Saturday, September 15, 2018

What’s the story - televised glory? Magic Dack and a ready made Villain

If you want to know the way that television influences games, then it was there tonight at Ewood Park in flashing LED lighting, flashing as obviously and ostentatiously as adverts for bookies, vapers and the Venky’s.

It was always going to be about Dack versus Grealish whether the game turned out that way or not.

For the most part it didn’t. The referee protected the pound shop Ronaldo like a precious newly born pup. Giving him soft free-kicks and refusing to book him for the kind of gamesmanship that clipped Corry Evans’ wings with a yellow card minutes earlier. By the time he fell like a rag doll from a nothing challenge from Harrison Reed, earning the free kick, he shouldn’t have been on the pitch if the referee had applied the same standards of footballing justice he had dispensed to others.

You can’t tell me that the referee wasn’t showboating for the cameras. In his mind was how this would play to Sky’s pre-scripted narrative. Grealish is one of those players for whom an occasion like this has to pivot on his contribution to it. Except it wasn’t at all, not even close. And then there was that cheap free-kick he won. Though to be fair, the lad that curled it into the bottom left deserves some credit for a strike of such quality.

On a long list of things that frequently irritate me about a day out at Ewood is the choice of Peter Jackson the Jeweller Man of the Match, which is usually wrong. It wasn’t the player I’d have chosen, but then I don’t get invited as a guest of said jeweller. It wasn’t Charlie Mulgrew, Ryan Nyambe, Elliot Bennett or Danny Graham. Or one of the two players who were substituted who did such a good job of souring Sky’s script and snuffling out Grealish. No, of course it wasn’t. It was Bradley Dack. It was always going to be Bradley Dack, because he scored what they call in the trade “a Sky goal” and because he’s Bradley Dack. Don’t get me wrong, I love the Medway Messi. I thought his goal was a work of unbridled genius that deserved to win us the game. But what do I know?

So we get home, way past 9pm, after dropping the eldest at his university digs, the bitter disappointment dissipated somewhat by our usual way of dealing with it, swearing a lot and playing music. Yet Sky are telling everyone who wasn’t there that the story of the night was the one they always wanted it to be.

I’d have been happy with a draw today as Aston Villa are a team with decent players in it. Whether they are a decent team is Steve Bruce’s problem, not ours. Our frustrations are another late equaliser, and some odd substitutions. Notably the bizarre introduction of Ben Brereton, a non-tackling striker in a wingers position. But I was confused by the lack of courage from Bell and Armstrong in attacking either empty spaces or an ageing full back. They might not face as experienced an opponent as Alan Hutton this season, but they will face faster ones and when they do they will look on tonight as an opportunity missed.

To end on a positive. Charlie Mulgrew was commanding and composed tonight. Ryan Nyambe gets better every game. Lenihan lives dangerously, but what a warrior. And yes, Dack is immense, but the story the Rovers fans have been stewing on all week has been the poor form of Richie Smallwood. He answered that in the best way possible tonight with a performance of bravery and some astute passing. Harrison Reed was impressive, and is a good problem for the manager to have, but the King (of Ewood) isn’t dead yet.



Friday, September 07, 2018

Where there's hope

I had the briefest peep into political Twitter this morning. Horrible. Truly horrible. The usual attacks, the same old tired shibboleths and the deep, deep divisions laid bare.

And yet I feel strangely optimistic today. Yesterday at the Convention of the North in Newcastle we once again saw the very best of our people trying to find ways to improve the North. There were local leaders from all three main parties there with a really positive common purpose. All the discussions around the breakouts were practical and never partisan. I spent valuable time talking to colleagues from Middlesbrough, Stockport, Preston, Newcastle and from the Greater Manchester Combined Authority, on Education, local government and business engagement. I spent the train journey back fizzing with ideas.

On Wednesday Andy Burnham made a speech in Westminster which made the point that a new politics was being born in Greater Manchester: "Devolution to Greater Manchester has transferred budgets, powers and responsibilities.

"But it’s done something much more important than that. It is helping us engage people in developing policies and counteracting the widespread disengagement from politics that led to Brexit.

"Devolution is not just a series of technical changes to the machinery of Government. It has had a profoundly positive effect on the culture of our city-region. It has created a new energy; a sense of possibility; a shaft of light in an otherwise gloomy political scene.

"It has allowed us to give a level of engagement to our leaders in business, the universities, the faith and voluntary sectors in developing new policy solutions that you can never provide from a national level."

I take an enormous amount of encouragement and pride in that. Not a day goes by without someone in our university reaching out to me to run by ideas about how they can engage with the whole devolution enterprise, and the Mayor has been a transformative figurehead in enabling that enthusiasm.

Locally, there's a few different things going on. A couple of really quality young campaigners in Stockport, Daniel Oliver and David Allum, have decided they've had enough of Labour and have cut up their cards. One of my councillors, Kenny Blair, has left the Conservatives and is now operating as an enthusiastic independent. Putting parties to the side seems like the best thing to do in such circumstances.

It cuts to the heart of what you are prepared to do with your time and talents. Self selecting groups of activists passing motions of no confidence and support for various causes isn't democracy in action. Making a difference to how we organise society to help people fulfill their potential is much more exciting.

So farewell then Mobike

So farewell then Mobike. Manchester now has the dubious honour of being the first city in the world to lose the bike sharing service. Honestly? I'm disappointed. I thought the novelty of vandalising them would wear off, and they would be a regular feature of the city centre.

Am I surprised? Not really. As I said here when they launched they could be great, but the service never became sufficiently reliable. I simply got out of the habit of relying on them. My job pretty much means I'm up and down and about the Oxford Road Corridor every day - popping into the city centre and occasionally Salford Quays. Sometimes they'd be stacked up in All Saints Park and the next day there'd be none.

Martin Bryant puts it well (as he usually does) here: "Manchester city centre packs a lot into a relatively small space. It’s easy to walk across in 20 minutes, and there are free buses operating three circular routes, each running every 10 minutes, if you don’t want to walk. For logistical reasons, Mobike quickly stopped people using the bikes for treks out into the suburbs, or even to the media and technology district in Salford Quays, which would probably have been a popular trip."

I took them 27 times, rode 38.8 km in total, burning up 2088 calories (yes, right) but I literally never rode one to Salford Quays. The ideal journey was from or to the University of Manchester and on to Piccadilly station or the city centre, but as I like walking, it was usually only when I was a little tight for time. But on more than one occasion the app crashed, and if I could happen on a stray bike, they wouldn't unlock and I was late anyway.

I also suspect there were other factors beyond shrinkage to the stock. My pal Dave EB scrutinises the operating business here: "When explaining to investors, it might be far easier to say that local vandalism is the cause than publicly saying that the business model was wrong and the marketplace didn’t want the product. It’s easier than saying than perhaps the product wasn’t adequately marketed. Mobike’s own Twitter account wasn’t very lively and didn’t garner many more followers than the author."

Also, the private equity fundraising model is to say to investors - 'we are going to replicate our success in city A, by also doing it in cities B, C and D. This is why we need your cash investment.' It's a good story and it stacks up. Once that capital has been raised in a funding round, you can pivot the business model on changing circumstances.

I like the ambitions for Manchester's suburban population to embrace cycling. I like the idea of cycling routes and maybe a docking scheme would work. It just wasn't going to be this one.

Sunday, August 26, 2018

Great start from Blackburn Rovers. Off the pitch, not so good

Des Lynam used to refuse to show the league tables on BBC's Grandstand until 5 games had been played. Given what happened to Blackburn Rovers last season, I've waited until this point in the season before blogging my rash predictions and barely formed observations.

So, five games, fifth in the table, two wins and unbeaten and still in the League Cup. By any measure, that's a great start. You can read Blue Eyed Boy and his loan signing Old Blackburnian for a peerless observation on the start, here. But there's something more.

There's a reason Championship players get loaned out to League One clubs. One of the phrases used in such circumstances is to 'toughen them up' get them game time in a hard physical environment. When it goes well, they return as better players and perform accordingly. Braver, stronger, fitter and with a hunger never to have to go back to all of that.

It feels like the whole club has been on loan and come back so much better. Even the fans seem to be part of that renaissance. It's what led me to make the optimistic prediction on the BRFCS podcast that we'd finish eighth and that Bradley Dack would light up this division.

Denied the magic of Dack for two of the games I've seen, I'm sticking to that. But then without the pace of Armstrong and the determination of Samuel to make the best of his opportunity, our expectations were pretty low for the visit of Brentford, a side beloved of footballing purists.

Tony Mowbray studies the opposition carefully. At times last season I was critical of the excess of respect I thought he showed to visiting teams. But his change of gameplan for the visit of Brentford paid off. Kevin Gallagher on BBC Radio Lancashire called it winning ugly. I don't. I call it winning effectively. I don't regard tracking back 50 yards, fierce tackling and pressing the goalkeeper as ugly. Mowbray's too much of a gentleman to say it in public, but I'd be pretty sure he told his charges that Brentford were a decent footballing side, but they don't like it up 'em. They were the softest team we've played in ages. The fact they conceded free kicks and got the only yellow card of the game was for frustrated niggling acts of cowardly shithousery, because they knew they were no physical match for Evans, Smallwood, Bennett and the massively impressive Rothwell.

And the fans, going in 2-0 down against Reading? Applause and patience. And at the final whistle after the draws with Millwall and Reading? Acknowledgement of decent performances.

The summer signings seem good, especially Rothwell who I really like. I wasn't thrilled at the recruitment of Jack Rodwell, and not just because I'm going to get them mixed up, but because of the bad taste of what happened at Sunderland. The manager cherishes the positive balance in the dressing room, hopefully he thinks Rodwell will be improved by that and everyone else will benefit as a result. But we're going to have to trust that Mowbray knows what he's doing.

Anyway, so far so good, but I didn't start blogging just to say how great everything is. I'm not happy about a few other developments at Ewood in the close season.

We are a ridiculously leaky club. Mowbray is annoyed at this. And it possibly contributes to deals falling over and prices going up.

The transfer business always seems too close to the wire.

I don't really like the pale blue kit.

I don't like that the half time scoreboard and announcer named two teams in our division as Sheffield and Sheffield. Sloppy.

I don't like being sponsored by a betting company.

I really disliked the dazzling bright LED advertising board, especially as it was punting yet more betting.

And the rest of the static ads, more betting, more junk food and, inexplicably, a vaping company.

Who do the commercial staff talk to? Do they just walk down a run down high street and seek out all those tatty peddlers of crap that contribute to the blight of modern life and the poor health outcomes it encourages.

Why not partnership with Community Clothing? Why haven't bridges been built with WEC? or Crown Paints? or Blackburn's wider efforts at civic renewal, instead of taking money from those who so cynically extract it from the pockets of those who can least afford it?

But, overall, this has been a great start and it's terrific to have adapted to life back in the Championship with less pain than we seemed to have adjusted to League One this time last year. What a difference a year makes.


Monday, August 20, 2018

Wanted: big ideas for troubled times

While Brexit has been the all absorbing policy challenge that seems to have proved too much for the very people who campaigned for it, for the rest of us, life goes on.

In pursuit of this, the third edition of our magazine of ideas and provocation has rolled off the presses in time for the new term and the party conference season.

Usually this is a time where fresh ideas are debated and new policies get an airing. We can but hope this time, but the chances are it'll be more fractious back-biting.

When I joined Manchester Metropolitan University I was keen for the MetroPolis think-tank to project good work as effectively as possible. One way of doing that is to find a platform to shout about our achievements. I still think a well-designed magazine is a great way to do that.

The magazine, featuring Trump, first confronted the notion that truth and evidence was whatever suited you. the second, with crayons, that a visionary politician was drawing the outline, but there's an opportunity to colour the detail.  The third was imbued with the spirit of Emmeline Pankurst, who worked in the building where MetroPolis is based.

Putting this third edition together was a real eye-opener and a reminder of what the team have achieved in a short time. Seminars with MPs of the calibre of Liz Kendall, Angela Rayner, Jim McMahon, Jake Berry and Mike Kane. It's all here. Our first The Challenge Of… lecture series,  where Sir Andrew Cahn forecast that the United Kingdom will be asking for a pick and mix approach in the final deal separating out issues like fishing, aviation and financial services that would be unlikely to commend itself to our negotiating partners.

But also in a year of milestones there are frequent reminders of the profound social shifts taking place all around us. Take the upheaval on Britain’s High Streets, where pubs and shops are closing at a time when demand for land for housing and for social spaces is growing. Or the 70th anniversary of the formation of the NHS, where a system designed for one era is struggling to resource itself and organise itself in an era of wider public knowledge, experience of conditions and the very fact that people live longer. Or the centenary of women achieving the vote.

There will soon be a statue of Emmeline Pankhurst in the centre of Manchester, just a short walk to the site of the Peterloo massacre. Remembering these dates and everything they represent is enormously important, but even more vital is the challenge we all face to do things in a more inclusive, open and participatory way. There’s a huge sensitivity for policy makers to address people’s lives as they are lived, where they are lived and not directed as a social solution for the activists and campaigners. Devolution presents the opportunity to do something other than create more "layers of they".

We hope this magazine provides some stimulus and a showcase of the work we’re involved in and are very excited by. Drop me a message if you'd like to talk about what we do, see a magazine, or come to one of our future events.

Saturday, August 18, 2018

A holiday in Estonia - where people dress in black

I don't think I've sat in a political conference before, enjoyed listening to a speaker and thought 'I'd like to go there on holiday'. But it was listening to Arto Aas, an Estonian MP and former minister, that sparked a real interest in the former Soviet state.

Arto was speaking at Andy Burnham's Digital Summit in Manchester last December, a really stimulating conference full of ideas and smart thinkers. A local Manchester perspective from Chris Maguire is here, and a more political take on it is here, from Richard Angell. Both convey very well the energy generated by his talk and huge interest in Estonia that Arto sparked.

It was good to get a perspective from someone from somewhere with such ambition. Since the break-up of the Soviet Union, Estonia has forged a completely new identity, joining the European Union and NATO, building stronger links with the Nordic countries and making a giant leap forward towards being a modern digital state.

I had a vague idea I'd be able to replicate our tour of western European cities last summer, by zipping through the Baltic states. Unfortunately it isn't as simple as that, as Matthew Engel explained in his Estonian odyssey as part of his excellent tour of Europe series for the New Statesman. The trains between the Baltic states are still Soviet-era, and the flights from the North of England are pretty much non-existent. If you think about it, there are vanishingly few reasons to do so: Tallinn has taken itself off the stag circuit and precious few Estonians have sought the path to a 'better life' in Britain. Instead we flew to Helsinki - itself a great city to visit and spend a day or two - then caught a ferry across the Baltic. It was all pretty seamless, technically and culturally, the people looked similar and had a cool and precise aura. I’ve thought that too when I’ve met visiting delegations of FinTech specialists from Nordic countries in Manchester. I can tell the Finns and Estonians from the Swedes and Danes. And between the cities, there was less of a difference the two than between ,say, Manchester and Edinburgh, or London.

Flaneuring around the old part of Tallinn was great. There were loads of groovy coffee shops, quirky museums and cute squares to hang out in. I was gutted the Museum of the Occupations was closed for refurbishment when we were there, and it’s almost a reason to return another time. The national museum of Estonia placed it all in a long context, but the former KGB cells were a brutal reminder of how much Estonia's history is tortured and steeped in suffering.Yet the character of confidence and fierce pride now is all the more remarkable.

For me the highlight was the Telleskivi part of the city (pictured), a collection of refurbished warehouses and railways sheds, populated with food stalls, a market and funky offices for tech start-ups. It was like Manchester’s Sharp Project, with a Borough Market and an Affleck’s. But the vibe had something more than just a hipster hangout; Estonia is also a deadly serious place for business. Skype was invented there and the profits from the sale invested in Estonia’s latent venture capital industry.

Culturally, we saw the spaces where the Estonians love to gather and sing, but not any actual singing. Our time there coincided with the World Cup, so I watched England beat Colombia in a hotel with my non-football supporting son who had more in common with the rest of the residents - marked indifference. So go, take it in. One of most intriguing places I've been to, in turn both inspirational and modest. Not only a brave country with a tough past, but somewhere with such a bold grasp of the future.

Thursday, August 16, 2018

People define places and people value style



This is the video arising out of our recent Vibrant Economy event where we looked at how places can thrive and find new purpose.

My pals at Influential Communications pulled it together and made a very fine job of it.

In this short film some of the participants offer reflections on what they have learnt during their careers in property, retail and academia – led by the entrepreneur Nick Johnson, whose inspired reimagining of Altrincham Market as an independent food and drink destination has won widespread acclaim. In his career Nick Johnson has taught at Yale, chaired Marketing Manchester and served as a commissioner for Chartered Association of Building Engineers. He was a director of the developer Urban Splash for 15 years before taking the plunge with his vision for his home town. What I love is the break with the orthodoxy from Nick Johnson, who I have to say, was absolutely magnificent on the night.

He's been involved two different phases of change in the way the public use buildings and prioritise space - which he talks about in the video. While, the last 20 years have seen a complete transformation of UK regional cities, with decades of industrial decline replaced by flourishing regeneration schemes and booming popularity, there's still a long way to go. Our regional centres have progressed beyond the best hopes of civic leaders in the 1970s and 1980s but many of those mitigating solutions have contributed to new problems.

What Nick has priortised now is shaping places based on how people want to interact. That's the way Altrincham Market and Mackie Mayor market hall are structured. Unreserved seating, everyone piling in together, an open source and uncurated space. And a pleasant place to try new food. I don't wholly buy the argument that he's broken with the past commitment to design excellence. There's an unconscious aesthetic around both places that probably comes from habit on Nick's part as much as anything, and even if you do place people's needs and behaviours at the centre the love of somewhere that feels good helps to build that emotional connection to a place.

All of this is incredibly pertinent to my own home patch of Marple and to Stockport. To Marple, it's about understanding what the people who live there need. While the challenge is to achieve what Altrincham has done, while appreciating the very different set of circumstances and demographic.

Anyway, I'm on the video as well, talking about the view from my window of my old student halls.

Thursday, August 02, 2018

No Good Deed by John Niven reviewed

I can't believe it's been over four years since I last read and reviewed John Niven's Single White Male, his more thoughtful, though no less observant follow up to the debauchery of Kill Your Friends. Such was the familiarity and accessiblity of his writing that it felt like getting back in touch with an old pal.

Well, not quite a reunion with the sting in the tale of his latest book, No Good Deed. Writer Alan Grainger bumps into Craig Carmichael on the streets of Soho. Homeless and hopeless after blowing his success as a rock musician his life is in contrast to Alan, who has done OK for himself in a profession where luck has as much to do with it as talent. Slowly, the hierarchies of their childhood days in Ayrshire emerge, eventually and literally floating to the surface from the deepest wells of a badly cared for septic tank. Close behind is Craig's capacity for destruction, though not just his but that of Alan and all he holds dear.

It's a painful and troubling tale, a reminder why I have a feeling in my own sensitive bowel at the thought of school re-unions, but also feel extremely blessed to have the friends I have.

I've had my Niven itch scratched recently with my belated discovery of Chris Brookmyre. But as I said four years ago, about his last book, this is his best book yet and evidence of a writer getting better and better.

Tuesday, July 17, 2018

A state of flux - and politics is actually the least interesting change going on

A few weeks ago I went to an excellent discussion about our new political landscape, featuring two of the finest journalists working today - Jen Williams and John Harris - and some top drawer political scientists, including Rob Ford and Maria Sobolewska from the University of Manchester.

They were all brilliant on how polarised and dense our politics has become, describing the shift in social attitudes that political research around Brexit has exposed. But ever since I've been mulling over what was discussed and how it affects everything else beyond politics.

The World Cup has done something similar, forced us to reconsider our relationship with England. Not a nation state, but a football team that represents a stateless nation. As Matt Forde says in the i, it also thrust forward a team of such 'diversity, dignity and talent' that it had to stand for something to unite us. The manager even grasped for the bigger picture when we said how much pain and division blighted the country. 

As a starting point, if you accept that the vote to Leave the European Union was a narrow vote against things as they were, then there must be a whole lot more going on. It seems to me to be a culture entirely defined by what you are against rather than for a programme of change. But change occurs in many different ways, shaped by human behaviour and choices. As William Hague said recently, actually when you step outside of politics the rest of the world is in colour. Viewing these profound social schisms purely through the optics of politics and voting intention is possibly the least interesting exposition of this change, especially as the political paralysis seems to satisfy no-one and even fails to address the acute policy challenge of Brexit.

Where do these changing societal attitudes, beliefs, emotions and values play out? The voting intentions have been important - seismic, epic, plate shifting - but they may not be so for a few more years.

I'm not sure I totally buy into the idea that Britain is retreating into political tribes, where people vote based on their attitudes and feelings. I genuinely don't think they think about politics that much to deserve being defined as tribal. But something is shifting. The movement from the cities and into the suburbs, making some more places a bit more like inner London, and others defiantly less so.

We're also confronted with a degree of complexity we haven't really got to grips with yet. What attitudes form towards people from other countries, be they economic migrants, refugees, or someone who can only be identified in a mundane daily encounter as 'foreign'? A sliding scale of acceptance and dislike to a range of ethnic groups ranging from Chinese (good) to Somalis (bad) troubles me. It's where the Windrush scandal ends up, it's what happens when a hostile environment is played out by bureaucrats with targets - they go for the easiest first.

What about other everyday behaviours that these attitudes and feelings may alter? How people drive, how they behave on public transport. There's something divisive and angry about cyclists that shouldn't be so joyless. What about consumer purchasing habits? Why do young people hoard so much less? Are we really buying more ethical products or cutting down on single-use plastic? Do people really wash down industrial grade skunk with Fair Trade Coffee? I'm not quite sure where attitudes towards starting a business are these days, or to family. Our household pays rather more attention than most to wider social attitudes to education, but they too are wrapped up so many other social norms.

So too do the measurement of social virtues we would consider to be good: manners, contributing time to good causes, giving to charity, driving habits, tolerance of criminal behaviour.

What consent is granted to institutions, professionals and power structures? Many people have a disconnected relationship with where they work, others are loyal, supported and motivated. And according to the latest British Social Attitudes survey - "Despite ongoing labour market change, the British public continues to perceive there to be a dignity in work, with intrinsic value placed upon employment that goes beyond simple monetary compensation." Generationally and class wise, people want different things, feel differently and have varying degrees of hope. Who doesn't want for respect, pride, value and and a shared mission in what they do with their life?  

The same applies to business confidence. I’ve always been fascinated by the corporate zeitgeist. It affects credit decisions, risk appetite, whether to give someone a job or not. But despite the erosion of trust in business, helped by Philip Green, the other Philip Green, and Mike Ashley, business is proving pretty resilient and public attitudes towards business in general haven't turned. 

This starts to get us into whole areas that you could make an attempt to politicise by blaming cuts to public spending - such as trust in the police, but it quickly gets into really complex areas around attitudes to vigilantism and hostility to the justice system. Read the comments on any crime story, any Facebook group about local issues and it's a cauldron. Isn't that partly what lies at the heart of why the Free Tommy Robinson nonsense has gained traction? On one hand is a pitiful misunderstanding of his breach of licence, but also a fury about the grooming gangs, the insolent defiance of the perpetrators and a perception that they've got away with it. But equally, there are many that fall below the two crucial markers of British values - "don't take the piss" and "don't be a dick". 

The England performance in the World Cup, like the unifying response to the Manchester terror attacks, give us some cause for comfort. But we need to fall in love with our country again. And the more things we can agree on about what that country looks and feels like, the better chance we'll have. The prospects of politics doing that are more remote than ever. But until then, we scratch around.



Monday, July 09, 2018

A tourist in my own youth - a great day trip to Edinburgh

Edinburgh has so many good memories. Day trips, the Festival, and when our pal Dave Crossen lived in the city, we had weekends, New Years and I even had a week long holiday up there.

Yesterday we added another as we enjoyed a day out for the football, watching Blackburn Rovers win 2-0 at Paul Hanlon's testimonial against Hibernian at Easter Road, another new ground I'd not been to before. You can read very little into friendly matches, but Scottish football must be in a bit of a mess if that was the fourth best team in the country. It seems to me the SPL is basically Man United (Celtic), Leeds (Rangers), Forest (Aberdeen), Birmingham City (Hibs), Ipswich (Hearts) and half a dozen random teams from League One. But the city was the attraction yesterday, glorious and welcoming. Stunning to be around and it seems to be growing in self-confidence and modernising since the last time I visited.

Hopefully that's something to do with the efforts of Paul Lawrence, once of this parish, who invited us along to West Princes Gardens to see a delightful new fountain.

It was a great trip up and a rubbish journey home as we had cancellations and delays which stretched the day out. But you can't fault a day with the people you love, deep fried Mars bars, City Cafe, Leith Walk and the Royal Mile.

Wednesday, June 27, 2018

Building vibrant places - from 1989 in Perth to 2018 in Manchester

I'm seeing a mate from Australia next week so found myself sifting through a magazine I edited over there in the 1980s.

And as I promote and hustle to get people to come to an event on how our cities stay exciting and fresh and vibrant, I'm taken back to those days.

Towards the end of my time there I worked for a bar/club called The Freezer in downtown Perth, doing the PR, working the door and even appearing in an advert.

They were great times. But my best memory of working front of house was a couple of old Aussie rockers bowling up and asking what time the band were on. When told that the "Wayne Lewis" on the poster was a DJ they said they weren’t paying five bucks to listen to some guy playing records and could do that in their living room. Jog on, lads.

I learnt a lot then about network marketing, the importance of opinion formers and the wisdom of crowds. Creating events that have that sense of jeopardy, that things are going to happen, that you don't want to miss out on. It mustn't be a call to a passive experience, but an active one.

We created demand for places by attracting and exciting the people who created energy and ideas.

So when I tell you that we've got a great guest list for you to come and discuss with Nick Johnson - who might reveal how he animated Alty Market and the Mackie Mayor market hall - then you're going to want to come along aren't you?

It's after work on the 12th of July at Manchester Met University, register here.

Thursday, June 21, 2018

Twelve of the best - a lifetime of live music

When Alexander the Great was 33 he cried salt tears because there were no more worlds left to conquer. On June the 7th 2018, two months before my 52nd birthday, at a venue called the Troxy in London's East End, I watched one of my favourite bands of all time run through an emotional journey of their catalogue. Matt Johnson's The The represented the last living band I've craved to see live, but until that night never had the chance.

I've seen them all now. A lifetime of going to live music, seeing terrible punk bands at Preston Warehouse, the very best of them at Lancaster University (as described in this book here), taking coaches to Leeds and Manchester, sleeping on stations, going to gigs at stadiums, student unions, arenas, pokey venues, concert halls and churches. I can take a great deal from each one.

Obviously there are bands I've loved who I never got to see - The Beatles, The Clash, Nirvana, Johnny Cash, the Beach Boys. I remember crying with despair when my Mum and Dad told me, aged 13, that I couldn't go on the coach to Blackburn to see the Damned, yet I wouldn't cross the road to go to a punk gig now.

It's impossible to say which ones are the best performances, because live music has so many moving parts. It's also very rare these days that a band will bomb on stage, though Glasvegas were truly awful as I said at the time. But like trips to watch football it's as much about the occasion as the spectacle; the friends, the context, the circumstances, the whole day.

So, here are twelve of the best in roughly a date order...

The Jam - I saw them four times in my teens, obviously. All were amazing occasions, edgy, raucous, highly charged. I loved them at Carlisle Market Hall in July 1981 the best I think, partly because I went with my Penrith cousin John Warwick, but it seemed to mean so much to the audience there who had been there all day. We even went to see the sound check. The Jam connected with their audience like no other band I've experienced. Even seeing two thirds of them in 2007 at Preston still made the hairs on the back of my neck tingle.

The Teardrop Explodes - Lancaster University, 1981 - I think on balance, this was my favourite of all the concerts we were lucky enough to experience on our doorstep as kids. They were promoting the difficult and more melancholy second album, Wilder, which never quite reached the heights of their debut Kilimanjaro, but I loved it all the same (teenagers, eh?). I was lucky too to have an older friend, David "Baz" Baron, who inspired my eclectic love of music and had a wonderful dry humour. We went up early and took in the sound check, even meeting Julian Cope and Troy Tate. I was proper knocked for six when I learned that David had died in his early thirties.

The Pogues - a tremendous live experience where the audience always made the occasion. I think I probably enjoyed seeing them at Manchester International 2 in 1986 the best, a proper barmy night.

David Bowie - I saw the Duke at Maine Road, Manchester, 1987, a surprise for my 21st birthday from my girlfriend at the time - it was my first stadium gig and the first with all kinds of audio visual trickery and lighting. It blew me away visually as well as musically and was a true work of genius, even if the Glass Spiders stuff was pretty crap.

Prince, Earl's Court, 1992 - quite simply the best musical performance I've ever seen. I went with my Australian pals, including Stu McGavin (RIP) who always chased the big moments in life. For energy, atmosphere, and the sheer thrill of watching him play the solo on Purple Rain was something to behold.

Oasis, the best I saw them was in America, when they were far better musically away from home than they ever were during the adoration of the laddish 90s. I'd grown tired of them by the time of Knebworth and Maine Road. But in one of life's great happy coincidences, I was in the US for work in 1996 and they were playing at the Bill Graham auditorium in San Francisco. Me and my sales manager Michael Mullaney went along to see a bit of history, they went out with Black Grape that night and bizarrely cancelled their next show in Los Angeles due to ill health.

Manic Street Preachers at the Town and Country, Kentish Town, 1996. I loved the Manics through this time, the aching tragedy of their story, but the energy of their live performances added something very special to a very accomplished crop of songs on Everything Must Go. I first saw them supporting Oasis in Cardiff as they returned to playing after Richey Edwards' disappearance. I've  seen them in Arenas since, but this was a great sized venue. It wasn't the London gig on that tour where Kylie joined them on stage for Little Baby Nothing, but Liam Gallagher got on the stage at the end and jumped around. Idiot.

U2 - I've seen them three times, pretty much in ten year intervals and they have got better each time in correlation to the comfort and conditions in which I watched them. First was at a rain sodden Milton Keynes Bowl supported by REM in 1985, dodging flying bottles of what I thought was stale beer. A decade or so later at Cardiff Arms Park for the Achtung Baby tour, which took five hours to get home to Bristol, then in Manchester in 2005 dancing to them knocking out Vertigo from the luxury of an executive box as guests of Manchester City FC. A class act.

Elbow - I don't think I could ever see Elbow in a standard venue after seeing them in very special situations. Either with The Halle orchestra at the Bridgewater Hall for my 40th, or at a special gig at St John's church in Hackney in 2011 which Mencap invited us to as a thank you for raising up to £40K a year through the Y Factor events I was involved in with Jeremy Smith, sometime financier, and musical genius with Barclay James Harvest. I took my best pal John Dixon, who has always introduced me to great music, these included. I never tire of One Day Like This, nor the folksy intimacy of an evening with Guy Garvey.

Amy Macdonald at the Lowry, 2012. I sort of regard Amy Macdonald as a guilty secret, but her musicianship, poise and energy are as good as anyone I've ever seen. My review at the time, said: "the set she did was perfectly constructed. New, old, stripped down acoustic versions, signature hits, even a brilliant cover of Jackie Wilson's Your Love Lifts Me Higher. She ended the set with a stirring rendition of my favourite track off her first album - Let's Start a Band - a great song even without the horns and the choir." It was also a realisation that I preferred theatres to standing in halls and arenas. And I preferred the audiences who weren’t as beery or waving mobile phones around trying to capture the moment. It’s totally an age thing.

New Order at Castlefield Bowl for my 50th. I don't know why but I'd got it into my head that New Order were no good live, so despite being one of my favourites I never made the effort to see them. In a way, it set everything up perfectly for this special day. They were blisteringly good, the venue was spectacular as well. You get close to the band wherever you are there, but we went right to the front with the pyro and the general mayhem and madness. Rachel got us these tickets for an eye-watering amount, but I still thrill thinking about it now. A perfect birthday. Seeing them at Manchester International Festival with our Louis a year later was a bonus.

And finally, as a bonus, The The at the Troxy, June 2018. As I said, it's about the occasion. I saw Matt Johnson doing a Q&A in Manchester around the release of his documentary film The Inertia Variations, with Steven Lindsay, the most prolific gig goer of my generation (Steven sorted the Troxy tickets and couldn't go. I swooped). The event that night reminded me how much I tuned in to Matt Johnson's intensity. He's an expermental artist, so I didn't know quite what to expect, but it was  a traditional tour de force, requiring a real versatility amongst his assembled band. For all it's majesty, the venue was a challenge, and I liked how he discouraged cameras, an instruction that was largely respected. Going for a Turkish with John Dixon beforehand, then strolling around this part of the East End was all part of the experience. In truth, the set had its peaks and therefore a dip of energy half way through. But just hearing This is the Day, Heartland and Lonely Planet felt like a completion.

So there we are, what a list, and still no room for more than a few who almost made the cut and for whom they delivered varying tempos of concerts of immense power, beauty and professionalism,  that I enjoyed massively: REM, Bruce Springsteen, INXS, Duran Duran, I Am Kloot, The Housemartins, Stone Roses, Radiohead, James, Neil Finn, The Cure, Squeeze, Oh Susanna, The Flaming Lips, Morrissey, Prefab Sprout, Echo and the Bunnymen, The Farm, Coldplay, Billy Bragg, Roddy Frame, Teardrop Explodes, The Specials, Madness, The Triffids, The Men They Couldn't Hang, Take That (Progress tour with the Pet Shop Boys), Simon & Garfunkel and Neil Diamond.

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.

Sunday, April 15, 2018

Save me, from the makers of desperate TV

The most important element of any storytelling is how it ends. A very close second is how it starts. How it grabs your attention and says powerfully that this is worth sticking with. But the ending is everything. And have you noticed how many TV series now seem to end on a promise of more to come? It’s a hopeful wave at the possibility of a new series, or a disappointing whimper. The desperation to milk a format means that no happy-ever-after is an option. There has to be a loose end that remains flailing in the wind, even looser and freer than before, begging for someone to have another go to tie it up properly, rather than chuck it in the plot stream with all those other red herrings.

Spoilers follow, but the main point is a build up to tomorrow night’s Season 8 conclusion of The Walking Dead, a make or break moment for a declining franchise.

So it was been with the best series I’ve seen recently - Sky Atlantic's Save Me - where the conclusion is entirely unsatisfactory, yet utterly in keeping with everything that’s gone before. A roller coaster of a story, of (most remarkably) wit, redemption, true horror, twisted morality and a deeply depressing and unsettling glimpse of humanity’s narcissism and depravity. Second series? How can there not be?

Marcella left me with an entirely different feeling as Hugo Speer leaned over a dishevelled homeless person, talking about a secret unit of the police. Everything that had gone before, the ham fisted signposting of the supposed suspects, the wasted time on dead end story lines and the preposterous liberties with police procedures. All of it had me screaming inside, please end this. No more, no more. And then she finds a way to disappear, to vanish, but the so-secret-we-must-never-know-about-them-police find her. It seems to be a shrug. Less of a plea, more of a well, if you really must commission a third series, here’s your angle, but we really don’t believe you’ll go for it.

Poor Anna Friel, after bravely traversing the Sahara desert and battling rogue mercenaries in Odyssey, as a more Poundland version of Homeland, her next attempt to match Claire Danes (Carrie in Homeland) as the worst mother on television is so psychotic, so off the wall, even the makers seem to have given up. But this is ITV where nothing too absurd can ever be discounted.

BBC’s Come Home won’t ever come back. It was a bold attempt at addressing that most taboo of all last taboos, the crap, selfish and reluctant mother. I don’t know what it is with BBC series set in post-troubles Northern Ireland, but while The Fall was rapey and exploitive, Come Home was populated with snide and manipulative women all either lacking empathy or only capable of making poor decisions against the interests of children and hard working men. The only exception was the absolute beast of a criminal wife beater, but even with him we were invited to price in the possibility that he was driven to it.

And so to tomorrow night’s season 8 conclusion of The Walking Dead. I could write pages of fan theory and meta analysis of TWD, but all the failings of this series crash on the rocks of the basic season architecture. It has found a rhythm of predictability that has rendered it wholly absurd. As other critics have pointed out, it is a series with too little story and too much time to tell it. I said at the conclusion of Series 7, or half way through series 8, that nothing really happened since Negan killed Glenn and Abraham so brutally. There have been some interactions between the warring factions, but the same stand off pretty much still exists, it needs a dramatic stand-off with a firm conclusion, a seismic peak moment of television that the makers have deemed can only happen in 4 out of the 16 episodes of the season - the first, the last and either side of the mid-season break. It means there are 12 weak and plodding episodes that inch us closer to those points. There is no possibility of any major character being killed outside of those four episodes, stripping them of any tension or surprise. As ratings have slumped there is now a consensus that the stables need sweeping. Even in interviews with the producer who says this next episode will be an ending to all current storylines. I’ve had the advantage of reading the graphic novels up until the arrival of these crazies called the Whisperers (who wear zombie skin) and am up with the debates about who they might be, and if they might end up making an appearance in the TV series, or if they’re already around. There’s also the build up to the point about what to do about Negan. In the comics they keep him prisoner in Alexandria, skip ahead and several communities live peacefully for a while.

Here's what we know is going to happen: Morgan (Lennie James) is going to cross over into Fear the Walking Dead, there is going to be a severe change of plot and tone, something with the helicopter will be an important part of the transition. There is another community out there.

Here’s what I think should happen: Jadis, or the Oceanside women, should conduct a massacre of whoever they find as a way of marking their border, just as happened in the graphic novel. The mysterious helicopter needs to open a door into a much more imaginative post-apocalyptic social order than a dictatorship, linked to the appearance of Georgie. We're done with idiots like Negan and The Governor. Frankly, I'm done with Rick Grimes. A far better leader is emerging in Maggie, who still hasn't had her baby. She needs to execute Gregory once his cowardice and treachery are made tragically apparent. Eugene needs to go. He will probably redeem himself with some kind of sabotage of the Saviours weapons, but he'll still go.

Will that happen? I somehow doubt it, but it needs to, to actually prepare the way for what needs to happen in Series 9. The end of The Walking Dead for once and for all.

Saturday, April 14, 2018

Still upbeat after clash of the Rovers at Bristol

It’s never a pleasure to come off a game when you’ve looked at the clock and it’s 1-0 and it’s 90+4, and then in the blink of an eye and the swing of a boot it’s 1-1. And at this stage of the season I’m not in the mood for fair results overall or laments over wasted chances. Part of me wants it to end. Another just wants this season to go on and on. More new grounds, more trips with my lads, more lunches with friends in nice pubs and cafes in parts of England I haven’t been to before. But also that feeling of pride that I’ve somehow got back in this football club.

I can’t feel anger at these players, only disappointment at a result. Sure Derrick Williams should have scored. Payne could have done more with the ball running at defenders. As a team they would have looked at how they might have done more to kill the energy of the game at 1-0 and into the last few minutes. Could have, should have, would have. But this team is still noticeably better than most teams they share a pitch with, and they seem to be able to avoid defeat remarkably well. As a club, we are clearly still in a very decent position. Last week against Southend was a horror show in the last few minutes, but we won. Today we looked comfortable on the ball, stronger going forward, but just missing a bit of brilliance from Dack and Armstrong. I think we owe them an enormous amount and the pressure to perform miracles must be huge. But any analysis of a football match can’t just take into account one team without acknowledging the ability of the opposition to also influence the result, so fair play to Bristol Rovers for chucking everything at us right to the end.

Some of our fans don’t half come out with some nonsense, but I’m going to hold back from repeating the extremities of what I heard from people today as I’ve no desire to fuel this debate as it’s just not helpful. But I will confess to being disappointed that the whole mentality of the team is that we’re edging closer to the finish line, rather than flowing out in pomp and with a swagger.

I enjoyed another good day out today, except for that shot from Chris Lines at 10 to 5. The Inn on the Green on Gloucester Road was a fine spot to catch up with my pal Neil Tague. I used to live in Bristol but on the opposite side of the city, and have never been to the Memorial Ground. That’s the point about this season being about discovery. It also brought back a few memories of the first long distance away trip I did on my own – the second day of May 1981 – when we missed out on promotion despite winning at the old Eastville stadium. Subsequent trips were to their temporary home at Bath City’s Twerton Park.

It’s a funny wee ground. The stand behind the goal looked like it was on loan from Chatsworth Country Fair, the terrace behind the other goal looked packed and raucous, and I liked that they call it the Tote End as a nod towards their history at Eastville. Our terrace in the corner lacked a bit of atmosphere, but the view was OK. It’s odd that a city like Bristol doesn’t have a more successful club, maybe the “Gas” getting a new stadium might be the spur that worked for Swansea and Brighton.

That makes it another new ground I’ve watched football on, the 156th. I’m still on 83 clubs out of the current 92 (the Punk 92), and I’m up to 78 of the current 92. Onwards to Doncaster. I still think we’re going up.

Wednesday, April 11, 2018

What I'm going to say on the BRFCS podcast, what I've said and what I never say any more

Louis, Danny Graham, me, David Southworth
Next week we're going to be recording a Blackburn Rovers supporters podcast, it will be a marker for where we are up to with just four games to go, having played Bristol Rovers at the weekend.

I'm as one with King of the Ewood Bloggers Jim Wilkinson that this has been a heck of a good season to be a Blackburn Rovers fan. After all the disappointment of recent years, to be 'on our way back' feels so much better than the slow decline we had endured. We have the most exciting player in the division in Bradley Dack. So whatever happens in the next few games, I will probably see our team notch up more points in a single season than they ever have before. Think about that for a minute. The promotion of 2001 was completed with 91 points, the Premiership win with 27 wins and 89 points (from 42 games) and the last time we were at this level it was with two points for a win, but we would have got 84 points in new money.

So, as well as a few thoughts from Bristol, I'll say a version of all of that.

I'll also be reminded that earlier in this season I called Danny Graham 'useless' after the Plymouth home draw, that I said Mowbray over complicates things and the team is 'overcoached', that we play to the style of the opposition too much and that the team has a soft core. Well, all of that (and more) is true on a bad day. Blissfully, we have had far fewer bad days.

I also have said how much I was annoyed by Elliot Bennett’s fist pump. To me it seemed like a snarl at the fans. It’s become a thing now, a symbol of his connection with the fans. What do I know? As the old gent behind us says when someone does something other than the simple obvious thing.

As I said here, I never speak to the players, I literally have nothing to say to them beyond 'well done'. I certainly can't deign to discuss the game they've just played in. When I do it usually ends awkwardly. From the time when I collared Noel Brotherston on Blackburn station on his way to meet the Northern Ireland squad (1981, I'm thinking) and I suggested he was saving himself for his country. Frankly, he should have given me a Belfast slap, never mind a couple of comps for the next away match. There have been exceptions, like when David Dunn came to a dinner as my guest. I like listening to players give their view, but they're usually so guarded.

We had our picture taken with Danny Graham after the Walsall game (above). He seemed like a really nice bloke, to be fair as most of this squad do. I'm amazed though that I managed to get that close to him without him grabbing my shirt, tangling his legs around mine, or him using his backside to shove me out of the way.

So, hope you enjoy the podcast and here's to three points at the third ground I've watched Rovers at the other Rovers. Do they still play in blue and white quarters?