which I thought was a bit over the top. He expected smaller. For his main he had a huge Dover Sole while the other lad had tuna steak. We all had tomato salad, which wasn't up to much. But on the whole the food was "OK".

Service was attentive and swift when it needed to be. Though one waiter spilled some water.

The ability to have a conversation sat in an alcove was a definite plus. I would commend Rosso for that. Piccolino and San Carlo are so noisy and full of atmosphere you have a headache straining to concentrate some times.

Yes, I'd go back. But I'd be tempted to test the menu a bit more and possibly to see the circus of a weekend evening.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Some good telly

By jove there's some good telly kicking around at the moment.

First of all, there's this tourist video made by Michael Winterbottom for the NWDA called The Trip. From what I've seen so far it's Rob Brydon and Steve Coogan doing impressions and just talking and then taking in some incredible scenery. I'm curious as to whether this can sustain itself, but I rather suspect it can.

Second, the new Jimmy McGovern series The Accused got off to a barnstorming start with a mesmerising morality tale starring Christopher Eccleston. There was little love and no humour, which felt wrong, but it made for a greater impact.

Thirdly, I probably would have enjoyed Any Human Heart on Channel 4 much more if hadn't been on Channel 4. Sorry, but I was tired, it was a late night and the adverts just made it drag on. The next one I will watch on the V+ recorder and skip the ads. Thanks for new technology even an idiot like me can work. That aside it was clever, funny, observant and expansive. Brideshead meets Our Friends in the North. Epic.

Finally, I really, really enjoy Match of the Day 2 on Sunday nights. Obviously I really enjoyed this week because Rovers' win over Aston Villa was on (last, of course, last out of two, but still last). The presenter and pundits are SO much better than the smug old farts on Saturday's version.

I insulate myself from cooking programmes, reality TV, Pop Factor, Jungle Fever and all of that utter, utter crap. Life is too short, it really is.

What it's all about

Read this. The perfect party. From David Hepworth.

Thoughts on the new Rovers owners

I've had a chance to sit down and compose a few thoughts on the takeover at Blackburn Rovers. Rather than repeat myself, here is what I wrote on the Insider blog.

In summary, the whole deal is so much less about what Venky's can do for Rovers, and more about what Rovers can do for an ambitious Indian business keen to be talked about in the upper echelons of international business.

As a fan, rather than as a journalist, you have to remain optimistic that the primary concern should lead to a responsible and sustainable stewardship. Nothing more.

As for the idea to rename Ewood Park? I'm dead against it. Bad move on every level. No club has EVER renamed their ground. They may have moved to new grounds, like the Britannia, the Reebok and the Emirates. I cannot think of a traditional stadium that has been renamed. The name change from the JJB to the DW doesn't count. There's this here.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

East Fife 5, Forfar 4

I noticed that East Fife played Forfar today. The score was 3-1.

Apparently they've never given James Alexander Gordon cause to read out that score, but according to this, the result has gone the other way with Forfar netting 5 to East Fife's 4. In 1963.

Friday, November 19, 2010

A new era for Blackburn Rovers

So, we have new owners now. And the Rao family now has a unique chance to make Blackburn Rovers a sustainable and successful club. I've had my reservations, but it's time to welcome the new owners and give them all the help and understanding they'll need to make it a success.

The outgoing Walker Trustees seem to think they've found good owners. Paul Egerton-Vernon, chairman, said: "We are very pleased to be passing on the Rovers to the Rao family. We have been impressed with their enthusiasm for the Club and their plans and ideas for developing it further. We are particularly pleased that the Club will continue in family ownership and that the existing management team at the Rovers led by John Williams will continue unchanged. We would like to express our gratitude and admiration for the great job John and his team have done for the Club whilst it has been part of the Trust."

Anuradha J Desai, the Chairperson of Venky’s, said: “We are delighted, proud and humbled to be associated with Blackburn Rovers, a team with whom we share many values and ambitions. Going forward we plan to focus on leveraging the global influence in establishing Blackburn Rovers as a truly global brand. We absolutely respect the Jack Walker legacy and will be actively supporting the organisation to ensure that Blackburn Rovers remains one of the best run clubs within the Premier League.”

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

A few web gems from round and about

Here are a few links to some poignant, thoughtful and inspiring things I've seen in the last week.

Helen Newlove has started a blog in her role as the champion for active, safer communities.

A mountain I'm willing to die on. A mother's thoughts on bullying. Hat tip: Toby Scott.

A warm and revealing profile on Christopher Hitchens by Andrew Anthony. 

Social enterprises and public service delivery. From the Guardian today.

Richard Littlejohn gets mugged on his own show by Johann Hari. Hilarious. Even though Hari is an irritating dweeb, this is great.

A very good new blog I've found from Solly. The egotistical musings and mutterings of a tabloid journalist with too much time on his hands who is determined to post a new blog every day for a year without mentioning football. Hat tip: Ear I Am.

Jay Rayner on The Trip.

Yotam Ottolenghi. That is all.

I was going to review the new "i" newspaper, which I quite like. But this review says it all. Hat tip: Bracknell Blog.

Technology addiction. From Fast Company.

What did God give us, Neil? God gave us life, Nigel? Tribute to Half Man Half Biscuit from Ear I Am.

Finally, business, the big society and Bolton. From North West Business Insider.

San Carlo Cicchetti

I went to the new San Carlo Cicchetti today. It was described to us by the waiter as an Italian Tapas bar.

There were lots of small portions of things to share and everything was delicious - calamari, scallops, lamb chops in egg, livers, prawns and meatballs. As a spot for lunch I was impressed. That's even after they cocked up our order a bit. Some spicy sausage pizza never arrived, but it was on the bill, and there was a misunderstanding over our coffees.

The crowd were more casual shoppers and wealthy looking ladies who lunch, but I imagine they'd like to get more business lunch people dropping in. The blokes I went with were directed across the road from the main San Carlo, which wasn't a bad ploy. I also hear they do breakfasts. Sharp move, I like it.

So, well done San Carlo, another winner.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

The day I went to Neil Diamond's house

Watching Neil Diamond on TV doing the Electric Proms has rekindled a memory so bizarre that it almost doesn't feel real.

In my previous job - 12 years ago! - I used to get to the USA a couple of times a year to cover a couple of trade shows. I became good friends with Colleen O'Mara, the editor of a magazine in Hollywood, who went on to start her own PR company and we stayed in touch.

In the summer of 1997 we went on holiday to California and made the effort to contact Colleen. I got on really well with her boyfriend, Matt, and she invited us to a 4th of July party at Matt's parents' yacht club in Marina del Ray. Which was nice.

I enjoyed meeting Matt's Dad, Harvey. He was an interesting character who knew lots about lots. He also had a very fetching Neil Diamond casual tour jacket. I shared my own personal stories about how the great man provided the soundtrack to my youth as my parents were also big fans.

On the drive back to West Hollywood one of the other couples broke the news. Harvey was Neil Diamond's brother. Whaaaaat! I started reeling, wondering what I might have said that could have caused offence. Oh shit, did I say that Urge Overkill improved Girl You'll Be A Woman Soon? Did I?

The answer came the next morning when Matt, not Colleen, called me at our hotel and asked if we fancied coming over for a barbecue with his parents, who liked us. Where? His Uncle's house in Malibu!

So, long story short, we enjoyed a very pleasant afternoon eating food overlooking the Pacific Ocean on the balcony of Neil Diamond's house with a bunch of lovely friends of my new pal's parents. I swam in the sea and said hello to the young lad from the house next door who was cooling off. John Cusack. As you do. Neil, I should clarify, was at his other house. In Aspen.

A few years later Matt and Colleen got married and we went back for the wedding in San Francisco, this time with Joseph, then 18 months old. We got to meet Neil, who was a very kind man, but I wasn't quite as shameless and brash then and didn't get in his face the way I would now.

But what stuck in my mind was how he was also really encouraging to Susanna, the sister of another of our LA pals, who is a Canadian folk singer and musician. She performed a few of her haunting numbers and he was very impressed. I tell a story about meeting her and her father here.

Showbiz is around every corner in California, and you get very blase about it. The group of friends we hung out with over there see it all the time, many of them work in entertainment, but ultimately, at a family wedding he was just my friend's Uncle. And as time goes on, you look back and think - crazy times.

MARPLE ATHLETIC 25 years - Picture gallery

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Justin Moorhouse is Zack

Top comedian Justin Moorhouse is to appear at the Royal Exchange as the lead in Zack, a Harold Brighouse play. Good luck mate. This guy is fantastic. He did a turn at our football club dinner (pictured, thanks to Colin Hughes) and was a knockout. Really, really good. He was also a superb judge at the Y Factor charity event I'm involved in. There's a very nice blog he's done here about how he feels he's getting on.

My mate #9 - Jason Isaacs

Eagle eyed readers of this blog may have noticed we have been advertising the Marple Athletic Junior Football Club 25th anniversary dinner. We held it last night at Edgeley Park and it was a great success. There were lots of people there, lots of smiling faces from the chaps that started the club in 1985 - well before my time - and a few quid raised to help with the running of the club.

As well as organising the event in the run up to it, I also compered proceedings on the night. Part of which was a chance to introduce the chairman of the club, my mate Jason Isaacs, pictured left with me and speaker Fred Eyre. Here's a rough summary of my intro to him last night and how we know each other as part of this ongoing series of blogs about my mates.

When my eldest son was playing for the Under 8s, one day a different bloke turned up to take training. Joe was full of it, "Jason showed us this, Jason showed us that." As a Dad, you can get a bit jealous of other male role models encroaching on your "My Dad, My Hero" space.

A few weeks later, me and Rachel turned up at the 2006 footy club Christmas do. All the Mums were telling us that this Jason character was a bit of face around Marple back in the day and that he was quite the catch as a young lad. Ok, right. The Dads who grew up round here said he was a good footballer as well.

Then this lovely woman came over for a chat: funny, attractive, welcoming. Who's that? Yes, you guessed it, Jason's wife, Marion.

Changing the subject I asked what the entertainment was going to be that night. Came the reply: "Jason's band". Please tell he's the drummer, I said.

The band, A Few Good Men, with Jason on lead vocals and guitar were brilliant and we've seen them loads of times since. They're a superb covers band and they always put on a good show and change their set every time.

Since then, we've both got involved in the club, Jason as chairman, me as media monkey and we've had some good laughs along the way. He's also taken over Joe's team as they've moved into 11-a-side and played his part in turning my son into a very good footballer, much better than I ever was. Not that I'm jealous.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Down to the sea in ships

I hosted an event on Wednesday at the Port of Liverpool building at Pier Head. It is a remarkable building, quite stunning and quite majestic. I was immediately struck by the inscription in the atrium, a quote from Psalm 107: "They that go down to the sea in ships, that do business in great waters; These see the works of the LORD, and his wonders in the deep."

And to give it a full exposition: "For he commandeth, and raiseth the stormy wind, which lifteth up the waves thereof. They mount up to the heaven, they go down again to the depths: their soul is melted because of trouble. They reel to and fro, and stagger like a drunken man, and are at their wits' end. Then they cry unto the LORD in their trouble, and he bringeth them out of their distresses. He maketh the storm a calm, so that the waves thereof are still. Then are they glad because they be quiet; so he bringeth them unto their desired haven."

I was interviewing the owner of the building, George Downing, who is a real character and worthy holder of Insider's Property Personality of the Year Award. If you get the chance, drop in. Downing Developments have done a marvellous job preserving the stained glass windows and restoring the natural light into the atrium from the domed ceiling.

Coverage of the event is here. Everton and Liverpool should share a new stadium, says George. And by George, he's right.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Chicken feed

David Conn writes on the Blackburn Rovers takeover in the Guardian today, link is here.

Wigan chairman Dave Whelan has been typically hard headed and realistic about it. He thinks it feels wrong. I agree. And I wonder if for football this isn't a deal too far.

What are the alternatives? Well, the trust have explored these and there aren't any, it would appear. But should the deal go through to sell Blackburn Rovers to Venkys, then I must confess to feeling a little empty about it all. They are making all the right noises about Asian support and the values of the club, but at the end of the day it’s a profile raiser for them. And they ain’t in the same league as Abramovich or the Abu Dhabi mob who bought Manchester City, so not much will change on the financial front, except the trustees in Jersey will be a shut of an asset their benefactor created all of £25m of value.

Maybe I'm looking at it too emotionally. I chose to support Blackburn Rovers as a cosy homespun and traditional Lancashire club. And never in my wildest 11-year old dreams in 1977 did I think I’d be taking my kids to see Rovers play in the top division, to cup finals, semi-finals let alone in Europe. It’s been an amazing 20 years and we all enjoyed the Walker years.

But it saddens me to think that Blackburn Rovers will become some kind of marketing arm of a chicken manufacturer from India.

There was surely the opportunity to convert the interest of the Walker Trust into a community mutual. And if this deal doesn’t go through, then I for one would support that as the next step, rather than this slightly humiliating public auction we’ve endured for the last 6 months and the uncertainty in the 10 years since Jack died.

Anyway, we're beating the barcodes. And that's always a good feeling.

Sunday, November 07, 2010

Marple fireworks - amazing

The Marple fireworks were awesome this year. Brabyns Park lit up beautifully. Here's a quality pic from Steve Grace, taken from the bridge over the train station.

Fans should own football

Prior to the Rovers match against Wigan I had a quick catch up with Proper Journalist David Conn. The Guardian journalist and sometime Insider contributor was at Ewood Park to ask around about the imminent takeover. There'll be more to come on this in the next day or so, but it was good to hear his tales from the night before in Rochdale. David had been at Spotland to see FC United of Manchester win a dramatic FA Cup tie.

There can't be many football fans who don't have admiration for what the Rebels have done. Fed up with corporate football, fed up with being ripped off to service the debt of the American owners, they started their own club. I like the integrity of non-league football and the raw ambition to build a new club here. I know a couple of the lads involved and it's a great coalition of interests and characters. Communists and rapacious capitalists, joined by a passion to make it all work.

As Rovers stand on the brink of a new era of ownership, we reflected on what a missed opportunity it appears to be.

Take it away Morten

So, there we were at the world's worst service station, Rivington on the M61. We were on our way back from Blackburn Rovers v Wigan and alongside us in his BMW X6, a ludicrous car, is Morten Gamst Pedersen. Pic here.

It was a great opportunity to tell him just what we'd been talking about in the car a few minutes earlier.

Pedersen, you are a lightweight fancy dan in a muscular team of hoofers. At best you'd see a role as a midfield sweeper upper, picking up a loose ball and playing a neat short pass to one of the Dioufs. But you don't even do that well. Your long balls are too long, you can't tackle, you're not brave and you pull out of challenges. Wigan scored a goal that was ruled out. It should have counted and it was your fault. You lost the ball in the middle of the park, which led to the free kick, which led to their goal. You should have scored a headed goal as well. But the keeper saved it. Head it down, man, not up. What do you do in training, because you never get any better?

And then you scored a screamer. A free kick that caused mayhem that floated in at the back post. Did you mean it?

Do you really think we said any of that to him. A middle aged man with his 11 year old son? Articulate in private, mildly star struck in person. No, of course we didn't. We didn't say anything in fact. MGP seemed happy. But then you would wouldn't you?

And one of the reasons is there's this very amusing advert for fruit. This enigma is a superstar in Norway, he gets to do adverts for fruit. What's that all about?

Here's his own blog here. Where, in his words, "we played a shit first half".

Thursday, November 04, 2010

Some cool stuff

Look at this - Makeamixa - make a mix tape, just the like old days - but with a modern digital twist. From those wonderful people at Magnetic North in Manchester.

My pal Charlotte Bacci has opened a wool shop in Manchester. Check out Purl City Yarns.

Don Draper says "what" a lot. Hat tip: The Word

Some lush winter knitwear from Albam Clothing. Toasty. They sell a few Albam pieces in Oi Polloi on Tib Street.

New wool Wier Hats from the Casual Connoisseur.

Roger Cashman's spirited defence of Rosso.

Tomorrow's World introduces the possibility of the world's first mobile phone in 1978. (Hat tip: The Word)

Some pics and stuff from a day trip to Lancaster by Red Bricks and Coal.

Tuesday, November 02, 2010

Cafe Culture in Marple - love it

There's been a bit of competition in the foodie scene in Marple. I would hazard a guess it isn't anything like as acrimonious as the store wars in Rose Hill.

Toast deli has opened a new shop on the corner of Derby Way, just along from All Things Nice, itself a recent opening. Both are run by lovely passionate people who want to serve new and interesting food. I've been enjoying some bacon butty banter with the owner on Twitter and he's taken up a suggestion to punt his wares on a daily basis on the social networking site.

I do love All Things Nice. The owner, who also runs an outside catering business, The Travelling Gourmet very kindly shares recipes and tips. There's a lovely buzz in the cafe and the deli whenever I go in, which is too infrequently.

Also good news is that Toast has turned the Market Street shop, which was always too pokey for my liking, into a lovely, moody wine emporium. The staff also seem to know what they're talking about. I enjoyed  a aromatic Barolo 1994 from there last week. They also stock the wine that defied the infidels - Chateau Musar, from Lebanon. Beautiful.

One casualty appears to be that Deli Select on Hollins Lane has closed. Does anyone know what has happened here?

PS - Update 4/11/2010 -  The guy at Deli Select is in business with the guy at Toast.

Get well soon Danny Baker

This blog wishes Danny Baker all the very best of luck in his battle with cancer. His statement was full of the wit and wisdom we've come to love him dearly for: "Once the quacks have soundly thrashed this thing I shall return like a rare gas and as if out of a trap."

North face - Spooks in far fetched shocker

As the current series of Spooks drives headlong into a dramatic conclusion can I confess to feeling a little out of patience with the script writers. It is a ludicrous complaint to level at a series built on the very foundation rock of preposterous flights of fancy, but I just can't buy into the current Lucas North story.

Let me explain. Spooks is essentially a character-based drama set in a workplace. As it's a domain that deals with issues none of us have any experience of, we have to suspend any sense of realism or believability. No, that's not my issue. I just can't get my head around the simple identity theft of Lucas North's life by "John". It doesn't square with any of the actions and desires and sacrifices hitherto made by the same character. Or MI5's vetting procedures. As a storyline it has lost its way completely.

This is shame, I like Iain Glenn's character Vaughn Edwards, good murky wheeling and dealing at the fringes of Spookdom. Glenn is also superb at the bluff and double bluff he brings to each scene.

So, I'm still hooked, still buzzing from it and can't wait for next week's episode.

As for Harry and Ruth. Get a room. Please.