Tuesday, November 30, 2021

Lunch of the month for November

I had some really good lunches in November, even better than the month before. 

I won't count the limp chicken salad (middle, right) at a hotel in Manchester that should know better, especially as the kitchen utterly redeemed themselves with a high quality set dinner for the guests at a business get together I was working at.

I probably shouldn't count the pie, mash and veg at York City v Buxton (top left). We booked in for some hospitality and although it was a total bargain it wasn't quite in the spirit of popping out for a quick lunch for under or around a tenner.

Bundobust brewery on Oxford Street, last month's winner, hit all the right notes again and me and my friend Katie properly delved into the menu this time (top, centre). Someone I know who works across the street from there has been for a ludicrous number of lunches. I dare say I'd be the same if still worked around that part of town.

The lunch special at Istanbul Grill in Denton was really good (top, right). It had a fairly neutral feel for a Turkish restaurant, like one of the neighbourhood Italians we go to locally, but the food was obviously from further east. No complaints about the food at all though, from me who had kofte meatballs, or from Kid4 who had the grilled chicken.

Rachel and I really enjoyed a katsu curry and dumplings from Manzuko (centre left) in the new food hall opposite the Bridgewater Hall. It was a good spot to dive into between sessions at the Louder Than Words festival nearby. It was also presented very, very well. 

One particularly delightful surprise was a vegan kebab joint in the Northern Quarter called What the Pitta (bottom row). It was packed with crunchy salad, spicy as you like and the meat substitute was sufficiently juicy and tasty that I probably wouldn't have noticed if I hadn't been told. 

My latest swoop on Kabana (centre), virtually next door, was in the company of a true believer, Kevin Gopal, editor of the Big Issue in the North. We also planned our visit properly and whoever arrived first had to pre-order the grilled lamb chops, which take a few minutes, obviously. Honestly, they are the best lamb chops I've ever had. The bread was tip top too, the side of chicken curry just right and therefore I have great pleasure in announcing that at the head of a very strong field this month is Kabana. 

Writing for The Big Issue in the North

I'm very pleased today. There's a story published in the Big Issue in the North that I've wanted to write for a few years now, an interview with Patrick Grant from Community Clothing.

Full disclosure, I was an early adopter of the utilitarian clothing brand, I subscribed to the first crowdfunder and have a few of their hard-working pieces. But, as Patrick makes clear in the interview, they don't work with so-called influencers and chuck out freebies. I wouldn't want them even if they did. The reason I wanted to speak to Patrick and dig a little deeper into his philosophy is because of what he's doing for the cause of northern manufacturing and re-establishing a sense of purpose and pride to places that make things. It just so happens he's doing this from Blackburn, where I watch my football and have an affinity, but that's only part of it. 

In so many nooks and crannies of the fashion world I hear barbed digs about what Community Clothing is, and what Patrick's agenda is. Maybe I didn't dig hard enough, but I don't see anything to snipe at.

Anyway, read it and let me know what you think. It's a good follow up to the insights I picked up from looking into emerging northern textiles businesses for The Mill recently.

It's the second piece I've written for The Big Issue in the North this year, but not the last. The first was an opinion piece on the awkward spot the BBC has found itself in, then this week's piece with Patrick Grant, on Monday I filed another feature for next week with a nationally known public personality with lots to say. 

Kevin Gopal and Antonia Charlesworth, editors at Big Issue in the North, are also exceptionally good at nudging, pushing and tweaking. They definitely improved the piece from commissioning to publishing. It's not surprising that the magazine is always a good read. It's well written, authentic, lively, it has strong clear design, but with a very real sense of who it is for and what the reader will be interested in.

So, go and get yours today, support your vendors, and support quality print media.

Of if you can't get out to a Co-op store, or a vendor, and if you don't live in the North, then you can buy a digital copy online, here.

Sunday, November 28, 2021

Analyse this - a Blackburn Rovers fan on the couch

Football has a habit of messing with your head. Any game can only have one of three outcomes; win, lose or draw. On balance, I can probably live with that most weeks. I can also accept that in most seasons, because I see more of Blackburn Rovers at the home games than the rare occasions when I go on away trips, therefore I expect to see more wins than any of the other outcomes. This may not be statistically in tune with reality, but I have conditioned my brain to expect that outcome in the face of all other probabilities. With away matches, I expect Rovers to lose, and therefore my default response is disappointment, but not embarrassment or anger, as it tends to be at Ewood. It’s what psychologists of the transactional analysis theoretical school might refer to as my ‘football ego state’.

Yesterday at Stoke was just like that, but something was going on in front of me that contested every neural signal. This is a good team, knowing what to do, playing against a home side lacking belief, which wasn't for me to worry about. 

It was with nervousness that I revisited my case notes after this same eleven players, give or take, were ruthlessly taken apart by Fulham and subjected to a 7-0 home defeat.

OK, I confessed to feeling numb and said it felt like the slow death of a football club. That’s probably the bit where I was catastrophising. Where a good therapist would lean in and say, “but is that really true?”

But having looked back, I stand by most of the rest of it.

In essence, I said I like this team, but that the club feels adrift. Nothing's changed, really.

There was certainly lots more to like about them at Stoke. I could just list the players from 1-11 and all of the subs, and then single out John Buckley for extra praise, as everyone else has rightly done. But more than that there was a togetherness about them. 

I also said the lack of confidence and momentum means we slot in and play how the opposition want us to play. I said I find it hard to understand some of Tony Mowbray’s decisions and tactics.

But when I look at that picture from the set up of the team just before the goal it describes vividly to an over-emotional footballing know-nothing like me what wide wing backs, overlapping centre halves and a high pressing creative midfield linkman looks like. 

And as everyone with a platform to say so, has said so, the comeback from the Fulham thing has been remarkable and a testament to the character and determination in the team, from the manager. 

I don’t get involved in the social media barracking of ‘brigades’ and ‘mobs’ and ‘the same people who said this now say’. I'd advise anyone reading this not to either, not because anyone is wrong, it just won't make you happy. Because something else I said was that what I say doesn’t matter. What I feel matters, and I linked that to a sense of belonging.  

What’s the identity of this club? These players? How can you articulate a positive message that would persuade someone to subscribe to these social attributes, to be involved, as a fan, a player, a sponsor, a day tripper?

Belongingness, it's called. A unique and subjective experience that relates to a yearning for connection with others, the need for positive regard and the desire for interpersonal connection. Or as we said on Saturday, "I know I am, I'm sure I am...". You know the rest.

It took a bad day to work that one out. And there still might be more bad days, but there's a word that comes to mind, and that's 'resilience'. The team clearly have it, it's the fans I worry about, especially this one.

Saturday, November 27, 2021

The Saying Yes to Everything Tour - an update

I mentioned a while ago that me and my wife Rachel and Neil and his wife, Rachael, are on something of a say yes to anything tour.

This blog is a slightly updated version of my weekly column in the Tameside Reporter and Glossop Chronicle for the end of November. 

Having been locked down for the best part of two years has made us really appreciate the things we were denied for so long. There’s a real sense out there that many of you feel the same way. 

Concerts, comedy nights, talks, festivals, exhibitions, films, restaurants and bars, sporting events, walks in the hills. You name it, we’ve been on it. And yet we still have massive FOMO (Fear of Missing Out) when we see other people going to things we wish we’d gone to.

Out of this darkness, some real moments of magic have appeared and I wanted to share a few of them with you. Hopefully, they’ll encourage you to get out a bit and see what might happen.

Just to give you a flavour for this, we bumped into Andy Burnham, the Mayor of Greater Manchester, last weekend. Neil had interviewed the Mayor a few weeks before for a film he made for the clothing brand Pretty Green. There was a competition to “meet the designers behind the brand” and get a discount voucher for some lucky winners. It turned out that it was actually a chance to hang out with Liam Gallagher.

Andy told us that he’d been at three gigs in a row last week - The Jesus & Mary Chain, Paul Weller, and Billy Bragg, who we featured on last week’s Music Therapy. One thing the Mayor has consistently done is support venues and give a helping hand to emerging artists across the area. One of the bands he trumpeted, Wigan’s The Lathums, supported Weller in Liverpool last Friday.

Apparently, I’ve been mispronouncing their name when I’ve introduced their tunes on Tameside Radio. This Sunday night I’ll get it right. Thanks, Mr Mayor.

Incidentally, it was brilliant to learn that the Modfather gave a support slot at his Llandudno gig last Saturday to the Tameside troubadour, Cobain Jones. What a lovely thing to do and by all accounts, Cobain absolutely rocked the North Wales audience.

We saw a similar act of generosity last Wednesday at the Plaza Theatre in Stockport. Top comic Jason Manford sold out this show two years ago, but only now has he been able to fulfil the date, even if it did clash with Stockport County’s FA Cup replay conquering of Bolton Wanderers, it was still packed. He didn’t have to, but he gave a support slot to Denton comedian Stephen Bailey, who was really good.

Neil had also seen a raucous event over in Wigan featuring Shaun Ryder from the Happy Mondays, interviewed in front of an audience of fans. The MC for the evening was Neil’s mate Brian Cannon, the graphic designer who did such iconic artwork for the album covers for Oasis and The Verve. Brian had his work cut out as his plan to steer a conversation gently was taken over by a local crowd who shouted out their own questions and Shaun answered the ones he wanted to. Pretty fitting really.

By way of contrast, we saw the writer David Hepworth at the Louder Than Words Festival in Manchester, promoting his book about British artists breaking through in America, Overpaid, Oversexed and Over There. This is a man who knows all about artists going off-script. It was David who famously interviewed Bob Geldof during Live Aid when the Boomtown Rat banged the table and urged the people at home to, er, donate a bit more money!

No such chaos at the Innside Hotel in Manchester last week, but we learnt a stream of fascinating stories. Not least that the first words that an American audience heard from The Beatles in 1964 were - Close Your Eyes and I’ll Kiss You. And boy, America certainly did.

Post script to this is we braved the wilds and drove over to Liverpool to see two delightful performances from two artists I've really got to appreciate in the last year. Jane Weaver was the support for Saint Etienne, a band I've always quite liked but never fully bought into previously. I'll have to try and think about what that might be.

Here's another resolution, I'm going to start adding the column here on this blog every Friday. Just to cross-reference it, and maybe be a bit assiduous about adding reviews of things we've done and places we've been.

Sunday, November 07, 2021

Buxton's legions breach York City's walls

If there’s a TV producer reading this, then you must be kicking yourself at missing the opportunity to cover the footballing reality show of the season. 

Buxton FC have given us laughs aplenty and a reborn love of football and I'm delighted that my Radliffe to Wembley odyssey will be with the Bucks for at least another round, which is sure to produce more drama.

First it was the spectacle of the 10pm floodlight failure against Kettering. But if that wasn’t enough of a “you couldn’t make it up” moment in the latest Carry on Football, we had the build up to their first FA Cup First Round Proper tie in 58 years. It went something like this: the assistant manager insists on going on a long awaited holiday, for fear of losing his deposit. The manager says that’s fine. The chairman embraces the oncoming panto season and says, oh no it isn’t. They both get the boot, a few days before the BIGGEST GAME IN THE CLUB’S RECENT HISTORY and on the back of a seven match unbeaten run.

A few weeks before, in a club, not so very far, far away, another manager leaves Curzon Ashton FC with immediate effect after the chairman reveals that he'd been in secret talks with another club. 

And so it was that Steve Cunningham's first match in charge of Buxton FC was this juicy away match at York in the First Round Proper of the FA Cup, something even the veteran Bucks fans on our train hadn't witnessed in their adult lifetimes.

I called it before the game that Jamie Ward and Diego De Girolamo were class players capable of stepping up for the big occasion. Boy did they do that. Diego's worldy with just five minutes to go was no more than Buxton deserved. They had plenty of early chances, they constantly attacked and exposed York's soft underbelly. Their fans had also kept up a constant barrage of noise and pyro throughout, fitting for a team that matched York in every department, despite their opponents being full time, coached by Steve Watson, a former Premier League player with over 500 top class appearances in a decent career, and playing in front of 2,300 of their own fans.

So farewell then, York. Two visits to the York Community Stadium and twice I’ve seen this team of full-time professionals combust under pressure from gutsy part-timers.

Rachel joined me on this jaunt, partly because we entertained the vague notion that we might have a wander around York's city walls and cobbled streets. We didn't. Instead we booked a hospitality package in a lounge, and strapped on our VIP wristbands for a pie and mash with spring veg that would have had me cheering if I'd ordered it in a top country pub. We were sat with FA officials and some other real characters for a top afternoon of drama.

The chance encounters are what I think I've enjoyed the most about this whole adventure. The two lads from Exeter City we sat with on the train, on their way to Bradford City, three blokes celebrating one's birthday, and two ground hopping Bantams fans taking in a smart new ground rather than experiencing their side's draw against Exeter. Small world.

One of our other new pals was indeed a TV producer and we said we'd stay in touch. You see, I've got this great idea... 

Thursday, November 04, 2021

Blackburn Rovers ship 7 and I just don't seem to care

It seems strange to think I was writing a reflective blog recently about 'right hammereings' that my Blackburn Rovers have inflicted on other teams, just like we did when we beat Cardiff City 5-1.

Last night I witnessed the absolute horror show of the worst defeat I've ever seen. 

I have seen us ship seven before, just once, at Old Trafford in 2012, but we at least got a consolation.

I have seen us lose 6-0 at Manchester City in 1983, just a week after beating Derby 5-1.

The previous heaviest home defeat was being tonked 5-1 at home by Dmitri Payet's West Ham in a cup tie in 2016 (I mentioned this recently as one of the best 3 all time performances against us by an individual player). 

All of those experiences were painful, embarrassing, excruciating. There have been other occasions where I've wanted the referee to stop the game on a technical knockout.

But last night seemed far worse and left me feeling far emptier than I did after any of the others. Do you know why? 

I don't think I care any more. 

Before the game we were 7th with a positive goal difference. 

Now we're 12th with a zero balance.

If we'd lost 1-0 or 10-0 it's still no points and we aren't anywhere near good enough to push for promotion. The whole structure of English football is such that a team like Fulham who were comfortably relegated last season are now seen as a level above every other team in this division, save the ones who also came down.

Suppose by some trick of fate this squad of Rovers players edged into sixth spot in May next year. Then in the heat of the play offs managed to grind out a 1-0 against, say, West Brom, then took a trip to Wembley for an emotional collision with Huddersfield, maybe, who then bottle the big occasion and have a poor refereeing decision go against them in the 92nd minute of normal time. Dack scores the penalty and we're promoted.

Now imagine that side facing any team in the Premier League.

Being led to Anfield, Stamford Bridge, anywhere really, by Tony Mowbray.

Fulham strolled to that 7-0 last night. A team that has been beaten by Reading, Blackpool and Coventry.

They are a good side, but the whole approach seemed to be to treat them like Ajax of 1972, or Barcelona of 2009.

Once again I was left confused by this diamond midfield with John Buckley at the tip of it, and Bradley Johnson in front of the back four.

It's nonsense, isn't it? 

And we've been here before. Lining up at home to match the way the opposition play. It didn't even work against Fleetwood Town in League One. So it won't against a better team, with cleverer players, who can pass the ball, who have the ability to just change their plan in midflow.

Mowbray sets his teams up to outsmart the opposition. But he'd be better off trying to play to our strengths and get the basics right.

Don't give the ball away.

Mark their striker at a corner.

Defend a lead by keeping the ball in the opposition's half. Just as Fulham did.

And don't wrestle a player to the ground and knee him in the head. 

One of the other predictable things about a bad spell at Blackburn Rovers is the fans turning on each other.

I stay off Rovers social media, but when I do peep-a-look it's basically Leave and Remain all over again. 

Both kind of miss the point, if I'm honest.

The one thing the whole club lacks is momentum. What is the objective? What is the strategy to meet that objective? And what are the tactics that we can relate to?

If it's survival, then say so. To find the best futures for these gifted young players, then so be it.

But can you honestly make a case to persuade a young amitious player that staying at Blackburn Rovers will be good for your career?

Every aspect of the club seems to be adrift. I genuinely like every player in that team. I will forever be grateful to Tony Mowbray and think he's a good man. But what I think doesn't matter. 

What I feel matters, to me; and I feel empty. I feel as empty and lacking enthusiasm as the thousands of people who call themselves Rovers fans, but don't go.

If you look at the size of the crowds, the amateurish promotional offers, the lack of commercial partnerships, then you can see why the ambition of the fans and the players has waned. With the exception of Brereton mania, it's gone.

I always wanted to be part of something. It's at the heart of what being a fan is all about.

This isn't an overeaction to a terrible performance. It's a really slow death of a football club.