Labour smear and Jake Humphrey cheer – it’s all a bit unsettling

22 04 2009

Ok, so I’ve been away for a while. Call it busy, call it lazy, call it what you will, but I’m now back on song with a few fresh ideas in the blogging pipeline.

Recently I have been addressing the whole “need experience to get experience” hoopla with a week-long work placement at the weekly Wakefield Express newspaper. More on that will come soon…as if you can hardly wait.

I have been storing up opinions on a couple other issues lately. Firstly, this whole sleaze/smear scandal that Labour have conjured up. Damien McBride made an inspired decision in using political bloggers and tweeters, such as Derek Draper, to spread Chinese whispers and churn the Whitehall rumour mill – this whole social media thing is all so suddenly in Vogue – yet isn’t it all just a bit petty. The voting public certainly seem to think so. What has come of our government when Mr Obama is preaching transparent policies while Mr Brown is hiring blokes sitting in their dressing gowns on their iMacs to dredge up Mr Cameron’s latest STI check-up.

Secondly, to return fleetingly to the sporting arena, is the dumbfounding new Formula 1 season and coverage by the BBC. Jake Humphrey, formerly of the CBeebies, will be better known to toddlers and those whose daily newsbites are fulfilled by the wholesome Newsround coverage – I mean Lizo Mzimba is hardly a hard-hitting Paxman or a dependable national treasure in the guise of Sir Trev. Yet he has been hand picked to front the channel’s show in its first season since high-jacking ITV’s coverage.

Humphrey: uninspiring

He successfully douses the sparks created by that famous Fleetwood Mac intro music on Sunday mornings and his adolescent face “tingling with excitement” before what is sure to be another “thrilling ride” tends to put me off the whole spectacle entirely and question why I gave up my lie-in at all. I’d be suprised if he even has his provisional yet. Perhaps this decision is evident of the fears the BBC have faced when the likes of Jonathan Ross and Russell Brand do what they do best. It must be admitted this is where Humphrey’s whole “wouldn’t hurt a fly" image can come in handy. I’d like to see what dirt the Labour smear squadron could dig up on him.

In terms of the season itself, the “spanner-in-the-works” performances of McLaren and Ferrari and the whole diffuser debate have completely gone over my head. It is as if the Premier League’s Chief Exec, Richard Scudamore was to banish the likes of Ronaldo, Rooney, Drogba, Lampard, and a cohort of other world class professionals from Manchester United and Chelsea, to the stands to sit out the first 20 games.

Meanwhile, the MK Dons of the league (the manufactured side is the closest representation to the new Brawn GP team assembled moments before the opening weekend) have been allowed to run amuck and have turned the sport on its head. Ferrari hasn’t even picked up a single point yet and McLaren are having to resort to all manner of under-hand tactics to get close – oh wait, they did that last year. Still, some things never change.

So, there is a little release of pent-up opinion blurted out for anyone to stumble across. I hope you enjoy. Better still, lets draw up a petition to get Humphrey returned to his comfort zone of presenting In the Night Garden or something, where his real fans will get to appreciate his true talents. Maybe Jeremy Clarkson could be brought in to spice things up a little and offend some prime time viewers. That’s always fun to see.

And this is always worth another look

All the Real President’s Men

28 01 2009

When the rules that apply to tapping-up no longer apply

Since the transfer window opened on January 1 football players’ names have been tossed around in the papers like juggling balls at a circus.

Most of the time the names and projected transfers spoken of are merely stories made up by imaginative journalists on a slow day to get tongues wagging and papers off the shelves. Some of my recent favourites have been Didier Drogba and Adriano to Man City, Jermaine Pennant to Milan and Didier Zakora to Real Madrid; and then there has been the linking of any player that ever played at Tottenham or even stepped foot in the Lane to make a return to the welcoming arms of old ‘Arry Redknapp.

Then again, some of these stories are in fact conjured up by the player, agent or manager in attempts to manufacture a move.

Old ‘Arry has been at the centre of such circumstances lately. He was criticised by Sunderland manager Ricky Sbragia for mentioning his interest in their star striker Kenwyne Jones and question marks were raised over the re-capture of his partner-in-crime Jermaine Dafoe. Now with the unsettled Robbie Keane failing to impress at Anfield, Rafa Benitez’s fidgeting under questioning and a trend of past Tottenham players returning home, the mention of a move for the Irish captain has practically been forced into Redknapp’s mouth.

This unsettling of contracted players labeled under the umbrella term ‘tapping-up’ is the bane of the transfer window.

Now most people in football, over fear for reputation as well as fear for incurring a fine, will make every attempt to ensure they cannot be tarnished with the tapping-up brush. Yet for some peculiar reason this devious tactic is intrinsic to the running of some of the world’s best clubs – namely Spain’s Real Madrid.

Ramon Calderon celebrating his election on the wave of hope in bringing Robben, Fabregas and Kaka to the Bernabeu

Ramon Calderon last week stepped down from his position as President of Real Madrid after allegations of corruption and vote-rigging. The same week saw another President, the much lauded American previously known as Mr. Obama (now simply Mr. President) be sworn in as the 44th leader of the US.

Suffice to say, election campaigns and Democracy have been under the spotlight across the political and football globe. And under that spotlight Barack Obama captured his audience and their imagination with the three simple abstract nouns of “hope”, “change” and “freedom”. Whereas the three catch words that shaped Mr. Calderon’s rise to power and epitomised the majority of his reign were “Robben”, “Fabregas” and “Kaka”.

Calderon and past Presidents such as Florentino Perez that have overseen the evolution of the Spanish giants to the sometimes farcical “los Galacticos” have shaped their election campaigns on such big names. Perez started with Figo and went on to dislodge and then sign up Zidane, Ronaldo, Beckham, Owen and Robinho on a yearly basis and in doing so set the record transfer fee of £46m for the Frenchman, arguably paving the way for future inflated bids (see Kaka 2009 transfer window).

So Calderon unequivocally ‘tapped-up’ Messers Robben, Fabregas and Kaka yet faced no punishment. The overly documented saga of Real’s chase for World Player of the Year Cristiano Ronaldo is perhaps the most obvious reason why such unscrupulous behaviour should face an international outlawing.

As soon as his name was mentioned in association with Madrid, a war of words erupted that I’m sure everyone could have done without all summer. Consequently the players at both teams became fidgety and the tinder keg of transfer rumours exploded into life. This way of life in football makes it impossible for selling clubs to build any resemblance of a settled team and you can see why I hate the time of year when the Presidential elections start gathering pace for this Iberian club.

President Nixon who was forced to resign after his corruption was exposed by the Washington Post

So if the President is Nixon in this analogy of the film All the President’s Men, who will play the parts of Woodward and Bernstein in leading the challenge to this flawed system? I personally wouldn’t trust FIFA’s Sepp Blatter or UEFA’s Michel Platini to catch a cold let alone sort out this mess.

The role of the President at the football club focuses too much on marketing the brand and not on the improvement of the football; not to mention the most blatant exhibition of ‘tapping-up’ on show in world football.

At least Barcelona are salvaging some credibility with their devotion to the youth system and maintaining a glimmer of integrity for the La Liga title race. Then again, as soon as the dust settles on that race, the pursuit for the likely targets Ibrahimovic, Drogba and who knows – the fashionable-again Beckham will inevitably spark off yet another drawn out election campaign and the transfer turmoil will ensue.  

The festive season brings out the best and the worst: rants, raves & recession specials in the build up to Christmas

27 12 2008

What is it about this time of year that stirs up sensation in all of us?

November and December have produced some absurd and entertaining headlines of which I could not do justice to all at once. So for the political and sporting contingent here are two that caught the eye.

Gordon Brown “saved the world”

Prime Minister Gordon Brown’s not so finest hour came when he announced to his peers in the Commons that he had heroically “saved the world” from certain despair.

While others mock, spare a thought for the gentle Scotsman. After months of hesitation, mumblings and aimlessness, Brown has finally latched onto his own unique strengths in this era of economic turmoil.

If that sees him donning a cape and spandex and soaring to the rescue of those dole queue damsels in distress then who are we to burst his superhero bubble. But as in every graphic novel there are always casualties and it’s just a shame that even this hero could not save our beloved Woolworths. Oh well. We’ll have to go somewhere else for our pick’n’mix now.

The world of sport has not been spared the influence of the festive fervour. Football has always found the Christmas period to impose that extra little bit of strain and duress upon its players and pundits.

William Gallas sulking after Arsenal let a 2-1 lead slip at Birmingham last season

Maybe this stress was too much for Arsenal defender William Gallas when he penned a personal attack on several of his colleagues in his November released autobiography. Then again perhaps he was just following his publicist’s four-step-plan to any successful autobiography.

1. Behave bizarrely and erratically and appear to be on or just over the brink of a nervous breakdown 2. Make outlandish comments and criticisms of those around you in the hope of jeopardising your career. 3. Release said autobiography. 4. Enjoy the frenzied backlash of media spotlight and public fallouts following its release which practically writes the sequel itself!

Credit Crunch Brunch

So, where do these outcries for attention stem from?

Perhaps there’s something in the water at this time of year. Maybe some people have had one too many of the Credit Crunch Brunches that are proudly emblazoned on every public house and café window. It appears that the perpetual reminder of the doom and the gloom that is setting in being brought to us by the free papers of the Metro on our way to work is not enough for some. Our memory and conscience should be jogged as we stare morbidly into our ‘Recession Special’ lunch time soup or attempt to escape for a pint of refreshment only to be interrupted by the next bulletin of stock falls and share collapses.

Furthermore, as December approached and the impending shopping season gathered pace (or not as the Government’s cut in VAT made evident) it’s enough to drive even the most composed to quiver and shake in fear. Now that Christmas day has rolled around and you have picked yourself up following that unavoidable collision with the relatives, next up is the realisation that those resolutions thought out so commendably have remained hopelessly unaccomplished. It’s a wonder how the Turkey ever gets cooked.

Credit Crunch Lunch

But enough, this is the season of goodwill and cheer. And as long as there are mince pies, there will always be another day and another story – but as we’re all doing it, here’s a rant of my own on the less obvious side of discrimination in football.

John Terry, coincidentally the England football team captain, was sent off for a dangerous foul in the match between Chelsea and Everton last Monday. Following the game the former Premiership referee Graham Poll commented on the incident and revealed his believed duty of discrimination that runs through the mindset of the referee. “You have to remember you are sending off the England captain,” wrote Poll in his article for the Daily Mail. In his press conference the following day Arsene Wenger rightly felt aggrieved by the possibility that one player could be afforded such exemption from the rulebook.

In looking over Terry’s treatment this season there is a glaring example of this special treatment. A red card picked up in the victory over Manchester City on September 8 and the three games he would have been banned for were latterly rescinded by the Professional Game Match Officials Board.

In that instance, Graham Poll’s insights into the Football Association’s thinking may have shed light on further inconsistencies. Vital England qualifying games against Kazakhstan and Belarus on October 11 and 15 were approaching and Terry needed minutes on the pitch to get back to full fitness. I wonder whether those in Soho Square remembered these factors before making their decision to rescind the ban.

Mince pies have run out

In contrast, the FA’s verdict for the bust up between Chelsea ground staff and Manchester United’s Patrice Evra reveals the true might with which they wield recriminations when a player is not protected by the national armband. A whopping fine and a four game ban were swiftly dealt out to the Frenchman.

If the decision makers of the English game are trying to encourage home-grown talent and discourage foreign imports then perhaps this is all part of the plan. Or perhaps the mince pies have finally run out at Soho Square. Either way, these inconsistencies are not going unnoticed.

Wenger rightly argued, “English or not; 17-years old or 30…is it a sending off or not?!” By the FA’s thinking the English football captain walks higher than his fellow professionals. Maybe that is why JT has previously been spared punishment when berating the officials at every decision.

It appears the captaincy of one’s country is almost a ‘get out of jail free card’. Let’s hope the next player to inherit Terry’s mantle carries this trump card with a bit more respect.

Remember, and this goes for Mr. Brown as well, with great power comes great responsibility.