Tuesday, January 31, 2012


IT`S THAT DAY AGAIN..


Yes, another transfer deadline day, when the airwaves are full of gossip, speculation and the occasional glimmer of truth.   Sky are probably at it non-stop with reporters scattered around the country, lurking outside training grounds in the hope of glimpsing unlikely arrivals and departures.

Now it might be `interesting` for footy fans and I confess to a smidgen of satisfaction that the Saints have managed to secure the services of Billy Sharp from Doncaster Rovers.   And yet the whole business is more reminiscent of a livestock auction, with players being traded seemingly at the whim of their clubs and, more probably, their agents.   I`m not going to feel too sorry for the way in which players in the higher reaches of the game are moved around - at least they have the comfortable cushion of the ridiculous amounts of money they`ll be getting.

But have a look further down the football pyramid, where players are traded, some times against their wishes, in order to keep a club afloat and where the sums of money involved  -even in the Alice-in-Wonderland world of professional football - can best be described as modest.   And if they have families then the upheaval at almost no notice can be upsetting, disturbing, even traumatic.

Surely there has to be a better way but I suspect it will only come with the introduction of a more sensible and sensitive transfer system, the imposition of radical curbs on the activities of agents and more stringent limits placed on the expenditure by the clubs themselves.      Maybe then we will no longer have the unsavoury spectacle of transfer deadline day`s livestock auction.

(Hang on - there`s another pig flying over my roof.)

Monday, January 30, 2012


AN OBVIOUS SUCCESSION..

There are renewed reports leaking out of Madrid that former Chelsea and current Real Madrid manager Jose Mourhino still retains a hankering to succeed `Sir` Alex Ferguson at  Manchester United.   It seems that both Ferguson and Mourhino enjoy a friendship and are in regular contact with each other, presumably on the basis that it takes one to know one.

Indeed, it`s also understood that Ferguson has long since anointed the self-styled `special one` as his preferred successor at Old Trafford, when  Ferguson finally decides to retire.   I guess the only snag for Mourhino is that Ferguson seems intent on staying put for the next few years in a desperate attempt to secure a third European Championship, but hope springs eternal.

Now the above contain at least two examples of the arrogance that Ferguson displays - he will decide when he goes and he will decide who succeeds him.   Shouldn`t be surprised really as it goes with the territory.   And yet there is something fairly obvious about this succession should it come to pass.  Indeed, if Manchester United are after a smooth regime transition then they could do worse than let Mourhino fulfill his long held dream.

Outside of Manchester, with the probable exception of the foothills of Surrey and Hertfordshire and despite a long and successful history, Manchester United are held in general dislike, not to say contempt, for the manner in which they conduct themselves - with an unfailing arrogance, an attitude of entitlement and disregard towards officials and administrators.   All of which are likely to be perpetuated if the club act on Ferguson`s advice and appoint Mourhino, in which case, it will be difficult to escape the notion that they deserve each other.

Friday, January 27, 2012



JUST THE MAN ?..

It`s only Day Four of the court proceedings involving football manager Harry Redknapp and football chairman Milan Mandaric and there`s every prospect of another couple of weeks of these fols-de-rol before the jury returns its verdict on the tax evasion charges brought against both men.
It would clearly be wrong to speculate over the outcome, so I won`t.   However, what has emerged already is an insight into Mr.Redknapp`s character.   Here are just a few of the pronouncements he has made so far in the trial at Southwark Crown Court:-


`I have a big problem, I can`t write so I don`t keep anything.   I`m the most disorganised person and I`m ashamed to say in the world. I can`t work a computer, I don`t know what an e-mail is, I can`t, I`ve never sent a fax and I`ve never sent a text message.`

“Malcolm Webber [Redknapp’s accountant] runs my life, he writes the cheques for me and my wife. I have never wrote a letter in my life. I write like a two year-old and I can’t spell. You talk to anyone at the football club, I don’t write, I couldn't even fill a teamsheet in.”

I said I don’t want their money,” Redknapp told police. “Tell them to give it to the youth football in Portsmouth. So I’m not going to be involved in a tax fiddle in Monaco, it’s impossible. Why was I going to fiddle £20,000 to £30,000 when I walked away from £200,000 of their money. I don’t need to fiddle.”

‘Do me a favour – I tried to nick 30 grand to save on income tax by having money paid offshore? What a load of b******s.
‘Do I need 30 ****ing grand, do I need that, Rob? I mean ****ing do I need 30 grand?`

And doubtless more examples will be forthcoming as the days go by.   Now unless I`ve been misinformed, Mr. Redknapp is the leading candidate for the job as next England manager once £6million a year Fabio Capello leaves after the upcoming European Championships.  And it might be an old fashioned notion, but I recall the days of yore when the manager of the England football team was chosen, at least in part, for his ability to represent the country in a dignified, intelligent and restrained manner - Walter Winterbottom, Ron Greenwood, Sir Alf Ramsey are just three who spring to mind having fulfilled that criterion.

Now it may well be that, in pure football terms, Mr. Redknapp is eminently qualified for the role.   However, judging by his court `performance` to date dignity, intelligence and restraint seem to be in short supply and so the Football Association may be encouraged to think again about his candidacy.   On the other hand, he may be just the man as he clearly has the qualities to move seamlessly into an England dressing room where he will feel quite at home.  F`sure. 



STRANGE LOGIC..

It`s reported today in our local `newspaper,` the Kent Messenger, that parking fines collected by the local council totalled more than £200,000 last year.   This eye watering sum was the result of 8,680 parking tickets being issued to drivers across the council`s area.

Believe it or not, this is actually a reduction in revenue from the previous year, when close on £220,000 was collected.   Back in 2010 over £240,000 was collected from 8,731 tickets issued.   Now the local council employs no less than ten enforcement officers and two supervisors to enforce the council`s own parking restrictions and fines are set at £50 or £70 depending on the nature of the parking offence.   OK, there`s a 50% reduction if the fine is paid withing 14 days but it`s still a pretty hefty fine.

Now up steps the ubiquitous `council spokesman,` who said, "The money raised from parking fines goes towards meeting some of the costs of running the parking enforcement service."   Note  just `some of the costs.`  So it`s a deeply unpopular `service` that costs money and  I wonder if it has ever occurred to the council that if they did away with the parking fines there would be no need for all ten of the expensive enforcement officers and their supervisors.


Seems to me that sometimes councils impose fines just because they can, leaving the council taxpayers to pay for this kind of folly and then pay again if the folly is transgressed.  Sounds like a strange kind of logic to me.  


Thursday, January 26, 2012


SOUTHERN DISCOMFORT..

It`s been a while since I rambled on about football, which is odd really as the Saints are still in the automatic promotion spots, having just been replaced after four months at the top of the Championship by West Ham.   But a recent stuttering run of just two wins from seven games has exposed the fragility of the playing squad.   Injuries and suspensions have deprived the Saints of at least six regular first choice players and that, coupled with a pretty alarming loss of form and confidence, has brought questions about the strength, depth and determination of the club in its quest for promotion back to the Premier League.

But it`s a relative thing.   As the saying goes, "If at the start of the season you`d have told me we`d be right up there come January, I`d have bitten your hand off."  Expectations might be high at the moment - perhaps too high - but Southampton supporters need to remind themselves where their club was a couple of years ago - on the very edge of liquidation with the very real prospect of going out of business.   So any discomfort currently being felt about the faltering progress towards a second successive promotion might well be misplaced.

Contrast that with the situation confronting our fiercest rivals along the other end of the M27, where Portsmouth find themselves on the very edge of liquidation with the very real prospect of going out of business (where have I heard that before?)   A succession of fantasy owners, some real, some wholly imaginary, along with a `unique` financial policy in recent years, has resulted in Her Majesty`s Revenue and Customs serving a Winding Up Petition on the latest reincarnation of the club over unpaid taxes amounting to £1.6million.   There are other large debts outstanding and the prospects for survival look grim.   

And so we see the supporters of these two south coast football clubs feeling discomfort for very different reasons - Southampton for having a blip in their upward progress, Portsmouth for having real fears for their very survival.   I suspect I know which set of supporters has the more legitimate cause for their discomfort.


Monday, January 23, 2012


MIND HOW YOU GO..


I see that serial buffoon `Lord` Prescott is considering standing as Police Commissioner in his native Humberside.   The Commissioners will be elected to office as part of the Tory flagship policy of making the police more accountable.   It might all be very laudable but frankly if people like Prescott are going to be in charge of policing the we`d all better mind how we go.   I`m not too sure that, like elected Mayors, the idea of elected Police Commissioners is one that will be taken too seriously by the electorate.   After all, wasn`t it in Middlesbrough or some similar northern outpost where a monkey was elected Mayor? 

Anyway, I imagine that Prescott is busy rehearsing his routine and trying desperately not to mangle the English language too much.  "Sorry, sir, but you can`t park there."   "I must ask you to move along."   "Nothing to see here."   And all the usual police phrases could take on a whole new meaning once Prescott gets hold of them - if he ever does.

But, like donors to the Royal Yacht appeal, I again have to question the motives behind Prescott`s latest ambition.   He may claim he has a wealth of experience in public office and that he will bring a `personality` to the role although his past record of assorted misdemeanors, such as punching bystanders, might go against him.   But I suspect he might be attracted by the £100,000 salary to go with the £350 a day he can trouser as a member of the House of Lords so as to maintain the lifestyle befitting one steeped in socialist traditions.

There`s always been something of the Les Dawson about Prescott.   In a way they were both actors - Dawson an honest intelligent man playing the fool, Prescott a fool trying desperately to appear honest and intelligent.   I suggest the good folk of Humberside deserve better.

Saturday, January 21, 2012


NOT AMUSED...

Now don`t get me wrong.   After 60 years in a job anyone deserves a bit of recognition, so I have no problem with marking the Queen`s diamond jubilee this year.   But the hair brained notion that a grateful nation should present her majesty with a brand spanking new royal yacht is just plain daft.

Without being unkind, at their respective ages of 85 and 90, I`m not sure a life on the ocean wave would be good for the royal couple`s wellbeing and you have to ask whether, by the time the yacht is completed, the Queen and Prince Philip will be able to appreciate it as much as they did the old one.  

But what I find at least bordering on the offensive is the suggestion that the £80million cost of building the yacht should be borne by public subscription.   The Government has made it pretty clear that Government money (ie. taxpayers cash) will not be used for this project.   Instead, an appeal is being launched and already well heeled Tory Peer Lord Ashcroft has promised £5million and there are reports that Canadian businessmen are to pledge another £10million.   As for the remaining £65million, the business community and the general public will be expected to cough up - and no-one has yet mentioned the running costs.

So, I`m curious as to the motives as to why people should fork out.   Of course, there will always be the genuine royalphiles who are seriously moonstruck but there might well be others whose motives are less clear.   Do some hope to seek some sort of redemption and do others feel that maybe there might be something in it for them if they are shown to be supportive?   The odd gong perchance?   Who knows?

But if the royal family are so keen on having a new yacht then surely it is within their means to pay for one - flog off the odd crown jewel, put Sandringham on the market, put up the already extortionate price of Duchy Originals.  But please don`t ask me to cough up as I am seriously not amused by the whole business.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

QUINTESSENTIAL..


Barney and I are continuing our afternoon explorations of nearby villages and the other day we stopped off at Offham, which is two or three miles from home.   Barney had had his walkies in the woods so he didn`t mind wandering around the village on our way home.

Now, when my parents and I first moved to this part of Kent well over 50 years ago, the first place I wanted to visit was Offham.   In those days, like today, I was fascinated by books about the English countryside and I remember having one or two published just after the war by the then Odhams Press.   One was called `Romantic Britain` and had a photograph of Offham Green with its unique quintain post and it was this that encouraged me to visit Offham for the first time all those years ago.   The photo above is one I took the other day and it`s pretty obvious that not much has changed.

The quintain is a wooden post on the village green, six foot high with a freely revolving arm on the top. One end of the arm is flat and from the other hangs a heavy object, normally a heavy bag of sand. In the age of chivalry the horseman rode as fast as he could at the quintain with his lance extended and the idea was to strike the flat end (or eye) and gallop on before the heavy arm swung round, hit the competitor on the head and knocked him to the ground.

`Tilting the ring` was a popular tournament sport and gave rise to the term `full tilt,` as unless you went at it full tilt, then the bag of sand would win the contest.  Shades of Monty Python`s Fish Slapping Dance one might think. On the other hand there is something quintessentially English about Offham, with its village green and its unique reminder of the days of Merrie England.   It`s well worth a visit.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012


Had he lived, today my father would have been 99.   As it turned out for him, he died of a massive heart attack whilst having a shave in the bathroom at the age of just 62.  It`s all of 37 years ago now but something else that makes today one to remember is that my mother always used to say that, when my father`s birthday comes around, we can begin to see the evenings reappearing.   And it`s true - the daylight hangs around for a while longer and each day we can see a difference.

But I also reflect on the life my father had and it wasn`t easy.   He was the second son of parents who ran a small local bakery and village shop in a hamlet on the Berkshire/Hampshire border.   He had done well at school but the family business was so small that it couldn`t sustain another son being brought into it.

So my father either volunteered or it was volunteered for him that he should go off to become a boy soldier and join up at the Chepstow army training school.   The army became his life - he served for almost 20 years, five of which were spent in the notorious German Prisoner of War Camp Stalag V111B at Lamsdorf in the Silesia area Poland.   He didn`t talk about it much, as old soldiers seldom do, but I know it was pretty brutal. 

In January 1945, as the Soviet armies resumed their offensive and advanced into Germany, many of the prisoners were marched westward in groups of 200 to 300 in what became known as the death march.  Many of them died from the bitter cold and exhaustion. The lucky ones got far enough to the west to be liberated by the American army.   My father was one of the `lucky ones.`

He was discharged from the army in October 1945 "ceasing to fulfill army physical requirements," as his Certificate of Discharge records.   Hardly surprising and he was forever after left with constant nervousness, unable to relax, living on his nerves and the proverbial knife edge and it was this wartime legacy, I`m sure, that led to his early and untimely passing.

It seems to me that, for all the grumbles I may have, my life has been pretty much plain sailing compared to the trials, tribulations and life changing experiences my father suffered, mostly in silence.  And so I look back on this day and remember my old Dad and wish more than anything that his life could have been half as blessed as my own has been and that the light might have shone on him for a little longer.

Monday, January 16, 2012


PAINFUL VIEWING..

Yes, I know I should get a life and not loaf around on a Sunday watching wall-to-wall football matches on television, but yesterday was a chance for me as a Saints fan to see what might have been.   What made the viewing a bit painful was seeing the number of players who had `graduated` from Southampton`s Academy and were now playing starring roles in the Premier League.


The lunchtime kick-off saw Newcastle United beat Queens Park Rangers 1-0 with the winning goal scored by Leon Best and the Newcastle back four included Mike Williamson.   (Incidentally the managers of each team also had Saints connections with new QPR gaffer Mark Hughes having played for Southampton and Newcastle boss Alan Pardew having managed the Saints.)


The afternoon game was between Arsenal and newly promoted Swansea City.   The man of the match was Swans` very own pacy flanker Nathan Dyer with another former Academy player in Gary Monk on the bench.   For Arsenal, Theo Walcott scored a sublime equaliser for the Gunners before Swansea secured a 3-2 win seconds later.   Alex Oxlade Chamberlain was introduced by Arsene Wenger late in the game, which brought the total of former Saints Academy players in just those two games to no less than six.


Saturday night`s Match of the Day included highlights from the Premier League games which featured Gareth Bale playing for Spurs and Andrew Surman scoring again in Norwich City`s win at West Brom.   Seeing these players brought back memories of the dark days of Administration - Andrew Surman, for example, never wanted to leave his home town club but such were Southampton`s financial problems at the time that he was more or less forced into the transfer to Wolves before settling in at Norwich.


So I watched those games and thought, "if only."   The present Academy is beginning to flourish once more with another crop of talented youngsters providing a bright prospect for the future.....providing also, of course, that the vultures from the high echelons of the Premier League don`t swoop yet again.   Already they`re circling around, so I may be in for some more painful viewing before too long.


Ah well, c`est la vie, to be fair.


Friday, January 13, 2012


LIFE`S LITTLE IRONIES..


Sorry to go back to the business of Scottish independence but it`s rapidly becoming  the debate of choice with questions, prejudices and paradoxes growing by the day.   But in all of this, yet another of life`s little ironies has emerged.

It seems that Prime Minister David Cameron (which sounds a bit Scottish) is demanding an early, decisive, yes/no referendum on Scottish independence whilst at the same time, like those other Scottish Prime Ministers Blair and Brown, refusing an early, decisive, yes/no referendum on the UK`s membership of the European Union. 


In a desperate attempt to escape, I`m off to the beach.....but I may not entirely escape the irony:-




Wednesday, January 11, 2012


THIS YEAR`S HEADLINES ?

I moan quite a lot about the BBC but it does have some redeeming features, mainly the documentaries it produces on BBC 4 and the Horizon series on BBC 2.

I watched the Horizon Special programme about CERN`s Large Hadron Collider and the search being conducted for the Higgs Boson - the elusive `God Particle,` as the press will have it.   It`s fascinating stuff and there`s no doubt that enormous progress has been made in narrowing down the area where the Higgs might finally been confirmed.  This is an example of how the progress has been hailed in the press:-

"WE MAY HAVE GLIMPSED THE HIGGS BOSON," SAY CERN SCIENTISTS
Physicists have seen strong hints the Higgs boson exists but a firm discovery may not come before the end of 2012......


Now I know I shouldn`t trivialise something as important as the search to confirmthe existence (or not) of something that might be responsible for giving mass to everything in the universe, without which nothing including ourselves would be here today.   But the truth is that any triviality comes not from the scientists at CERN, nor from the subject of their research, but from the way in which these things are reported.


All of which reminds me of headlines I`ve come across in the past, most especially in provincial newspapers.   For example - `PEDESTRIAN ALMOST HIT BY CYCLIST` was a headline in the Isle of Wight County Press (`Black and White and Read all over`.)   And in truth "We may have glimpsed the Higgs Boson" is really about another near miss.


But I`m looking forward to later in the year when CERN might announce whether the Higgs exists or not.   If it is proven to exist then the headlines will no doubt shout "GOD PARTICLE CONFIRMED."   If not, then perhaps "BOFFINS BACK TO SQUARE ONE" might be the headline.   In the meantime, I`m still waiting for the one headline that has so far eluded me - "MARIE CELESTE DOCKS AT LIVERPOOL."   

Tuesday, January 10, 2012


TO ASK OR NOT TO ASK -
THAT IS THE QUESTION..

As if there wasn`t enough fuss going on anyway, we now have a lot of fuss about the  referendum on Scottish independence from the United Kingdom.  In the blue corner we have UK Prime Minister David Cameron using the powers of the Scotland Act of 1998 to dictate the timing and the wording of any referendum.   In the other corner we have Scottish Nationalist Party leader and First Minister Alex Salmond saying that it`s no business of the UK Government to interfere with the referendum process north of the border.

It`s all about timing, positioning and preference with Cameron wanting a swift and clear decision one way or the other - a yes/no vote - but Salmond wanting to delay the vote until he thinks he might win it later in the parliamentary term and wanting to have a `maybe` option as well.

Now something in this whole business puzzles me.   At the moment we have a United Kingdom comprising England, Scotland, Wales and Norther Ireland - all in it together, together as one,  one big happy family.  If one of those constituent parts wants to leave, then surely natural justice dictates that the other parts might want to have a say as to whether they are happy about that.   

I see no suggestion that the good folk of England, Wales or Northern Ireland are going to be included in a referendum about Scottish independence but I think it`s pretty clear what the outcome might be if they were.  For example, at the moment the Scots enjoy things like free home care for the elderly, free higher education, free public transport for pensioners and £400 per head more spent on them by the NHS than in England.   And these things are not paid for by the taxes raised in Scotland while England also provide the subsidy for the higher rate of NHS spending.

So, if against this background a referendum were to be held tomorrow, I`m pretty sure the English would vote in favour of Scottish independence, as they are fed up with paying through the nose for those services enjoyed by the Scots but denied to themselves, whereas the canny Scots, realising they`re on to a good thing, would probably vote to stay within the United Kingdom, however disunited it might be.

Sometimes it`s better not to ask the question if you know you won`t like the answer.

  

Monday, January 09, 2012


OK THEN....

Well that didn`t last long.   Since I announced my `retirement` from these pages a few days ago, I`ve been inundated with a handful of requests to keep posting, so I`ll have another go. 

I think the problem I had was one of despair really.   Maybe it was the `festive season,` but I suspect it may have been that almost every day I see reports about things that make me despair at the state of the world.   Well, the world`s fine - it`s just the people in it.   As I look around, I see murders (14 over the Christmas and New Year period in the UK alone - so much for the season of goodwill,) I see threats in the Middle East, uncertainty in the Far East, financial and political chaos in the Eurozone, poverty in Africa, futile loss of life in Afghanistan, tribal bloodshed in Iraq, oppression in Syria and it`s hard to find anywhere in the world where there isn`t some kind of crisis either looming or here already.

I think what compounded the felony was the American Presidential Primaries, which kicked off in Iowa last week.  Seems the Republican Party may come up with a choice between a Barbie`s Ken lookalike from central casting and another one who seems bent on invading Iran if he gets the White House job.   Now there is much to admire in America, but the selection of the leader of the western world ain`t one of them.   We may have been lucky in the past with a few Presidents who have turned out to be presidential, but by and large they have been a pretty underwhelming bunch of power hungry egomaniacs who have either bought the job or been pitchforked into it.   

And I`m not at all sure it`s any better over here where again and by and large our politicians are there to serve their own ends rather than the needs of those whom they represent.   And you wonder why I get withdrawal symptoms.   Anyway, I may have finally recognised that my rants are a release valve for me and my inner turmoil and so it might be good for me to rant away regardless.   Well, you did ask for it.