Archive for the ‘sport’ category

Things turning out right

April 24, 2017

The past 24 hours or so have brought me two pieces of good news. For an unreconstructed old liberal like me, the prospect of Emmanuel Macron making it to the presidency of France via the run-off elections in two weeks is hugely heartening, provided he manages to defeat Marine Le Pen convincingly. The main jarring note in all this was sounded by defeated left wing candidate Jean-Luc Mélenchon, who appears to believe that Macron and Le Pen are equally unacceptable; thereby confirming my wariness of what the media describe as the ‘hard left’ in European countries (including the UK).

And secondly, Newcastle United FC, by beating Preston North End today, have qualified for promotion back to the English Premier League.

Not everything at the moment is bad news. Though there is still a lot of it.

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Butterfly and bee. And poet.

June 5, 2016

I think that everything that can be said on the death of Muhammad Ali has been said by now. So I’ll just let him talk:

Muhammad Ali was, perhaps more than a boxer, a poet; a poet of words, rhyme and movement. That is worth celebrating, and his passing is worth mourning.

That Newcastle show, off the rails [football/soccer alert]

March 7, 2016

Every so often this blog leaves the higher education world behind and engages with that crazy crazy world of Newcastle United FC. Being a Newcastle supporter can be incredibly exciting at times, but more often than not seems just an exercise in needless masochism.

It is not that Newcastle lose games – all clubs and teams do. It is not that there can be longer periods during which things just don’t go right; that’s what makes being a football supporter such fun. Rather, it is because those who take decisions in the club seem to be so determinedly inconsistent, irrational, amateurish, unintelligent. They buy and sell players at the wrong time, they appoint managers and ‘head coaches’ who seem to have no claim to the role apart from an established recent record of failure, they ban communications with the media to ensure all news coverage is bad, they maintain management structures no one understands and no one can operate effectively. And then they seem totally surprised that none of this works perfectly. And because it hasn’t worked this time and last time and the time before that, they try it again just in case it’s going to work now.

So what have we got? An expensive team that should produce results but whose members stroll aimlessly around the pitch during matches. A ‘head coach’ who seems not to have any sense of strategy or tactics and who comments after the game as if he were just a disappointed supporter, not the leader. An owner of very questionable business practices who seems to measure success for a football club with quite different metrics from the rest of us.

What needs to be done? Well, whether he is a nice man or not, the club needs to part company with Steve McClaren. It is abundantly clear that he cannot do the job. It needs to appoint in his place someone whose availability is not occasioned by a string of recent failures in other places. It needs to develop and keep to a clear strategy of battling and (when possible) winning on the field, not on the financial spreadsheets. It needs ambition,  swashbuckling determination, a sense of adventure.

But beyond Newcastle, club football needs to return to being just that. Much of the fun went out of the sport when it became a money game measured by the depths of the owners’ pockets (and strategic common sense). I’m normally all for free enterprise, but actually not in this setting. Football should be a game played for and on behalf of the supporters, not the oligarchs now dominating it. Clubs should be owned by those supporters. It is time to re-socialise football.

Own goals

August 20, 2013

Long suffering readers of this blog know that every so often you get a post on Newcastle United FC. It’s one of those days.

If you have absolutely no interest in football (soccer), just bear with me anyway while I explain where I am coming from. In English premiership football, there are two or three clubs almost everyone in the world has heard of: Manchester United, Chelsea, Liverpool, Arsenal – and now maybe Manchester City. Manchester United has been an iconic outfit for some time, for reasons unrelated to this post. The others have become prominent as rich owners privatised the operations and injected truckloads of cash into them, allowing the clubs to buy up players. World class footballers are now one of the most keenly traded commodities in international markets.

While there is plenty of evidence that this kind of cash does not buy instant success, it does get you quite a bit of the way. To cover the distance, you buy a famous brand of manager, say, a José Mourinho.

Last night we were able to watch this kind of corporate operation shred another club with less access to cash. Manchester City, now rolling in money provided by its rich owner, Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed Al Nahyan of Abu Dhabi, demolished Newcastle United on the pitch in their first game of the season.

Newcastle is also privately owned. And Mike Ashley may be a billionaire, but not one in the same league as the Sheikh, and indeed he doesn’t like spending money unnecessarily. Newcastle has a tendency to be a soap opera that likes to toy with farce, and between this and the more modest cash outlay it’s not really an even contest. Nor can it be. The really really rich billionaires buy the top five or six spots in the league, and the others, no matter how brilliant some of their players or managers, scrap around for the other places.

Football is a community exercise. Anyone visiting Newcastle on a match day can immediately see the impact of the game and of the fortunes of the club on the mood and morale of the city. Largely driven by the revenues offered by television deals, football has become not a sport but a trade. And while I generally think that trading is good, sport is not an area where I would take that view. I really have no idea how this could be achieved, but it is time to re-socialise football, and bid a polite farewell to its current rich owners.

PS. Of course it is possible that this post is based entirely on frustration at last night’s result. So what?

Fantasy football

March 26, 2012

Every so often readers of this blog have to put up with posts about Newcastle United FC. More often than not these have been tales of woe, with accounts of mismanagement and uncertainty of direction, skulduggery and delusion. Not today. Against all the odds, for the past year Newcastle’s owner has served up a banquet for the fans in the form of extraordinarily skilful management (in the form of the unexpectedly brilliant Alan Pardew) and sheer genius in sourcing new players. The result: the club sits at number 6 in the Premier League, equal on points with Chelsea, but after spending only a fraction of the money that has sustained (or not sustained) the latter. And they are just five points below out-of-form Tottenham Hotspurs, with eight games to go.

If Newcastle can win enough of these games to get above Chelsea and overtake Spurs, then it’s the Champions League. Oh well, you can dream.

In this blog I have been very critical of owner Mike Ashley in the past, and would still maintain that he needs to become better (or even just very slightly good) at communicating with fans. But it may well be that, contrary to what I had thought, his recipe for running a premiership club is right after all. Less of the silly spending, more strategy and tactics. And to be honest, it’s a more interesting approach.

The Tevez anguish

December 7, 2011

Argentine footballer Carlos Tevez is out of favour with his manager in Manchester City FC and wants to move. He is deeply unhappy, perhaps depressed, and is desperate to get away from Manchester. ‘Oh dry the starting tear’, as WS Gilbert once wrote in a poem, because a solution is in view: Italian club AC Milan is prepared to take him on loan and pay him his salary of, wait for it, £200,000 per week. That’s £10.4 million per annum.

So let’s see where that places him in the general league table of millionaires. It is, as it happens, almost exactly the same pay as is earned (and I’m using the word with a straight face) by the chief executive of Barclays Bank, Robert Diamond. But it is much more than the paltry £2.2 million earned by the chief executive of Ireland’s largest company, the Smurfit Kappa group, Gary McGann. Furthermore it is three times what Tevez’s manager at Manchester City, Roberto Mancini, earns, and 20 times the pay of Newcastle United manager Alan Pardew.

It may seem that highly paid university heads should stay clear of this subject, but I’ll venture forth anyway. Football is becoming crazy, and we are setting up conditions in which over-hyped prima donnas (even when talented, as Tevez is) destroy themselves and others around them while burning an amount of money that they do not, in any objective sense, actually earn. This in turn feeds from an over-priced system of television rights and season tickets, and it is turning a people’s sport into something that is as much soap opera as it is football.

I do not object to high salaries for footballers. They only have so much time in which to earn it. But £10 million p.a. is way beyond what is needed to set them up for life. In the meantime, this extraordinary business model is subverting the ideals of the game.

I know I’m not saying anything new here. But I’m saying it anyway. This cannot go on, or at any rate it shouldn’t.

An unexpected Newcastle United FC story: a good one

October 25, 2011

From time to time, as readers of this blog know, I comment on the affairs of Newcastle United football club. Mostly these are comments of despair and disbelief, as the club has for years now had a habit of taking mad decisions, firing good managers and appointing not-so-obviously-good ones, selling players the club needs to prosper, and generally behaving in an insane way while the long suffering fans look on.

But what’s this? Newcastle United have been in the top 4 of the English Premier League for weeks. The club’s players are behaving in a disciplined manner. They are unbeaten so far this season, an achievement only one other club can claim, Manchester City. They are set to break even financially. Their game is (usually) attractive and entertaining. The manager, Alan Pardew, is showing real skill in dealing with both players and fans. People are daring to whisper about playing in Europe.

This isn’t the Newcastle United we know. But we could come to love it.