Thursday, January 31, 2008

Czech Out

Boy, could Sam Allardyce spot a centre-half!

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Giuliani Goes

And endorses John McCain, denounced by Mitt Romney as a liberal and a democrat!

He must have been talking about this.

Between The Lines

How is it that the self-same hacks now spewing out Keegan in Crisis and Toon in Relegation Scrap headlines were, only two games and one defeat ago, screaming about the absurdity of sacking a manager with the team safe in mid-table and in absolutely no danger of going down?

You'd almost think they had a hidden agenda...

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Italian Politics

Is like a game of musical chairs in which none of the seats leave the middle of the room. Everything seems to move but nothing ever changes. As if by magic, even that hoary old fraud Andreotti has popped back out from the arras of near-death.

Tactical Nous

"Arsenal are a great passing team. We must make sure we pass the ball better than them."

According to the ubiquitous club insider that was the sum total of Kevin Keegan's Arsenal pre-match teamtalk. This is, by all accounts, a 'bad thing'. A few weeks ago, when we had a manager noted for his tactical acumen, the instructions would have been to sit on the edge of our own penalty area, hoof the ball up the pitch towards the one static target, and let the wingers run like hell after it before it comes bouncing straight back.

Funnily enough, that didn't seem to work very well either.

Monday, January 28, 2008

Woodgate Signs For Spurs

Apparently, they bought him to play alongside Ledley King. The apposite phrase is wishful thinking. And then some.

It's Plain To See

Dennis Wise as director of football? It might work, I suppose, especially if we get someone like Tony Adams - or even Stuart Pearce - in as assistant manager. It's a surprise, though: Wise has never exactly been what you'd call popular on Tyneside.

Or anywhere else, come to think of it.

When All Else Fails

A sneaky bit of coercion usually does the trick. Are there any depths of duplicity to which this government would not sink?

Sunday, January 27, 2008

The Honoured Society

It wasn't until after I finished reading In Sicily that I realised Norman Lewis was into his nineties when he wrote it, travelling round the arid old Mafia strongholds of the interior in a beaten-up Fiat. Cyril Connolly once said Lewis' writing style could make even a lorry seem interesting. He wasn't wrong.

Dolphin Hotel Endorses Obama

Well, everyone else is at it. Unfortunately, I don't have a vote in this election, and knowing my track record he'll only go and get knocked out by Hereford on a muddy pitch in the next round.

Feeding The Few

Big Business puts profits before climate change.

And the news story here is? Bertrand Russell had it right all along: "Advocates of capitalism are very apt to appeal to the sacred principles of liberty, which are embodied in one maxim: The fortunate must not be restrained in the exercise of tyranny over the unfortunate."

In short: "Screw you and your sinking desert island."

And Then There Were Three

So goodbye John Edwards, routed in his home state and running out of cash. Which leaves the barracked Obama and his twin-headed opponent: the chill-faced wife and her fake folksy husband - whose reputation, amazingly, still survives being eight years in the job while achieving nothing much at all, save handing over the reins to the worst president in living memory.

Roll on Super Tuesday.

Saturday, January 26, 2008

Thirty Nine Years

If you have to go out, go out fighting. That's all we can expect from the expensive shite we've been lumbered with. And there's always next year.

Give it time. Keegan will get things right.

Jonathan Woodgate

Exactly what we need - a defender who defends (plus concentrates for more than five seconds at a stretch, passes the ball to someone who's kicking the same way and doesn't fall flat on his arse at the slightest physical contact). On the rare occasions he manages to drag himself out on the pitch - as often as the sun coming out over Whitley Bay - he's one of the best centre-halves I've ever seen: if it wasn't for injuries, he'd be a shoo-in for any of the Big Four. It'd be a fantastic signing as long as he stayed fit. But what are the chances of that?

Here's a clue: Toon. Trophy. Unlikely.

The Men Who Took On Thatcher

And won.

Friday, January 25, 2008

To The Polls

Silvio Berlusconi, the only man in history to sweep every seat in Sicily (which, despite the rumours, he managed by dint of hard campaigning and a winning smile), a prime minister who once made rabbit ears behind the assembled backs of the EU heads of state, invited the Danish prime minister to sleep with his wife, accused Chinese communists of eating babies, and sacked the Italian equivalent of Jeremy Paxman on live TV for criticising the government.

And now he's back.

Zilch. Zero. Nothing.

A region apart? You bet we are.

When the vote comes in on Scottish independence, how about moving that border a few dozen miles south?

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Free Falling

Not much time for blogging when you're teaching eight hours a day, but I couldn't let news of Rudy Giuliani stumbling towards the presidential exit door pass without a smile.

Or two.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Phil Bardsley Signs!

Beating off stiff competition from the cream of European football and, erm, Sheffield United, Sunderland have signed their twentieth Man United reserve team cast-off (earning enough points for the free Red Devils toaster and Old Trafford executive luggage set).

Either Roy Keane's on a 10% commission or the Mackems are attempting to become the world's first reverse feeder club.

Monday, January 21, 2008

Sunday, January 20, 2008

When Hope Faded

There's a bronze memorial plaque on the front of Liberec Town Hall to the nine local victims of August 21st 1968, now used as a meeting place on the way to the pub. A four-star hotel stands on the side of Beneš Square that the tanks smashed through. High above the town, a Gugarin-aged needle stuck in the peak of Ještěd, is the tower-cum-restaurant-cum-hotel from which a young Václav Havel made his final pro-freedom broadcasts as Warsaw Pact troops poured across the border. The trauma's barely felt forty years later: for most Czechs, the past, literally, is another country.

Saturday, January 19, 2008

The Modern Way

So this is how the game moved on, one up front and nine behind the ball, plonked like traffic bollards across the 18-yard line. Teams so terrified of losing they'd rather draw than try to win. Play the percentages, defend in depth, soak up the pressure then grab a goal on the break with a headed-in set-piece. The beautiful game of Pele and Puskas made ugly by frightened men in Bluetooth headsets.

It'll All End In Tears

And if it does, so what? Football's about dreams, not the temporary loan of silver baubles. If trophies were all that mattered, then we'd disband the other eighty-eight clubs today and leave the game to the Big Four. Chelsea or Man United would win the league in alternate years, Arsenal and Liverpool would push them in the cups. And none of them would ever - freak results like Istanbul excepted - be good enough in Europe. Football without dreams is a kind of eternal Bolton Wanderers - an uneventful ninety minutes in front of mute spectators and half-empty grounds. Football without dreams is clubs bought and sold like stock market shares, and not a whimper of protest from the people who foot the bill.

I'll take the dreams - and the tears too.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Call Out The Instigator

The Telegraph's Henry Winter on the return of Kevin Keegan. Whatever happens next, it promises to be fun.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

It's Keegan!

I don't care how long he's been out of football (he'd been out of the game for eight years when he first took the job on, and we were much worse off back then). I'm not bothered what happened at England or Manchester City. I couldn't give a toss that he won nothing last time. The only thing that matters is that Keegan is back.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Straight In At Number One

Didier Deschamps: water-carrier, World Cup winner and the man who paid £4.5 million to take Jean-Alain Boumsong to Juventus (to be fair, he did take Monaco to a Champions' League Final too). Whether this is based on anything more than 'big-name foreign manager, currently out of work, speaks a little English and isn't Gerard Houllier' conjecture we'll soon find out (a cynic might think that it suits the bookies to have a new favourite every couple of days).

In the meantime, my money's still on Shearer or Hughes.

North of the Border

The National Wallace Monument, on guard over Stirling. The rest of my Scotland photos are here, doing their bit towards the next $25 Amazon voucher (topping the wanted list: Kafka on the Shore by Haruki Murakami, The Spy Who Came In From The Cold on DVD, and anything but anything by John Pilger or Naomi Klein).

Monday, January 14, 2008

Talking Heads

Could there be any more pointless waste of a working day than a departmental meeting? You sit for an hour struggling to keep your eyes open, barely understanding what's going on all around you, then they skip right on past the relevant bit at the very end, just at the point where you've completely stopped listening. And next week, at the most inconvenient time imaginable, you get to go back and do it all over again.

Sunday, January 13, 2008

New Policy on Immigrants

'Mobile detention centres' (otherwise known as prison vans) cruising the streets looking for immigrants, vulnerable people hunted like stray dogs. Sticking to best practice (see: railways), the service will be contracted out to an expert in the private sector: the Child Snatcher out of Chitty Chitty Bang Bang has already lodged a bid.

The Dreamers

Some interesting stuff on Sky Sports this morning. If you believe Ian Ridley, the Mail on Sunday's man with a Northumbrian uncle, Redknapp was offered the job back in mid-October, but turned it down. I still think Newcastle must have been pretty sure they had him lined up before getting rid of Allardyce: did the sudden talk of Shearer wanting the job give him cold feet?

According to the media gossip, Keegan's ready but Shearer's still not convinced, and Ashley's after an experienced man anyway (plus exciting football, which rules out Gerard Houllier for a start). It'd be a romantic appointment, sure - but if it wasn't for romance, most football fans would be wearing Chelsea tops, or paying £40 a game to service Malcolm Glazer's debts.

Saturday, January 12, 2008

Redknapp Says No

And mobile phones all over the city buzzed with sighs of relief. Who now, then? Keegan and Shearer? It'd be great fun, no doubt - but then again that's what Celtic fans said about King Kenny and John Barnes.

One thing's for sure, with Paul Kemsley - better known as Alan Sugar's attack dog on The Apprentice - bending Mike Ashley's ear, the new man definitely won't be Martin Jol. I reckon it's down to Shearer or Mark Hughes - assuming either of them actually wants the job.

Update: Manchester United 6 Newcastle United 0. Positions vacant: one new manager and eleven new hearts.

Saturday Morning: Hexham Abbey

Friday, January 11, 2008

Why Allardyce Had To Go

Let's say you need some work doing on your house. You get a builder in and give him five grand to do the job. A few days later, after he's botched everything he's tried and and fobbed you off with lame-sounding excuses, he tells you the job's much bigger than he thought and he'll need another £20,000 on top to finish up. Do you a) hand him the cash even though you think he'll waste it, or b) tell him to sling his hook and find someone you trust to do the job?

Patience my arse. If football's a business then it's no different to any other. Big rewards come with big risks - and, for some of us at least, £6 million to cushion the blow.

The Man With The Donkey

John Simpson Kirkpatrick: a Sanddancer chucked out on the wrong beach at Gallipoli. Fifteen times a day he went up and down Shrapnel Gully, loading the wounded on to a donkey and walking them back. After three weeks, he got a bullet in the back and died, unknown at home but a hero on the far side of the world. There's a statue of him and his donkey outside Asda in South Shields, which is how come we got round to talking about him in class. It's a fascinating story: from Eldon Street in South Shields to the back of an Australian $100 dollar note.

The Runners and Riders

Harry Redknapp's the name splashed across this morning's back pages, with a private jet ready to whisk him up from Dorset for training sessions. For crying out loud, the bloke's sixty years old and has never come close to winning anything. (Portsmouth came ninth last season; Roeder managed better than that. Twice.) And he's on bail on corruption charges till the middle of next month.

The Guardian, on the other hand, goes for Mark Hughes - stylish, streetwise and steely, by all accounts, and the "best tactician" 86-year-old Gary Speed's ever played under. We could have had him three years ago, but Shepherd went for Souness.

The rest is tragedy.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Who's Next?

Whoever it is, they can't do much worse. Apparently, Allardyce got the boot because he insisted on winning ugly. He managed the adjective alright - it was just the verb he struggled with.

But if Shearer really doesn't fancy it, who does that leave? Not Redknapp, please - if he's the answer then the question must be: Name a manager who's never won anything, got a team relegated one season, bailed out with them mid-table in the Championship the next, then would've repeated the same trick again only he got thirty million quid to spend in the January transfer window. (A miracle? Yeah, right.)

I wouldn't mind Mark Hughes or John Collins, especially if we have to have a British manager. It goes without saying, though, the dream choice would be The Special One.

Bite The Hand That Feeds You

Charlie Wilson's War - a maverick US senator pays Muslim fanatics to kill occupying troops in 1980s Afghanistan. There's one film Hollywood won't be making a sequel to.

Wednesday, January 09, 2008

Clinton is Back

But for how long this time? The Guardian's Michael Tomasky offers another thought on the quivery voiced comeback queen.

Liar Liar

No compulsion to carry ID cards under our proposals, says Gordon Brown. What he really means is not yet.

And if you're still taken in by all that nothing to hide malarkey, then take a look at this. Scary, eh?

Allardyce Goes

I won't pretend I'm disappointed, even if it does make us look a joke (again). We all know how this story ends: with Freddie Shepherd gone, it's inconceivable that Allardyce has been given the boot without the next victim already being lined up - and if it's not Shearer now, then it never ever will be.

Beer is Good

If you give it long enough scientists will come up with a study that proves almost anything you want. As these things go this one's a bit obvious - it stands to reason that knocking back a couple of pints and then working it off later is better than sitting on your arse all day scoffing sausages and flaky pastry.

The real mystery is how they ever tracked down a non-drinker in a place as grim as Denmark.

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

Natives Getting Restless

That's the thing about electronic communication - you think you're having a private conversation and you end up looking like a right bunch of pompous tools.

Presumably, if you asked the staff of the British Library to point out Newcastle on a map they'd start off looking in the Arctic Circle.

A New Bank Rip-off

What a surprise! Next they'll be telling us they can't afford to offer free banking any longer (and trying to extort a tenner a month extra to line their shareholders' pockets).

Or was that last year?

Take Anything You Rum

A self-help guide for Japanese women, through the teaching medium of aerobic exercise: What to do if you're mugged by slow-moving English speakers in handkerchief hats while stumbling around the set of a German porn movie.

Well, better safe than sorry I suppose.

Monday, January 07, 2008

A Scottish New Year

That's me in the hood, looking strangely happy in the snow. Below, the Wallace Monument on a cold day, seen from Stirling Castle. Merci beaucoup to Marie Decalf for the snaps.

53 Years and Counting

First tie out of the hat and we get Arsenal away in the fourth round of the FA Cup (always assuming we don't self-destruct first against Stoke).

Best make that one more year without a trophy, then - at least with Allardyce you're never filled with false hope.

Sunday, January 06, 2008

Momentum is Everything

Will spoilt rich kid Hillary Clinton's frosty response to defeat in Iowa prove to be her Howard Dean Scream moment? Going into New Hampshire, the sparkle's all with Obama, and John Edwards (the closest this race gets to a left-wing candidate) is suddenly looking like the safe pair of hands if voters start getting cold feet about inexperience (a political euphemism often applied when a candidate is black, female or in any way interesting). The problem with Clinton, who has all the personal touch and charm of a Gorgon, is that she's liked by few and hated by many - a slight handicap when you're going for the popular vote.

My heart says Obama, my head still goes with Edwards or McCain.

Fireworks Over Newcastle

Stirling In The Snow

Of the three places we visited on our four-day Scottish pub crawl, Stirling was easily my favourite (St. Andrews was closed, cold and blustery; Glasgow wet and booze-soddled). It's like a ship-in-the-bottle Edinburgh, a dark, imposing castle stuck to the top of an old town built of grey stone walls, sloping lampposts and cobbled streets, all made wonderfully scenic by the falling snow.

The Youth Hostel (pictured above and on the right) is one of the best I've ever stayed in, a huge, rambling building right next to the Old Town Jail with arched windows looking back across the town. It's only a few minutes' uphill slip and slide to the castle, and a short stagger back from some great little pubs like The Settle Inn and Number 2 Baker Street, a roaring fire in one, cheap Belhaven Best in the other and - as demanded by Scottish Parliament Directive Number One - a flat screen TV endlessly playing Sky Sports News in both.

I'll be back in the summer.

Saturday, January 05, 2008

Ground 98: Queen of the South

Tired, wet-through and stuffed full of deep-fried haggis, we broke the journey home from Glasgow at Palmerston Park in Dumfries, where local boys Queen of the South tonked Clyde three goals to one. Leaving town after the game, we attempted a short drive through pitch-black country roads with only the sidelights on, before sitting in a Matalan car park for the best part of two hours waiting for a breakdown truck.

Attendance: 1,500, including two-hundred oddballs from Clyde, a couple of unwashed Geordies with beer-breath and point and shoot cameras, several gangs of spotty teenagers, and lots of men in wooly hats and white Reebok trainers.

Wednesday, January 02, 2008

Heading North

I'm off to the balmier climes of central Scotland for a few days. Back on Saturday night, just in time for the start of work.

Tuesday, January 01, 2008

The Trouble With Newcastle

Even with a Becherovka headache, it's not difficult to pick holes in this tired old toot from Richard Williams. "To expect a sighting of the green shoots of recovery in mid-winter, with a new head gardener in charge, is to indulge in the ridiculous impatience that led the club to sack Sir Bobby Robson at the very time when Shearer could plausibly have been introduced as a Malcolm Allison to the old man's Joe Mercer" - this from the man who was touting Allardyce for Steve McClaren's job the moment he lost to Croatia away!