Saturday, February 25, 2017

Burton away, unsettling, but better

This was a disorienting experience. Stood on a terrace with just the oldest lad, low down in a tiny stadium, behind the goal and watching Rovers enjoy (or endure) 75% possession in the first half. I'm not used to any of that. The atmosphere amongst the Rovers fans was supportive for a change. The whole toxic mood around the useless Owen Coyle was getting me down. Howling at the Venky's is morally justifiable and righteous, yet seems so helpless.

Burton manager Nigel Clough was right when he reflected on how outclassed his side were. It's been so unusual for Rovers to dominate a team the way they did in that first half. Yet despite some excellent crosses by Liam Feeney, there was little to show for it, but an own goal from a lethal Charlie Mulgrew corner.

It's too early to make a judgement on the new manager, but I like the fact that new boss Tony Mowbray replaced like for like. Takes off two strikers, puts two on. Takes off a winger, replaces him with a winger. It's a self evident fact that the team looks better and plays better when Marvin Emnes is on the pitch, but Conor Mahoney also seems to lift the side with his energy and his ability to surprise. Guthrie was good in the first half, but invisible in the second. At one point a cross field pass went wayward and Mowbray turned in frustration to his bench. I imagine he was saying 'what the bloody hell do you lot do in training, play table tennis?'

Another new ground chalked off. I make it the 146th ground I've watched football on, 82nd out of the Punk 92 and 71st of the current 92. Next target is Brighton on the 1st of April, which will be a sweep of this season's Championship. Who knows which new ground I'll get to visit with Rovers next season.

Saturday, February 11, 2017

This has been Jeremy Corbyn's worst week yet

It wasn't just the abject surrender over the Brexit vote, the resignation of a close ally, or the rumours of his planned retirement. No, it was the statement that the fightback starts here, and then what followed.

It should also be worth mentioning that he had a relatively good performance at Prime Minister's Questions, with a series of leaked texts about the Surrey Council social care funding deal. These minor victories only count for something if you then dominate the narrative thereafter. Pushing the government on their weak spots - that they are unfair, sneaky and look after their own.

As Jonathan Freedland said in the Guardian:

"In a tweet both tragic and comic, Corbyn reflected on this disaster with a declaration that the “real fight starts now” – as if the parliamentary decision to trigger article 50 were a pantomime, and what really matters is waving placards and all the shouting into a megaphone in Hyde Park that now follows. That’s his comfort zone, and he should be allowed to retreat to it. But it leaves the rest of us in a zone of discomfort and distress, watching as a government cruel enough to shut out the world’s most helpless children leads our country off a cliff, unchecked by an opposition that isn’t worthy of the name."

The very next day he started on the BBC sofa by attacking a legitimate question as "fake news" with the same insolence he greets any attempt to point out the hopeless situation he is in.

He then headed up to Ashton-under-Lyne to meet New Charter Homes, the Housing Association I am on the board of. I wasn't involved at all, I didn't even know about it. But colleagues had the expectations that he would be open to conversations about how Housing Associations can contribute to solving the homes crisis.

This is where Corbyn supporters claim he is at his best, with ordinary people talking about their challenges. And, to be fair, I hear from colleagues that they enjoyed his visit.

But here's the thing. He doesn't listen. He doesn't learn. He doesn't understand the world as it is.

His tweets that followed said he had enjoyed his day and that he was pleased to see a Labour Council supporting the building of more council houses. He also tweeted that he spoke about the need for more council homes. It might seem a pedantic question of words, that council housing and social housing are interchangeable. They're not, of course, but there is something else here. Housing Associations have a whole range of challenging issues that the leader of the opposition needs to understand and should be able to assist with. Nor was there any recognition of the wider social mission that a non-state actor provides in a community like Ashton. The local MP who was with him will also have told him that.

In his reshuffle he has sacked the elections co-ordinator two weeks before two by-elections Labour could lose. I fear for Andrew Gwynne, given an almost impossible job as the replacement. Corbyn has lost the support of Owen Jones, one of his important critical friends. Poll ratings are still falling. This is, as Matthew Engel writes in the FT magazine today, the behaviour of a party on a slow death march.

Labour is in many ways clueless, disunited and perhaps in terminal decline. Whatever happens in the by-elections, it faces another crisis in the mayoral elections in May: the Tories are now favourites to win in Birmingham and there are worries even about Corbyn’s former rival Andy Burnham in Manchester.

The tragedy of this situation is that Andy Burnham's campaign is seeking to do all the right things that a listening, responsive and modern Labour candidate should be doing to address the challenges of Greater Manchester. I don't make this point to rerun the 2015 leadership but to illustrate the dire position Labour is in, even when it says and does the right thing.

If this is the fightback, I dread to see the state of a surrender.

Sunday, February 05, 2017

T2 - nostalgia ain't what it used to be

Last year we saw the Stone Roses, New Order and James at emotional and celebratory events held in cathedrals of praise to the god's of our past. Last night I indulged in more of the same with a swim through the messy memories of the last twenty years since Trainspotting hit the screen.

Danny Boyle has a sure touch for what's current and able to make an emotional connection with his audience. That Olympic opening ceremony captured it beautifully. So it's no exaggeration to say the whole exercise of T2, aimed at the right here and right now, is far more than moving the story of Edinburgh junkies along.

It's a film full of Easter "Road" Eggs - knowing references and in-jokes - Hibs shirts, posters and references are in virtually every scene, as are constant flashbacks, references and retellings of the original story, so much so that one of our lads who hadn't seen Trainspotting found it incomprehensible at times. Also, Edinburgh as a changed city plays a far more prominent role than the more claustrophobic environment portrayed in the original. It's a casual but important acknowledgement that you notice the world beyond your immediate gaze as your own mortality hits mid-life.

Like New Order ending their 2016 set with a montage of Ian Curtis images and their own version of Love Will Tear Us Apart, T2 is splattered with its own indulgences - Irvine Welsh pops up again - and though I had to look it up, there's a cameo by a gangster character that's the equivalent of a backing vocal from one of the Happy Mondays at a Stone Roses gig.

It's a good film, an enjoyable journey, with differing versions of the way the story could be told competing with one another. My favourite three scenes were the scamming of a Loyalist social club in Glasgow (original), the meeting of Renton and Begbie in adjacent toilet cubicles (well shot) and the ending (won't spoil it).

The best and most important character in the film is Veronika, the Bulgarian "friend" of Simon, or "Sick Boy". She tells the others they are tourists in their past, while she has no past worth recalling, so only has a future. It's the line that defines the film and almost every detail of it.

Friday, February 03, 2017

My mate #22 Mark Webster

Jonny Owen, Webbo and Me in London 2016
So, to the revival of the "my mate" series where I say something nice about one of my mates after a random shuffle of the address book, telling a tale about how we met, etc. 

This time it's Mark Webster, broadcaster, writer and Whistleblower.

Webbo and I worked together at a doomed TV station in the early 1990s called Wire TV. He was one of the best things about it. He was smart, funny, sharp and above everything else in broadcasting - he was good to work with. The reason Alan Partridge works as a TV character is because it's such an accurate parody of the worst kind of media personality. Mark is the total opposite of that, he works hard on getting the programmes right, but he is always as quick to share the love, as others can be to place the blame.

As a sports broadcaster Webbo also brings a much wider cultural hinterland. He writes for Jocks and Nerds magazine, used to be a writer on Blues and Soul, was a main DJ on Kiss FM and I think this brightens his writing about Sport on TV for the Mail. I think football has required that wider world view of its burgeoning media and I sense his success with his work reflects that. Partly that also comes from having a great address book. In the times he's invited me onto his Whistleblowers podcast I've met brilliant fellow guests - Kevin Day, Andy Smart, Alan Alger, Stuart Deabill and Jonny Owen (apologies if I've missed anyone out).

Here's another measure of what kind of bloke he is. When I did the podcast last summer (pictured) Webbo and Jonny were so good with my eldest lad, Joe. I can imagine Joe was dreading taking time out from our day in London by going to a pub to meet one of his Dad's mates. Jonny, I ought to mention, has made the brilliant I Believe in Miracles about Brian Clough's Nottingham Forest and on St David's Day will be releasing a film about the Wales' adventure in France last summer, Don't Take Me Home.

So, thanks Webbo, see you back in the pod soon.

It's been a while since I updated the "my mate" series. I haven't stopped because I've run out of friends or anything, but it was born in the pre-social media era when this blog was a far more vibrant place. So, I'm reviving it. It's basically a chance to get some more variety on here as well. to do a little bit more than just moaning about Blackburn Rovers, Jeremy Corbyn and trains.




Sunday, January 29, 2017

When Mark Guterman called about his appearance in 40 by 40

I got a call at the back end of last year from a businessman who I included by name in my 2015 novel 40 by 40. I don't know Mark Guterman well, but met him a few times, through various friends, when he was the owner of Wrexham Football Club. That experience didn't end well for him, or the club. The point of including him was as a warning to the central character about the risks of buying a football club and the fans coming after you if it goes wrong.

Mr Guterman's polite enquiry seemed to be about how a work of fiction can include real people. He also wanted to put me right on his ownership of Wrexham and how it was represented in the book. I explained that what was always important to me was to capture accurately the time and the place - Cheshire 2008. It's not pivotal to the story, but it includes a reference to "the boys" who piled in to join his investment consortium to buy Wrexham. I heard this quite a few times myself at the time. The truth was, Mr Guterman stressed, there were no boys. He did it all by himself, but with some involvement from another investor who he fell out with, Alex Hamilton. There was no consortium and no deal done at the bar of the Stag's Head in Great Warford or after a round at the Mere Golf and Country Club.

My argument, which stands, is that the book wasn't inaccurate. The purpose wasn't to report accurately on every deal that got done and who was involved, but to reflect the myths and bravado of the time too. As Tony Wilson used to say, "faced with the choice between the truth and the legend, always print the legend."

Out of the blue I've had a few more calls and reviews about the book recently. No literary agent has called begging to sign me up, no producers asking for the rights to adapt it for TV, or Hollywood, or a major publisher offering me a mega-deal on the follow-up. Just readers who enjoyed it, who liked the story and more than anything, the linkage between the real world and the one I invented.

It's still available at Amazon for £5.99.