Saturday, December 31, 2016

2016 - I've had a great year thanks

In the Spring of 1992 Labour lost an election, Rovers looked like blowing their promotion push and I was single and skint. I sat in the pub around the corner from work before heading out on a US trip to cover a trade show, which I was mildly dreading, and one of our grumpy subs told me to pull myself together and that these things didn't matter, life goes on. To a 25-year old in London it really felt like the worst of times. The following week, while in Las Vegas, where things went better than I feared, I heard the devastating news that my dear friend Julie had been murdered in New Orleans.

Nothing could ever make right what happened to Julie, nothing ever has, but as regarding the other things - they really didn't matter. Life did go on, but if I learnt anything that summer it was that there are some things you can control, take responsibility for and change and some things you can't. You also can't do it on your own. I realised how much I loved my friends and family. I went on to make many more catastrophic mistakes and rode with the highs and lows of life with all its relative triumphs and disasters.

So, to 2016. I look back as everyone does and think of Trump and Brexit and Corbyn and Venky's. I read back through this blog and it occurs to me that because it focuses on Rovers and Labour then it must seem like I live my life in a perpetual state of existential disappointment. I really don't. There is so much more to life than what we choose to display on the surface.

Well, this time last year I was sizing up a new start and a new job at Manchester Metropolitan University. I've enjoyed it more than I dared to dream. It's made me realise how much I appreciate smart people, new challenges and a strong sense of mission. Same with the two businesses I'm on the board of - Liberty won SIPP provider of the year and New Charter Housing crowned a year of resilience with an honour for our chief executive Ian Munro.

Beyond that this has been a momentous year for our peer group from back in 1992 - we've hit 50, John and Rachel Dixon had a tremendous party in July, Chris's stag hike and wedding were joyous occasions. As was my own special day with my Rachel watching New Order and then having a day with my parents, sister and family.

So, do have a happy new year. Things can get better. Some things matter and others are more in the background than we probably appreciate.

Monday, December 26, 2016

Barnsley away - the tipping point for Owen Coyle

Our pre-match prediction ritual sees us each have a stab at the score. We all thought Rovers would lose 3-2 today. It would have been the fourth such score in a row. As it was, it would actually have been a pretty fair result.

Barnsley worked out our weaknesses and used what they had to beat us. No problem with that.

But once again this season Rovers looked like the parts just don't fit together properly. As the remaining 10 players left the pitch, a few people screamed the cry of the angry - "you're not fit to wear the shirt". I don't agree with that. It wasn't for lack of effort that we lost the game, but that the team is set out all wrong, they aren't fit enough and substitutions only serve to disrupt what cohesion the team has. Charlie Mulgrew looked decent in both positions, but his excellent long weighted passes found the two players least able to outpace and weave past a defence to score. Had Sam Gallagher been played in the position he excels - centre forward - the chance of a goal would have been far greater.

Inevitably much of the post-match discussion has centred on the fans who gave the manager a hard time at the end of the game. Owen Coyle has never been liked by the fans, but this was the first game I've been to where the hatred was fully vented. Make no mistake, he's always been on a sticky wicket, but a fourth straight defeat on top of everything else we've seen over the last five years isn't likely to prompt any other response than anger. His response in the post-match interview was that they came "with their own agenda". Oh dear.  In an answer straight out of the Jerome Anderson playbook he tried to isolate the most vocal fans from the rest. It's hardly as if fans protesting against the owners are new, nor is it likely that 1400 people would fork out £23 each and travel on a cold Bank Holiday because they're plotting a new sinister agenda that means they'll fail to support their team if we were to score, or heaven forbid, to win.

This isn't going to end well for anyone. Under any other circumstances Coyle would be on his way out by now. The only thing likely to ease the hostility towards the owners is either a winning streak, or a manager to absorb all that frustration. But as we've been here before under these wretched Venkys, the circus of the absurd just rolls on.

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Dear Rovers, sorry, but I'm not not coming on Saturday, I'm sick of you

Dear Rovers,

I'm not not coming on Saturday, I've had enough of you.

Put it this way, Brighton and Hove Albion are top of the league and therefore the best team in the Championship right now. Trouble is, on the evidence of last night, I thought they were bang average. Player for player they weren't that much better than Blackburn Rovers. They were better enough though, and on the night a few players of ours had real stinkers - Evans (just had a rotten game), Marshall (body language and attitude all wrong), Steele (at fault for the third goal), Greer (for getting sent off). Add to that - Emnes made no impact, Gallagher was wasted on the wing.

The difference almost every week is courage and strategy. Once again last night, faced with a Brighton midfield standing there being midfield players, Jason Lowe, Corry Evans, Hope Akpan and Ben Marshall did what they must have practiced in training every night, they turned backwards, or passed it sideways. It wasn't even what you would describe as a pressing game. But logic surely dictates that if you are going to foresake the hoof up to the forwards and play through the middle, you will at some point have to take a player on, or make a forward pass.

And frankly, when Liam Feeney is the answer, it must have been a stupid question.

Rovers, I am sick of it. I really can't face it this Saturday, and the 10,345 crowd you will announce for the home game against Reading will actually not include the three seats we won't be occupying.

Hope you win, see you at Barnsley.

Monday, December 12, 2016

This is the day

Make a diary note, get out the popcorn and get ready for the change.

A year from now, the 12th of December 2017, Labour will have closed the gap on the Conservatives in the polls, Jeremy Corbyn will be on course for 10 Downing Street.

It's true, Diane Abbott and Ken Livingstone have said so yesterday. A 17 point lead isn't acceptable and it will have to change. It's a marker, an ambition, a hope, but it's also a threat.

These things aren't coincidences. Two close allies like that don't come out with things like this randomly.

But really? It's not just that the gap will be narrowed. It will be closed.

Honestly, do you really think that's going t happen? No, me neither. Corbyn will limp on as ineptly and as dismally as he has since he was elected. The only difference is the Parliamentary Labour Party will let him get on with it. The polls won't narrow, if anything they will widen. He will then be under pressure. But the PLP won't be the ones to wield the axe, for the most part they are currently playing a safe strategy, or as Andrew Rawnsley called it a "shut up strategy" shoring up Labour's base in their constituencies, circulating ideas to renew social democracy - examples include Chuka Umunna and Alison McGovern's paper on the economy.

There's a realisation across the party that he's here to stay, that the leadership challenge merely strengthens Corbyn, gives him a purpose to define himself by what he's against, rather than having to actually come up with anything meaningful on his own.

A putsch will come then, and the marker is down. I don't know whether Abbott means it or not when she says he will prevail. But the moves will be from within the clique of Abbott, McDonnell and Livingstone. They will realise what is so obvious, Corbyn is a liability, even by their narrow standards. He won't be given the chance to own his own electoral failure, but don't for one moment think I believe this is in any way a disaster from which Labour can recover.

Sunday, December 11, 2016

Me and my Dad at Deepdale, 1972 - 2016

The crowd around Deepdale was excitable for the derby game, boisterous rather than violent, beer had been drunk, the police were very much in evidence. After an incident where rowdy fans blocked the view when they should have been more considerate, family duties being what they are, the father and son moved to a safer spot for a better view. The role of protector requires wisdom, experience, but more than anything a firm desire to make this experience a treasured one, placing comfort and enjoyment of the match ahead of a desire to bounce around with the lads.

My Dad could have written that about taking the 6 year old me to Deepdale for Preston North End v Burnley in April 1973, my first ever match. As it is, I'm writing today after taking him, aged 72, to see the Rovers. We missed the first goal, due to boozy young lads blocking the gangway, so moved, just as we shifted to the front in 1973 when North End fans flooded onto the pitch to celebrate the goal that ultimately kept them up (pictured).

We've shared so many memories of watching football together over the years - there's a link here about my 20 strongest football memories - but as Rovers have got worse, and as Dad's got older, we've been to fewer games together.

Before the game Dad explained to his North End supporting pals that we used to come to Deepdale, but I chose Rovers. I shuffled from foot to foot as I would being introduced to a girl I used to go out with in my school days. Not shame at having caused hurt, or embarrassment, just a shrug and a look as if to say 'it's not you, it's me'. That was then, and this is now.

Running my Dad through the unrecognisable Rovers team yesterday I quoted Jim Wilkinson's description of Jason Lowe and Corry Evans:

They are the generic, faceless, run-around-a-lot but contribute-little, jobbing 21st century huffers and puffers who will leave no indelible mark whatsoever on the memory save for the pub-quiz moments when they contrived to score their once/twice a decade goals. 

Keep your eyes on Graham though, he's a poacher, a cut above, I said. The ball can stick to Emnes' feet if he gets the chance, Williams is a decent defender. Both our centre halves are playing out of position, Charlie Mulgrew's getting better, I hope he stays fit, I said. Liam Feeney wouldn't have got in the Rovers Full Members Cup Final side we watched lift the trophy in 1987, let alone the Wrexham team we saw draw with Roma in 1984.

We know how it worked out. Rovers are a team with goals in them, but are a couple of players short and lack a proper game plan.

Before the game all the songs were about Burnley, obsessively, defiantly so. As if to say to Preston, we don't care about you. "What do this lot think of having an ex-Burnley manager in charge?" my Dad asked.

At the final whistle, with him long gone back to meet his lift back to Lancaster and me reunited with my teenage lads, I saw the response to Owen Coyle as he made an attempt to applaud the travelling fans. Put it this way, it's not language I'd use in front of my Dad.

Friday, December 09, 2016

Missing pieces of The Missing

The Missing on BBC this winter has been one of the best series of a very good year for TV drama. Brilliantly acted, superbly written and it managed to create an atmosphere of almost complete intrigue and edge.

As a piece of linear narrative it is an odd tale, but the shifting in time gives it a deeper and more palpable sadness, a horrible view through a rear view mirror of how the past contributed to the mess of the present day. 

Everyone you knew who had seen it had theories, some of the more outlandish ones even turned out to be true. It kept you guessing right until the very end. 

My favourite TV review site, Den of Geek, has this superb loose end gathering

Here are mine: 

Lt Stone was faking his dementia, it helped him not have to confront the fact he'd led his friend to be killed and it protected him from the horrors he saw in Iraq. 

Nadia Herz was up to far more than losing control of Adam Gettrick and her squad.

No-one has quite answered why Daniel Reed wanted to fight for the Peshmerga when his unpaid debt was to a family of a Saddam Republican Guard. Clearly the shadowy figure tailing Baptiste was a red herring, but it suggests deeper corruption and malpractice from 1991.

Did Daniel Reed survive? 

Will Matthew walk away from his grim German pals if he escapes prosecution? 

Though there is no doubt in my mind at all that Julien Baptiste has survived. Series three may be a couple of years away, but we'll need it after all that excitement.