Sunday, August 28, 2016

Blackburn Rovers are a League One team - accept that and it all makes sense

It all makes sense to me now. Blackburn Rovers are a League One club, or the Third Division if you prefer. League One crowds, third rate manager, a hotch potch of lower league players. 

Brushed aside by almost Premiership quality Norwich, humiliated by the League One champions Wigan and ultimately beaten by Championship strugglers Fulham who had that little bit of quality in the shape of Tom Cairney.

In the cup, they've made heavy work of beating two League Two sides, but that's because the gap in quality wasn't sufficient to justify a weakened side.

Off the pitch our home fans dipped below 10,000 yesterday, carry on like that and it takes us out of the top 44 best supported clubs in the country, firmly in the third tier.

I said after the Norwich game that we should probably have been relegated last season in order to give us a chance to regroup and rebuild. As it is, we've a manager fighting fires and dropping his own recent signings to the bench, in order to make way for his new new signings. Sounding for all the world like his old mate Steve Kean, Owen Coyle ducked a question about his clear lack of contact with the owners in India by saying he's trying to bring in new faces to give the "group" a boost.

At the end of the match I joined in the applause of the players we put out to face Fulham yesterday. I was pleased that most of the fans did too. It was a better performance than we'd been used to, but it was a sign that we now approach each game as the plucky underdog, not the entitled former champions.  

Friday, August 19, 2016

Holiday reading review, eight recommendations and one stinker

I'm just finishing the last of my designated holiday reads - Matt Haig's Reasons to Stay Alive - about his life with depression. I hesitate to describe it as a battle, because it doesn't do it justice. It just is. His depression is part of who he is, it doesn't define him. Anyway, he is talking at the moment about what a period of intense reading does for him. For me, that's what holidays represent, that and sunshine and spending time with the people you love the most.

I read two biographies, two factual books, five thrillers, one set in Ibiza and Liverpool, one in Scotland, two in the US, one in Geneva. And then there was one I ditched, which I'll come to later.

So here's a quick review, left to right. The latest Jack Reacher is another stormer. I think I've read them all now and they are like a guilty pleasure, a comfort blanket, a familiar journey involving bad people bullying good people and the satisfying dishing out of rough justice.

Jon Ronson's So You Have Been Publicly Shamed was on the reading list for a debate I hosted at the International Festival of Business in Liverpool. The social media apprentices at Juice Academy wanted to thrash out whether social media is out of control. After reading Ronson's book and after seeing the destruction of civil debate before our very eyes, I am convinced it is, especially the way the algorithms continually serve to amplify our prejudices and fill our echo chambers with more and more noise.

Kevin Sampson's The House on the Hill sees the return of Detective Billy McCartney. I liked his attention to the musical and cultural detail of Ibiza 1990 that peppered and then lit up a sharp and urgent writing style. I loved that he has the brass neck to retrospectively write a terrorist plot based on what we know now, rather than what was going on back then. Flawed characters and plausibly but outrageous bad guys permeate the pages. I loved it.

Tim Marshall's medley of football songs and culture, mixed in with his early life, was a bit of a ramble, but I lent it to a football mad teenager who lapped it up. I was pleased he identified this fantastic Stockport County song as one of the best.

Robert Harris' Fear Index picked up on the terror of a world led by machines out of control. I devoured Dave Eggers' dystopian Silicon Valley tale The Circle last year, this Hollywood movie script in waiting was every bit as good and brilliantly researched.

I gave up on Martin Amis' Lionel Asbo. Disgraceful poverty porn masquerading as irony.

After randomly ploughing through James Crumley, Mark Timlin, Kevin Sampson and now Lee Child, I've found a new author to immerse myself in. Christopher Brookmyre's Scottish noir is rapier sharp and lightning quick. Full of knowing references to football, politics and Scottish culture, I think I'm going to like Jack Parlabane almost as much as Jack Reacher.

Having seen New Order on my special birthday for the first time, it seemed right to get Bernard Sumner's take on the evolution of one of the greatest bands of my lifetime. It's an extraordinary early story, jaw dropping at times. But the edited highlights of the New Order story seem to be as fascinating for what's left out as much as what is in. That said, he doesn't seem to leave much out of his account of the deteriorating relationship with Peter Hook.

Finally, Gone Girl was a strange experience. A skillful manipulation of the loyalties and emotions in the story, veering between the perspectives of the two characters. Rarely comfortable, sometimes shocking.

That's a pretty good catch up on where I'm up to book wise at the moment. I have to read a lot for work, so fiction and biogs are a nice complement to industrial strategies, sector reviews and political tracts. Any recommendations gratefully received.

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

The Face - the magazine from 1983 that defined my life

Back in early July, I finally managed to track down a copy of the ultra rare July 1983 edition of The Face magazine. Reading it now it is such a treasure trove of personal memories and cultural totems.

Foremost is Kevin Sampson's splash on football terrace fashion, probably the first such piece in the media. A chronicle of something I knew, something that lived, but was truly of the street and not in any way media made. But there is also a rare interview with New Order, pre-Blue Monday, which massively opened my eyes and ears to them and what they were all about.

But it's also got so many of the staples of my journalistic and cultural upbriging, Robert Elms, Julie Burchill and one of those random Face delights about horror films. 

I bought mine at WH Smith's in Lancaster, providing a massive vindication to my sartorial leanings back then, but I lent it to one of the Blackburn lads when we went to Swansea away and I never got it back. Maybe I influenced a movement, maybe it just got binned.

I was a habitual Face reader, later migrating on to i-D and Arena, but this was the starting point. I simply can't overstate how influenced I was by The Face, and subsequently all that was inspired by the publisher Nick Logan and his crew - it shaped not just what I consumed, but how I approached journalism, ideas, politics, design, aesthetics, fashion, music. Even my university dissertation in 1988 was about male sexuality and the modern media (I'd have got a first if my approach hadn't been so 'journalistic').

I have searched for ages for this particular copy and am embarrassed to say how much I paid on eBay, but it's going in a glass case.

Sunday, August 14, 2016

Leaked scouting report on Blackburn Rovers

Leaving the DW stadium yesterday I found a copy of the scouting report on Blackburn Rovers prepared for the Wigan Athletic manager Gary Caldwell.

"OK lads, this should be a piece of cake. We know Owen's teams won't be as fit as us, so make that count. All that table tennis and card schools get you so far. Think of them like a League One side. Put pressure on their weakest players and it'll work for us.

"When they've got possession press them at every opportunity in midfield, or even in the forward positions, none of them can turn and create space, so just keep pushing them and the ball will go further backwards. If they're daft enough to play Stokes and Marshall behind Graham it will open up the whole midfield for us, especially down our left where Feeney will be. He's fast, but never tracks back.

"Lenehan will charge into challenges, but make sure you're quickly in the space that he leaves. Byrne can't cover it on his own and as long as we press across the middle he'll soon realise the only option is to go backwards.

"Defensively just keep putting pressure on Henley and Lowe, neither have any confidence. Both are out of position. 

"If we get a free kick in the final third, have a go. They've no clue how to build a wall and there's a good chance the keeper will fluff it.

"If you have a chance to get it in the box, give Duffy some stick, or get the ball near him, there's always the chance he'll spoon it in his own net, handball it or rugby tackle one of you.

"As you were lads. Three easy points."

Sunday, August 07, 2016

Honestly, it would have been better if we'd been relegated last season.Grim reflection on Rovers loss to Norwich

I always feel optimistic at the start of a new football season. The sun is shining, the horrors of the previous season are long forgotten and every team starts afresh. We'd also moved to superb new seats right on the half way line, no restricted view and perfect for keeping that Maltese tan topped up.

In our usual pre-match prediction I even shed my nauseous negativity and predicted Blackburn Rovers would beat deflated and relegated Norwich City, expecting they'd be unused to the rough and tumble of Championship football, just as Newcastle proved by surprisingly losing to Fulham the night before.

Joe and Louis, far better readers of football than I, went for a loss and a draw respectively.

We shouldn't really have been surprised. Why on earth a team consisting of 10 of the same team that were crap last season, plus a new signing from relegated Bolton, would find a winning mindset should be obvious. Norwich, relegated they might have been, seemed to assert their collective superior quality in order to prove a point. Rovers, frankly, have no point. Even before the opening goal I couldn't work out a game plan that played to the collective strengths of the team. 

If there is a sliver of optimism it is that the three subs who were introduced, three new signings to boot, were the three stand out performers. Gordon Greer can potentially boss this team, Anthony Stokes shook off the curse of wearing Chris Brown's lead lined number 9 shirt by scoring and Jack Byrne looks like the first Rovers player since Tom Cairney who can do the unexpected AND turn an opponent in midfield. 

They are also the only three players who are winners. Once the first goal went in the rest of the squad did what they did all of last season. They fell to pieces. They have no collective belief. No options. No answer to the constant puzzle about what Ben Marshall's best position is. No confidence in each other to grip a game of football.

Part of me suspects the manager knew all of that. He wanted the team he inherited to prove what they were all about and they stooped to that challenge. 

In many ways it would have been better if we'd been relegated last season. I know that sounds dreadfully negative, but I don't think we can bounce back until we hit our floor and we haven't yet. We're sliding down the pecking order in the Championship, outspent, out thought and out supported by more and more clubs. A club in perpetual decline with no real plan to arrest it.

It's going to be a fairly grim season I'm afraid.