Content with Popoularity

This afternoon I received an interesting comment on my last blog entry (see England’s New Dawn & the comment by descartes1).

Today in England Fabio and Harry have dominated every headline. But have the broadsheets, tabloids, broadcasters, tweeters and bloggers (myself included) been guilty of pedalling popularity over genuine news?

I’m a big fan of the BBC’s broad coverage of news and current affairs, but today they are certainly as guilty as anyone of promoting England’s search for a new national team coach at the expense of all other items. The dreadful footage of shelling in Syria has been bumped further and further down the agenda to make way for the inane opinions of average ex-footballers on England’s current management dilemma.

Don’t get me wrong, many people care passionately about Fabio’s successor, but at the same time most have absolutely no interest. This morning millions of people will have tuned in for their daily digest of relevant British and World events, but have been met with a gurning Garth Crooks lamenting our chances at Euro 2012. As a football fan myself even I am bored of this blanket coverage. I’m also genuinely interested in the Levenson Inquiry, The Bank of England’s interest rate announcement and the plight of innocent Syrian civilians, but they have been blacked out to make way for more football. So is this irresponsible journalism, celebrating uneducated popular culture?

This blog has helped me understand the reasoning behind the universal media’s decision. I try hard to be relevant, to vary my content and to at least push out a few credible posts each week – but when I do nobody reads them! They’re dull, pointless and void of controversy. However whenever I try and analyse the Six Nations, Redknapp’s accounts, or another woeful cricket performance people log on – they read, like and comment on every post in their hundreds. I can’t win – I have to either bow to popularity and keep writing about sport or persist with responsible blogging and write solely for myself…

And I only write a simple blog, I’m not trying to increase viewing figures, circulation or ad revenues!

So sorry, I will continue to analyse the popular headlines is a vain attempt to drive up my hits, and only occasionally slip in a relevant yet very boring update (just like this one).

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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…

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!

Transfer Deadline Day…in Lithuania

Many years ago, eight to be exact, I went on a memorable trip to Vilnius in Lithuania. This holiday will always stand out because it was my first as a ‘working man’. Prior to this every vacation had been funded either by my more than generous parents, or by a basic wage summer job. But this time I had money – I had been saving for months to supply a beer fuelled week in this Eastern European capital, and I had managed to put aside plenty of liquid capital, £700 to be exact – £100 of spending money for each day of the trip!

As five newly wealthy 23 year olds we set off with high expectations, and Vilnius did not disappoint. It was the perfect destination, filled with a gruesome cultural history (such as the morbid KGB museum), healthy portions of red meat, an endless supply of cheap premium beer and most importantly hoards of stunning European girls keen on ‘meeting’ young British men. We were in heaven.

And things kept getting better – our soulless executive hotel on the edge of the city had no history or heritage, but it did have a cheap accessible bar – the perfect place to start each evening. And it was in this bar that the most memorable event occurred…

As we sat happily preparing ourselves for that evening’s frivolities we noticed that an endless stream of beautiful girls kept parading through the hotel reception. When one appeared wearing a sash emblazoned with ‘Miss Malta’ our interested really peaked. Finally the most confident of our small group approached one, Miss Netherlands, and asked the obvious question.

“It is The International Miss Estate Agent awards,” she promptly replied.

We could not believe our luck – a beauty pageant in our hotel! But how could we exploit this, we didn’t want to watch it, tuneless Europeans belting out renditions of I Will Survive was not real entertainment – but we certainly needed to meet the girls!

Eventually after roughly five pints we hatched a full-proof plan. It happened to be International Transfer Deadline Day across all of Europe’s major football leagues. We could create an after party that would naturally link to each entrant’s home nation – we could host Europe’s most ‘rock-star’ event in our hotel room.

So we put this plan into operation. We wrote individual invites and asked the concierge to deliver them to each beauty queen’s hotel room. At roughly midnight we retired to room 308 and awaited the arrival of the the ladies…

…imagine my disappointment as I sat there for three hours, dressed as Silvain Wiltord, watching the deadline day news roll in on ceefax, with not an international beauty queen in sight. And now Sky Sports does its best to remind me of this distinct failure on a twice annual basis.

Friday 27th Jan: Monty vs. Muzza

I work for a Central London sports agency…and roughly ten months ago we moved to a spacious new home. One of the important relocation requests was a complete view of high-spec LCD flat-screens throughout the office – for our work demands that visual sport is always very accessible!

Therefore I am lucky enough to digitally spectate at all major daily sporting events.

But today the sport on offer threw up a distinct and controversial cultural choice: on the BBC Andy Murray was fighting for a place in a major final (the Aussie Open), while on SkySports Monty Panesar looked to demolish the Pakistani top order.

I could have a clear view of one big sporting spectacle, but which should I choose?And Monty and Muzza could not be more different…

Andy is a unique talent who always fights passionately to take his place within the tennis elite. In many ways he is desperately unlucky – his professional generation has arguably provided the greatest ever champions in his field; but still he battles to prove his value and create his own legacy within the sport.

But without doubt he is painfully dull –  He has never connected with the British public and his dour, demure personality riles many and disconnects most.

Monty, on the other hand, has managed to establish himself as a cultural and sporting icon. He is far from the greatest player of his generation, he is not even England’s best current spinner. But Monty has always comfortably connected with the wider British public – we all respect him and we love to watch him skip down the wicket with every celebration. He is consistently excitable, passionate and unique.

In reality the choice was easy…we could watch another difficult, frustrating and disappointing Murray defeat or another inspiring, fun-filled Monty celebration – which would you choose?

Super Mario

Sorry, no entry again this morning – I was fully loaded with a suit carrier and well packed rucksack, as I am heading up to Leeds for a conference. So sitting on the train what ‘hot topic’ should I cover during my extended 2.5hr commute?

After much deliberation I have decided to dedicate this entry to one of my favourite current ‘sporting icons’ – Mario Barwuah Balotelli.

Every article I read on Super Mario seems to quickly condemn his wild and bizarre antics both on and off the field. I understand why the heavily regulated national press cannot be seen to back British sport’s number one villain…but I have no such restrictions.

I do not support Manchester City, I don’t care if they win the league, I’m not Italian and I have no allegiance to Manchester United or Scott Parker – I am a complete neutral – but I love Mario Balotelli.

Sport is about entertainment, but for me it’s not really about the 90 minutes on the pitch, it’s about the pointless post-match debate (usually after about four pints). A spectacular goal might provide five minutes of ‘expert analysis’ but the image of Mario, dressed as Santa, handing out £50 notes can really loosen up the conversation. And barely a week goes by without another classic headline, he is consitently providing the fireworks for countless late night rants.

Mario is an anti-hero, an ‘old-school’ baddy, who gets every supporter (and hater) very excited. When he is on the pitch every touch (or stamp) is booed or cheered, and off the pitch he even dresses up to cement his villainous image. I believe he is doing it deliberately – he has created a brand that all football fans have bought into; whether they love or loathe him everyone has signed up to the Balotelli roadshow.

And he is just what football needs, if every side was filled with dull, soulless players we would all turn off. And he’s not the first; Cantona lit up football in the 90s and more recently Mourinho has been inspirational with his brilliance.

As a neutral I would rather watch Manchester City than any other team, not because they play the best football (although arguably they do) but because I want to see what Mario is going to do next. He, almost single-handedly, manages to drive my excitement and passion for the sport.

So Mario, if you read this, please don’t try and conform…this country needs you!