Sunday, August 20, 2006

"I am Kim. I am Kim. And what is Kim?", ponders this little friend of all the world...Meanwhile, even one of England's newest fans can't understand the decision to bring Kieran Richardson on as a sub...

"Surrey seams to be the hardest worked..."

After being drenched last year, and depressed this, 12 months from now I think I'll avoid Tottenham's opening game of the Premiership season and instead focus on going to the Oval Test, where after last year's Ashes climax, and today's "ball-tampering" flounce-tastic fiasco, a small place in cricketing history appears guaranteed.

What next year, though, when India come calling? Maybe a giant fire-breathing dragon clambering over the Vauxhall End (and thus inconveniently interfering with the batsman's sightlines...)? Or perhaps a Magnolia-style deluge of frogs, to add an apocalyptic new element to "Rain stopped play"?

"Let's get small..."

Be-right-on and Hove Albion's long struggles for a new stadium, since the old Goldstone Ground was sold beneath the fans' feet by an unscrupulous board in the mid-1990s, has been a painstaking, painful process, still now in limbo after two-and-a-half public inquiries, two doorstop planning reports, at least £10million in cash-strapped club costs, an elementary error by John Prescott (or his people) and probably a whole rainforest-worth of Argus pages. For the moment and for the forseeable, the club will continue to play at the dire, only-three-sided Withdean Stadium, actually an amateur (oh-so-amateur) venue that somehow makes even Barnet's Underhill look like the Stade de France by comparison.

The Argus coverage of the Falmer fight (my dim, distant past contributions apart, perhaps) has been unstinting and excellent, but there was one odd little sentence in this weekend's leader article praising the encouraging performance by the newly-formed Seagulls Party in a recent Lewes District Council by-election:

THE pro-Falmer Seagulls party will have turned a few heads by polling upwards of 350 votes in its first election.

Despite the pre-election fanfare this was never a poll which the party, formed only five weeks ago, had any chance of winning.

People in the Ouse Valley and Ringmer ward of Lewes District Council had more pressing matters such as the proposed waste incinerator at Newhaven on their minds when they entered the ballot box.

That Ed Bassford achieved 22 per cent of the total votes cast and beat the Labour candidate to third place is remarkable.

It is evidence that significant numbers of voters in the district are opposed to Lewes District Council's High Court challenge of the Falmer stadium planning permission.

If Ed Bassford can gain so many votes after three weeks, Lib Dem and Tory bigwigs on the council must be worried the Seagulls could swoop and peck a big hole in their majorities at next May's district elections.

Was this Lewes... or Lilliput?

"Stop me, uh-uh-oh, stop me..."

"... stop me if you think that you've heard this one before..."

Looking back, it was rather crushingly inevitable, really. Spurs, having failed to win in the League at the Reebok Stadium, well, ever, yet buoyed by an unbeaten pre-season campaign against a Bolton side in disarray, on a losing streak and down to just 13 fit first-teamers... Away defeat, nailed on.

Throw in, too, ooh... a 400-mile round trip across rain-drenched, roadworks-ravaged motorways + a few grunting, surly stewards for whom monosyllabism would be a great linguistic breakthrough + an attractive but soulless and silent, atmosphere-free modern stadium, speckled with hundreds of empty seats in the Bolton stands (For the first home game of the season? For shame...) + the dismaying lack of effort or imagination from Spurs' stars, the skilful Berbatov and bedding-in Zokora aside + the several hours it seems to take Paul Robinson to respond and futilely get across to long-range shots like Campo's daisy-cutter from a different postcode + the waste of, and over-reliance on, Aaron Lennon in a drifting role behind the two strikers instead of clinging to, and frightening defenders on the flanks + the refereeing "decision" that allowed Bolton to typically bully their first, unfair goal by barging into defender Callum Davenport + our players' timid indecision that allowed Bolton to, unsurprisingly, bully and out-muscle us throughout + the over-confidence that allowed us to imagine maybe, just maybe coming away from this grim-up-North bogey-ground with anything other than an opening-day defeat + to cap a dreary day, + a soggy, over-priced splatter of "pasta salad" at bleak Knutsford service station, to the incessant soundtrack of a kids' arcade game shrieking "Let's go! Let's go! Let's go!" (yes, let's) = oh, what a lovely summer Saturday...

Thankfully, a hastily-Catherine-compiled iPod playlist of Morrissey, Dolly Parton, Nancy Sinatra, Glenn And Chris, Chas And Dave and others allowed us an appropriately--often-maudlin-yet-just-what-Dr-Tottenham-ordered singalong all the (long, long) drive home...

"Nothing's changed - I still love you, oh I still love you,
Only slightly, only slightly less than I used to..."

Still, after a probably-much-needed kick up the complacency, here's to (re)starting the season proper at home to Sheffield United on Tuesday - because they'll no doubt be the division's whipping boys this year, right...?

Thursday, August 17, 2006

"Here we go, here we go, here we go - again..."

Ah, the first day of the Premiership season tomorrow. A Test match may (or may not) still be in full flow in the south London sunshine, while the imprint of Zinedine Zidane's battering-ram bald head probably still hasn't quite faded from Marco Materazzi's midriff. Yet it's already time for Tottenham and the rest to lurch back into action (ideally lasagne-less) and start the important work of demolishing those dreams that have somehow formed during the fondness of football's (brief) absence.

On the August opening day of last season, I and all the other Spurs fans foolish enough to head down to the South Coast to Portsmouth's embarrassing imitation of a professional stadium found ourselves the only area of Fratton Park uncovered by even a rickety roof - and thus, as the monsoons poured down, ended wetter than had we taken the plunge off the end of Southsea Pier. I could just about be made out on that evening's Match Of The Day, peering bleakly out of waterfall-effect fringe. At least we won, 2-0, with an excellent early goal foe inspiring confident hopes of a dynamite season ahead for Jermain Defoe, culminating in World Cup glory... Well, it was a nice idea...

This Saturday I'm driving up to Bolton, hopefully for a warmer, drier day, and certainly to a sturdier stadium - though the 5.15pm kick-off will no doubt have me wondering, on the long drive back that night, why I didn't stay at home and watch this one on TV, to ease into the season gently...

Anyway, everyone else is doing it, so why can't I - here are a few, hostage-to-blogging-fortune, forecasts...

Champions: Chelsea
Runners-up: Liverpool
Relegated: Fulham, Sheffield United, Watford

Championship champions: Birmingham City
Runners-up: Crystal Palace
Play-off winners: West Bromwich Albion
Play-offs: Southampton, Norwich City, Leeds United

Champions League: Real Madrid
Runners-up: Manchester United

Uefa Cup: Tottenham Hotspur
Runners-up: Benfica

FA Cup: Liverpool
Runners-up: Chelsea

League Cup: Aston Villa
Runners-up: West Ham United

Final Premiership table:
1 Chelsea
2 Liverpool
3 Manchester United
4 Arsenal
5 Tottenham Hotspur
6 Everton
7 Blackburn Rovers
8 West Ham United
9 Newcastle United
10 Bolton Wanderers
11 Aston Villa
12 Middlesbrough
13 Portsmouth
14 Manchester City
15 Charlton Athletic
16 Wigan Athletic
17 Reading
18 Fulham
19 Sheffield United
20 Watford

And a few more:
* England debuts are given to Adam Johnson, Tom Huddlestone, Jermaine Pennant and Steven Taylor
* The Emirates Stadium is as quiet as the Highbury Library
* Jose Mourinho leaves Chelsea at the end of the season
* Multiplex insists Wembley will be ready in time... for the 2012 Olympics
* David Beckham plays again for England
* Michael Carrick has an injury-disrupted first season for Manchester United, is half-written off as a sort-of flop, then belatedly emerges in style a la Sheringham
* Theo Walcott publishes his first autobiography
* Jermain Defoe scores 20 goals
* Terry Venables is the subject of a redtop scandal
* The Emirates Stadium's early full-houses dwindle alarmingly as the dreary weeks go by, plunging the club with the largest debt in world football ever-quickly closer to bankruptcy, while Thierry Henry admits his error and signs for Barcelona during the January transfer window and the ailing players he leaves behind struggle to stave off relegation.
(One of these is, admittedly, not so much a confident prediction, as a flight of wishful fancy. I know, I know - this year's probably a season too soon for Tommy Huddlestone...)

"There are fewer more depressing sights than that of an English man in a baseball cap..."

... and yet surely fewer more pointless police pursuits, than that of continually adding yet more charges to the Pete Doherty
(w)rap sheet?
Here's another seven for the tally, though most must have lost count by now. When he reaches 100 charges, does he get to keep the handcuffs?

Shame, because the two Libertines albums are stunning in many parts. Pete not only bothered to turn up once, but both times I had tickets to his gigs, and on each occasion put on a surprisingly-storming show - one acoustic and solo (well, with occasional harmonies from Dot Allison) at the tiny Freebutt pub in the backstreets of Be-Right-On, and one at the seashore Concorde 2 with whatever incarnation of Babyshambles hadn't yet had enough of him.

Should never have got mixed up with that Croydon crowd. Plus, he's a QPR fanzine fanboy, so he's suffered enough already, surely...?

"What's Ike got to do, got to do with it...?"

Jarring and unnecessary analogy of the day, from Johann Hari's otherwise-serious and incisive piece in the Independent today headlined "The spiteful return of anti-Semitism": "It's easy to identify the extremes, the [comedian Steve] Hugheses or [Mel] Gibsons, but harder to see the shades of grey building towards them, partly because anti-Semitism is a concept that has been more abused than Tina Turner at the hands of Ike."

Just a guess, but perhaps as Johann was preparing to file his copy, that final turn of phrase just eluding him as the deadline approached, the radio happened to strike up "River Deep, Mountain High", and, well, the rest writes itself...?
A track that is, of course, no redress for domestic cruelty and abuse - but is, at least, a creation of wonder and joy in its own right.

"It's not going very well, is it...?"

A loathsome, ludicrous, would-be football-fan-electrocutor, Wembley-wrecker and all-round dodgy-dealer he may be - but maybe Un-cuddly Ken Bates isn't all bad: his latest declaration suggests he does, at least, have good taste (if also bad taste) in comedy.
And when New Chelsea are the opponents, even Leeds can somehow seem to deserve (a smidgeon) of sympathy.
RIP Bruno Kirby, a man who played Pete Clemenza and yet who also asked: "You made a woman miaow??" That's versatility, that's class.

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

New Tories, new danger...

Still, this shocking attack might at least mark a change from the days when Norman "Semi-House-Trained Polecat" Tebbit was in full chomp.
But where oh where (perhaps no longer on the Isle of Wight) might I find me a polecat? They look rather sweet.Ah, but wait - maybe not...
Still: any (very vague) excuse to show my favourite birthday card cartoon...

A day of two halves, Brian...

Another day, another lovely new nephew…
Ah, but I’m starting at the end when there was plenty more of a prelude. Yesterday the London wing of our family not currently nursing new-born babies or on anxious alert for another’s imminent arrival were in the West Midland’s for my Great-Uncle Reg’s funeral.
Funeral? Well, nothing quite so mournful – more of an emotional but ultimately rousing (modern-cliché warning) celebration of his life, with his old Para buddies paying their banner-banging, bugle-wheezing respects; my youngest brother Christy following behind the Union Flag-draped coffin wearing Reg’s original Army uniform (thus silently reprising his role as Reg in (shameless-plug warning) Silvery Moon Productions’ nation-touring, all-the-emotions-indulging song’n’storytelling tribute Somewhere In France With You); my Uncle Dave producing his own birth certificate revealing Reg had ignored instructions and had him registered as “Reginand David” instead of “David Lloyd”; and the elegiac melodies of Reg’s romantic favourites, “We’ll Meet Again” and “You Are My Heart’s Delight”.
Inspiring stuff. Even despite a brief detour when the car I was driving, as the cortege made its stately way from Walsall through Dudley to Gornal Wood, lost sight of the crucial group leaders thanks to a hulking great German lorry - the driver apparently unmoved by the three black carriages and the (I would have thought) obvious connection to all of us following behind in black mourning gear… Still, despite Herr Unhelpful’s best efforts, we ultimately managed to overtake and overcome.
Perhaps Reg might have thought that somehow appropriate, actually.

Ah, but, but, but… Someone else was struggling to steal a little of the old showman’s limelight: not long before entering the crem, a call came through from my brother Lyndon that his wife Jessie had gone into labour a week early – thus happily vindicating the decision to stay home in London, just in case. Phew. An M1 layby or a Trusthouse Forte somewhere near Northamptonshire would be no place for a newly-emerging baby to first clap his or her stickily blinking eyes upon, after all…

And so it was Hampstead’s Royal Free Hospital – birthplace of myself and all three brothers – that hosted the latest addition to the family tree, and yes, yet another boy: clearly, the Y chromosome is strong in this gene pool. Kim – meaning “little friend to all the world” (no pressure, then, fella), and apparently partly inspired not by the North Korean dictactor but bv Lyndon recently reading the Rudyard Kipling adventures. Good job he steered away from The Jungle Book and Mowgli, though it may be some time yet before Kim can be safely entrusted with the secret of man’s red fire.
For now, and our briefly-allowed visit on return to London last night, he looks happy where he is for the time being – namely, swaddled deeply inside a blanket and hoodie, though those cheeks look a little chubbier than his (three-weeks-older) cousin Harry. Oh, what parallel adventures that pair should share… As long as they come to like each other, of course. Tough if they don’t...
At least Kim can perhaps claim some credit for pulling his weight a little more (7lb 6oz, to be precise) – Jessie’s ten-hour labour was a mere one-quarter of the time it took for lazy Harry to emerge.

The “It’s a boy!” banners are back up (alongside a poster saying, ahem, "Wel-Kim Home"). There’s a new gurgler in town.
And his arrival on August 14, making it a day for hellos and well as goodbyes, shows Kim has one classy attribute already timing.

I mean...:


Tuesday, August 15, 2006

"Express yourself, create the space - you know you can win, don't give up the chase..."

England's footballers are on their way in Germany in search of World Cup glory.
No, this isn’t a case of déjà vu – this return trip might just end very differently from our sorry exit earlier this summer.
Back then it was Sven-Goran Eriksson, David Beckham and his multi-million-pound team-mates who are over-hyped, over-priced and (briefly) over-there.
Now, though, it will be 18 non-league players looking to do their country proud as the Learning Disabilities World Cup kicks off at the end of this month.
And England start in the strange role of defending champions, having followed in Ronaldo and Ronaldinho's gilded footsteps in Japan four years ago.
Their warm-up games have rather more impressive than Sven's minnow-slaying defears of Hungary and Jamaica - a 6-1 win over Germany and a 10-0 trouncing of France.
Star players include the appropriately-named striker Tony Boot and wonderkid ‘keeper Harry Hunter, who was just 16 when he won a winners' medal in 2002.
Like the Charlton brothers in 1966, England's 2002 side also boasted a pair of brothers - Frank and Scott Curley.
Frank, a defender, and Scott, a midfield, could be crucial again this summer, alongside captain and former Tottenham Hotspur trainee Ronnie Watson.
LD football follows the same rules as the mainstream game, but only players with an IQ of below 75 can take part.
Many of England's squad started their careers with professional clubs, but have been held back by behavioural problems and the stigma of learning difficulties.
Striker Bertie Brayley played a starring role alongside Joe Cole and Michael Carrick when West Ham won the FA Youth Cup in 1999.
While Cole and Carrick have flourished in the Premiership and for England’s senior side, Brayley has slipped down the divisions and out of professional football.
Manager Lyndon Lynch (above) said: “Who’s to say there aren’t professional players out there who do have learning disabilities? Some of my players have been at top clubs.
“Because of various associated problems, they don’t make it in the professional game.
“Maybe it’s concentration, maybe it’s confidence, maybe it’s behaviour.”
Many Premiership and Football League clubs do run their own LD teams, though – Lynch praises the arrangements at Chelsea, Everton and Crystal Palace, for example.
Players in these sides also tend to turn out for non-league clubs.
Lynch has fostered links with club scouts, coaches, and educational staff, to identify LD players.
He and the FA organise training days and talent weeks across the country, inviting players to turn up for specialist workshops and trials.
He has also set up an under-17s’ squad, which has provided five of the players he will be taking to Germany.
England kick off against South Korea on September 4, then Hungary three days later.
England were crowned the first LD world champions after beating Holland 2-1 in front of 25,000 fans in Yokohama, Japan, four years ago - a few weeks after Brazil beat Germany in the same arena.
They also won the Global Games in Sweden two years later, though Lynch missed the big day of the final due to an eye injury.
Lynch, who took over in 1999 when England were ranked a lowly 12th, said: 'Winning in Yokohama was the best feeling.
'A lot of these players would have faced problems in school and later life, but now they know they can contribute to something special.”

Thursday, August 10, 2006

Not leaving on a jet plane...

Apologies for the flippancy, but might all this 10/8 (yeah, thanks, Sky News) hoo-hah merely be a silly-season publicity stunt...

... Sheikhs On A Plane, anyone?

"Misery and gin don't mix too well..."

What's a-happenin' in Hollywood? First Mel Gibson tumbles spectacularly off and ill-advisedly into the wagon, now Robin Williams enters rehab for alcoholism.
There must be something in the water over there.
Or rather, just not enough water in the something.

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

"Paranoia strikes deep, into your life it will creep..."

Smart, sexy, and sassy, both the press and other staffers know not to mess with Claudia Jean. A natural at her job, the press secretary is sensitive toward women's issues and stands up for 'the Sisterhood'. Her wit and one-liners along with her lip synching ability are known across the land.

So am I, so says just another "Which etcetcetc character are you?", in this case the wonderful "The West Wing".

Hmm, well I might have preferred to have "been" the mumbling-wise-crackin' Josh Lyman (so much better in "The West Wing" than in "Billy Madison"), rather than the poacher-turned-Press-gamekeeper CJ (not that my recent journalistic efforts have been very, er, poach-y - more like mere bird-watching...)

Have been stuck somewhere in series four for too, too long (thanks to my Chinese-imported boxsets, thankfully without such distracting subtitling oddities as elsewhere), and so have done my best to avoid the recent show's-end eulogies.
It is great entertainment, though, and even enough to have me idly hankering after not only a career in backroom political intrigues, but a helpful hinterland in (splutter) law...

A favourite moment, after a rather harrowing little self-harm (then swift recovery) sequence:
Leo: "What are you doing?"
Josh: "I thought you wanted to hug me...?"
Leo: "Boy, did you read that wrong...!"

"Two of us, riding nowhere, spending someone's hard-earned pay..."

It looks like next season could be a long and winding road for West Ham, since they just couldn't let it be but instead scoured all across the universe before signing both McCartney and Spector this summer...

These two have history, right...?

Just so long as the East End eel-munchers keep well away from Lennon...

"The lovers, the dreamers, and me..."

Doesn't get much more beautiful than this...

Monday, August 07, 2006

"The bigger they are..."

Cricket is a game of grace and balance, delicacy and dignity.

Well, maybe not always...

Inzy's ill-fated impression of a hurdling elephant aside, the highlight of the Third Test so far has been Ian Bell's third successive century, hit not only with welcome force and confidence, but even more surprising swiftness.

And the reason for such form? Well, it can only be down to the Warwickshire batsman having just joined the blogging brigade.

Some superb "banter" there from the boy Belly/Bellie (you'll see he's ambivalent on the precise, "proper" spelling.)

Almost enough to forgive the suggestion a series average of 17 meant he "played my part in last summer's defeat of Australia in the Ashes", when he might of course have been justifiably confined to a downstairs seat on that open-top bus...

Sunday, August 06, 2006

"That'll be cash on the barrelhead, son..."

Several things worry me intensely.
Rats, for one.
Nogbad The Bad, for another.
Witchy Fiona Phillips, above all.

But perhaps the most anxious experience of the last few days was the 100-yard, two-minute stride down Kensington High Street with a couple of thousand pounds clutched tightly to my thigh like a war wound. It was a simple transaction, literally from one bank to another, to hopefully help finally finalise my long-delayed first flat (half-)purchase. After all, a sudden hefty cash injection should, surely, be enough to inspire my solicitors into showing slightly more than the merest smattering of a scintilla of a sprinkling of an inkling of interest in the deal...

Well, anyway, I reached the second cashier without being mugged, run over, blown up or blown away, and having handed over the relevant readies, that’s me flushed out for the foreseeable, and condemned to a schedule of at least six-day weeks here, there and wherever’ll take (and pay) me.

But there are other money-making means – and, yes, thy name is eBay. Can’t quite see myself matching in Machiavellian entrepreneurship the friend who leapt early onto the charity-wristband bandwagon, by buying up batches and selling at (marginally) higher prices than the often-out-of-stock charities – before realising the buyers’ desperation was such, he could simply sell them a link to the relevant website for the same cost, only occasionally receiving angry feedback from the few who felt duped and not abashed enough to keep quiet.

No,, my more modest eBay exploits extend simply to flogging my used tickets from some recent kickabout in Germany. Quite why so many people want to clamour for souvenirs of an experience they didn’t actually, er, experience remains beyond me. Yet there were always armies of ticket-collectors crowding the exits at the end of each match, and still they keep coming, this time online instead of in-yer-face. Perhaps even more baffling was the person, hours after the final whistle and Italy’s departure with the trophy perched precariously in hand, hanging around at the media exit of Berlin’s Olympic Stadium and begging for each departing hack’s Press accreditation badge. With which to do what, to impress whom? After all, the pass he wanted bore not only my name, but my (predictably-vacant-looking) photo, for Zizou’s sake... I’m not sure who he’d have been fooling... Besides, I needed it to wangle the following day’s final few hours of free train travel.

That souvenir I will keep. But the used tickets now can go to a more appreciative anorak, especially since I no longer need post-match proof of attendance should there be a summons from one of Fifa’s over-cautious and actually-incorrect ticket inspectors.

Even more oddly, some of the higher bids at the moment seem devoted to the France-Switzerland game, one game best-avoided by any stretch of the imagination. Unless the ticket will be brandished as a symbol of heroic endurance...

Still, eBay – its Press officers may be among the most unnecessarily eager and persistent PR people on the planet. But it is indeed addictive.

Did you know Jarvis Cocker is a keen eBayer?
He will, of course, only carry out transactions using common Paypal.
Ask nicely, though, and you might just find him sorted for Visa and Switch.

Friday, August 04, 2006

"Sunrise, sunset, swiftly flow the days..."

Hmm, the generation game takes another twist and turn. After an enthralling evening simply cradling, molly-coddling and camera-snapping young nephew Harry when he came to call the other night, just a few hours into the early morning came the news my Great-Uncle Reg had, yes, this time actually died, having been knocked down and yet got up again so many times, and so many times indeed since I unfortunately, prematurely wrote him off a few months ago... only for a little more respite. My mum's was onto the M1 to the Midlands almost within minutes of that unwanted phone call - I assume the rest of us shall follow in the next week or so for what should be a quirky yet grand old soldier's funeral.

And I do hope Harry comes too...