All entries for April 2007

April 30, 2007

Empty stadiums, empty wallets, empty souls

Sunderland are a massive club with great support and let’s hope when they come up this time they stay up as the Premiership needs the big clubs.

Alan Hansen’s right. The Premiership’s had a dodgy season because some of its biggest clubs have hit the doldrums while others have been promoted but didn’t really deserve to be. Leeds – once a massive Premiership team – are plummeting towards oblivion like Nottingham Forest once did, along with Sunderland, Derby and Southampton. Luckily, Sunderland are heading back up, along with Birmingham and probably one of the other two I just mentioned.

But in their place have come Watford, Charlton, Wigan and Sheffield United. Teams who don’t play a Premiership style of football, despite their foreign players, and who don’t really have the support to justify their place in the top division. There’s been some horrifically low attendances at some games involving these teams. With ticket prices so high and rewards so slim, why would anyone pay to see them?

An Observer article this weekend suggested that the answer to many of football’s problems may lie Stateside. Simply, scrap relegation. A guaranteed place in the top flight leads to lower transfer fees (it’s complicated but logical – read the article) and ensures the best supported teams play in the top flight.

It has its attractions, but not for long. It plays against the egalitarian nature of British football where a top flight team can be beaten by a minnow in the F.A. Cup.

The real problem is the Premier League. A separate body from the F.A., it takes almost all of the cash going from TV rights and gives it to the top 20 teams in the country. The others have to fight over what remains (just don’t mention ‘ITV Digital’ to them). The current system has led to the Premiership becoming, arguably, the world’s best football league again. But it’s also led to the erosion of passion in the lower ranks of the game, where your local team could one day make it to the top.

We have the best football stadiums, the best players, and the best competition in the world. It’s just a shame it’s exclusive to the three or four teams at the very top.

Criminal Ear Damage

What’s the most insipid invention of the 21st Century so far? This is:

No, it’s not a set of aeroplane landing lights, it’s a portable speaker system for MP3 players. AND THEY’RE DRIVING ME NUTS.

I’ve been doing a lot of travelling by train recently, and several times some spotty teenager has been playing some rubbish music through these tinny monstrosities, VERY LOUDLY.

As a product, they’re not necessarily offensive. Except I don’t think they’re being used in people’s bedrooms as much as they are being used on various forms of public transport where – neglecting the invention of the headphone – they’re broadcasting their appalling choice of music to a wide audience in a confined space.

On my next train journey I shall be armed with a large hammer with which to smash the next one of these I hear. Consider this a fair warning.

April 28, 2007

Elections are Rubbish

Is the biggest talking point of this week’s local elections (in England, at least) rubbish? The newspapers, at least, are fuming about fortnightly collections and snooping wheelie-bins. Believe the hype, and it alone could bring down many Councils.

In some European countries, bins are collected daily or every other day. So why are we going in the opposite direction?

Because a) it’s environmentally friendlier and b) we don’t (yet) have temperatures that make festering rubbish such a problem.

Oh, and c) it’s cheaper. Local councils have been squeezed and squeezed for well over twenty years, and the only thing they can do is cut services or put up council tax.

Put the typical Daily Mail reader in a local council and ask them what they’d do. Given the limitations on how councils can spend their money, is there actually anything they could do better? Independent councillors and UKIP say they’d increase rubbish collections. They are in the lucky(!) position of not having to carry out their promise.

Grumpy Joe Public hate only a few things more than fortnightly rubbish collections: higher council tax is definitely one of them. What they forget to realise is you have to have one or the other.

But once tabloid newspapers find a bandwagon, common sense becomes irrelevant.

April 13, 2007

Do Ron, Ron, Ron, You Do Ron, Ron

After several weeks of scintillating football, many thought Cristiano Ronaldo couldn’t endear himself to Man United fans any more than he has already.

They were wrong.

He’s just signed a new five-year contract despite interest from every big football club in the world.

On current form, that’ll be five more years of silverware in the bag then.

April 11, 2007

Strangled at Birth?

Are you an insomniac, unemployed sports fan? Good! Because there’s a new TV show that seems to be just for you!

BBC News has for months been working on a sports news show, now called Inside Sport. It’s probably going to be a little bit like a UK-focused Trans World Sport, and it sounds great.

Except the schedulers have stuck it precisely where no-one’s going to watch it: Monday, 11pm.

Probably the least exciting night of the week when it comes to sport, and after the weekend newspapers have come out with their beefy sports sections. Not to mention it’s ludicrously late for a weeknight. What’s wrong with 10.35pm, straight after the news? Or at 10pm on BBC Two?

There’ll be a daytime repeat, but that’s six days later, on Sunday morning. When, er… people are still in bed. You’d think they don’t want anyone to watch it.

P.S. Irony note: Mihir Bose left his Telegraph column to become BBC Sports Editor. His column’s name? ‘Inside Sports’.

April 10, 2007

NY Times outdoing the broadcasters at their own game?

In a piece of video-journalism entitled ‘Anatomy of a Firefight’ C.J. Chivers of the New York Times shows up the typical 2007 television news bulletin for what it is: Froth.

Alastair Leithead, the BBC’s correspondent based in Kabul, has occasionally been given free rein to show what the war in Afghanistan is really about, most notably in a brilliant Panorama programme. But not regularly. And not properly within one of the BBC’s main news bulletins. These programmes, with the infrequent exception of the 10 O’clock News, only really treat Afghanistan as a news story when it affects the fortunes of British politicians and troops.

And yet on a daily basis there are fascinating stories coming out of the country, such as this day-in-the-life piece done by a newspaper journalist for the New York Times. I’ve seen C.J. Chivers’ work before, and it’s really good, both as a video and a written feature. It’s the sort of thing which television viewers should see much more often in Britain, but won’t while the bulletins remain so formulaic, nervous and ‘safe’.

By Tyler Hicks of the NY Times. Members of an Afghan squad and a Dutch platoon took fire from the Taliban insurgents in Uruzgan Province, an isolated area of Afghanistan.

Man Utd 7 – 1 Roma

The gods weren’t just smiling on Old Trafford tonight. They were on the pitch.

An incredible first twenty minutes wrapped up the game for United, with simply superb goals from Carrick, Rooney and Smith sealing the deal early on. None were just pieces of brilliant individual flair. They were all the result of smooth, efficient and often incredible teamplay, usually finished with a sublime strike.

Carrick's first strikeCarrick’s first two goals in Europe will be long remembered. With Scholes out and expecting only a few more years in the game, the £14m signing from Tottenham made his claim to be the team’s best long-range shooter. Both his shots were completely out of reach for the unfortunate Doni.

From the starting whistle, United played like they were out to win. But having done so within a quarter of an hour, they continued like they had a point to prove. Edwin van der Sar made a number of important and far from easy saves after two poor matches. His clean sheet was spoiled by Roma’s one highlight – a cheeky, quick chip that would have caught the best in the world napping.

Man United won through the sometimes controversial tinkering of Alex Ferguson. Rooney began on the left, Giggs on the right, and Alan Smith almost alone up front. But the pace on the wings and through the middle from Carrick and Darren Fletcher proved unstoppable. Giggs was beyond the control of the Roma defence, and Ronaldo was his magical best. Rooney and Sir Alex both suggested he was the best in the world this week. They were both right. And to think that a matter of months ago I was the recipient of grumbles after suggesting Ronaldo might be better than Beckham ever was.

United’s makeshift defence was tested at times, but despite the lack of Vidic and Neville, they always seemed to have control of the back third. Goals from Ronaldo (2), Evra and a second from Carrick sealed the deal. United needed a win. Instead, they gave out a good, old-fashioned thrashing to a team who were poor, unlucky, and in the wrong stadium at the wrong time.

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