About Me

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Howden, East Riding of Yorkshire, United Kingdom
I'm a 42 year old senior manager in Local Government. My interests include current affairs, travel, walking, reading, art & culture and sport. The views expressed in this blog are entirely my own and do not represent the views of anyone else or of any organisation.

Sunday, 3 January 2010

Cheshire East Council Supports Crewe Alexandra & Macclesfield Town

Building on my previous blogpost, I also read in the Macclesfield Town match programme from 28 December that Cheshire East Council
are "proud supporters" of both Macclesfield Town FC and Crewe Alexandra FC. These are the two professional football clubs located in their patch. The newly formed, Cheshire East Council took out a whole page advert in the programme to point this out.

It's great to see these close links between football clubs and their local councils because football clubs are important institutions in their local communities and can reach parts of them that other organisations struggle to penetrate. It's in the interests of the council, the football club and the local community that this close joint working takes place and as we saw in my previous blogpost, this close collaboration can manifest itself in projects like the new community-focused stadium planned in Macclesfield.

Saturday, 2 January 2010

Macclesfield Town's New Stadium Plans

On 28 December, I was at the chilly Moss Rose Stadium to watch Macclesfield Town play Crewe Alexandra in Coca Cola Football League Two. In the programme, I read a club statement about their aspirations for a new stadium which they say were strengthened with the news that England's 2018 World Cup bid will feature two venues in Manchester: this is because the proposed stadium has already been included as a Base Training Camp in Manchester's Host City bid.

Many local authorities are now working in conjunction with partner organisations to provide a range of services under one roof. Such an approach is deemed to be desirable for customers because they benefit from the convenience of a range of services being located in one place and there are also financial efficiencies from such an approach because running costs can be shared. It was interesting therefore to see Macclesfield's vision for the new stadium as being about incorporating facilities into it that will provide benefits to the community and the town and not just the football club.

The plans for the stadium include an arts and entertainment space and accommodation for local community activities such as healthcare, sports & leisure and education. The club also say that the development should be planned as a part of a sustainable development of the town as a whole, "compatible not competitive with the town centre with the intent of making Macclesfield a more vibrant place to live and to visit".

It's interesting to see football clubs teaming up with local councils, health providers and other organisations and it will be interesting to see these plans develop over the forthcoming years. You can only wish the club and its partners the very best of luck...

Wednesday, 29 April 2009

Does Less Inequality Lead To A Better Society?

I have just acquired a copy of a book by Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett called "The Spirit Level", which I haven't yet read but which argues that more unequal societies are bad for almost everyone within them - the well-off as well as the poor. The authors contend that almost every modern social and environmental problem - ill health, lack of community life, violence, drugs, obesity, mental illness, long working hours and big prison populations is more likely to occur in a less equal society.

There is a very interesting article, in 'The Times' newspaper on 28 April by David Aaronovitch which draws on some of the material in this book to discuss the new Equalities Bill announced by Harriet Harman on 27 April. Aaronovitch says the following in his article -

"If the problem is income disparity, then the answer must be income redistribution. Logically benefits and tax relief for the low paid would go up, as would taxes for the well-off (and not just the rich). The newly un-neglected would then measure their heightened esteem in the dwindling gap between themselves and the better-off, and over time begin to see the value of education, to start reading to their children and stop smoking. Well, it's an ill wind and news of the falling number of British billionaires and Wayne Rooney's half-million tax increase, could (for all I know) be working its magic already.

We can imagine the objections to this. It would, without a culture shift, constitute a reward for idleness, a disincentive to work and require hard-working middle earners to subsidise the workshy. Until such a time, that is, that they learnt not to be workshy".

I need to read the book before jumping to any conclusions but this for me is one of the main problems with the argument that correlates equality with fewer social problems. If the correlation were that simple then giving poor people more money and thus reducing the gap between them and richer people would result in slimmer, more mentally well and less incarcerated people.

I probably parody the book's argument when I say that but it can't really be that simple can it?

Sunday, 26 April 2009

Are We Better Off Without Traffic Lights?

Are traffic lights authoritarian and roundabouts libertarian? I got thinking about this today as I drove to and from Guildford and in both directions came across a rather complicated junction where the traffic lights were not working meaning that vehicles coming from all directions and turning all ways had to 'negotiate' with each other as to how we were going to proceed. It all worked very safely, politely and effectively.

Roundabouts (or a lack of traffic lights) allow people to manage themselves. They have freedom to act on instinct and common sense, free of the interference of an outside, bossy and largely incompetent force (traffic lights). When traffic is light, roundabouts work because they don't needlessly stop traffic. When traffic is heavy, they arguably still work, because the traffic simply feeds in and the system just seems to work.

Roundabouts produce consistent, fluid motion, whilst at the same time allowing heavier routes to gain dominance, thereby creating fair outcomes. Traffic lights are hardly ever as sophisticated, and they bossily dictate who has right of way.

Take the mini roundabout for instance. They are brilliant. If there are three exits and entrances, and at each junction feeding in, there is a vehicle waiting, poised to go, you will notice something. Sometimes, each driver will be sat there, much like a lemon, looking to their right to see if that person is going to make a move. Because all three drivers are doing this, for a brief moment, no-one will go. Eventually, someone will make a move. Roundabouts are great, because they allow the dominant, responsibility-taking driver to capitalise, and this exploitation by the dominant driver is helpful to the driver to his or her right, because it gives them a chance to go also, and so on. Everyone wins, but the one with the most gumption gets to go first. In other words, roundabouts encourage independent thought, common sense and responsibility.

Traffic lights are the exact opposite. They are a very authoritarian function in our cities, towns and villages. I'd like to see the evidence that traffic lights help the traffic or marshall congestion effectively and efficiently. I think a road pilot in London a few years back demonstrated that the road that was bereft of speed humps, markings and lights saw traffic move slower and more thoughtfully. Indeed, increasingly streets are being designed where people, bikes and vehicles interact more freely with fewer formal demarcations and there appears to be some evidence that this leads to safer spaces for all involved.

With traffic lights, there are those countless occasions where it's quiet, no-one is about and you're stuck at a red light. Or even worse, you're cruising along at a nice speed and then you have to pull up sharp because the lights decided that was enough. You had to stop and give way to a hedgehog or even worse a badger. Or indeed nothing at all. Then you're sat there thinking, "if I run this now, will I get away with it?" as you furtively scan the area for cameras and hidden police officers.

So, in conclusion, I say "three cheers for the roundabout" and boos all round for the authoritarian traffic light!!

Thursday, 23 April 2009

All Around My Hat

I have just got back from watching the folk-rock band 'Steeleye Span' at the Fairfield Halls in Croydon.

They've been around since 1969 and judging by the audience tonight, most of their fans have been around a lot longer than that! Suffice it to say that at 38, I am way below the average age of tonight's audience..

This is the second time that I have seen them in concert - the first time was at the wonderful Sage Centre in Gateshead on the banks of the River Tyne. Tonight was great - very soothing and relaxing and you can't help foot and finger tapping!

All good stuff...

Saturday, 11 April 2009

The Damned United

I've just been to watch the film, 'The Damned United' at the Kingston Odeon and I enjoyed it even more than I expected to and I had high expectations. The performance of Michael Sheen was terrific and even for people like me who have been close Clough watchers, he was utterly authentic and believable - I thought he was excellent in 'The Queen' too and haven't yet watched 'Frost/Nixon'.

The thing I liked most about 'The Damned United' was its portrayal of the close friendship and bond between Clough and his assistant Peter Taylor - the way their relationship was developed and portrayed in the film was truly touching and artfully done. I also liked the way the film was able to show Clough as both extraordinarily confident and arrogant but also a touch insecure - from what I know about Clough, I think this is probably accurate.

Probably the thing I learnt about Clough from the film was just how strong his obsession with Don Revie was - probably because I knew Clough more from his later Nottingham Forest days in the 1980s, I didn't know as much as I should have done about the situation between Clough & Revie.

A really, really good film.

Friday, 10 April 2009

Lincolnshire - Home of the New Berlin Wall

I have just watched an excellent programme on BBC4 called Timeshift: The North-South Divide which sought to examine if a north-south divide still existed in England. One contributor argued that it did but that the line of the divide had shifted over the last 20 years or so with Grantham and most of Lincolnshire now in the South with the divide starting at the Severn Estuary and ending just south of Grimsby. The programme said that England is more regionally unequal than any other country in Europe and you have to go back to Germany before the Berlin Wall came down to find anything equivalent.

There appears to be no conception of 'being a southerner' amongst people from the South that is close to being comparable to the sense of 'being a northerner' amongst people from the North. This may not be surprising because that sort of sense of identitiy is often a defensive mechanism stemming from being the underdog - for example, there is also more of a Scottish identity than an English one.

The programme reminded me of the controversial report published by the think tank Policy Exchange in the summer of 2008 which argued that a decade of regeneration policies has failed to stop the inequality of opportunity between towns and cities in the North and those in the South East from increasing. The report recommended a series of radical proposals that would reverse the trend and inject a new momentum into regeneration policy. The key recommendations from the report were to increase the size of London by allowing landowners the right to convert industrial land into residential land in areas of above average employment; expand Oxford and Cambridge dramatically, just as Liverpool and Manchester expanded in the 19th century and for the Government to roll up current regeneration funding streams and allocate the money direct to local authorities - controversial stuff and not everyone agreed!

If you get a chance to watch the programme, I recommend it!

Saturday, 4 April 2009

There Is No Egg In Eggplant

I've lifted the following from Donal Blaney's blog - it's great fun. He says -

You think English is easy?

1) The bandage was wound around the wound.

2) The farm was used to produce produce.

3) The dump was so full that it had to refuse more refuse.

4) We must polish the Polish furniture.

5) He could lead if he would get the lead out.

6) The soldier decided to desert his dessert in the desert.

7) Since there is no time like the present, he thought it was time to present the present.

8) A bass was painted on the head of the bass drum.

9) When shot at, the dove dove into the bushes.

10) I did not object to the object.

11) The insurance was invalid for the invalid.

12) There was a row among the oarsmen about how to row.

13) They were too close to the door to close it.

14) The buck does funny things when the does are present.

15) A seamstress and a sewer fell down into a sewer line.

16) To help with planting, the farmer taught his sow to sow.

17) The wind was too strong to wind the sail.

18) Upon seeing the tear in the painting I shed a tear.

19) I had to subject the subject to a series of tests.

20) How can I intimate this to my most intimate friend?

Let's face it - English is a crazy language. There is no egg in eggplant, nor ham in hamburger; neither apple nor pine in pineapple. English muffins weren't invented in England or French fries in France. Sweetmeats are candies while sweetbreads, which aren't sweet, are meat. We take English for granted. But if we explore its paradoxes, we find that quicksand can work slowly, boxing rings are square and a guinea pig is neither from Guinea nor is it a pig.

And why is it that writers write but fingers don't fing, grocers don't groce and hammers don't ham? If the plural of tooth is teeth, why isn't the plural of booth, beeth? One goose, 2 geese. So one moose, 2 meese? One index, 2 indices? Doesn't it seem crazy that you can make amends but not one amend? If you have a bunch of odds and ends and get rid of all but one of them, what do you call it?

If teachers taught, why didn't preachers praught? If a vegetarian eats vegetables, what does a humanitarian eat? Sometimes I think all the English speakers should be committed to an asylum for the verbally insane. In what language do people recite at a play and play at a recital? Ship by truck and send cargo by ship? Have noses that run and feet that smell?

How can a slim chance and a fat chance be the same, while a wise man and a wise guy are opposites? You have to marvel at the unique lunacy of a language in which your house can burn up as it burns down, in which you fill in a form by filling it out and in which, an alarm goes off by going on.

English was invented by people, not computers, and it reflects the creativity of the human race, which, of course, is not a race at all. That is why, when the stars are out, they are visible, but when the lights are out, they are invisible.

PS Why doesn't Buick rhyme with quick?

Friday, 3 April 2009

Quick Thought For The Day - On Communications

Here's a quick (if not startlingly new) thought for the day about communication -

"Effective communication is not about what you say but what people hear!"

Good night....

Wednesday, 25 March 2009

Cloughie - Football Genius

I'm watching the excellent ITV documentary on Brian Clough, possibly the most charismatic manager ever to grace English football and one of my childhood football heroes. He provided us with a catalogue of fantastic quotes and one of my favourites is from when he was asked about what he would do if one of his players came to him and said that he had a better idea than Clough about how things should be done. From memory, Clough's response was something like -

"Good, well I'd invite the player into my office, I'd ask him how he thought things should be done, we'd talk about it for 20 minutes and then we'd decide I was right all along!".

Wouldn't it be great (if unwise) to say something like that in a job interview when asked about your management style!?

UPDATE - I don't think much of ITV, but I must say this was a very fine programme - truly excellent...

Tuesday, 24 March 2009

Nudging Our Way To A Better Future

I'm not long back from hearing Richard Thaler speak at the London School of Economics about his book Nudge which he co-authored with Cass Sunstein who is now Barack Obama's 'nudger-in-chief' at the dull but important sounding 'Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs'.

I'll have more to say about this in later posts but it was an enjoyable and interesting 75 minute session during which Thaler described his ambition as being about, "creating a better world through freedom of choice" - a somewhat surprising self-description given that he often gets described as a nanny-stater. Thaler said that he and Sunstein were experimenting in seeing how far we can go in achieving social change without forcing anyone to do anything against their will.

More to follow...

Tuesday, 7 October 2008

A Conversation With Dario

Last Saturday (4 October), I was at Gresty Road to watch Crewe Alexandra lose 3-1 at home to Northampton Town in Coca Cola League One. About 30 minutes before kick-off, the legendary Dario Gradi was standing near the area where the players come out onto the pitch. Dario was Crewe manager for 24 years, stepping down in 2007 to become the club's Technical Director. As manager of Crewe, he got the team punching above its weight, spending many years in the second tier of English football. He developed a fantastic reputation for developing young talent such as Nicky Maynard who recently went to Bristol City and Dean Ashton who now plays in the Premier League for West Ham. He also encouraged his team to play intelligent, technically sound football and instilled into his players excellent values such as not arguing with referees - for example, unlike so many managers, when one of his players conceded a penalty, he almost never criticised the referee's decision but instead preferred to concentrate on why one of his players had mistimed a tackle or dived in risking the possibility that the referee might give a penalty. I thought that I would take the opportunity to talk to Dario, as he is one of the men that I most admire in football. After signing my match programme, Dario told me the following -

  • I asked him if he was going to produce an autobiography. He said that he wasn't because he didn't like autobiographies. I said that he should because he had such a fantastic story to tell and that unlike some of the nonsensical (and frankly unreadable) autobiographies that get produced by players just starting their lives and careers in their 20s, he had a genuine autobiography to write. He agreed with that, but sadly I got the impression that there is no autobiography in the offing.
  • He did say however, that he was writing another type of book on The Pursuit of Excellence which will be a book about player development, coaching and performance - this is one to watch out for in all good book shops!
  • I asked him how involved he was now with the first team at Crewe. He said that he still takes some of the coaching and that in the last few days, he had taken a session with the goalkeepers and a session with the forwards. He said that he was trying to give Crewe's newish signing from Leeds, Anthony Elding, "a trick" to make him less predictable for opposing defenders. He said he was also trying to do something similar with Calvin Zola who used to be a Newcastle player. I also asked him how he thought that Crewe's new goalkeeper, Steve Collis was doing following his signing from Yeovil Town and Dario said that he was doing fine and that he was probably on par with Ben Williams, Crewe's previous goalkeeper who moved on in the summer. Dario said that he goes to most of the away games but not all the Saturday ones which involve an overnight stay because he likes to take the Friday night training with the youth teams - you certainly get the impression that coaching and player development is Dario's main interest and passion. It's incredible really, that into his 60s, he still trains the youth teams on a Friday night. As Dario said to me, "I don't need to work any more, I do it because I love it".
  • I then asked Dario how he thought that Crewe would fare this season. He said that it was a "team building year" and although they might get close to the play-off spots (a bit optimistic I think), it is very unlikely that they would be promoted. I followed up by asking Dario why Crewe were now apparently struggling to stay up in League One, when it was only a couple of seasons ago that they were a Championship team. Dario said that this was because the quality in the Championship and lower leagues had risen because so few British players now played in the Premier League which meant that they played in the lower leagues thus pushing the quality up in the leagues below the top flight. He asked me to think about the teams in the Championship now and to recognise that they were all strong teams - this contrasted to the years when Crewe survived in the Championship when there were other small clubs to compete with such as Gillingham, Rotherham, Grimsby and Stockport. Rather sadly, he predicted that Crewe would never be able to hold their own again in the Championship and that League One was probably the level that they would have to play at. I have heard Dario say this before and it is possibly the only thing that I don't particularly like about his approach - it may be realistic but does it send out the right signal to the players and others?
  • He said that the business model for the club was sound and that it had no debt. It is worth noting that Crewe have some of the best training and academy facilities in the whole country (including the Premier League) and they also built a new multi-million pound stand in 1999 which offers excellent views of the pitch. He said that Crewe budget to lose £1million per year and that this shortfall is made up from the sale of players (such as the £2.25million sale of Maynard in July) and from cup matches like the recent one at Liverpool which he estimated would have generated £150,000. Interestingly, he said that because of the way that Crewe bring players up through the ranks, they often have great loyalty to the club and sometimes sign longer contracts than they might otherwise do which helps Crewe to maximise the transfer fee generated - such as the £3million that Norwich City paid for Ashton, a deal that generated a further £1.5million for Crewe when Norwich sold Ashton on to West Ham. Dario also said that there was no prospect of a rich benefactor buying Crewe because there would be nothing in it for them, "unless they wanted to run it down and sell the ground for housing!".
  • I asked him what a typical player in League One would be paid. Dario said about £1,000 per week at Crewe, which was possibly a bit lower than the league average. Dario said that he still thought that this was a bit too much - it doesn't seem too much when you think about how many years a typical player would have in a career and I would think that for a lot of the players, they would not be in a position to earn more than this in the years after they hang their boots up.
  • Finally and perhaps most intriguingly, I asked Dario if he had ever been tempted to take a manager's job in the Premier League or with a bigger club. He said, "yes, twice - both times with Wimbledon", where of course he was manager between 1978 and 1981, when they were in the third and fourth divisions. Dario said that once was when Dave Bassett was manager in the mid-1980s and the other time was in the latter part of the 1988/89 season when Bobby Gould was Wimbledon's manager but despite being well progressed in the discussions about taking over with Wimbledon's owner, Sam Hammam, it was scuppered because Crewe successfully got promoted from the then fourth division that year which caused Dario to hesitate and in the end Hammam decided to keep Gould as the manager.

It was a very enjoyable conversation with one of English football's legendary figures (no, not an exaggeration). As the Crewe fans used to sing, "Dario Gradi, Football Genius".

Sunday, 5 October 2008

Journalistic Tricks Of The Trade

You may have read in my earlier post entitled, An Encounter With Kinnear & Llambias that whilst in the departure lounge at Newcastle airport on 27 September, I had retold the details of my "encounter" to Shaun Custis, a journalist on The Sun who also happens to be a Newcastle fan. Whilst I was sitting next to Custis at the airport, he was tapping away on his laptop writing up his match report for publication in Monday's paper. Because of this, I decided to buy The Sun on Monday 29 September and imagine my surprise when I turned to the Newcastle v Blackburn match report and discovered that Custis had written the following -
"Joe Kinnear sat in the airport departure lounge heading for London, otherwise known as Newcastle's head office. Alongside him was managing director Derek Llambias, who offered some words of wisdom to the Toon's new caretaker boss after they had witnessed a fifth defeat in a row. Llambias said, 'it will quieten down off the pitch, Joe. You just have to get it right on the pitch'".
I say that I was surprised to read this because I know for a fact that Custis did not hear Llambias use those words and that he only got it from me. I know this, because when I arrived in the airport departure lounge at the gate designated for our flight, I sat down next to Custis, who was talking on his mobile phone. Kinnear walked in alone, without Llambias at that point. Custis saw Kinnear and said to the person he was talking to on the phone that he had just seen Kinnear walk in and that two weeks previously Llambias had been on the equivalent flight back to London Stansted after the Hull City match. Custis remarked that he was surprised that they were "slumming it" by using easyJet so often. When Custis finished his phone call, I recounted my story to him and as we were talking we made our way towards the gate to board the plane. Until I told him, Custis did not know that Llambias was on the flight. Custis and I boarded the plane through the rear door and Custis sat in an aisle seat very near the back of the plane. I sat a few rows further forward. Llambias and Kinnear sat in the middle of the plane. This is how I know that I was the source for Custis's opening paragraphs in his report.
This episode provides an interesting insight into the way in which (some) journalists work and it is interesting that Custis assumed that I was a reliable source, even though he had never met me before. It is also the case that the use of quotation marks implies the verbatim reporting of what Llambias said but given that I actually heard what he said, I can tell you that it was not exactly as Custis reports. Custis also inaccurately says that Kinnear and Llambias were sitting in the departure lounge when they had this conversation but in fact they were not - they were actually standing in the queue to get through security.
Despite the inaccuracies, I still enjoyed being responsible for the opening paragraph or two in the match report published in Britain's most widely read daily newspaper!

Sunday, 28 September 2008

An Encounter With Kinnear & Llambias

On Saturday evening, I arrived at Newcastle airport having watched Newcastle United lose 2-1 to Blackburn Rovers in the Premier League. I got in the queue to go through security before catching an easyJet flight back to London Stansted and standing right in front of me in the queue were none other than Newcastle's new interim manager Joe Kinnear (pictured) and the club's Managing Director Derek Llambias. Llambias is a long-term associate of the club's owner Mike Ashley and it didn't surprise me to see him on the flight because on 14 September on the Sky Sports programme called Sunday Supplement, the Sun journalist Shaun Custis had said that he had seen Llambias on the easyJet flight to Stansted the previous evening after the match against Hull City - I was on that flight too, but did not notice either Llambias or Custis!

Anyway, I couldn't resist the temptation of talking to Llambias and I asked him if it had been, "another good day at the office!?". He replied saying, "no, it has been a very bad day actually". At this time, Kinnear was talking on his mobile phone and said, "half the players are totally average". On hearing this, Llambias nudged Kinnear and whispered, "be careful Joe - journalist!". Kinnear looked around and it was clear that it was me they were referring to! A minute or so later, Kinnear finished his telephone conversation, looked at me and said, "it was the Arsenal v Hull match I was talking about" - not very likely I thought!

Fortunately, the queue was unusually long for a Saturday night at Newcastle airport and this enabled me to overhear the rest of their conversation, which given they thought I was a journalist, was surprisingly frank in places. The key points from their conversation were as follows:

  • Kinnear kept referring to Newcastle's long injury list. Interviews carried out with him this weekend indicate that he is very preoccupied with this - perhaps too much. He said that the way things were going he would be playing the youth team in the next first team match at Everton on 5 October.
  • Kinnear said that Newcastle had picked up two more injuries during the match with Blackburn, including Michael Owen tweaking his back. I have not seen this reported anywhere else, so I consider this to be an exclusive!
  • Kinnear said that he had pulled four players out of the squad for the reserve team match on Monday night to minimise the risk of further injuries. Kinnear also said that he would be being very careful in training in order to avoid further injuries - he said that he would be working mostly on, "tactics and shape".
  • On the subject of injuries, Llambias said that they had tried to get to the root cause of why Newcastle's players were picking up so many injuries and he said that it couldn't be due to the pitches at the training ground because there are two pitches there, "of the same standard as the pitch at the St. James Park". He also said that the players did not train on the indoor pitch at the training ground. Reducing the number of injuries was a preoccupation of Sam Allardyce during his short tenure as manager.
  • Kinnear and Llambias were very critical of Steven Taylor and his poor performance against Blackburn. Kinnear said that he had been "flat-footed and not alert" for one of the goals. Kinnear also asked Llambias how tall Coloccini was and Llambias said that he was, "tall but not a giant". He said that Carlton Cole had given him the runaround at West Ham the previous week and that he seemed to struggle against big, strong centre-forwards.
  • Kinnear said that he was going back up to Newcastle on Monday and Llambias said that they should meet for dinner on Tuesday evening at Kinnear's hotel, where "Lee" could give Kinnear all the background and history on each of the players. I don't know who "Lee" is but could it be Lee Charnley, the club's Football Secretary?
  • I was struck by some of the lack of knowledge that Kinnear had about the various players - not surprising perhaps but not exactly reassuring! He didn't seem certain who Andy Carroll was and he kept calling Obafemi Martins, "Obi" rather than "Oba". We know from other reports that he called Geremi, "Jeremiah" at least once this weekend.
  • Intriguingly, Llambias said at one point that, "everything will be sorted out off the pitch within the next two weeks - what we've got to do is get it sorted out on the pitch".
  • To be fair to Llambias, he did have a detailed knowledge of each of the players, their current ailments and how much longer they were likely to be out. He ran through the long list of injuries and said that Martins could be out for three months and he didn't seem very optimistic about Viduka returning any time soon, saying that he was currently in Australia. He said that Enrique and Beye could be back very soon and he seemed to think that this would sort out the full-back positions.
  • I tried to be fair to Llambias above about his knowledge of the current situation for each of the players but listening to the conversation between Kinnear, Llambias and another youngish, suited man with them, I was not overwhelmed with confidence that these are men about to lead Newcastle away from their current travails. I also thought that there was a lack of awareness or recognition of what had caused some of the problems now being experienced - for example, Llambias was talking about the small squad and the lack of players in certain positions but he seemed to be oblivious to the fact that lots of people, including Kevin Keegan had been pointing out this problem during the final stages of the transfer window in August.
  • When we went through security itself, we had to remove our belts and once through the other side, it took Kinnear a long time to get dressed again and Llambias and his colleague were waiting for Kinnear. Llambias said to his colleague that, "Joe has lost a lot of weight recently". I mention this, because I got the impression from the way this was said that he had known Kinnear for a while which is consistent with the notion that only people associated with Ashley's regime or with Tottenham Hotspur are being appointed to jobs at Newcastle! Indeed, the bookmakers Paddy Power are running a book on the next friend of Dennis Wise (Newcastle's Executive Director - Football) to be appointed to a job at St. James Park!

Having got through security, I became separated from Kinnear and Llambias and sat next to Shaun Custis - I retold my conversation to him and we had a good chat - what a decent bloke! I said at one point, that I did not blame the players for what was happening but he seemed doubtful about this and I have subsequently heard various people saying that the players need to stand-up as professional footballers and do the job that they are very well-paid to do. I have more sympathy now for this argument than I did 36 hours ago.

Overall, another fascinating day in the North East!

Saturday, 20 September 2008

Farewell To The Yankee Stadium

On Sunday, the Yankee Stadium in New York plays host to its final baseball match when the New York Yankees take on the Baltimore Orioles. The Yankee Stadium is one the world's most famous sporting amphitheatres and nostalgia will definitely be in the air. The stadium opened on 18 April 1923 when the legendary Babe Ruth hit the first home run in the new ballpark against his former team, the Boston Red Sox. The Yankees are not moving far however, because they will be relocating to a purpose-built stadium right next door, with the first game there being scheduled for 16 April 2009.

Saturday, 6 September 2008

A Mauling For The Railwaymen

I was at Elland Road today to witness Leeds United beat my second favourite team, Crewe Alexandra 5-2 in League One. Leeds totally outplayed Crewe and it was actually 5-0 going into injury time at the end of the match when the Leeds defender, Lubo Michalik foolishly got himself sent off for a needless second bookable offence. In the remaining two minutes, Crewe somehow contrived to score two goals when they hadn't looked like scoring one during the preceding 90 minutes - another example of the unexpected nature of football which helps to keep a lot of us transfixed. It was also strange to be at Elland Road watching a League One match because as I walked to the ground I recalled my visit there on an ice-cold day shortly before Christmas 2001 when Leeds were top of the Premier League and Newcastle beat them 4-3 in a thrilling match with Nolberto Solano scoring the last minute winner which led to Bobby Robson doing a jig of joy on the touchline - those were the days!

Divided, Separate And Unequal?

I write this sitting on a train travelling from London Kings Cross to Leeds (courtesy of the free Wifi service provided by National Express East Coast). I know a bit about Leeds because I lived 60 miles away in Beverley between 2001 and 2004 whilst working for East Riding of Yorkshire Council and visited the city on many occasions during this time. Leeds is often cited as a good example of a regenerated and booming city and in many ways that is precisely what it is. However, my own experience of the city tells me that you don't have to scratch the surface very hard before you realise that in many ways, it is a polarised city with a significant gap between those who have benefited from the newly acquired affluence and those left behind. I started thinking about this because in today's Guardian newspaper (in the Weekend magazine), there is a very interesting piece by David Simon in which he says that there are "two Americas - separate, unequal, and no longer even acknowledging each other except on the barest cultural terms. In the one nation, new millionaires are minted every day. In the other, human beings no longer necessary to our economy, to our society, are being devalued and destroyed". It's interesting stuff and well worth a read - see http://www.guardian.co.uk/media/2008/sep/06/wire

Wednesday, 3 September 2008

Reading The Spanish Newspaper(s)

I am fortunate to travel to Spain quite a bit and I like the country a lot. Frustratingly (and I should do something about it) I do not speak the language and one of the limitations that results from this is my inability to be able to read the Spanish newspapers. For me, one of the joys of visiting other English speaking countries and even other regions of the UK, is being able to read the local press and see the world as the locals see it. Well, I have now come across an English version of the Spanish newspaper El Pais and I am very much enjoying reading it whenever I can. To have a look yourself, click here - http://www.elpais.com/misc/herald/herald.pdf

Does Ignorance Contribute To Anti-Americanism?

A friend of mine (thanks Jose), has just pointed me in the direction of a survey which would suggest that large numbers of Britons think America is a land where polygamy is legal, where you don't get emergency medical care if you are poor and where there is more racism than in Europe. Britons also apparently think that America provided Saddam Hussein with a large share of his weapons when, in reality, Russia, China and France were responsible for most of the arms exports to his Iraq. On all of these questions Britons are wrong. There may be many genuine reasons for anti-Americanism in Britain and around the world but a leading cause would appear to be ignorance. Have a look at the survey results here:

Hold The Front Page

The British Library has a fantastic online exhibition showing some of the best newspaper front pages that appeared during the 100 years from 1906. There are pages covering everything from the General Strike in 1926 to Hitler's Death in 1945 and the Brighton Bomb in 1984. It makes compelling reading - have a look at http://www.bl.uk/onlinegallery/features/frontpage/memorable.html

Tuesday, 2 September 2008

More Thinking Required

Writing in the 28 August edition of the Local Government Chronicle, the London School of Economics academic, Tony Travers described how Britain's thinktanks have long understood the benefits of launching reports in August. He says that with stand-in newspaper editors desperate for stories, there is plenty of room for extensive coverage of the latest ideas from "wonk-land". This August was no exception with for example, the Institute for Public Policy Research trailing a forthcoming report about the benefits of migration to the UK economy and the New Local Government Network proposing the abandonment of the 2011 population census. Then last Saturday, there was a very interesting editorial in the Financial Times (see http://www.ft.com/cms/s/0/d218dad2-762b-11dd-99ce-0000779fd18c.html), in which it was argued that Britain needs to improve its policy institutions by, "refuelling" its thinktanks. The FT argues that due to a lack of resources (compared to say the United States), the big UK thinktanks dedicate themselves to campaigning rather than to analysis. This results in the policy support available to UK politicians from outside government being rather weak. The FT says that this is a particular problem for opposition parties that do not have access to the civil service. Interestingly, the piece argues that it was no coincidence that Tony Blair's worst domestic policy decisions were taken before he took office, including dismantling the health service's internal market (not everyone would agree that this was a bad idea, of course!). All this poses a question about whether the thinktanks need to do some more thinking about themselves and the role that they play...

Sunday, 31 August 2008

Diary Of A Church Mouse

I have just reread a fantastic poem by Sir John Betjeman called, Diary of a Church Mouse. The BBC website calls it, "wryly comic" and it certainly is. It a very perceptive piece of social commentary. I also like its rhythmic nature. You can hear Sir John read it himself here - http://www.bbc.co.uk/arts/poetry/outloud/betjeman.shtml

Why Is Pasta So Hard To Cook (Well)?

Before going to the Emirates Stadium yesterday, I had a very pleasant lunch in the restaurant Ask in the Gloucester Arcade next door to Gloucester Road tube station. It's a pleasant restaurant with good service. I had spaghetti bolognese and whilst it was tasty enough, it lacked something both in the sauce and especially with the pasta. Whilst in New York in the summer, I had some pasta in a (not inexpensive) restaurant in the World Financial Center adjacent to Ground Zero and this too was disappointing. Those of us who have been fortunate to eat good pasta in Italy know what the benchmark is. These two experiences have got me thinking - why is it so hard to cook pasta well?

Thursday, 28 August 2008

Down And Out In Paris & London

When most of us think of George Orwell, we think of his two most famous books, Animal Farm and Nineteen Eighty-Four. About a month ago, I decided to read some of his less well-known works and I've just finished his book, Down and Out in Paris and London which I thoroughly enjoyed and wholeheartedly recommend. It provides a compelling and unsentimental description of poverty as Orwell provides a semi-autobiographical account of a penniless British writer who finds himself destitute in both Paris and then London. As a dishwater in Paris, he describes in excruciating detail the horrors of what goes on behind the scenes in the kitchens of posh French restaurants. In London, he encounters the disturbing world of street people and charitable shelters. Narrated with occasional humour, it is a great read and provides some Orwellian truths about poverty and society.