Wednesday, July 09, 2014

Fifa and Brit execs embarrassed, embroiled in '£60m World Cup ticket-touting scam'

FIFA president Sepp Blatter and British executives have been dragged into a £60million World Cup ticket-touting scandal.
Sir Bobby Charlton’s former travel agent Ray Whelan was released on bail yesterday after being arrested at a luxury Rio hotel and accused of involvement in a major ticketing scam.
He was ordered to hand over £2,900 bond as well as his passport as detectives press ahead with their three-month investigation into alleged widespread World Cup touting.
But prosecutors condemned his release as ‘absurd’, describing him as their ‘prime suspect’ alleged to have masterminded a multi-million-pound ticketing scam.
The affair threatens to cause further embarrassment for beleaguered Fifa boss Mr Blatter, whose nephew Philippe runs a firm which jointly owns the company at the centre of the scandal.
Other ticketing agencies also embroiled - and yesterday barred from selling packages for remaining World Cup fixtures - include some who handled sales at the London 2012 Olympics.
Ticketing fraud experts warned the small, often-incestuous number of firms tending to monopolise contracts for major sporting events made abuse inevitable.
Whelan, 64, is an accommodation director of corporate hospitality providers Match Services - a key commercial partner for football’s world governing body Fifa and part of the Cheshire-based events firm Byrom Group.
He was arrested on Monday night at the five-star Copacabana Palace Hotel in Rio, where he was staying alongside the likes of Mr Blatter, Prince Albert of Monaco and other senior Fifa and corporate executives.
Officers last week detained 11 people as part of a three-month probe called ‘Operation Jules Rimet’ - after the former Fifa president who gave his name to the first World Cup trophy.
The alleged ringleader of the latest ‘scam’ is a 57-year-old French-Algerian named Mohamadou Lamine Fofana – who was also staying at the Copacabana Palace.
His company Atlanta Sportif is accused of having secured tickets and packages from Match which they then illegally resold.
Police are now analysing calls they say they recorded between Whelan and Fofana, among about 50,000 taped phone conversations.
Fifa have tried to distance themselves from the scandal, praising police for their work and revealing their willingness to co-operate.
Whelan’s lawyer Fernando Fernandes yesterday described his arrest as ‘illegal and absurd’ and his employers said: ‘Match have complete faith that the facts will establish that he has not violated any laws.’
Rio prosecutor Mark Kac, however, called the release ‘absurd’, adding: ‘We are really upset with this decision.
‘This gang moved millions. Now the prime suspect is loose. He was released based on nothing.’
Match have, meanwhile, suspended corporate packages allocated to three secondary ticketing agencies: Reliance Industries, Pamodzi and former London 2012 contractors Jet Set Sports.
Match Hospitality were allocated 445,500 of the 3million-plus 2014 World Cup tickets made available.
Any unsold corporate hospitality tickets are meant to be returned to Fifa to make available to the public.
Reselling World Cup tickets for profit is both against Fifa rules and illegal in Brazil.
Match Hospitality and Match Services are two subsidiaries of the Cheadle, Cheshire-based Byrom Group, set up by two Mexican brothers and closely involved with Fifa since the 1986 World Cup.
Philippe Blatter is chief executive of sports marketing company Infront, another Fifa commercial partner and which also has a shareholding in Match Hospitality.
Infront yesterday issued a statement insisting they ‘only’ held five per cent of shares and Philippe Blatter had no operational involvement or personal stake in Match.
He is not the only relative of a senior Fifa official to find himself drawn into a ticketing controversy, however.
Humberto Grondona, son of Fifa senior vice-president Julio Grondona from Argentina, has been accused at this World Cup of selling tickets for profit.
Disgraced former Fifa vice-president Jack Warner and his son were found to have made £500,000 by selling 5,400 tickets acquired from Byrom for the 2006 World Cup in Germany.
Jet Set and sister company Cosports were among the ticketing agencies used by London 2012 organisers.
Cosports were at the centre of controversy two years ago when it emerged tickets they sold to some British customers - at a 20 per cent premium - were originally allocated to official sponsors and should not have been made available.
The suspended agency Pamodzi is run by Pape Massata Diack, son of the International Association of Athletics Federations’ Senegalese president Lamine Diack.
The IAAF president was disciplined by the IOC in 2011, along with Fifa vice-president Issa Hayatou, for receiving money from the now-defunct sports marketing company ISL in an alleged ‘kickbacks’ scandal.
Investigator Reg Walker, from the UK-based Iridium Consultancy, told Metro: ‘The ticketing for sporting events like the World Cup and the Olympics needs to be much more open, competitive and transparent.
‘The lengthy contracts given by Fifa and the IOC give certain people incredible amount of power.
‘In the end the only people who suffer are the genuine fans without deep pockets and priced out of attending.’

Hundreds of Afghan translators who risked lives for Brits 'left abandoned to Taliban'

Afghan interpreters who face Taliban death threats for helping British forces are protesting at being made to wait more than a year for promised refuge - after only two were offered aid.

Translators who have sided with coalition troops in Helmand province were told 12 months ago they could receive five-year visas to live here.
And a legal challenge to the limited new offers is due to be heard at London’s High Court this summer.
Campaigners say lives are being put in danger in Afghanistan, where translators and their families face possible retribution from anti-Western militants.
Interpreters, who have proved crucial to local communications, have previously told Metro they and their families have faced death threats from the Taliban since siding with UK forces.
The government signalled last May translators who worked with British forces would be given five-year visas to live here as coalition forces withdraw - but only those employed since the start of 2012.
At least 21 translators working for Britain have died in Afghanistan since 2001.
Mohammed, an interpreter for the British army in Helmand between 2006 and 2009, told Metro he had not left his home in Kabul in months for fear of revenge attacks.
He also decided to keep his seven-year-old daughter home from school after she was handed a letter vowing to kill her ‘infidel’ father.
Another former interpreter, Faisal, told Metro: ‘We interpreters have worked so many years with British troops in Afghanistan in Helmand, which is the most dangerous province in Afghanistan.
‘We risked our lives and have worked with British troops shoulder to shoulder on the frontline and now they are turning back against us.’
Law firm Leigh Day is representing three interpreters legally challenging the proposals, saying they are less generous than that offered to counterparts during the Iraq war.
The Iraq staff were promised indefinite leave to live in Britain or one-off packages of financial aid.
Campaign groups Avaaz, British Future and Refugee Action fear the mooted packages will deny asylum to as many as three-quarters of the  interpreters who helped British troops in Afghanistan.
Government officials insist they have a separate ‘intimidation policy’ scheme to protect current and former staff - include interpreters - who fear for their safety.
The Foreign Office estimates about 600 staff are likely to be offered resettlement in Britain.
And Ministry of Defence data released last night showed two 'locally-engaged civilians' had been granted visas, with applications being processed for another 269 - and 600 in total expected.
The figures came to light following a written Parliamentary question from Conservative Defence Select Committee chairman Rory Stewart.
A Foreign Office spokeswoman told Metro: ‘We cannot predict accurately how long the processing of the first cases for relocation will take.
‘Realistically, it is unlikely that the first relocating Afghan former staff will arrive in UK with their families before the middle of this year.’

Monday, June 09, 2014

Alleged Adidas-led Fifa rebellion may leave Blatter 'a happy president' for some time yet

Adidas, the firm that gave Sepp Blatter to the world of football, is said by some to have now turned on him and Fifa over the – latest - World Cup scandal.
Well, up to a point, Lord Copper. In fact, they and he may well remain in close agreement – as they largely have for more than three decades, one unfortunate time Blatter was suspected of wearing a Puma training top aside.
Adidas supremo Horst Dassler plucked Blatter from the marketing department of luxury Swiss watchmaker Longines, trained him up for several months in Landersheim offices then installed him on the first – if lofty - rung of the Fifa ladder.
‘He taught me the finer points of sports politics – an excellent education for me,’ Blatter later said of Dassler, who also provided useful instruction in how to best enjoy a good cigar.
Fifa and its now-president Blatter find themselves befogged by the Sunday Times’ fine investigative reporting on alleged backhanders shared among world football’s governing body to secure the 2022 World Cup for Qatar.
Today’s newspapers – including a Metro front-page, baffling subbing reference to ‘negative tenure’ and all – hail an apparent rebellion by Fifa’s main sponsors, long-loyal among Adidas among them.
And yet the sportswear giant’s supposedly-accusatory statement merely parrots what they little-committally said three years ago – with scant critical substance either.
Of course, they deplore the ‘negative tenor’ of current ‘public debate’ about Fifa, among supporters, the media and politicians both fair-minded and bandwagon-hopping alike.
Even Blatter himself might well go along with this, mind – not necessarily because he nor Adidas regrets how Fifa has behaved, but how they are being roundly condemned for apparently behaving. What really matters more, what the allegations suggest or simply that such allegations have been aired?
Back when Blatter became Fifa’s general secretary in May 1981, he was not only a Dassler protégé but also serving another key Adidas ally, Fifa president Joao Havelange.
In cahoots since the early 1970s, Dassler and Havelange had ruthlessly toppled Englishman Sir Stanley Rous as Fifa president in 1974.
They cannily and incessantly targeted and won over those federations and confederations across, say, Asia and Africa who felt legitimately alienated and under-represented by the Rous regime.
The vast expansion of what was and remains the world’s game, plus the wooing of blue-chip sponsors, has brought benefits however off-putting some Fifa-sanctioned practices may seem.
The organisation did spend $183million last year on football development, albeit still less than the $276million spent on itself and probably not quite convincingly enough to secure Sepp his dreamed-of Nobel Peace Prize.
And yet while the hand-in-glove relationship with Adidas helped accelerate perhaps-inevitable modernisation – and marketisation – it did also culminate in the eventual collapse of marketing arm ISL amid claims of mismanagement and backhanders.
Havelange ultimately paid some price following dogged investigations by a persistent few – British journalist Andrew Jennings leading among them – though resigned through ill health in 2013 before he could be expelled as honourary president.
His son-in-law Ricardo Teixeira’s long-tight grip on the Brazilian game was finally ended thanks to associated corruption allegations.
Other senior Fifa less-than-worthies who have ended up exiled and/or disgraced include South America’s Nicolas Leoz, Central America’s Jack Warner and Chuck Blazer and Africa’s Issa Hayatou and Jacques Anouma, leaving Blatter still reigning supreme.
Hayatou stood unsuccessfully against Blatter in 2002, as did nine years later the current man of the media-furore moment, Mohammed bin Hammam.
The Qatari was a friend and benefactor of Blatter’s ahead of his successful 1998 presidential run, allegedly lending the use of his own private aircraft, before opting to pay his own way towards power.
One of the issues now at keenly-contested dispute is whether his later Sunday largesse offered elsewhere was motivated more by personal Fifa ambitions or to secure 2022 for Qatar.
Blatter may have been the man opening the envelope and announcing the Middle East emirate as 2022 host, in what on technical and emotional grounds seems an even more mindboggling decision than Pulp being pipped to the 1994 Mercury Music Prize by M People.
General Fifa-smearing aside, however, the latest reports may not quite shift Blatter too far from his frequent self-proclamation of being ‘a happy president’.
(Admittedly such reflections have invariably come after being emphatically re-elected or basking in the gratitude of finding in Fifa reserves generous bonuses for member federations and confederations.)
Blatter has hardly been among the heartiest fans of a 2022 World Cup in Qatar – unlike, say, Uefa president and mooted 2015 challenger Michel Platini.
With bin Hammam already banned from football for life after Blazer broke ranks with bribery allegations in 2011 and thus already a busted flush, the Sunday Times stories may merely be adding – admittedly emphatic - insult to his own already-festering injury.
While also potentially firing a warning-shot across the bows of anyone else who may consider challenging Blatter, he of the folksy patter only occasionally turning tetchier. Ponder on, Platini?
Meanwhile, millions of pounds still pour through Fifa sponsors and customers in Fifa coffers, handily helped by demanding and winning tax exemption when occupying obliging host nations for a World Cup – and millions of fans will be genuinely transfixed once the actual football kicks off on Thursday.
Football and crude commerce have long known their mutual benefits.
Why, even the sainted Pele – exemplifying more than even any other Brazilian 'the beautiful game' – could play both games savvily.
He delayed the start of one 1970 World Cup tie to stoop and tie his laces – perhaps a genuine gesture, but also ensuring colour TV cameras zoomed in on his branded boots.
His footwear actually bore not three stripes but one apiece, after Adidas’s broken-family rivals Puma had broken a pact not to compete for Pele.
That incident features in business journalist Barbara Smit’s compelling while dispiriting investigative page-turner, aptly-titled ‘Pitch Invasion: Adidas, Puma And The Making Of Modern Sport’.
For modern sports fans to have faith restored in those who do serious business out of ‘only a game’, the game-changers do probably need to be national federations and/or corporate backers.
(Incidentally, the post-Salt Lake-purged International Olympic Committee might cock a snooty snook these days at their still-compromised football counterparts, yet a fair few officials with eyebrow-raising records remain in richly-expensed and influential roles.)
The English FA may have belatedly opposed Blatter and demanded better Fifa transparency, albeit in a rather transparent fit of pique ever since clumsy love-bombing failed to win the 2018 World Cup.
The prospect of many more nations rushing to munch on the Fifa hand that feeds them, though, feels unlikely – as does the sort of mass sponsor boycott that could really steer any FIFA World Cup off-course.
Adidas, like BP, like Visa, like Coca-Cola – all of which have faced their own personal PR embarrassments before - may finally be saying something, but their talk sounds nowhere near tough enough.
This alleged rebellion might encourage some fans desperate feel a little bit better about football off the field as well as on. And that those fields be in the best, most amenable locations.
And yet anyone optimistically expecting Adidas and others to follow up timid words with dramatic action may find the clock – or Longines watch – will tick for a long time yet.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Sick and injured refugee children forced to flee Syria now forced to put lives in more danger by returning

The harrowing, heartaching tales told by those Syrian refugees who have managed to flee their homeland's incessant death and carnage to relative safety across any border can at times at least be tinged with a little relief at having escaped.

The faint hopes of returning home one day may be optimistically expressed yet with little realistic prospect of fulfilment for quite some time, especially as the West continues to stall and Bashar Assad to tease.
Which makes it all the more distressingly astounding that many families might be putting their already-fragile lives in danger by venturing back into Syria’s badlands – even, sometimes, several times a week.
Yet that is the case for so – and too – many of the estimated 1million-plus Syrian refugees finding at least some shelter in neighbouring Lebanon, as revealed today by Amnesty.
Sick and wounded Syrian children who managed to escape the civil war-torn country are being forced to return due to a lack of help elsewhere.
The influx of refugees into neighbouring Lebanon has now become so great that many hospitals are turning away those in need.
These include families with cancer-afflicted children, or those who have suffered severe burns, bullet wounds or kidney failure, Amnesty found.
Some are even shuttling back and forth, as often as twice a week, for continuing treatment such as kidney dialysis.
They are risking their lives in the face continuing bombardment of towns and cities by President Assad’s regime fighting rebel forces.
Amnesty International investigators found distressing cases such as that of 12-year-old Arif, suffering from severe burns and infections to his legs.
He only qualified for five days’ worth of treatment funded by the UN Refugee Agency, under UNHCR’s current guidelines - and still needs another 13 operation.
These cannot be carried out in Lebanon due to a shortage of specialist equipment, according to today’s 36-page report named ‘Agonising Choices’.
Other Syrian refugees pondering possible trips back to their homeland include cancer sufferers unable to afford - or find - the treatment they need in Lebanon.
More than 1million registered Syrian refugees are now living in 4million-population Lebanon, though aid agencies believe many more are there unknown to authorities and agencies.
The official tally is expected to reach 1.5million by the end of this year, loading more pressure on Lebanon’s undeveloped facilities.
The country’s health system is privatised and expensive, leaving many Syrians dependent on UNHCR help.
Yet while the United Nations has appealed for £1billion support for Lebanon this year, only 17 per cent of the necessary aid has been provided.
Even those refugees who meet the tight criteria for who receives hospital treatment still have to pay one-quarter of the costs themselves.
Some 11 per cent of 3,170 refugee families recently surveyed by UNHCR said they had returned to Syria for medical reasons.
One father told Amnesty he and his nine-year-old leukaemia suffered son have to pass through ten checkpoints between their Bekkaa valley refuge in Lebanon and a hospital in Syrian capital Damascus.
Amnesty International’s Audrey Gaughran said: ‘Hospital treatment and more specialised care for Syrian refugees in Lebanon is woefully insufficient.
‘Syrian refugees there are suffering as a direct result of the international community’s shameful failure to fully fund the UN relief programme.’
The UN is appealing overall for £4billion for the Syrian relief effort this year, having received only about 70 per cent of the £3.2billion deemed necessary in 2013.
The UK was last year’s third largest donor, offering £231.2million – almost £6million more than Germany, France and Spain combined, and behind only the US (£694.4million) and the European Commission (£356.2million).
Other major powers have been so stingy as to be laughable, were the situation not so grave – including Russia and China, resolute UN Security Council opponents of meaningful anti-Assad sanctions or aid access improvements.
Those two are now obstructing moves to refer the Syrian regime to the International Criminal Court for alleged war crimes – having previously helped Assad play the West by appearing to make chemical weapon concessions, even as conventional rockets and bombs keep raining down.
Figures released earlier this week suggested at least 160,000 people have been killed since the uprising against Assad three years ago and his regime’s crackdown in response.
Some 9.3million people are thought to have lost their homes and be in urgent need, whether still stuck inside Syria or streaming into neighbouring nations – only now intermittently returning, it seems.
A country – no, a region – in chaos can perhaps seem too weighty and complex a problem to try solving, yet for all the mealy-mouthed words offered by the rest of the world a little more direct pressure and help might just be more welcomed.
By those inside or outside Syria, or somehow just about surviving adrift in-between.

Saturday, May 17, 2014

"Telling tales of drunkenness and cruelty..."

“Well, I do feel that even beats Henry IV Part One…”

Ah, Hampstead (Theatre). Not only would such a critique be pretty unthinkable anywhere else.

Why, even unlikelier was its delivery as an exhilarated audience dusted red-white-and-blue ticker-tape from their sleeves and tottered out in a daze through auditorium doors.

Behind them echoed the last clanging chords from a finale greeted not by polite applause while settled in seats, but tottering to feet and rocking and jiving and whooping along in a feelgood evening ending to “Sunny Afternoon”.

That is, the newly-opened (and soon West End-shifting?) musical based on the songs of the Kinks, approved and overseen by often-crotchety Ray Davies and with a script by credible veteran Joe Penhall – a seeming safe pair of hands compared to Andrew Lloyd Weber’s Queen-ly collaborator Ben Elton.

The Shakespeare comparison may, however, be a little too much of a stretch – even if the raw emotions of such sibling rivalry between Ray and Dave Davies might well have offered material enough for intense Jacobean tragedy.

There seems plenty to carp about, however, about this script.

Rave reviews have been won, from the Observer to the Mail, the Independent to the Express. And, yes, it is a real feelgood evening – as suggested by so many leaping aloft for the final scenes, to not only sing but swivel along.

This is a show that sounds great – well, how couldn’t it, being based on the music of the Kinks? And not only the hits, but later album tracks stealthily snuck in such as even the obscure first verse of "Maximum Consumption" when discussing mere meals? But all are performed with mighty power and finesse, by a squad-rotating band ("Ray's dad" leads a bravura "Dead End Street" before sitting down in the background and subtly finger-picking...)

That lesser-known one works well enough as a singalong-ish track performed showtune-style, but what struck this viewer – and keen Kinksian geek – was how many other non–hits got factored in on-stage.

Of course playgoers will expect – and duly receive and appreciate  – such obvious classics as "You Really Got Me", "Tired Of Waiting For You", "Dedicated Follower Of Fashion" and/or "Waterloo Sunset".

Yet a production seemingly so predicated on celebrating the London of the Swinging (mid-)Sixties not only made canny characterful use of later songs readjusted to earlier period scenes.

Well, it recognised just how ruefully judgmental of the Sixties were the Kinks’ songs of the Seventies.

The bitter LP Lola Versus Powerman… came out in 1970, only a few months after perennial favourite – if subversive – single “Lola” reached number two and made them appear more relevant than they had for several years.

That album failed to chart and even now has less of an approving hipster reputation than 1968’s (admittedly also-excellent) Village Green Preservation Society.

And yet its songs, with their strangely-specific finger-pointing over contracts or affectedly-blasé comments on how to get on Top Of The Pops, seem somehow topical while made central to this latest production.

And yet, despite replicating such ingenious music so viscerally well, one of the main problems of "Sunny Afternoon" at Hampstead Theatre is the actor playing Ray Davies.

Not that John Dagleish is no good. Quite the contrary – he is excellent, both singing and strumming. He just never convinces as, well, Ray Davies. More like the Arctic Monkeys’ Alex Turner – at least, back in his Sixties-obsessed days, rather than with the Fifties quiff he currently sports.

Flat-capped and chippy is not sufficient to capture that character, mind, and the storyline the audience is invited to accept – that Ray is an insightful idealist, with a disturbing upbringing yet with ingenious insights always frustratedly bubbling under – seldom comes across when speaking, only ever when singing. Thanks to those ever-expressive songs themselves.

Why, at one point the poor actor playing Dave – otherwise raucously unrestrainedly – is forced to intone the words: “It used to be about the music…”

Presumably we should all feel grateful he never felt compelled to add something along the lines of: “Why don’t we put on the show right here?”

(Another potential cause for discomfort is the caricaturish Jewish agent they attract [though the same performer later does pummelling drumming duties], his R-rolling rhoticisms recalling to mind Ray’s exaggerated impression at the end of “Top Of The Pops” or else the opening lyric of the otherwise-brilliantly-witty “When I Turn Off The Living-Room Light”.)

George Maguire as Dave Davies, by contrast, completely convinces as that real-life, ever-(/too-)sincere figure, capturing that half-unhinged yet technically-brilliant personality.

The whole play could do better to explore further, and not only glancingly or belatedly, that love-hate relationship between those two brothers (albeit explored better already by Ray’s own 1966 song ‘Two Sisters’…)

Charismatically as Dave comes across, there feel obvious indications this is a Ray-ruled creation – exemplified by showing their first “You Really Got Me” recording with Ray not Dave shredding the amp with a knitting-needle for importantly-coarser effect. Despite all other reports to the contrary.

Fair enough, perhaps.

This is Ray’s show, and a good deal better than many musicals merely constructed around a big band’s hits.

For all the obvious Sixties stuff, most affecting are the Seventies reworkings – such as "Sitting In My Hotel" for Ray’s lonely touring duties, or "This  Time Tomorrow" for Ray’s lonely loneliness duties, or "The Money-Go-Round" for Ray’s lonely cash-counting fretting….

What the show does get across well is not merely how Ray was the brains of the band – and, yes, how emphatically this Ray Davies-promoted production makes just that point – but also how younger bro Dave could justly claim to be the heart, the soul and the, er, groin of the group.

Ray’s first wife, his teenage bride Rasa, plays a key part here – met at a gig in Bradford, her Yorkshire accent played for laughs while strikingly set alongside her parents’ expounded history fleeing Lithuania and the Nazis not that long beforehand.

Her most memorable contribution, however, approaches the end as the band haltingly work through a new R. D. Davies creation that would turn out to be 1967’s – hey, all-time’s – finest single, “Waterloo Sunset”.

“Ah, it makes me cry!”, Rasa cries, on hearing just the first few bars.

“Ah, it makes me cringe,” might think a few who hear such a cheesily-delivered riposte.

And then, and yet … the song itself starts. The bassline saunters down. The guitar lick kicks in.

And then, those lyrics. Allied with, well, that melody.

No matter the circumstances, such a song can never fail.

Ah, it makes me cry.

In a grand way, of course. Whether on-stage or on record, all day and all of the night.

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Time's inevitably up for Tim - but little-mourned Sherwood did as good a Tottenham job as he could

Novice boss Tim Sherwood seemed so keen to convince as Tottenham head honcho, his five months in charge at Spurs felt at times like a crash-course in experimental multi-tasking.

Why, he tried to be many different managers in his bid to be not merely 'the interim' - or 'the inter-Tim' - but, well, 'the one'.

There were the match-by-match costume changes, from dapper black suit to shabby shellsuit or most memorably that now-infamous gilet.

And on the field itself, his selection technique was one characterised by the element of surprise, each newly-announced XI bemusing many onlookers.

The only apparent constants were the unshakeable Hugo Lloris in goal and the rejuvenated Emmanuel Adebayor up-front, as Sherwood alternated between full-backs in midfield, wingers up-front or in the holding role, and defensive midfielders left invariably on the bench.

Nabil Bentaleb was promoted from youth-team anonymity to central midfield against the top-four likes of Arsenal, Manchester City and Liverpool - only to be discarded again for the season’s final months.

Yet for all his lack of coaching badges - and, at times, tact - Sherwood did have a positive impact in his short and unexpected reign.

Adebayor’s 14 goals in 25 games summed up just how frustrating his earlier absences and tantrums have been but also pointed to the folly of his previous exile by Sherwood’s predecessor Andre Villas-Boas.

AVB’s many defenders online point to the greater solidity his side showed from the season’s beginning, urging greater patience as last summer’s seven new signings settled in.

Yet while the 1-0 home defeat to Newcastle felt freakish, with opposing goalkeeper Tim Krul blessed by his own reflexes as well as Spurs’ misfiring strikers, the 3-0 White Hart Lane trouncing by West Ham was more indicatively depressing.

And the 6-0 and 5-0 thrashings that followed, at the hands and feet of Manchester City and Liverpool respectively, suggested a loss of spirit and structure despite AVB’s safety-first mindset.

Sherwood’s promotion brought instant domestic cup departures yet also enthralling away victories, including at Old Trafford - ending Manchester United’s resurgent six-match unbeaten run and perhaps tipping David Moyes inexorably into the turmoil that would overwhelm him.

Sherwood’s Spurs scored an average 1.82 goals per game, with 1.39 conceded - compared to AVB’s 1.07 for and 1.31 against.

As he now moves on to whatever his second managerial role will be - with WBA, Norwich and Brighton all mooted – he can also claim a dubiously-meaningful Spurs record of 1.91 Premier League points per game.

His own playing days at the Lane ended amid rancour, directed from him towards then-boss Glenn Hoddle and from fans towards a player who seemed to spend most time berating team-mates for his own haphazard passing.

Sherwood’s previous rifts with Hoddle and ex-Blackburn manager Roy Hodgson - who nevertheless remains full of praise for his former skipper - have been held against him amid complaints about his treatment by players and the Press.

His outspoken remarks may well have helped talk his way out of a lengthier spell at Spurs - though his fair-enough criticisms of Tottenham’s many under-performing players carried much truth.

Maybe too much, in a footballing climate where to ‘lose the dressing-room’ is a cardinal managerial sin.

And yet many fans opposed to him from the start have perhaps been too quick to wax indignant at even minor barbs or even jokes, such as quipping ‘Que?’ when asked about Erik Lamela’s English.

Meanwhile, while AVB grumbled about the White Hart Lane atmosphere, Sherwood has been at pains throughout to praise the supporters and gush about how privileged he felt to manage this ‘great club’.

Too-privileged, sure. He should not have needed to be given the job when he was, in yet one more example of Spurs’ panic-stricken improvisation.

But he deserves a little more respect and gratitude than to be booed even at Ledley King’s testimonial on Monday - and not to be simply dismissed as ‘Dim’ 'Deadwood'.

Sherwood was the first ‘Tim’ to manage an English league club since Derby County’s Tim Ward, succeeded in 1967 by a certain Brian Clough.

Sadly, Tottenham’s owners Enic - especially trigger-happy chairman Daniel Levy - have given little indication that the tenth manager of their 13-year ownership will come anywhere close to such calibre.

We go again…

Monday, April 28, 2014

"Now if they ever made a comeback together what a day that'd be..."

A little bit skiffle, licks and flecks of country, dollops of music hall and barrels of rock(ney)’n’roll – those expert and epic musicians Chas’n’Dave do do it all.

The recent announcement that this there duo were about to hit the road with Status Quo seemed an ironic comment on feverishly hipsterish 20th-anniversary Britpop celebrations/condemnations.
Why, back then the integral battle between Blur and Oasis was framed by some – including some of the central participants – as rehashed Chas’n’Dave (er, -Blur) vs Status Quo-asis.

Yet if, with Kinks-ish "Country House" over the workaday "Roll With It", Blur won the battle, then Oasis won the war – then, thanks to Damon Albarn’s meanderings over Noel Gallagher’s stagnating, Blur won the peace.
And yet. And yet. Let’s head back a bit. Well, why not?

Best to sit and set alongside, in London’s classic rock-writer lineage, amid Blur’s voyeuristic park-life and the Kinks’ village green preservation society, the quotidien capital details of Chas’n’Dave and their Ponders End allotment club.
(‘It’s everybody’s local pub...’)

This city’s larger-than-life sights may be central but its spirit rests most organically - if diversely - in the many sprawling suburbs and their different interests specific yet also unifyingly general.

Damon Albarn’s milk of human kindness curdled over the course of Blur’s London 'Life' trilogy, between the warm-heartedness despite the name of Modern Life Is Rubbish and the characterful yet chilled The Great Escape.

Chas’n’Dave might often appear unimpressed by much of the rest of the world’s, well, frippery - and yet their songs do tend to remain affectionate about their subjects.

Even on those three most famous hits - "Ain’t No Pleasin’ You", "Rabbit" and familial teaser "Gertcha" - the over-riding sense is one of fondness, albeit tested.

And the barbs of the beautiful "I Wonder In Whose Arms" are all the more affecting and empathetic for being so transparently, emphatically envious and defensive.

For a supposedly ‘comic’ act so tempting to mimic - for example, the Two Ronnies’ well-delivered yet oddly-jokefree pastiche - Chas’n’Dave’s lyrical wit can be surprisingly subtle.

And yet their emotional tributes sound startlingly tender, even if invariably involving the sonic equivalent of a nudge or nod to the camera - as with (the also-sadly-unplayed-live) "Wish I Could Write A Love Song".

‘If I give in to my emotions then I might get hurt,
If one day you run away ... with my Uncle Bert...’

Perhaps the song was a little too downbeat to play on that roisteringly feelgood Friday night just past, no matter how endearing overall otherwise.

The first half of that gig was dominated by covers of the sort of acts dominating the lyrics of "That’s What I Like", from "Midnight Special" to "Railroad Bill" and other nostalgic classics revisited on their latest LP.
To wit, the historic namechecks for Little Richard and Jerry Lee, banjo-pickin’ Bill Keith and, of course, Lonnie D - the latter fondly re-covered several times over.
(To quote Bob Stanley's enviably-knowledgeable and lyrical music bio, "Yeah Yeah Yeah", on that there Lonnie D and his "scrunched-up tinfoil" sound: "It's one of the unlikelier facts of history that a song about illegally transporting pig iron is British pop's fountainhead.")

Chas’n’Dave have been backed live mostly by merely their drummer Mick - as immortalised by, well, "Give It Some Stick, Mick" (and he usually did) - but now they’re backed by the relentless thudding of Chas’s own son, er, Nik.

He bashes away with admirable relentlessness - like pounding on blocks of wood, the excitingly ‘dull’ rhythmics like listening to Ringo Starr on speed. (That's meant in a good way, honest.)

Yet it was a surprise to see and hear further augmentation this time - that is, four saxophonists, wielding what would otherwise sound like the devil’s own instrument yet, joined joyously together, came across cheerily.

Chas always plays any keys like a barrelling piano but it felt refreshing to have these songs orchestrated, adorned, not by synths but viewable, hearable people.

Not that the tunes themselves couldn’t stand alone. Just that this seemed an extra-special occasion.

That central duo, nevertheless, are not only expert musicians but also expert music historians, with key CV references stretching back a half-century or so - and millions of gigs’ and sessions’ experience an' all.

The pair could doubtless turn their duelling banjos’/basses’/those old pianos’ hands to any song at all, yet manage to remain the right side of Ukelele Orchestra-esque twee.

That is, the right place to be. The bolshy way to stay. The gutsy location to remain.

This is no novelty pop, mind – despite the patronising instincts of Nick Owen and Selina Scott back in those early eighties, wonderingly asking whether our heroic duo really spoke like that and why they wore those braces.

(Back came of course the instinctive rejoinder, in bemused unison: “To keep me trousies up.”)

Never mind the b*llocks: Chas’n’Dave are, indoor shades aside, authenticity incarnate, from their Edmonton Green upbringing – celebrated, of course, in one song – to their Ponders End hanging-about to their Tottenham proper Tottenham proper p*ssed-off-itude.
Why, this reporter had a chat with Chas way back when in 2001 as Spurs prepared to take on Arsenal in an Old Trafford FA Cup semi-final that ended up the most comprehensive 2-1 thrashing any Spurs side can have suffered.

Yet he spoke optimistically, while Dave drove, about the all-new FA Cup final song they had long since written and had ready to release at any time, just whenever Spurs eventually deigned to re-reach such an event.
Sadly, it still hasn’t yet happened, meaning no successor – so far – to that "London Girls" rewrite of 1991, “When The Year Ends In One”.

Those Spurs-specific lyrics came to mind, and instinctively to the lips, as the actual old original “London Girls” got played out the other night, a saxophone foursome adding ballast and a thousands-strong audience linking arms and lustily bawling along.

The Albert Hall's Muppet Show-esque setting felt especially incongruous for the Friday-night-out knees-up we all enjoyed, and yet the apparent majesty of the surroundings brought out all the more of the best in the performers.
Having previously heard Chas, Dave and a drummer do their stuff in such unglamorous surroundings as, well, the Wyllyotts Centre in Potters Bar and also the Worthing Pavilion, this here did seem like something unusually special.
And, of course, they stepped up a gear by expanding beyond a threesome to a ninesome – those four saxophonists, but also a few extras plucking a double-bass or sucking on a harmonica.
Apparent finale "Ain't No Pleasin' You" could bear any - or no - augmentation, yet had the whole Albert Hall audience on their feet with arms reaching towards the roof. Making the very most while presuming that majestic musical complaint would be, well, the end.
And yet, even as the final plangent chord rang out and Dave summed it all up by saying, “We’ve had a good time tonight”, the pair couldn’t help but pre-empt encore calls and lurch into one last singalong: “The Sideboard Song”.
And then that really was that.
No further teasing, just lights-up again and their own recorded songs on the all-surrounding stereo.
The trilling piano, that sauntering bass, those chirping harmonies - live, or otherwise, it's a sound that gladly keeps on rock(ney)-and-rolling.