Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Now to enjoy the World Cup

England's inevitable and dismal departure was greeted with anger and frustration rather than sadness. This so-called golden generation have proved me right. They are thick. They cannot play to a system capable of winning a tournament. The excuses about the long hard Premier League don't wash - not when you see Tevez, De Jong and van Persie playing with such verve. I don't want to waste another word on them.

We can enjoy the prospect of four cracking quarter finals.

So, how have my predictions gone? I ran all the likely scores into a spreadsheet and kept going. Just to pause at the last 8 I predicted this:

Netherlands 1 2 Brazil
South Africa 1 0 Ghana
Argentina 2 1 Germany
Italy 1 2 Spain

Now, as I was wrong about South Africa having the luck of the hosts, and Italy being even worse than England. I'll have another go.

Netherlands 1 2 Brazil
Uruguay 3 5 Ghana PENS
Argentina 2 1 Germany
Paraguay 1 3 Spain


Saturday, June 26, 2010

The future's bright

I was a judge in the Young Enterprise competition this year. It was actually quite emotional seeing these fantasticly bright young schoolkids presenting and communicating their unique business idea. It was a tough call, but the winners were from Clitheroe Royal Grammar School in Lancashire for their locally sourced food hamper.

The ideas presented to us were very good. There was another food business from Longridge, a book publisher from Maryport and a business from Wilmslow produced a DVD to help elderly people with IT.

It should take nothing away from the kids who won, but I would have liked to have seen more entries from schools from... how can I delicately put this? Er, from areas where kids probably don't think of themselves as entrepreneurs. The success of the programme will be in inspiring young minds to have more ambition.
Posted by Picasa

Thursday, June 24, 2010

One Day - by David Nicholls

Just finished this fantastic novel for our time. It starts on graduation day - July 15th - in Edinburgh in 1988, the same year I graduated from Manchester. It then returns to the lives of the two characters, Dexter and Emma, each year on the same day. I couldn't put it down, really very good, touching, shocking, poignant, warm, clever, observational and so very, very right.

I don't read enough fiction - this was a cracker - 9/10

Sorry Vinjay - Rovers takeover off

A regular poster on the this blog, Vinjay - a Blackburn Rovers fan - is going to be disappointed.

Dan Clough at Rovers Return, and a journalist from the same stable as the Lancashire Telegraph, reports that the takeover by Saurin Shah isn't going to progress. Read this here.

I also spoke to two very well connected Rovers fans today with a close interest in any potential takeover. Their sources and contacts also pointed to the bid being a fishing expedition. The guy doesn't have the money, just an idea.

I'll admit, my alarm bells rang when he did this interview with the Lancashire Telegraph. I must have written about more takeovers than I care to recall. No successful serious entrepreneur does an interview with a local paper at such a stage. But then again, football is different.

This has stiffened the resolve of a number of individuals to get the process going again in a way that was tried in 2008 before the financial world collapsed.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Boo Roo - how dare you

There isn't much more to add to the stream of comments on the World Cup. My tweets at the end of the game sum up how I still feel about the shocking England circus.
  • Rooney - how dare you criticise people who have travelled so far. You were booed because you let them down
  • Shameful performance by England. Cheating, clueless, sneering.
  • Lampard Gerrard just can't make it work. Both too stubborn and arrogant to adapt
So far I'm out with my predictions on the second games. I'm out with England too, I thought they'd lose to the USA and draw with Algeria. They'll scrape past Slovenia, but they deserve to lose. The golden generation has been hung by the pertard of their arrogance.

The game I have enjoyed watching most was North Korea v Brazil.

I don't like the vuvuzelas. They are a din.

ITV is absolutely dreadful. BBC is far better.

I like Radio 5. Nicky Campbell and Danny Baker are masters. Robbie Savage is ace. But listening to matches on Radio 5 is difficult - the intense, relentless, droning low level hum that gets in your head and ruins the experience of the game. No, not the vuvuzelas: Alan Green.

Marple carnival, the Salford Star and hyperlocal news

As it's Marple carnival today thoughts inevitably turn to broader considerations about community cohesion; how a place like this not only functions successfully but also prospers. A key ingredient is an event like today's carnival - it's the mortar between the bricks.

But how is something like this communicated? And what role does a local media have in it? There is no coverage in this week's Stockport Express ahead of the event - there will be next week - and yet everyone is aware of it and talking about it. The bunting is out, the programmes are distributed, the posters are up and the Marple website has a big section on it. It's an event just made for the new wave of hyperlocal news services that are springing up.

At a meeting last week of a community group I'm involved in, we discussed how to communicate something we need communicating. Posters will be posted in relevant places, websites will be used and then someone suggested advertising in the local paper. I'm sure the same debate was had at the Marple Carnival committee.

Now, each week I dutifully buy the Stockport Express, just as I have bought the Hackney Gazette and the Lancaster Guardian in previous places I've lived. But it wouldn't help at all. We would waste effort begging the district reporter to cover the story, and an advert would be a waste of money.

It turns the arguments for hyperlocal news on their head. There's a debate on David Ottewell's blog here, sparked by a decision by Salford Council not to fund The Salford Star. Without going into the detail of that issue, it strikes me the debate seems to pivot around democracy, political accountability and public services. Because it is "a good thing" that journalists should do this, then so it follows that they should. Therefore the failure of other media to do this creates a hole which must be filled. Yet the very reason why local papers don't divert their resources to covering council meetings and committee meetings is an imbalance between the resource needed to do so and the rate of return of readers. In short, I'm not sure there is a demand for that level of engagement; certainly not enough to build a business on it.

Yet hyperlocal still excites me. Editorially, there are stories the print media don't cover. The reason? They just aren't close enough to the people they are writing about (and for) to realise that they matter. There is actually a more urgent appetite for hyperlocal discourse about the rather more mundane and lighter parts of life. Like a carnival, or a lacrosse tournament or where to get a birthday cake made.

I'm fairly sure that the two-fisted Salford Star approach wouldn't work here in Marple. And in reverse I do think a bit more of the soft stuff - with tweaks, with a good commercial manager and a broader editorial approach - it could thrive in Salford without having to go cap in hand to the council. It shouldn't come to that. But a sound commercial base, rooted in private community support and a strident pro local business stance may well give editor Steve Kingston the space and time to point out where the bad guys are hiding.

But it is also true that there is a massive commercial opportunity for hyperlocal media, especially in many of Greater Manchester's more identifiable communities. And the form that will take depends very much on the fabric of those communites and areas. One size will not fit all.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Football and its traditions

One of the nearest non-league semi-pro clubs to us is in Hyde. According to this news today Hyde United are to drop the United and play in blue, which will mean repainting their very red Ewen Fields ground. This is related to their new partnership with the world's richest club from down the road. Manchester City are to play their reserve games in Hyde, despite having a mini stadium at SportCity.

There's an update from Hyde chairman Steve Hartley here.

This club nearly died last season, their rescue was paid for a businessman involved in another club. David Conn, who writes for the Guardian (and Insider occasionally), has been known to comment on the savage juxtaposition of extreme wealth and poverty in football. "Ryan Giggs could solve the problems of Sunday football in Manchester with one visit to cash machine," he may have said once.

For that reason I applaud this.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

To win at all costs

We had the first tournament of the kids football summer season today. I haven't seen much of Louis' team this term as his games clash with other children's activities on our manic Saturday mornings. They are now Under 10s and have come along brilliantly. The team manager is a smashing bloke who lets the kids make decisions for themselves, offers words of encouragement and briefs them well before the games. During the games however, he is a quiet presence. It feels like a good set up. The boys also seem to have an instinctive desire to pass the ball throughout the game, rather than hoof and rather than let the more confident and gifted players run the show.

So how did they do? Well, they didn't win the cup. They got through the group stage, winning four, drawing one and losing the last group game. They won a quarter final on penalties, which seems very cruel, and lost in the semi final by a late late goal.

The slightly depressing conclusion to the day was that both finalists were managed by Dads who in different ways had it wrong. They are either the ones doing all the screaming that everything on the FA videos and the coaching courses tells you not to do, or encouraging cynicism and gamesmanship. In fact, one of them was on my course last year and I thought he was a prat then. It amounts to putting the kids under unbearable pressure, criticising them with inappropriate negative language, barking instructions throughout the match. You wonder why they do it, it's as if they were playing a PlayStation game and the kids were avatars - rather than playing a part in the education and development of young children.

So, have we got it wrong? Are the values of our club destined not to win because our managers do it gently, but lack the motivational skills to get them to win?

I think it's more complex than that and I prefer to keep an eye on the bigger picture and see how you prepare them for either eventuality. This, I think, is where we do better. Our children looked disappointed when they lost, but not devastated. They were clapped off as heroes by their parents. I cannot bear to think of the pressure on the finalists and how the losing team are coping with defeat tonight. And I'm sure they are capable of tasting tournament victory one day.

Only one team can win, and it is as important to get children to prepare for one outcome as it is the other. Just ask Robert Green. Am I wrong?

Friday, June 11, 2010

World Cup predictions

I filled all my predictions for all the group games into a spreadsheet. Everything points to a Spain v Brazil final, but with South Africa and Argentina getting to the semis.

England - scraping through the group and going out to Germany in the round of 16.

Here are my predictions for the Quarter Finals:

Netherlands 1 2 Brazil
South Africa 1 0 Ghana
Argentina 2 1 Germany
Italy 1 2 Spain

I think Spain will go on to win it.

Goals scored: 121

Sendings off: 10

Top scorer: David Villa

An open and welcoming message to Saurin Shah

Well hello!

So we understand you want to buy our wonderful football club. Good luck! I just wanted to mention a few things that might not pop up in your commercial due diligence.

Also, it's been said that you were there at the Arsenal game at the end of last season. Clearly you enjoyed it as much as we did. It was a great day and showed off Blackburn Rovers at our best. A strong and resolute team performance, securing a top ten finish. You will have witnessed great support from the fans. And you will have savoured a man of the match performance from our local hero David Dunn. You will have noticed that scruffy French kid in the wooly hat getting some award at half time, that was Steven N'Zonzi, the player of the year. Take all that in, because contained within all of it was what makes this club special.

It isn't always like this however. The season can seem long and a grind. When we lose at Everton, Man City and Stoke it tests your faith. You will look at these wealthy players who don't seem to be able to perform and despair. But you have to stick with it. Form can dip, the manager can seem negative and grumpy, but at heart he's a good man. He has a good scouting network, he finds gems, like our player of the year. Don't get your head turned by younger managers with fancy methods, something good is building at Rovers. The Academy at Brockhall is a treasure trove. Extend it. Make it the place the best kids want to come to. That's the place where investment is needed.

Be patient. Our local talisman is an injury prone genius. Our goalkeeper was a reject who was written off but has missed out on the World Cup because he plays for an unfashionable club. But they are stars. Our stars. So is our centre half - a teenager from Chorley. They are adored. And so is our player of the year, a young man plucked from obscurity.

Our fans are usually right. When Jack Walker owned the club he didn't like a certain type of flash player and blocked some transfers. There are players who just aren't Rovers players, learn about that and treasure it as a core value. El Hadji Diouf should have no place in our club.

Blackburn is a multi-racial town, but Rovers supporters are mainly white working class men. This has changed a bit over the years, but don't expect to see much of an affinity with the local Asian population without a long hard effort to win hearts and minds and don't expect them flocking overnight. The current marketing and management team have been focused on shoring up what we have, but with your help greater links with India, with Asian communities and with other sports can expand Rovers as a brand.

You will have seen other owners of football clubs in the Premier League see their dreams shattered because they splash the money and lose it. Rovers have a heart and soul and a family spirit that is very much in touch with the roots of East Lancashire life. But it is just one aspect of our community. Build on that, extend deeper into that, and build the links with your own heritage - it could well yield commercial rewards and enable this club to move further forward.

Be realistic about what that could be. Be modest, be strong, value quality and there is a good chance that in the future there could be a statue of you next to the one of Uncle Jack.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Post-recession insights

I've upped the output on my work blog. There's a piece here about an event I chaired on Tuesday night for the accountants BDO, not to be confused with the British Darts Organisation, where a panel of business people shared some Post-recession insights. Guest speaker was Tim Harford from the FT and author of the Undercover Economist.

Sunday, June 06, 2010

World Cup fever

I am very excited about the World Cup.

However, there aren't any St George's flags on our cars. We have not covered the house in bunting. We are not planning to get tattoos or paint our faces. In fact I feel very flat about the England team and their prospects. I've blogged before about the unpleasant experience of following England in Germany in 2006 (like Rangers in Manchester, but worse). I wished I hadn't bothered. It served to rather expose my lack of patriotic fervour for the national team.

So I've got high hopes for some quality. And seeing as my predictions have gone well this year I think Spain will win it. But just watch it and love it. It's the beautiful game.

Whitehaven in our prayers

The impact of the mass murder in West Cumbria has been in our thoughts and prayers this week. It's one of those dreadful, inexplicable and horrible events that makes you ask a lot of fundamental questions about humanity, community and the battle between good and evil. Last week evil triumphed. But good is shining through Whitehaven now.

Henry Porter captures it well in the paper today, here.

Which three artists are at the heart of your musical DNA ?

The intense musical internal interrogation goes on. It has been stimulated by a teasing question posed on The Word website here: Which three artists are at the heart of your musical DNA ?

It's hard to answer this beyond the first one. The Jam. That starts everything else. More so than the Clash and their glorious use of reggae riffs on Guns of Brixton and covers like Police and Thieves. The Jam were also about concept albums, showmanship, political anthems and working class anger. They were the first band I absorbed. But it was just the beginning of a musical journey. Even when he ran The Jam Paul Weller encouraged diversions into Motown (Heatwave, In the Midnight Hour). A review of Sound Affects I read compared it to The Beatles album Revolver, which I bought the very next day and loved. And if there had been no Jam, there would have been no Oasis - and so many others. And then there are Weller's other later trends - house music, folk, Dadrock.

Second is just bewildering. I love a female voice in a harmony. My early memories of music growing up were Captain & Tenille, Carly Simon, Helen Reddy and The Carpenters, but I couldn't and don't think about them hardly at all. And certainly can't trace a huge portion of my musical love to them. Do you know what, I think the stirrings of something started with Abba. That melancholy, that hurt, that celebration and expectation of love. It's probably why I like the Cardigans, Texas, disco divas like Donna Summer, but also Prefab Sprout and Scritti Politti. The vote of this jury gives Sweden the full 10 points.

Third then starts to feel like an exercise in showing off. I'm desperately trying not to, and much as I'd like to pretend I have some gritty Northern artists in my musical genes I don't. I LOVE The Stone Roses, well, their only good album is in any top 3, I like The Smiths a lot. I love New Order, but can only really endure half a dozen Joy Division songs. No, I've got a guilty secret and it's bombastic rock with a heart. And there is no-one better at this than the Boss. From there comes U2, REM and the Manics.

That's a long way of answering the question. The short way is The Jam, Bruce Springsteen and Abba.

Saturday, June 05, 2010

Make Hay?

We've been umming and aahhing about going to a music festival for a while, but haven't done anything about it.

We popped along to see my mate's band A Few Good Men last weekend at the Rock Tavern in Marple Bridge. The older ones liked the music for about two songs and wanted to run about. The younger ones thought it was too loud.

However, looking at this, the better option might be to go to the Hay Festival next year. If anyone else has gone, let us know what it's like with kids in tow.