Categories
Life Sport

VAR, No Ha Ha

A post written back in the day, originally for NZ football site In the Back of the Net, now on permanent hiatus. So here it is once again.. the anti-VAR stance.


The English Premier League, three years from now. Post-match, Dazza and his father walk to the Supporters Arms for a drink. The pub door opens..

“Bloody hell, Darren, I thought we’d never get here. The usual?”

“Aye Dad, I’m gaspin’. It’s not going to touch the sides. What’s the time? [checks phone] Quarter past six! I’m in trouble.. I should be home by now. I’ll just text Sally.”

“Two pints, please, Geoff. How many bloody times did they have to go to the video ref? Seven, was it?”

“I think so. If that’s modern football, I’ll tell ya, I’m fed up with it now.”

“I mean, could we please get through a match without any referrals? Come on, I have to sit down: matches go on so long, it really takes it out of me now. Grab that table there.”

“Here we go, Dad.”

“So humour an old man and tell me again why the referee has to go to the side-lines and check the replay on a chuffin’ screen. Why doesn’t the video ref make the decision?”

“Because they say it has to be the actual referee’s decision.. more integrity, like, if he does it. It’s not another fella’s say-so, it’s the man on the pitch. The video ref isn’t a qualified ref, he’s just someone who can work the video gear. So the ref has to watch the video himself. ”

“And we have to wait for him to run over and run back.”

“But he can view the replay on the screen of the ‘official video provider’.  [laughs]

“Bloody hell. Do we get any money for that from .. who is it?”

“Samsung. I dunno. Can’t be much, Dad, if we do.”

“Well, I’ve had enough of it. Whatever you thought about refs before all this bollocks came along, the game flowed better. And refs might have made a mistake or two but it all balanced out in the course of a season. You might have shouted at them on occasion, and lord knows we’ve seen some bad ones, but at least we had some kind of respect. They had a bit of character. You kind of knew where you were with the likes of Graham Poll, but now what? Referees are just automatons. I couldn’t name one of them. Anyone can do it. And what’s more, everyone adds up the mistakes they make now, so the poor guy, if he’s been a bit rubbish in previous weeks, gets some real stick right from the off. The FA’ll be using the stats on these referrals to rate refs soon, and they’ll be dropped if they get a bad rating.”

“Seems like that’s the way of the world, rate everyone at everything, sack them if they don’t live up to the ridiculous standards. The only thing I like about this video thing is that it works for making sure the ball’s over the line.”

“Aye, because that doesn’t really interrupt anything. But for offsides, it’s pushing it. Handballs and dives, it’s ridiculous.”

“It’s more ridiculous now that the opposition can ask for a referral, like cricket.”

“Oh aye, now that is daft. How often can they do that? Three times, isn’t it?”

“Three times a game. Which you’d think would be OK, but all too often the video doesn’t help. You might as well have just gone with the ref. A video can tell you if there’s contact. It can’t tell you how hard that contact is. It can show you a guy flying through the air, but I don’t think it helps you decide if the guy is diving or not. It’s still the ref’s interpretation. So why not just go with what he said in the first place? Why five minutes of messing about with video if it doesn’t show anything extra?”

“More like ten minutes, sometimes! And why do they have to play bloody music while this goes on? Do they think we’re all incapable of amusing ourselves while the ref watches his little video? I don’t want to hear We Will bloody Rock You and Hi Ho chuffin’ Silver Lining every two seconds.”

“They were thinking of having a T-shirt cannon too.”

“WHAT? While the video is playing..”

“.. yeah, some guy comes round and fires rolled up T-shirts into the crowd.”

“Jesus, Darren, the world’s going mad. If I went in with a wooden rattle they’d confiscate it and yet some idiot from Marketing can come along and shoot stuff into the stands. And what about when they couldn’t get the video to work? How long did that take? And they just went with what the ref said at first, so they had to have a drop ball! And bloody Wimbledon got the ball back, and it was supposed to be their foul in the first place!”

“I know, and this is supposed to make things clearer and make sure it’s the right decision and everyone is happy.. well, that time it was right in front of the us  and everyone was going mental. And we saw it four times on the big screen! I was livid.”

“I know. I don’t think I’ve ever heard you swear like that.”

“Sorry, Dad. But you don’t come as often as me.” [laughs]

[laughing too]  Here, less of that, lad, I’m not as young as I used to be. So they’ve spent all this money and they’ve got all these new-fangled things and there’s still controversy. It hasn’t really fixed what it set out to fix. Clubs will be suing referees next, if one of these video replays is interpreted the wrong way, and someone’s relegated or doesn’t get into the Champions League one year, a club could easily take the ‘video evidence’ to a trial. Seems to me there isn’t really a foolproof solution.”

“Aye, but they’ll argue that there are less mistakes, and it could never be 100% correct. Just better than not having video referrals.”

“Well, I don’t know if there will be less mistakes, watching today’s game of.. let’s see.. 125 minutes. Holy flippin’ moly. Hey, shouldn’t you be going for a tram?”

“Oh bloody hell, Sally will be furious. Got to go, Dad. Hey, we haven’t talked about the football, just the flippin’ video ref.”

“We can talk Sunday. At yours for dinner as usual?”

“Of course, Dad, see you then.”

“See you, son. Oh, Darren..?” [smiling]

“Yes, Dad?”

“What was the score again?”

“Three tw.. ah, you bugger.”

“Gotcha. Love to Sally. Go on, lad, get your tram.”

Categories
Life Live Sacred Days

Just Like Me, They Long To Be Close To You

So what do you do, when you have a chance to meet your heroes, either fleetingly, or if you’re lucky enough to be in the same room with them for a goodly period of time? You’re in a quandary, there are too many questions unanswered, there’s no time to think. Will I look like a gushing fanboy twit? Can my hero be arsed with the attention after so many years in the spotlight? Will my hero dash my expectations to the ground, because despite all my doubt, deep down I do really really want a word or two from him or her, and gad, they might be too tired, it might be the first few minutes they’ve had to themselves all day, and it might be the eightieth time that day someone’s pestered them, and.. what to do? What to DO? What to SAY?

Well, sometimes it’s good, sometimes it’s not, sometimes it’s.. strange.

Categories
Life Old Music

Moon River, Me, Morrissey

When you’re northern, you’re northern forever and you’re instilled with a certain feel for life that you can’t get rid of. You just can’t.

The very early sixties: my grandad, with a Yorkshire practicality and foresight demonstrated daily in his job as a loom tuner, bought my aunt, far younger and cooler than my mother, a reel to reel tape recorder. In grandad’s view, her pocket money was to be saved for more important things, because records were a waste of cash: you could just stick a mono crystal microphone in front of the radio and record all those new-fangled bands you liked, and when you got bored with them, just tape over the songs with new ones. The recorder got plenty of action a few years later, when my aunt developed into a fully-fledged Beatlemaniac and the Fab Four started to dominate the airwaves.

Categories
Life Old Music

Salford Folk

A regular haunt when I was at University in the late 70s was The Star, in Back Hope Street, Salford. Ignoring the rather more easily accessible delights of the student bar at Castle Irwell (and the casino opposite), we’d walk out of the horseshoe-shaped village, down Cromwell Road, turn left, past the fish and chip shop which would come in useful later in the evening, and was also good for celebrity spotting – I stood in the line for chips next to Buzzcocks’ Pete Shelley once, struck dumb with shyness (I think we both were). On past Manchester United’s training ground The Cliff, eventually turning right down an unlikely-looking narrow street. No big signs, hardly any signs at all in fact, no foot traffic.. odds were you wouldn’t just happen to walk by, someone had to show you where it was, which was part of the attraction.

Opposite was the Horseshoe, which was a pretty good pub, but the main attraction was The Star and the folk club night, run by Martin Gittins, part of a duo called Pint’n’Half who, if memory serves, would often open up the show and then hand over to the guest performers. The folk/comedy stylists Mike Harding and Bob Williamson were probably the most famous of those, and we saw many more. The politics of songs at the club fit in with my proto-lefty leanings, and the Robinson’s beer (including the lethal Old Tom) was excellently kept by one-armed landlord and local legend Wally Marshall.

On darts night at The Star, the competitors would play on a Manchester Log-End, or Lancashire, board. You think darts is difficult: well, play on a Log-End and you’ll encounter a whole new source of frustration. They’re about two thirds the size of the ones you see on telly, and have no treble ring. They have to be kept in water, or they split – they’re sawn from an elm log – so about half an hour before the match started, someone would retrieve the thoroughly soaked dart board and hang it up. I’d like to see Phil ‘The Power’ Taylor or ‘Barney’ Barneveld have a go at one of those.

This all popped back into my memory a few days ago, so I did a quick search to see how things are now. The Horseshoe is now gone, and The Star had some problems recently, but I am pleased to see it is now run as a co-operative, bought by its regulars in 2009. Good for them. It is a fine place, and if you’re ever out that way, drop in.

Memory aid for this article provided by Jim Simpson’s fine history, on the pub web site.

Categories
Life New Music

Song For A Friend

A particular highlight from last year was the Pet Shop Boys’ Electric album, a fine record chock full of the kind of spot-on English synth-pop wizardry that Messrs. Lowe and Tennant present us with on a very regular basis.

An old friend of mine would have really enjoyed Love Is A Bourgeois Construct .. he was always very enthusiastic about the films of Peter Greenaway and the music of Michael Nyman. Nyman’s Chasing Sheep Is Best Left To Shepherds from The Draughtsman’s Contract is the sample the PSBs worked into the song.

I say ‘would have enjoyed’, because my friend is no longer with us. He was a Scot, born in the 50s, who spent a large part of his childhood isolated due to illness, and as I understand quite solitary until he went to secondary school. I met him in the early 80s when I started work at the same company, and we became good friends. He came out a few years later. Some of his family accepted his choice and supported him but his father and sister didn’t. The torment eventually led to him taking his own life in 2005.

Through the 90s and early 00s, we worked in different places and didn’t meet up as often – when we did, we caught up, visited some favourite haunts and talked about the old days, with no pressure, and maybe that was a little bit of an escape from what he was going through. I knew he was under stress, and I hope I helped a little by being a friend. He was a fine fellow, and this song will now always remind me of him.

Categories
Life

Closing Time at The Cobbler’s Thumb

News this week that one of my old haunts is set to feel the merciless punch of the wrecking ball – The Cobbler’s Thumb, in Brighton, is finally to be demolished after years of structural neglect. The old girl will be knocked down before she falls down, though for a while in the early noughties, it seemed likely it would be the other way around.

It became one of those pubs where everyone knew your name (or at the very least, alcohol-fuddled, tried to remember it) and a place in its heyday that always felt welcoming and snug. That wasn’t the case when two friends of mine became managers.. the pub was tired, it looked pretty desolate on most week nights, the only highlight (read: more than five people drinking) being Thursday – quiz night. But Geoff and Nicci gradually took charge: the decor was spruced up, the drinks range sorted, and attendance picked up.

Problem: the Thursday quiz became the least popular night of the week. The Cobbler’s Thumb just wasn’t the kind of place that suited the silence necessary for a serious pub quiz with a martinet of a quiz master. It needed a buzz.

A quick consultation with Geoff and I was a DJ (hey, wasn’t everybody in Brighton in those days?), supplanting the quiz. By plugging my laptop into the pub sound system, I found my feet and aimed to please with an array of classic sounds: punk, reggae, ska, Northern Soul, 60s, glam rock, Stax, rockabilly, old school hip hop.. things which just seemed to feel right stuck together on a playlist.

I started out with around 400 songs, so requests for tunes often had to be politely negotiated. “I don’t have that.. how about this?”. But I listened and learned, and would be back the following week with additions to the collection, often whole swathes of MP3s brought in by the regulars for me to play.

Little traditions sprung up.. Andy’s punk “Triple Play”, and always some Hank Williams to end the evening (unless we all got locked in, of course). We played John Peel’s All Time Festive Fifty when the great man passed away. We played a couple of great all-dayers with fans of Brighton and Hove Albion and Leicester City contributing to charity.

What could be better than playing music for your friends and having a couple of beers whilst doing it? Because they were my friends.. not staff, not punters, not clientele, for god’s sake.. just regular folks out for a good time, ones you were very happy to see and who made it plain they were happy to see you.  The best kind of people. Those Thursday nights were very special to me.

Here’s a Spotify playlist in memoriam. Good times.