England’s New Dawn?

So Fabio’s gone.

It’s difficult not to blog about this today. I have been saturated with news, reaction and detailed analysis of it since about 7pm last night. It’s the top twitter trend, the BBC’s headline piece and will no doubt be on the front page of every paper.

Did I like him? Not really. Yes, he had the best win percentage of any national manager and has only lost 6 games during his charge. He should have stirred pride and gratitude from the English public…but he didn’t.

The FA made a massive misjudgement when hiring Capello – he wasn’t the first foreign coach, but he was the first who couldn’t actually speak English. Fabio may have had a loveable personality and an eloquent way of communicating his passion for our national team, but we had no way of knowing this – as it was all lost in translation.

And this was also the root of the team’s disharmony. How could he motivate, or more importantly communicate complex tactics, through a combination of pidgin English and a translator? These are the two most important factors in managing a national side (who have a few weeks to grow team unity and an effective game plan). No – Fabio’s record was down to luck…he was lucky enough to preside over a good batch of English stars at the top of their game. He was always going to beat Slovenia when his line-up included Terry, Cole, Rooney, Gerrard and Lampard.

So what next? Redknapp got slice of luck himself yesterday – not enough evidence to convict him over his dodgy dealings. He’s the favourite of the players, bookies and the public – in many ways it has to be ‘Arry or the FA will be fighting uphill again from the start of another reign.

But whoever gets the job, they are actually in an almost unique position for an England manager. The golden generation are no more – the stars of 2010 are largely past their best: Rio, Lampard and co. are struggling to even hold down a regular place with their clubs. Harry (we hope) will inherit limited expectation, a clean team slate, a major championship qualification, and a long list of potential new new stars (Wilshere, Sturridge, The Ox, Phil Jones etc.).

In fact Harry Redknapp could be the luckiest man in football – everything has slotted into place. And Fabio can now fully concentrate on his other commitments, like his role as a puppet on the Dolmio adverts…

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Chavs vs. Toffs

This afternoon a shocking viral email hit my inbox – outlining the code of conduct for the G4…

For those of you who are still unaware of this exclusive group, and their “gunning” behaviour, I’ll give you a brief summary. The email outlined the ‘tour rules’ as laid out by four City twenty-somethings for their upcoming rugby sevens trip to Dubai. A quick google search will give you the complete breakdown – but their code revolves around bragging about daddy’s money, cheating on their wives and generally maintaining their wild, rich lad lifestyle when away. It concluded with a short biography of each member, stating their current insurance-broker employment, red brick university degree and public school credentials.

G4 is a brotherhood of privileged, well educated, rich-boys whose very existence is a stain on British culture.

But the email got me thinking – who would I rather be stuck in a hotel with – a disgusting group of stuck-up toffs or a nasty hoard of lager swilling chavs?

Quite a dilemma. The blight of chav culture is well documented – there are countless TV documentaries outlining the antics of Wild Brits Abroad. All seem to focus on Burberry clad youths taking over Magaluf and Benidorm – downing bacardi breezers, destroying town centres, and eventually rushing to a Spanish hospital for a quick stomach pump. The images of girls in stilettos and boob-tubes, passing out in their own vomit, shock and disgust the middle classes and most Brits do their best to disown this TOWIE generation.

But are they any worse than the G4? Not in my opinion. The privileged rich boy, spending a small portion of the inheritance on a hedonistic shameless tour is a much more vile image in my eyes. Maybe it’s because I feel closer to them; on the chav-toff spectrum I am probably closer to the posh-boy end, and many are only just outside my social circles. In fact I see some of them on a daily basis – they all live in Fulham or Kensington, wear clothes that display their public school heritage, take at least one annual ski trip to Verbier and loosely flaunt their daddy’s wealth with complete disregard for the wider society. At least the chavs work hard and save all year in order to booze it all away on their annual destructive vacation.

No, give me ‘Geordie Shore’ over ‘Made in Chelsea’ every time. For me the chavs have better values, better ethics and more fun. In fact I think I’d quite enjoy a chav holiday – although I’d probably be in bed by midnight, I’m just too old now for all that nonsense…

Played by Hooligans…

How many times have I heard that old adage:

Rugby – played by hooligans, watched by gentleman
Football – played by gentleman, watched by hooligans

The problem is, as an English sports fan, the saying no longer holds true.

The first line probably still applies. The general rugby fan is reasonably wholesome, more interested in a family day out and a few warming pints than goading opposition supporters and storming local pubs. And the English rugby team certainly proved at the recent Rugby World Cup that they can still be classed as hooligans. Mike Tindall and co. managed to not only make fools of themselves (tossing dwarves and snogging locals), but they also let down the wider English public and even managed to embarrass the Royal Family. Well done Mike!

The major problem with the saying focuses on the football team. Yes the hooligans still rule the terraces (despite the best efforts of the family stand and numerous ‘kick it out’ initiatives), but unfortunately the same idiots now also perform on the pitch.

Almost all the current crop of big-name England internationals have at least one major front page headline to be proud of. Our (former) captain John Terry has a long list of misdemeanours, culminating in his current race row. But he’s not alone, Wayne Rooney has had a few Grandma prostitutes, Gerrard a few nightclub brawls, Ashley Cole managed to cheat on Cheryl, and Giggsy (yes I know he is Welsh) cheated on his wife with his brother’s…not exactly gentleman are they?!

And it gets worse – the current crop of sporting stars now have a new outlet, a new hi- tech opportunity to embarrass themselves and their clubs… their social network, and in particular their twitter accounts.

And who is the leader of the sporting digital generation? Joey Barton, a man who must never be referred to as a gent. Well done Joey, we know you once read an abridged copy of the sayings of Nietzsche and yes, your uncle is gay, but this does not make you any less of a dreadful thug. Joey’s list of bad boy antics make JT look like Mother Teresa – he once slapped a 15year old Everton fan, and even put out a cigar in a youth players eye! How can he be the twitter icon for the new generation? He should be in prison!

It seems us English sport fans have only one hope – our cricket team. Please don’t let us down Alastair, Andrew and Stuart, we need to cling to your clean cut image as long as we can…you are now our only remaining sporting gentleman.

The Irish and Welsh Lions

I am a World Class armchair sports fan – from the comfort of my living room sofa there is nothing I enjoy more than settling down to an exciting weekend of sport. And no sporting event captures my attention like the always thrilling Six Nations. In my opinion there is no other international tournament that is so passionately followed and evenly matched as the Northern Hemisphere’s showpiece. I prefer the Six Nations to every other major sport competition, including the World Cup (in any sport).

So I had a heightened sense of anticipation on Saturday waiting for the mouthwatering first round of fixtures – and once again The Six Nations delivered: France showed typical flair in outclassing the Italians; England battled the freezing conditions to edge past the Scots; but it was in Dublin that the competition really proved its value, with Wales’ inspired last minute victory over Ireland. Top notch armchair sport.

However if there is one other rugby event that can match this annual tournament, it’s the rare thrill of a British and Irish Lions tour. In 2005 I was lucky enough to travel to New Zealand (with my dad) to watch one first hand. Unfortunately our boys were walloped 3-0 by arguably the greatest ever All Blacks side, but the tour itself will always rank as my most memorable live sport experience.

So at the end of a Six Nations opening weekend, and with a Lions tour of Australia looming in 2013, who would currently make the grade?

As an England fan I was hit with the stark reality that we are now far from the best Northern Hemisphere rugby nation. I honestly believe not one of our starting XV would get into a current Lions side. After watching Sundays match in Dublin the Lions line up would have to almost wholly consist of the Welsh and Irish.

The Welsh backs have to dominate. Phillips, Priestland, Roberts, Davies, North and Halfpenny would all stake a claim. And a few Irishman would also compete in a few areas: Bowe may start, with Kearney and Sexton also close to the lineup. Up front too the Celts stand tall: Adam Jones, Rory Best and Gethin Jenkins would be my front row, with Paul O’Connell and maybe Alun Wynn Jones completing the front five. With the captain Warburton in the back row, Heaslip and O’Brien (maybe Ferris) would form a formidable force.

Not an English (or Scottish) name in sight – although maybe I am being too harsh. The Northampton contignent of Hartley, Lawes, Foden and Ashton have a hope of making the starting XV, and a few Scots too might stake a claim: Hamilton and Gray in the second row, Evans on the wing and the young number eight Denton looked impressive.

I’m sure plenty of Scots and Englishman will stand out across the next two international seasons, but currently the Irish and Welsh hold all the jerseys in my opinion.

But please feel free to ridicule my team and suggest your own 2013 Lions XV. I was an average player at best, and despite enjoying my prostrate sofa analysis, I am far from an professional pundit…its amazing how after one weekend of international rugby we all profess to be seasoned experts!

Proving my Manhood…in the Snow

On Saturday I took a big step toward becoming the man I need to be.

When you become a father you are instantly tasked with an array of manly duties, the sort of complex tasks that previously you would rely on your own dad (or maybe father-in-law) to easily complete. This can range from bleeding radiators, to erecting complex flat pack furniture or even plumbing washing machines.

For so long I have been inept when it comes to engineering or DIY, but already I have mastered a number of those important dad duties. It was a steep learning curve, and there have been a number of slight mishaps and uttered profanities; but through a combination of sound advice and sheer determination I am yet to completely fail.

But on Saturday I was provided with my most challenging masculine task to date, as it concerned the most complex and difficult of essential life items…the family car.

We had just completed a comfortable two hour journey down the M4 to Wootton Bassett, just outside Swindon. I was driving my little boy to his first ever birthday party, organised by my wife’s cousin for her son. It promised to be quite an event, complete with ‘soft play’, fishfingers and pass the parcel. Unfortunately I was to miss it all…

On arrival the dashboard on my stylish new Ford S-Max started flashing and bleeping frantically – a bulb had blown in one of our headlamps. “Don’t worry darling, I shall fix this!” I announced…this was man’s work. I had noticed a petrol station a few miles back, and anticipated a simple purchase and even easier basic procedure. So I left them to enjoy the party and set off on my quest.

On purchasing the correct bulb, referenced from my owners manual, I returned to the pub car park and set to work. Surely I simply needed to remove the plastic headlamp cover and quickly exchange the bulb. As I just double checked the manual the first flake of snow landed on my windscreen – then the heavens opened.

And it got worse…page 65 made it clear that this was far from a simple procedure. I was going to have to disconnect and remove the entire front lighting unit, navigate a complex lamp system (full beam, dipped beam, fog lights etc.) and then change the correct bulb from the rear.

Four hours later, as the sun set, and the blizzard blanketed Wiltshire, this major feat of engineering was finally complete. It had taken another trip to the garage (the original bulb was wrong), a journey to my wife’s cousin’s house (to find the correct multi-head screwdriver), numerous cut hands and two more wannabe expert dads to complete this simple task. Finally the three of us stood and marvelled at our wondrous achievement – two working headlamps and plenty of light (for the three hour drive back through the heavy snow).

Just then my wife and son emerged from the warmth of the party. Apparently it was really good fun and they were now both ‘extremely tired’… the food was good too!

Despite having toiled all afteenoon in the arctic conditions, I was warmed by that true sense of achievement that only a real man can feel…I had mastered the car headlamp, and can now add this to my growing list of expertise. Who says fatherhood isn’t easy?

The Parent Relay

A Lament for The Loss of Freedom:

When you’re expecting everyone is quick to warn you about the horrors that await when the baby is born. Mostly these concentrate on the lack of sleep, extreme fatigue, escalted stress and financial burden.

Don’t get me wrong it is tough, but most of these exhausting obstacles are overcome in a few hard and fast months. In the short-term all new parents suffer as they struggle through the new born trepedations.

But it all gets easier. I emerged from my fuzz at about 5 months and since then it has been a steady slope of slow mental improvement. You start to get you life back…almost.

It’s Friday night – I have had a long, tough, stressful work week, but instead of heading out to blow off some steam I am trekking home to relieve my still shattered wife. It’s her turn – she is heading out into London tonight to grab a ‘few’ glasses of wine and glance into her former life – when I arrive back the torch (monitor) will be passed. And I certainly don’t deny her this rare opportunity. I at least have some sense of normality, I go to work, interact with ‘grown-ups’ on a daily basis and ocassionally get the opportunity myself to nip out for a few beers after work. Her only source of interaction is a largey incoherent, messy, demanding 14month old.

But I’m still jealous, not necessarily of her, but of my happy group of colleagues, intent of celebrating the weekend for a few hours down the local. No doubt on Monday morning stories will be regailed of another epic night of fun-filled, alcohol-fuelled excitement.

When you are free to be spontaneous you don’t appreciate what you have. A quick drink after work, or a long dark heavy Friday night, is a privilege that can quickly be taken away.

I love my little boy, I love spending time with him, and his perfect smile is so much more rewarding than the wash at the bottom of a pint glass. But I still fancy a ‘few’ beers after work at the end of the week…

And we can never go out together. Not only do did I enjoy the group sessions I also love to spend the evening out with my amazing wife. That too is now off the agenda, at any one point in time he must be guarded (and he is asleep by 7pm).

God I sound so miserable…I’m not.

If I am being honest it’s just not that bad. I was usually too tired to last past 11pm and have always been the one to retire early to the warmth and comfort of my 12.5tog.

And it’s minus seven tonight in London Town. My poor tired wife is heading out into the Siberian winter, while I have a cosy, centrally heated, evening planned of pizza in front of the TV – maybe life ‘ain’t so tough!

Get the Crystal

As I was leaving the office moments ago my colleague Mike announced an astonishing claim to fame – he used to live in the flat above the legendary Richard O’Brien.

For those unfamiliar with this cult icon, he wrote the camp musical, The Rocky Horror Show, and performed The Time Warp in the original film. But for my generation he will always be best remembered as the creator and eccentric host of that television masterpiece, The Crystal Maze.

This show was a unique weekly experience, full of mystery and adventure. In ranked alongside other early 90s gems such as Gamesmaster and Knightmare – and in my opinion outdid them both.

But can you name the zones? It’s a great pub-quiz question, and if I am being honest I’m not 100% sure of them. There was definitely an Aztec Zone, I’m pretty sure there was an Industrial Zone, maybe Ocean, Futuristic and Medieval?

It was quite a complex TV event, each week a team (of six?) would navigate their way through each themed zone, taking on an array of physical and mental challenges as they fought their way to The Crystal Dome. With each challenge the team had a chance to win a crystal, allowing them more time in the final dome – where they needed to collect as many Gold paper tickets as they could. These then translated into a cash prize. But beware, if you failed a challenge, and didn’t smash on the door quickly enough to get out you could be locked in and left behind.

But every week the team would always trade in crystals to buy back their loser team-mates…although I never really understood why. Each team was always littered with useless members who inevitably failed challenges and were abjectly useless in the Crystal Dome. I’m confident I could have been an effective team asset, but unfortunately I’ll never find out…

The Crystal Maze died out when Richard left and was replaced by the distinctly average Ed Tudor-Pole – even his name annoyed me.

But Richard must be minted, the royalties alone from the long-running Rocky Horror must keep the income rolling in, so what is he doing living in a small South London flat? When challenged Mike was quick to point out that Richard didn’t just own one flat below him, he had bought a few apartments and knocked them through to create something unique…

Is it possible that The Crystal Maze still exists, burrowing through an array of rooms in Kennington – filled with new exciting 21st century zones –  hidden from the outside world? I think I should purchase a fetching lime green boiler suit and head over to Mike’s old address, just in case.