Monday, August 09, 2021

My Sounds of the Season 1983/84

So I've done my Sounds of the Season on Rovers Radio, like a Desert Island Discs for Blackburn Rovers fans. Usually, I do the interviews, but this was my turn to be in the hot seat.

You can link to it here. But this is the preamble.

Honestly, in many ways 1983/84 was a bang average season for Blackburn Rovers, not many memories feature in the history books, compared to what came several years later. The crowds were really low, in fact, we hit a new low. But it was really memorable for me for all sorts of different reasons, just going to Rovers, them becoming part of my life, was one of the emerging pillars of my identity, as were music, ideas, fashion, amongst others.

On the pitch, Simon Garner had a great season. Norman Bell got injured in the first game and never played again. So Garner was partnered with Chris Thompson mostly while Miller or Brotherston or Patterson provided the crosses. This season saw the emergence of Simon Barker alongside an ever-present John Lowey in the centre of midfield.

At the back, it was still Baz, Faz, Keeley and Branagan, in theory, but David Glenn filled in for Baz for most of the season, and all-rounder David Hamilton popped up wherever he was needed. Terry Gennoe was a solid presence in goal, with a cup run, an unbeaten league run, strong home form, on paper it looks like a good season, but too many draws meant although we finished 6th, it never felt like a promotion push. Chelsea and Sheffield Wednesday were comfortably ahead, Newcastle finished third and Manchester City had to endure another season down in the doldrums. 

It was however a great year for music. A massive turning point, a breakthrough. Just look at the choices I make and think what it must have been like to be alive and excited by all of that happening for the very first time.

Culturally, this period of time probably had a more profound and lasting influence on me than many of the later years. I bailed out of my Grammar School a year into sixth form and enrolled at Lancaster and Morecambe FE College instead, and instantly felt so much more at ease. Some of the things I got into later I quickly backed away from, but there is a reasonably straight line from the person I was in 1983 to where I am today, which I am very comfortable with.

It was also a pretty violent and racist time. There was always tension in the air, a sense it could kick-off, especially as you were hunted down at away matches, or when the bigger clubs arrived at Ewood. I also could have relayed scrapes at nearly every match I mention here, but I survived. 

These are my Sounds of the Season, 1983/84. Do give the show a listen if you want to hear the rest of the story. I’ll dedicate it to Chris Heath (RIP), Nick, Phil, Tony, Mick, Daz, Dave, Neil Fell, Phil Shaw, Lancaster and Morecambe FE College, Baz Dootson, and an apology to Louise Stokes for not returning her David Bowie LP.

The Songs

My Ever Changing Moods - Style Council

Modern Love - David Bowie

This Charming Man - The Smiths

Thieves Like Us - New Order

Boys Don't Cry - The Cure

Ain't Nobody - Rufus and Chaka Khan

Nelson Mandela - The Specials

White Lines (Don't Do It) - Grandmaster Flash

The Killing Moon - Echo and the Bunnymen

The Day Before You Came - Blancmange

Sunday, August 08, 2021

The meaning of football

It was always going to be an emotional return to Blackburn Rovers. For me, it’s been gradual. A long in the planning trip to Euro 2020 that took me and my friend, Steven, to his home city of Glasgow for Ukraine v Sweden; a pre-season friendly at one of the English non-league’s new challenger clubs, AFC Fylde, and another warm-up at home to Leeds.

For different reasons, they all had something special about them that rather brilliantly lined up the main event of yesterday.

It’s been an awfully long time away. It would have been very easy to give up all of what I’m about to say. The first home league game at Ewood Park felt remarkably like the last one some 500 sleeps ago. That it was also against sneaky Swansea and with a weak referee was but a coincidence, but that the full quota of regulars sat around our berth on row 11 of the Riverside was a moment of affirmation of a sense of belonging. The players led the 10,000 crowd in applause pre-match for all those we’ve lost in this dreadful pandemic. I daren’t look, or speculate, at the empty seats behind us, that these prime spots aren’t once again populated by familiar faces and, though nameless, characters with who we have formed a bond. And it was delightful to take our friend Ian Herbert as our guest, one of those many people who we have got to know through football and who is always great to be around.

It was also about the rituals. One of which is held in my hand, in the shape of a Clayton Park Potato and Meat Pie. On another occasion, we’ll pop into Leavers Bakery on Bolton Road for a fix of the very best pre-match pie in all of football.

But there’s been a heck of a lot to dislike about football lately. The greed, the scramble to appeal to the vanity of an oligarch to bail out every club in the great unseemly gamble to not fall victim to ‘beware of what you wish for’. The Euros represented the best and worst of football, even for this Anglo-Welshman. A blend of hope, pride, and shame.

As for our team, despite the optimism of Rod Liddle in the Sunday Times who seems to think the ever-improving Blackburn Rovers will finish in the top six, without acknowledging that we’re about to see our best player leave through the same exit door as ten other former first-team regulars, the mood amongst the fans is gloomy. Tony Mowbray seems to have lost what mojo he ever had and is at least honest enough to admit the financial situation is grim. Though we were good for the win yesterday there are still too many players out of position (Rothwell, Gallagher, Dolan and Diaz, notably), the late substitutions disrupt any capacity to control a game fully, and there’s an unhealthy obsession with giving valuable Championship playing time to squad members of the Under 23s, of Everton, Manchester City and Liverpool, rather than those of Blackburn Rovers. That said, the stand-out player for me yesterday was homegrown John Buckley, who at times looked Tugay-esque.

I could have said all of that from the comfort of my sofa. That I didn’t is a tribute to the powerful draw of football, its culture, its rituals and our friends. Between those two Rovers matches have been three new grounds ticked off the list - FC United (159), Hampden Park (160) and AFC Fylde (161). I have a few in my sights this season, but probably will only barely stay in the 80s in my quest to ‘do the 92’.

Steven, with whom I've shared so many great memories, also helped us make a new one as he took me to Cathkin Park in Glasgow to visit the eerie remains of the home of Third Lanark, once a real force in Scottish football. The three sides of a bowl of terraces remain, as are the crush barriers, the pitchside wall, and if I’m being spiritual, a presence of what went before. It’s a tale of corruption and sectarianism I’m keen to discover more about. It’s proof that it’s more than just an old building, but a relic of our true human experience. So yes, forgive the obsession, but I’m oddly fascinated by stadia, where they are and where they were. I still have a frisson of excitement and anticipation in Manchester’s Moss Side on the approaches to the old Maine Road. I always look up from the train as it arrives at Bolton and eye-up the site of the old Burnden Park. But this was something else entirely. 

We’re going to make more memories this season. Mostly in the company of Blackburn Rovers, but also Lancaster City, Matt Jansen’s Stockport Town and maybe a few other random days out too. Hopefully, the Rovers ones will be surprisingly happy ones, but to be really honest, whatever happens on the pitch, they are going to be far better being there than not. Ask the ghosts of Third Lanark.

Wednesday, August 04, 2021

The Unlikely Accountant


I was really humbled to be invited to be a guest on Victoria Mortimer's excellent podcast The Unlikely Accountant. In a very crowded market it really stood out as being authentic, warm, informative and it really piques my curiosity every time a new episode drops. I hope this half-hour chat comes across as OK. We explore some interesting issues around authenticity in business, the old chestnut about the values and attributes of certain professions, debate, but also about mental health, social media and the importance of being nice. 

Sunday, August 01, 2021

Spring summer telly review

Here's a bit of a round up of some TV drama series we've watched. I'll review a few docs and films shortly, but this is a bit of a mixed bag. 

Bloodlands (BBC) - terrible. I genuinely don't know how Ged Mercurio was involved in this. It once again showed one of the inherent weaknesses of BBC Drama, a childlike analysis of historic political issues, where good liberals revisit sins of bad bigots through a consistent and modern lens. 

Deutschland 89 (Channel 4) - every bit as good as I was expecting from the unlikely communist James Bond.

Disappearance (BBC) - really attractive French people eat steak and chips, pizza and ice cream, never get fat, and act really strangely when one of their daughters goes missing. Quite dark, but definitely very French.

Line of Duty (BBC) - I quite liked the ending. I thought it was neat and clever. That's sort of the point, there is no dark criminal mastermind. Everything else has been said. It's good at getting the suspense going, but the plot twists and red herrings are sometimes almost as comic as the needless jargon. 

Unforgotten (ITV) - ITV has got better at these kinds of dramas recently. Nicola Walker in particular really shone out in this well-told, well-acted, well-produced tear-jerker.

The Terror (BBC) - If you sold me the basic premise of a Victorian shipwreck drama I'd struggle to believe it would work, but there was something new and different about this impressively acted series.

Investigation (BBC) - true story, set in Denmark, relating to a disappearance of a girl on a submarine owned by an eccentric entrepreneur. Painstaking and soul-destroying work.

Occupied (Netflix) - Unfortunately this got worse with each series. What started out as a smart take on a futuristic geo-political drama (Russia annexes Norway with EU support) just got silly and too focused on a personal melodrama. 

Startup (Netflix, then season 3 on Amazon Prime) - The premise was good, and seeing Martin Freeman as a shady FBI agent was particularly pleasing, but the stand-out star was Edi Gathegi as Ronald. There are elements of Breaking Bad (ordinary people, organised crime, way over their heads) but overall it didn't reach those heights enough. That may be a high bar to have set, but on reflection there's enough to crave a fourth season. 

Colony (Netflix) - season 3 of this alien colonisation dystopia finally made it to the UK after 4 years. A bit of a mess, seemed to jump ahead and then around with very little context or explanation. 

Baptiste (BBC) - the return of the French detective to a new series set in Hungary was let down by some strange time shifting, but to be fair it picked up towards the end. Some of his policing techniques (compared to the master sleuth he was in The Missing) were as bizarre as they were hopeless. Interesting take on radicalisation in modern Europe.

The Pact (BBC) - alright, there was a cartoon bad guy, some hammy predictable writing, but loaded with really fine British actors. Also, nice to see a Christian character that has flaws, but isn't ultimately trashed as a total hypocrite and is prepared to act selflessly.

Lupin (Netflix) - the second season of this stylish and moral French caper was every bit as charming as the first. Again, a dastardly bad guy, unlikely coincidences and a certain wit made it an easy watch.

And finally, the best thing we've seen for ages - Time (BBC) where two of English acting's greatest talents convey the raw terror of life in our prison system. Obviously I've no direct experience of life behind bars (and Time is a reminder never to find out) but the constant terror and bullying and mental illness is genuinely disturbing. Most impressive of all was the sense of pointless, wasted disasters that have led to people ending up in jail.