Thursday, December 31, 2009

Football predictions - how am I doing so far?

At the start of the season I made the following predictions for the season. I'm doing better in Pick the Score too. Currently 141 points, 2nd in the league at work, and the best in the country is on, er, 176.

My predictable top 6 only really has the howler of Liverpool's chronic underachievement. The other big surprise this season, for me, has been Birmingham City. The rest I pretty much stick by. Wait and see.

1 Chelsea (spot on)
2 Liverpool (oh dear)
3 Manchester United (slightly underestimated)
4 Manchester City (only one off)
5 Tottenham (only one off)
6 Arsenal (slightly underestimated)
7 Aston Villa (nearly)
8 Everton (some way off)
9 Sunderland (nearly)
10 Fulham (nearly)
11 ROVERS (over optimistic)
12 Wigan (four out)
13 Stoke (nearly)
14 Bolton (bit off)
15 West Ham (nearly)
16 Portsmouth (way off)
17 Burnley (nearly)
18 Wolves (nearly)
19 Hull (spot on)
20 Birmingham (way off)

No point reminding you about the cup predictions, but I did tip Manchester United reserves for the League Cup.
I said Gary Megson would be the first manager to get sacked, he was third. I still think we'll lose at Turf Moor but rightly predicted a win at Ewood over Burnley and I stick to my prediction that they'll stay up.

Elsewhere, West Brom are still on track to win the Championship, but I'm way off in thinkin that Ipswich and Derby would come up with them. Newcastle have done better than anyone imagined and I'm pleased that Blackpool have proved me wrong. I had Ian Holloway down as a clown, but he's done OK. PNE are indeed in mid table, but far from happy.

Huddersfield and Charlton may still go up. Looks like I was wrong about Dirty Leeds staying down. But sadly I was right about Stockport County going down.

It's a good job I'm not a gambler.

Lest we forget

Collection of cool people who have slipped off this mortal coil in 2009. Idiots are mourned elsewhere. Link here.

Hat tip: Chas Devlin.

Marple Leaf reviews 2009

Here are this blog's highlights of 2009 based on the ten most common categories.

Blackburn Rovers - well, I'm on a bit of a downer about this at the moment, but the win over Burnley was a very special day.

Marple - I was moved beyond words at how Marple turned out for Remembrance Day.

Book review in a lift - I still haven't got over quite how brilliant The Road by Cormac McCarthy is. As with many fine things in life it was recommended by my best pal John Dixon.

Friends - we've really enjoyed time with our friends this year, from trips to Center Parcs, Amsterdam, Cornwall, at home and on football tour.

Wine - Stopping drinking for a few months was quite a cleansing experience. That said, a very hearty Unicorn from Robinson's went down well on Tuesday.

Politics - what a dreadful mess. Definite low point was the North West electing that goon. Tory conference in Manchester was good sport, liked Philip Blond and Philip Hammond. Cameron was vapid.

Commuting - It has been a very pleasant year on the Rose Hill thunderbolt, unless the worst guard on the railway is working.

Jokes - I had a go at stand-up, of a manner, but I still think the best joke I've heard this year is this - the best Irish joke ever.

Music -I've really struggled with new music this year. Nothing really stands out. But live wise, Elbow with the Hallé was an amazing experience.

Blogging - this was the year when I got into Twitter, but never at the expense of this blog. I will resolve in the new year to cross post, link and blog a great deal more.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Pictures of the decade

There are some astonishingly good pictures here from the decade we are about to depart.

Hat tip: Norm.

Monday, December 28, 2009

Disappointment in Blunderland

There are insufficient adjectives for awfulness to describe the first half of Blackburn Rovers v Sunderland.

Four hours later I still feel deep disappointment.

Disappointment that I haven't had a chance to see two of my favourite opposition players: Steed Malbranque and Kenwyn Jones, both absent today.

Disappointment that Sunderland were unambitious and jaded.

Disappointment that Blackburn Rovers failed to take advantage of that.

Disappointment that the mood of our supporters is so downbeat, so passionless and so resigned to being served up rubbish.

Disappointment that Keith Andrews is booed by morons when his name is read out.

Disappointment that Morten Gamst Pedersen failed to complete a single pass in the first 45 minutes.

Disappointment more than anything with a negative mental attitude from the manager. Looking back now, we had Manchester United and Liverpool there for the taking at their low points. But he has this view that we're little Blackburn. Mark Hughes never settled for that, and neither did Allardyce when he was at Bolton.

Was there any satisfaction from today? There was until I heard our manager say this:

"We haven't got the clout to go out and buy a Bent or a Peter Crouch."

No, but we do have one of the brightest talents from Chelsea - Franco Di Santo. You, Sam Allardyce, spunked £7m on a Croatian striker who hasn't started a Premier League game yet. We do have a striker who will play in the next World Cup, who just 2 seasons ago, scored 19 goals. These are just excuses and I'm fed up with them.

For me, this represented a crucial turning point in our season. Lose; and it's the prospect of a relegation scrap for the rest of the season. Win; and we can think about cracking on and building confidence for the upcoming cup games. Instead, a draw just prolongs the uncertainty.

As for our family season ticket; it would have cost a painful £80 for us all today. Rachel and Elliot came as well. That means we have got £417 worth of football out of tickets, more than they cost. Any more of this shite and we'll be off to Mossley, Hyde United and Stalybridge Celtic.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Believe in the Sign by Mark Hodkinson - reviewed

I reviewed Mark Hodkinson's novel here - it's called The Last Mad Surge of Youth. If that wasn't a hearty enough recommendation, then one of my top 3 bloggers, here, has also picked up on the author's "ear" and it's authentic qualities - a rock novel you can believe in, he says.

For more, then I can also testify to the delights of Believe in the Sign, Hodkinson's memoir loosely based around following his hapless football club. But really it is a broader reflection on growing up in a northern town in the 1970s and 1980s. I liked it because it is honest, true and full of warmth. There is plenty of crossover with his novel (and why not?) and certainly a great deal more about the lows and more lows of following Rochdale FC. But it's achingly good; it manages to be vivid without being nostalgic or twee, which takes some doing. The passages about his relationship with his parents are just wonderful.

Welcome to readers of the Normblog

One of the earliest inspirations for this blog - back in 2006 - was Norman Geras, custodian and master of the excellent Normblog. I was very flattered to be asked to be the 327th profile on his blog this week. It's here.

To visitors from Professor Norm's blog, I say welcome, but can't promise anything particularly highbrow or as wise as what you may be used to. Have a poke around by all means - the politics and Manchester labels may be of more appeal to you than Blackburn Rovers and Marple ones, but you never know.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Ham is where the heart is

We've had a lovely day today. Went for lunch at the Highwayman Inn near Kirkby Lonsdale, a real treat and a chance to chill out with my Mum who is working tomorrow. But beyond this special dimension, I also rediscovered the delights of York Ham, which was on the specials menu. It's a way of curing ham that originated in York (obviously) but is one of those food curios that is looking for special status that only ham cured in York can call itself a proper York Ham. Well, I don't care where it comes from, but it's blooming well brilliant. Tender and sweet, a layered over a hearty dollop of bubble and squeak it can't be beat.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

My mate.... Dave Crossen #3 in a series

This random shuffle of my address book, ahem, has today thrown up... Dave Crossen.

When we were at University in Manchester from 1985-1988, living in 245 Upper Brook Street, we formed a circle of friends that did very well to stay close over the years. We shared houses and flats with various combinations in London, settled down, were best men and ushers at each others weddings. I'll admit I'm really only close to one of the group - John Dixon, Joe's godfather - it's not that we've fallen out, we just went off in different directions. Dave, from Leeds, went to New York. I haven't seen him for ages (3 years), but remarkably he is in Manchester today to stay with his brother (another great lad) and we're meeting for a drink tonight. We have much to catch up on.

Stockport County without a paddle

Stockport County supporters, here, have planned a demonstration and protest march today as their club slides towards oblivion. I wish them well, but fear the worst.

Here is how one County fan I know articulated it:

The worst day in our history wasn't losing any of four important games at Wembley, it wasn't two successive relegations, it wasn't applying for re-election, it wasn't getting knocked out the cup against Everton with a really fluke goal a second after our equaliser, it wasn't that cheating Ted McMinn ruining our promotion day at the twin towers, it wasn't being robbed at Boro in the league cup semi in 97, it wasn't even taking on Carlton Palmer as manager, nor sacking two of our best ever managers Bergara and Gannon, it wasn't losing 0-6 at little tiny Macc Town, it was the day the buffoons in charge of us signed us over to Sale f***ing Sharks, owned by a ruthless multi-millionaire who saw us coming and f***ed us for all we're worth, it's our pitch it's our ground, only it's not any more, 100 odd years of history and great times, and I now hate the place.

I can't begin to imagine how it must feel. I feel shame that as a football supporter I've been on Edgeley more times to watch egg chasing than the beautiful game.

For Sale Sharks, though they are doing OK, as discussed here, their owner doesn't want to be in Stockport any more. It would be better if they sorted out a new ground of their own at Sport City, or a share with Salford Reds at their planned new stadium near the Trafford Centre.

As for County, they need a clean slate, which is easier said than done. I know at least three potential bidders who have walked away in horror from what is happening. And the longer the administrators are in, clocking up fees, the harder it becomes to secure a deal. They desperately need to be out of administration this season. If they don't, they are down and out playing Stalybridge Celtic and Hyde United, if they are lucky. The trouble is, the entry ticket to football club ownership is of such a level now it is beyond the gift of a philanthropic fan - and there are no banks willing to lend - so making a profit on buying a distressed asset has proved uncertain. It has ceased to be worth the effort.

Monday, December 21, 2009

The Red Lion in High Lane - reviewed

The third of our restaurant reviews for families has been published on Manchester Confidential.

Here's a flavour of our visit to the Red Lion in High Lane:

There is no better host at any restaurant I’ve been to than Steve Pilling. Period. Robinson’s brewery have spotted that and they must have sunk the thick end of £1m into this. He has raised the game in this relatively barren corner of Greater Manchester with a local pub restaurant that oozes class.

And here is our report.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

The Road is now a film

The Road by Cormac McCarthy has been made into a film. It remains one of the best books I've ever read, so I'm anxious it doesn't ruin something so powerful and evocative.

The author is profiled in the paper today, here. It describes him as the ultimate pessimist. I didn't reach that conclusion at the end of The Road, in fact, quite the opposite.

Good weather

There's no such thing as bad weather, just the wrong kind of clothes. Or, in the case of the Highways Agency in Greater Manchester, and Stockport Council, an inability to grit the roads round here. What a shambles.

Tidying up

I've taken a couple of blogs off my links (right) as they haven't been updated recently. If the owners return let me know and I'll restore. Likewise if anyone else out there links to me and I don't link back, please let me know and I'll sort it.

Spooked again

The current series of the ever excellent Spooks reaches the grand finale this week. It's been another belter, despite more plot holes than the roads of Blackburn, Lancashire. But the identity of the bad guys has once again caused scorn.

Nick Cohen makes some very good points in this piece here that the real MI5 is tracking Islamist terrorists pretty much all the time. On the grid meanwhile Sir Harry, Roz and Lucas are battling international cabals, Isrealis, greens, Russkis and private bankers. He traces this as a trend through James Bond and the Bourne series. Even detecting political cowardice and a fear of offending muslims.

First the Greens, then the Jews, then the Hindus-baffled viewers will be expecting the English Quakers and Burmese Buddhists next. Maybe the BBC will get round to them, but as the eighth series of Spooks draws to its conclusion, we know that for the time being at least, the scriptwriters have identified the real enemy. Episode by episode, Harry and his team have learned about a conspiracy of awesome power. As with Bourne and Bond, it is a cabal that has established itself at the highest levels of Western intelligence services. Once again, the good guys must fight the real menace that comes from the enemy within.

We have been at war since 9/11. To judge from popular drama, we have been at war with ourselves.

I think he's overdoing it, personally. AQ is always there in Spooks, but this is daft telly with a need for twists and turns.

And character wise, Roz has had all the best lines in this series. I hope she isn't killed off, you just know that one of them will be.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

All we are saying, is give us a goal

Not much to say about today's game between Blackburn Rovers and Spurs. We lost 2-0 and shouldn't have. The moaning from the fans (including my kids) about the refereeing would have been irrelevant if McCarthy had scored his easy chances. It was cold. We left early, which I never usually do.

Used all the season tickets and smuggled Elliot in. Rachel's working a night shift at the moment and therefore sleeping through the day, so she needed us out. That would have cost us £59, which means we've had £337 worth of footballing fun.

Name that group

I sat down to browse and blog last night but got distracted by this here.

It's a pop music picture quiz. So far I'm on 224 out of 270. The American rockers confuse me.

This is a sure sign that I am beginning to unwind for a 2 week break.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Freedom of expression

Read this. It's about Britain's libel laws.

You may then want to sign this.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

To Hull and back

Had a very enjoyable day trip to Hull City v Blackburn Rovers on Saturday. Another 0-0 draw, but a decent performance lay at the centre of it. Nicola Kalinic gets into some great positions and must score soon, or he'll end up next to Corrado Grabbi on here. All the midfield players had chances galore to blast in a shot, but seem to be looking for the perfect pass. It's where David Dunn is so effective, so his recovery would be welcome.

Away trips are about more than just the match though. Me and my pal Steven got a chance to catch up on this and that without wives or kids in tow. We took the train over and had a look around Hull; finding a decent piece of haddock for lunch, which you'd expect at the seaside. Hull's German christmas market is really just a dressed up car boot sale and tatty market, but it's nice they're trying to make an effort. I'm still not drinking so I probably ruined Steven's day by keeping us out of Wetherspoons.

It was also the 127th ground on which I've watched football and was a rare day out for the flag (pictured).

There was plenty of noisy banter and solid support from the 1500 travelling fans. I'd say 5 per cent are total cretins; real neanderthal dingbats who boo Keith Andrews before he's even taken the field and sing the most offensive and racist songs imaginable about Owen Coyle. A further 20 per cent are just young lads who are easily led. The remainder, that is most Rovers fans, are quite nice people. But it does mean there's a good chance you'll get a nutter in your orbit at a reasonably well attended away match and there isn't anywhere to move to. One idiot, who I recognised from home games, stood up throughout, without a thought for the young lads behind him. No-one asked him to sit down, not even a steward. It was like he was willing anyone to challenge him. We suggested to the teenage lads sat behind him that two seats on our row were empty and that they'd get a better view. They seemed very relieved.

As a parent the question then is do you want your kids subjected to louts standing up in front of you and coming out with this rubbish. I'd say not yet, but that's life.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Get up stand up

Regular readers will have noticed I do a bit of public speaking as part of my job. I enjoy it and try and do new things all the time. Occasionally I tell the odd story, or short joke, but it's always secondary to the main event and core message.

When I heard that Richard Bacon was going to do a night at Edinburgh as a stand up comedian I was full of admiration. I think stand up looks incredibly hard and was interested in what he went through.

Well, last night I had a go myself. Admittedly, 110 people at Marple Cricket Club was not quite an open mic session at a comedy club, but I think it went OK.

My role was to just do a few bits of housekeeping to welcome people to our junior football club Christmas party for parents and supporters, no kids. After dinner, my pal Jason Isaacs was going to be performing with his band A Few Good Men, so the least I could do was put a smile on people's faces to get the evening off to a happy start.

I had the routine worked out: pepper the housekeeping announcements with gags and a few stories about being a football parent.

I started with some short tales about some of the rough arsed places we go to for away matches and a few friendly jibes at local rivals - paying off with an old old gag that some people hadn't heard before.

Next I moved on to golf - we have a club golf day at the same venue - I thanked the bloke who organises it - didn't get much from him and remembered that I just don't know him well enough to take the piss out of his business - which I did consider - but moved on quickly. Quick Tiger Woods quip which was mistimed and misjudged. Move on quickly.

Next, the open goal. The club secretary is a mine of material - Scouser, attractive younger wife, nice bloke, lost weight recently. Kept going for a while with this, lot of laughs. Really pleased, was on a roll here. People seemed surprised and happy.

The finale was an amended joke I've seen done with expert precision by Ted Robbins. So I've introduced people, said thanks, name dropped a Bryan Robson story, so people think it could be possible that we really do have a special guest. I take off my specs. Cough, look nervous and serious and ask for hush. "Ladies and gentlemen, tonight we have a special surprise guest. He's a local sporting legend, he's fought in Manchester and Las Vegas, he's held world titles, he usually walks out into bigger rooms than this to the chimes of Blue Moon, but tonight let's give a warm Marple welcome to our special *surprise* guest tonight.... Ricky "the Hitman" Hatton."

This will either die on its arse, or people will believe it. They look round, they applaud. There are gasps.

I put my glasses back on. And I say, squinting at the table by the door: "Oh dear. I'm sorry love."

Bingo. It works. The best and biggest laugh of the night. I love this. What an incredible feeling. Time to end, quit now on a high. Thank them for their time, encourage them to give generously.

This may not count as a "thing to try before you die" but it was a nerve wracking experience and something new for me. I'd like to have another go, in another environment, and will work on more stories. 'Ave it!

Wednesday, December 09, 2009

The Last Mad Surge of Youth - book review

Reading fiction, for me, requires a longer sitting than 20 minute bursts on commuter trains. I'm pleased I made the effort to finish this excellent book. I liked the vivid and anti-nostalgic account of a northern upbringing in the 1970s and the journeys of friends, forming a band and forging an identity. It's bleak at times and though there are large passages that make you feel uneasy, it's never a difficult read. Mark Hodkinson is an observant writer with a good ear, Martin. And the two friends at the centre of the story - think Our Friends in the North with guitars - are vivid and recognisable characters. One of the reviews, here, conjurs up another book I've enjoyed recently - John Niven's Kill Your Friends - noting by way of contrast that this avoids the sex drugs and rock n roll - but instead centres on notions of ambition and courage.

Heartily recommended - 8/10.

And there is something quite special about a Pomona book.

Tuesday, December 08, 2009

Clive James and Martin Amis on ageing

If you look in the forthcoming events section of any national newspaper or political magazine or literary journal, you can't help but be struck by the vast number of intellectual events taking place on any night of the week. In London.

Rather than moaning about this, I went to an event last night at the University of Manchester where Martin Amis (60) and Clive James (70) were talking about ageing in literature. How the voices of the aged were sadly missing - how Dickens and Shakespeare died in their 50s. Where then is there a voice from the elderly?

Fascinating it was. Amis opened up by bemoaning the later works of John Updike, who had "lost his ear".

James retorted with several aces skillfully flipped on the table: Tolstoy, Goethe, Yeats. In particular Yeats "exploited the power of reflection, a transparency denied to the young," said James.

They both had the intellectual sharpness, but confessed to rattling a little.

Speaking to Clive James afterwards he spoke of his own impatience and vigour for the web. His own work in progress - - he finds intruiging and beguiling. Oh to be young again.

The audience was appreciative and lapped it up. There is a healthy intellectual life here, but it needs feeding and supporting.

Saturday, December 05, 2009

Admirable Nelsen

By their own standards, and by the expectations of their supporters, Liverpool were poor at Ewood Park today. And as Rovers failed to convert good chances in the last few minutes, I think we have to chalk that one off as points dropped. But no matter, the place is buzzing, it's been a great week at Blackburn Rovers. We're in the semi finals of the Carling Cup, we're above Burnley in the league at last and more importantly we're playing some good football while we add to the points tally. Sam Allardyce, sat up in the director's box, earpiece snugly fitted and video monitor in position, was pleased with the clean sheet and the growing reputation that we're quite hard to beat at Ewood.

For me, it was a great day out. I went as a guest of one of the club's sponsors and enjoyed the company of their chairman and two mates of mine who were also guests. But the added bonus was I got to present the man of the match award to Ryan Nelsen in the Clayton/Douglas Lounge. Also on hand to sign a book for me was King Kenny Dalglish.

I have to say Ryan Nelsen is a proper bloke; a real gent and a professional captain. And as a player I think he's a colossus. He got in the way of everything today and nearly set up Diouf for a goal when he went on a mazy run up the left wing in the second half.

Rachel took three of the boys on the season tickets, which would have cost £80, which means we've used £278 worth so far and it's still only December. What a bargain.

Some advent links

Some assorted links I've liked.

Try this game - locate the football ground. Endless minutes of fun. I scored 118402.

The flip side of the Football Museum moving to Manchester - what next for Urbis? From Gnome Chomsky.

Extraordinary story - The man who smuggled himself into Auschwitz. From Derren Brown.

Oh dear - Roger Cashman has discovered Twitter.

Some cool looking stickers have been popping up around these parts. From CasCo.

I'm going to keep my eye on this. The Reference Council.

Stop the X Factor morons getting a Christmas number one.

Cities bidding for the World Cup - is it just me, but has Liverpool the weakest case of all?

One of my lads is obsessed with penguins. This public art lark in Liverpool looks great.

Friday, December 04, 2009

Is there a Doctor in the house?

I very rarely go to the Doctors. Whenever I do I come away feeling like I've been wasting someone's time. My Dad has had problems with high cholestral, my Mum only has one kidney and my sister had something which forced me to check something of my own, so I feel entitled to be concerned enough to check things out. On every occasion they have been all clear, but my GP seems to very quickly dismiss everything I have a concern about. I rather get the feeling my notes read: "hypocondriac".

Contrast this with the attitude at Marple Physio clinic today. My lower back has been killing me this week. I had an appointment time that suited me, and within 40 minutes Matthew Carpenter asked questions, watched me walk and made me stretch. Then he had me doing exercises, massaged me and said, Let me tell you what I think is going on here. He then adjusted my car seat and sent me away feeling tons better, with some ideas to sit better and, I feel this is significant, £37 lighter of pocket.

I have to say, it has been the best money I've spent all week. I know nothing of this clinic other than the positive experiences I have had on the two occasions I've been there. It has a sense of customer service about it. Something the NHS does not. Because this is 2009 and feelings run high, I feel I have to qualify this by saying I care passionately about the importance of the NHS in this country, but something is wrong at the core. I don't base this on what I have experienced, today, but a slow realisation and observation about how organisations work and why.

The Elder Statesman

I had the pleasure of interviewing Sir Mark Elder recently. In the interview he talked about many things, but importantly about how people can be touched by classical music and return to it at different times in their lives.

“I’ve tried to make the Hallé so much a part of the fabric of the city, that even people who don’t appreciate the music we produce, at least recognise that Manchester would be a poorer place if the Hallé didn’t exist. We need different sorts of music. If you can show a five-year-old child a concert orchestra, they may not need that music until they are 45, but they try that and remember these people who came to school. They may move to pop music, and that’s great because music is spiritual food. We need it as much as we need fresh air, companionship, a social life or sports. Music is something to share with others. It has to have an open door.”

What a lovely way of putting it.

Sometimes you meet people who are good at what they do. In fact, I'm lucky enough to do this rather a lot. But other times you meet a real inspiration. He's one.

The end result is here.