Tuesday, 20 December 2016

Neville is right, so prove him wrong

GARY Neville was the special guest on Sky Sports Sunday Supplement over weekend and provided a fascinating insight into football writing, journalism and the way ahead for our industry.

The former Manchester United full back and well established Sky pundit almost invited himself on some weeks ago when he took issue with some of the more modern aspects of the sports journalism industry.

But to say he is no fan of journalists would be a mistake, with every criticism there was praise and the desire for players to be MORE involved with journalists not less.

For me as a journalist it was a fascinating snapshot of where we are in 2016, where something needs to be 
published seconds after it happens not in a few hours.

He was particularly good on the row with Loic Karius which saw the Liverpool keeper and indeed Reds boss Jurgen Klopp bite back at some of Neville's criticisms of the man between the sticks.

No personal offence seems to have been taken, instead there was a frustration that actually a relatively mild form of criticism (what Neville is paid to do as a pundit) became such a story.

Neville criticised the goalkeeper after Liverpool lost to Bournemouth but later that afternoon saved his stronger criticism for Maarten Steklenberg the Everton keeper and memorably labelled Marouane Fellani 'pathetic' for conceding a last minute penalty.

Yet the Karius story stuck and became red hot when Karius decided to have a go back and Klopp chimed in by pointing to Neville's not great record as Valencia head coach.

But Neville provoked scorn by saying 'shut your gob' to Karius – his appearance on Sunday Supplement allowed him to elaborate on it. Neville simply said it was advice from an old pro to shut up, play well, win the title then ram his criticism down his throat.

Because that's how players should take criticism, think 'Right, I will prove you wrong!'

I don't get this 'rise of the super pundit' stuff, Neville (and for that Carragher, Souness, Keane et al) are simply being honest.

The best analysis of football is when the former pro doesn't make excuses and simply calls something for what it was.

Neville is searingly honest, which for me as a fan is what I want to hear not the cosy Match of the Day dressing room banter with Gary and his mates or BT Sport's 'look at us we are all new' approach.

Is he always right? No of course not. Is he biased against Liverpool because of his Manchester United career? No, if you have listened to Neville in the last three years he has eviscerated Van Gaal and certain Manchester United players.

Can subjects of his criticism and scorn prove him wrong? Of course they can. That's the beauty of a nine month football season.

We need journalists to bring us the insight and match reports and pundits to analyise the matches as former pros.

Long may both parts of the Beautiful Game continue.

Thursday, 3 November 2016

Leave the humble poppy alone

NEVER has a small paper and plastic flower worn once a year caused so much 'offence' and debate, turned sensible people silly and handed power to those who really don't deserve it.

Yet the poppy is at the centre of so many issues today, from its adoption by far right groups, it being banned from the shirts of England and Scotland footballers who will meet on Armistice Day itself to the ludicrous debate on when is the 'right time' to start wearing it.

On the last point, does it really matter when someone chooses to first wear it? Does it make them a bad person if they only wear it in Remembrance week? No of course it bloomin doesn't!

Let's face it, most of us lose at least one but happily dig deep to replace it out of embarrassment and admiration for the fallen!

James McClean has been attacked for not wearing one on his West Bromwich Albion shirt for their last home game before Remembrance Sunday. He has spoken of the reasons why and said: “If the poppy was simply about World War One and Two victims alone, I’d wear it without a problem.

“I would wear it every day of the year if that was the thing but it doesn’t, it stands for all the conflicts that Britain has been involved in. Because of the history where I come from in Derry, I cannot wear something that represents that.”

Is he a bad person for his refusal? No of course not, he's expressing the very freedom of speech people fought and died for. The freedom not to have something imposed on you by the 'those in charge'.

As for FIFA banning England and Scotland's footbalers wearing them well it's just a case of a governing body, and a troubled one at that, having way too much power.

FIFA regulations outlaw nations wearing anything that can be construed as commercial or a political or religious statement. The poppy is neither, it's an act of Remembrance – why we wear it on Remembrance occasions and not on Easter Sunday for example!

The silly mandarins at FIFA should remember that on Christmas Day 1914, British and German troops laid down their arms, wished each other Merry Christmas and played football.

102 years later, two other great rivals will meet on the football field at a time of great unease around the world. How wonderful would it be to see those players who want to take to the field with a poppy on their shirts?

Sometimes I wonder if veterans look at the debate around the poppy and wonder whether their sacrifices, what they saw and heard was worth it?

This weekend, buy a poppy if you want to, wear it with pride and remember those brave souls who never came home.

And please, after the commemorations, can we just all agree that the poppy is just a poppy and not a stick to beat people or nations with?

Now where's the pin for mine.....oh dear!

Friday, 21 October 2016

Lineker's no liar, it's the Brexiteers who are lying to themselves.

THE SUN is upset at Gary Lineker and wants him sacked. Why? Because he dared to have an opinion which didn't fit with the post-Brexit view of the world we all MUST subscribe to.

The crisp flogger and Match of the Day presented took to twitter this week to despair at the headlines over the arrival of Syrian refugees to Britain.

The tweet in full: “The treatment by some towards these young refugees is hideously racist and utterly heartless. What's happening to our country?”

Nowhere does he name anyone, nor does he abuse anyone and ends with a question and expresses a fear, something we in a democracy are allowed to do.

He continued when a false claim was made that one particular individual was identified as a translator but fiercely defended himself.

Did he lie? Did he commit a crime, did he assault someone? Did he make a sexual/racist joke live on air in his job? No he expressed his opinion.

But this is what life is like in post Brexit Britain, if you don't get on board the bus heading towards the exit from the European Union you are a 'Bremoaner' 'Unpatriotic', 'whinging Brit' or something more vulgar.

Worried about the calamity which is currently the pound? Don't bother it will all be fine

Want to express your anger over the blatant lies used such as £350million for the NHS, don't because the chief cheerleader of that claim is now Foreign Secretary.

Those who voted to remain have been pushed to one side despite the result being 48 per cent v 52 per cent, a result Nigel Farage said wouldn't be 'conclusive'. Fair to say he doesn't say the same thing now.

Our new un-elected Prime Minister is going all out for an exit, ignoring the will of 48 per cent of people, attempts for Parliamentary scrutiny are attacked while concerns about the economy are simply 'scare-

This is very real and very dangerous moment for our times, while we are obsessing about leaving the European Union and retreating to a weird 2016 version of the British Empire, Russia is flexing its might, a city in the Middle East is being raized to the ground and we have the worst refugee crisis this world has seen.

In this country we have a pound worth very little, an economy which can never get better and keeps getting infections, inequality which is just getting worse and a political system where the Government is not being held to account but just attacked by a populist party of protest.

A media where Nigel Farage is given air-time, where no one questions how Boris Johnson could be make Foreign Secretary despite lying in the EU Referendum.

And heartbreakingly where people who don't look or sound like us are increasingly in fear of life in what used to be Great Britain.

The truth hurts the Brexiteers - not every Johnny Foreigner comes over here for the 'benefits', a huge number come to build a new life.

Think of the nurse from Sierra Leone who treated your mum in hospital, the Polish shop owner who always stocks that beer you like, the Pakistani taxi driver who loves to talk during your journey or that lovely waiter from Italy who was so friendly during your meal out.

Then look at the benefits office in your town, I'd put £350million on betting not all the voices you will hear are foreign.

But hey, that would just be another inconvenient truth wouldn't it?

Tuesday, 26 July 2016

Debunking Jeremy Corbyn

WHILE David Cameron staked it all at the EU casino and walked away empty handed, Jeremy Corbyn remains, loathed by the majority of his MPs and MEPs, viewed with contempt by his opponents and, crucially, not that welcome with the electorate.

After 2015 we ought to not rely on opinion polls as much we still do but the latest ICM poll has the Conservatives 16 POINTS in front of Labour.

That's a Tory party which has fallen out over Europe, seen backstabbing and skulduggery akin to a chapter from Macbeth, elected a new Prime Minister unopposed and even appear to ditch Austerity 1.0 for the slightly better Optimism 2.0.

Meanwhile the Labour top brass will go around saying it's all the plotters and rebels fault, that they should all fall into line and together he will lead them to the promised land of Government.....

Except that is not true and Corbyn knows it, he simply wants to take 'his party' back. Plenty has been said to discredit good Labour people in recent days so let's examine Jeremy Corbyn.

"Those against him should respect his mandate from the members" - Yes and a fine victory too, there can be no doubt he energised what would have been a really dull campaign. Quite simply he spoke with a passion Labour voters needed to hear after a crushing defeat to the Tories. None of the others came anywhere close.

However, how many of the £3 members voted for him and were genuine Labour supporters? How many joined to get their man in and have now left?

And while we are on 'respecting mandates' consider this; the Labour party's official position on Trident is to support renewal. This was voted on by members at the party's annual conference last year.

On July 18, Jeremy Corbyn as leader of the Labour Party voted AGAINST renewing the nuclear deterrent. So while the Corbynistas want everyone to 'respect the mandate' they won't lead by example.

"The media are against him" - Another frequent moan is how the media is against Jeremy Corbyn, well t'was ever thus. Newspapers pick a party and side with them, is it fair? No of course not but it hasn't stopped others from winning the media over.

In terms of broadcast well Jeremy is hardly the most affable with a camera. His first shadow cabinet appointments took so long to reveal that when a reporter found him to ask a few easy questions all Jeremy could say was he was being 'harassed'.

And yet when it comes to speaking to Press TV in Iran or Russia Today, Jeremy is only too happy to have a chat...

"He's won every by-election since he became leader" - Again not a bad feat especially as all four by-elections the candidates increased their majorities. But the indisputable fact is they were all held in safe Labour seats; it would have been more of a story had Labour LOST them not retained them.

Ah but London is back under a Labour Mayor - yup and did Sadiq Khan have Jeremy Corbyn at his side throughout the campaign, no. He like many other candidates distanced themselves and let's face it when all the Tories could do is point to Khan's ethnicity then Labour had the keys to London in the bag.

Labour under Corbyn is emulating the 2015 election under Ed Miliband, securing its safe seats with no progress elsewhere.

To form a Government in the UK, either one of the two main parties has to secure their heartlands but also appeal to voters in swing seats, where majorities are on a knife edge. Labour show no sign of doing that but instead losing even more votes to the likes of UKIP.

"A kinder, gentler politics"  - Corbyn promised different, more grown up politics, debating not shouting, action not reaction. The truth has been anything but, from the bullying 'Momentum' to the disgraceful smearing of a Jewish MP, Corbyn and his acolytes just can't help themselves.

McDonnell called rebel MPs 'f****** idiots' but then said it was just a 'joke', and social media is not the place to be if you have an anti-Corbyn opinion.

The truth is Labour is being led by a clique, a closed shop of people who are serial rebellers but now demand loyalty, by people so dominated by their own dogma they lose sight of what really matters in 2016 Britain and quite frankly, a bunch of hypocrites.

Jeremy Corbyn isn't a 'man of principle', he's a hypocrite.

Monday, 27 June 2016

England went to Iceland and got more than they bargained for

ENGLAND’s defeat to Iceland meant an early, and deserved, departure from the European Championships.

To pretend this has been a good tournament for our national side both on and off the pitch would be like telling yourself England will win a trophy in the next decade.

Whereas Wales, Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland have provided many memories and created a real buzz off the field with their friendly behaviour, England have bored their way through the tournament with a small minority causing chaos.

The thing is, as England fans, we have watched this boxset before. Again we have exited  a tournament early, again the manager has gone leaving English football in ‘crisis’.

But what really annoys me is the empty platitudes from the players. All we heard was how ‘gutted’ they were etc. The thing is we hear this every tournament now, we qualify then fail on the big stage.

I backed Hodgson hugely, the only man for the job after Capello left. I backed him until ¾ of the way through the Russia game when he removed Wayne Rooney when we were 1-0 up against a tired Russian team whose centre half was on a yellow card. He protected a lead when all logic dictated pushing on for a second goal.

His selections were always open to question, picking Jack Wilshere for the tournament despite him only being fit since April was baffling.

But forget the errors, forget the individuals. Quite simply England lost last night because Iceland wanted it more. And there is the rub, all of the England squad have huge contracts and have ‘made it’ with their clubs. Many in the Icelandic side have grafted and battled to earn a playing deal outside their homeland and are showing that effort as a team in this tournament.

What now? The same old, same old, we are in crisis, we will appoint a new manager, there will be a new dawn and then inevitably failure either at the 2018 World Cup or 2020 Euros.  

I’m 34 and apart from Italia 90 and Euro 96 I have only known failure as an England fan, usually on penalties, as I write I can’t honestly say I am willing to continue to support the team.

I wonder how many more like me feel the same today?

Wednesday, 22 June 2016

Why I'll be voting Remain

WHEN I vote tomorrow, it will be to remain part of the European Union. Firstly I totally accept it's not perfect, it needs real reform and some of the more bonkers ideas need trashing straight away.

But equally, the United Kingdom is just a small island floating in the Atlantic Ocean. Forget this delusion of empire, without the EU we are just what we appear on any globe. A small island.

This campaign has been truly vile, in what our politicians have stooped to to get our votes and the colour it has brought out in some people who simply haven't listened to the 'other side' of the argument.

While the Prime Minister's stupid comments on World War Three were beyond reproach, I'm also not amused by the Leave trio of Boris Johnson - a man who was extolling the virtues of the European Union just months before changing his position, Michael Gove – a man who single-handedly annoyed every teacher when he was Education Secretary and Iain Duncan Smith – who presided over cuts and the attempted to distance himself from it.

believe if we stay we can build a better future for us all, keeping trade high and yes tackling immigration. Remember this works both ways, how many ex-pats are living in the EU now using a country's healthcare system with many not contributing to the GDP of that country?

Immigration is not a dirty word, it's happened for years, it's not a new problem. Should we leave the EU, how will we stop people coming to our country? We are an island with no borders unlike many of our friends in Europe, if you think its uncontrolled now then I have news for you, it's going to be even harder to police should we leave!

The Tories have been working hard to ensure our doors are open but for those who want to work, not sponge off the state. And that goes to the nub of the argument for me, it's so easy to look at Johnny Foreigner coming here to 'sponge off the state' but what about British kids who leave school with no qualifications and go straight to the benefits office?

Doesn't happen? Go and walk past a job centre in your town, all the voices you hear won't just be foreign.

Those pushing the immigration line simply want to ignore the problems we have in this country, where benefits have become a salaried way of life for some young Britons, some of whom won't even contemplate working for a living.

The possibility of Turkey joining the EU is a long way off and besides, EVERY country in the EU can veto any accession so it's far from a done deal. Britain will not have to join the Euro, by staying in we can constantly hold the fear of leaving over Merkel et al should they force us to scrap the pound.

A European Army? Seems daft and not sure the rest of the EU will go for it, particularly the French who traditionally stay out of any conflict but would be looked upon to provide some of the manpower. And besides, none of us ever worried when British soldiers were called upon by the UN did we?

"We can make this country great again!” – apart from the general annoyance that something from the Donald Trump playbook has been used, when haven't we been Great?

We have wonderful countryside, we have a rich history which pulls in millions of tourists every year, we do make things (albeit not as much as we used to), we are tolerant, we embrace white, black, brown, straight, gay, lesbian or transgender. We aren't afraid to speak our mind, to be there for each other, to come together in celebration or in suffering.

We live in a time where the nation has many problems – from the threats posed by global terrorism, a wonky economy and a disenfranchised electorate to planning problems and the need for more housing.

At this time we ought to be tethered to our friends rather than cast off into the unknown. Because for me that is what a Leave vote would represent.

All I ask is this, on Friday can we PLEASE go back to normal!!!!!!

Wednesday, 13 April 2016

No cover up over Whittingdale, he just needs a better taste in wome

SO John Whittingdale has a relationship with a 'dominatrix', the press become aware of the story and had an 'obligation' to report it according to critics.

But they didn't because Whittingdale as Culture Secretary will be the ultimate arbiter over press freedom in this country and now is 'compromised'.

Now I have only worked in local journalism and maybe have a positive view of my profession but sorry, this is not a 'row', it's barely even news.

The key point is Whittingdale is a single man and began and ended the relationship before he became Culture Secretary.

If the press had reported it, Whittingdale could rightfully have claimed an invasion of privacy because as a single man he can do whatever he likes within the law.

Plus the story would have been basically 'single man meets woman on dating website who isn't all she's cracked up to be' – not something which will sell newspapers!

The only point at which it could have been in the public interest is if he had been cheating on his wife/partner, I suspect most editors tossed the story to one side because it's not really news.

If we open the door to reporting on the actions of single men and women in all walks of life then where will it end?

Whittingdale admitted the relationship in a statement and expressed his embarrassment, he's not compromised over regulating the press because he confirmed the relationship himself!

Yes, he'll probably face awkward moments with the editors' of our newspapers for a while and maybe his credibility is damaged but a sense of perspective here is vital.

Whittingdale is entitled to date in private, unless his partner wishes to go public as Justine Miliband did when Ed Miliband was Labour leader.

But maybe have a better choice in women eh John?

Friday, 4 March 2016

Don't just blame Wenger, Arsenal as a club has lost its way

WEDNESDAY night was probably the lowest I have felt as an Arsenal fan for a good number of years, certainly since we were embarrassed by Birmingham City in 2011.

After a very limp performance against Manchester United on Sunday, I'd hoped the players would roar back and shove the critics words down their throats with a dominant performance against relegation strugglers.

Instead it was another of 'that'll do' performances where Arsenal went 1-0 up and reacted with horror when the opposition dared to make a game of it. It's a performance we have got used to sadly in recent years and usually explained away by the manager as 'tiredness' or something else.

In other years we probably didn't do enough to win the title, but this year with Chelsea, Manchester United and Manchester City bobbing along, it looked the golden chance to win the Premier League.

Instead Arsenal lie somewhat marooned in third, closer to dropping out of the top four than reaching the summit, occupied by Leicester City. A team let's remember who were 'doomed' to relegation the Christmas before last....

The more damning statistic was Arsenal have recorded just THREE Premier League wins since Christmas or more to the point, three victories since we beat Manchester City at the Emirates and established ourselves as favorites.

Instead of pushing on and doing all we can to seal the title, we nervously stepped into the New Year. To the outsiders, of which many of us are because the club won't have anything said anti Arsene, it looks like they simply don't want to win trophies bigger than the FA Cup.

Do I blame Wenger and want him out? Not entirely, the players are just as culpable as the manager, after all Arsene Wenger can't score goals or keep them out!

But my problem with Wenger is the lack of desire and the willingness to be challenged, where are the voices in the dressing room calling people out for slacking, challenging the manager?

Answer? Out of the club, Wenger rules and if you don't like it you can look for another club to play for. Gone are the days of Adams, Keown, Vieira, Henry, Lehmann, Campbell – big players who would drag the team to glory.

The players know if they don't deliver on the pitch there will be an excuse from the manager and most have slipped into their comfy trousers to pocket the salaries on offer.

Any other club would have shipped Diaby out with his injury record, would be questioning why Jack Wilshere troubles surgeons more than midfielders, would have told Theo Walcott to PROVE why he should be played through the middle.

Instead the squad is a mish-mash of bored players who have settled for the level they are at and the high quality ones who want to win trophies.

While I applaud Leicester for their efforts this year, they shouldn't be top of the league, Arsenal should be dominating this league this season. That they aren't is a chronic failure on behalf of the manager and the players.

What should be done? Well in my opinion all reasonable fans should be questioning Wenger's continued presence at the club. Not the sack but a departure fitting the status as the man who revived our club.

He deserves our gratitude and respect but even the best sometimes need to be told when to leave the stage. Arsene's legacy is in danger of being unpicked now, as Gooners we need to ensure it doesn't happen.

If he does depart then I hope the slackers in that dressing room get a rude awakening, a jolt into life.
After all 'Victoria Concordia Crescit' does mean 'Victory grows through Harmony'.

There has been a distinct lack of that in and around the club this season!

Monday, 29 February 2016

Tories will regret stepping back in time

"We're leaving Downing Street for the last time," no not the late Baroness Thatcher but the words David Cameron will be using following a leadership coup despite his successful EU referendum campaign.

A prediction yes, but the odds on this happening should be shorter than Jeremy Corbyn becoming Prime Minister.

Just like Thatcher the storm clouds are circling round the Prime Minister. Despite being a majority winning Tory leader and despite winning reforms in the EU once again it seems the Tories want to throw it all down the toilet over Europe.

The comparisons are endless, a majority winning Tory premier, a Labour opposition not really bidding for power under a polarising leader, an uncertain economy. We may as well be back in 1990!

One wonders who will stick the final knife in aka the late Geoffrey Howe. Perhaps / sharp stiletto from Theresa May?

The Out brigade spent the weekend whining that Dave should stop being so nasty and hurtful about them. This despite the Prime Minister actively allowing members of his own cabinet to campaign for an 'out' vote....

They didn't seek to dismiss stories of a leadership challenge though? Why? Because figures like Boris Johnson know this campaign will be enough to bring down Cameron and start afresh with a more 'Conservative' leader.

The Outers have a back up in plan just in case they lose the referendum. They will oust Cameron instead as punishment , why else would Boris tell the world he wants out but what a marvellous job the PM did in Brussels?

If he really wanted out he would surely be at the forefront of the campaign for Britain to leave the EU? Not to one side letting messers Farage and Galloway hog centre stage.

Either way Cameron's time as PM can now be measured in months not years, his only hope is the Tory grassroots find the tactics of Johnson et al unpalatable and Boris's hopes end up crushed under a London bendy bus.

Allowing the stage to clear for a new face someone who wanted out but stayed loyal to the Prime Minister. And who is a proud Thatcherite....Prime Minister Sajid Javid anyone?