Archive for August, 2008

Manchester City fans: Am I missing something here?

A good few years ago, when I was still at university, I ended up watching a lot of Manchester City on TV. One of my best friends was a huge Man City fan, and often after lectures or at the weekend we’d head down the pub for a few drinks and the football.

When Thaksin Shinawatra brought the club a couple of seasons ago I asked said friend what he made of it. “Not best pleased,” was the response.

My friend’s response wasn’t typical. By and large, Man City fans embraced Thaksin “Frank” Shinawatra, reasoning – not necessarily incorrectly – that his money could take them into the top four.

It’s not hard to see why they were excited. Cash, one of the best available managers and some excellent signings like Elano and Martin Petrov gave City fans a sense of hope and expectation not always seen around Eastlands.

Yet Thaksin’s takeover always seemed a disaster waiting to happen, for me at least. Even if you take away the repeated accusations of human rights violations (which would have been enough for me to cancel a season ticket), his financial source was not exactly stable and, even if there was a good case for the corruption charges being, in part, politically motivated, he wasn’t the cleanest of characters. That he passed the Premier League’s fit and proper person’s test was both surprising and depressingly predictable.

In recent weeks, the excrement has seemed to be creeping closer to the fan at Eastlands. Thaksin’s wife has been convicted, the family have fled Thailand and there’s a huge question mark over just how much, if any, cash Shinawatra has to pump into City.

Last week, when the whole issue raised its head, I thought that Manchester City fans may start to edge towards the idea of a life without Thaksin sooner rather than later. They didn’t. If anything, assorted message boards and blogs comments seem to be defending him even more voicifourously.

I don’t get it. Am I missing something here?

Perhaps I’m too cautious and suspicious after seeing Exeter run to the verge of liquidation by a couple of fraudsters. Perhaps I’ve seen too many owners in the lower leagues come on board for their own egos, royally shaft the club, and walk away without a second thought. Perhaps I just don’t understand how the Premier League works (other than you need a VERY rich man to even think about challenging for a UEFA cup spot).

But, seriously, did the majority of Manchester City fans think it would be plain sailing and a good idea to jump into bed with a man who’d already tried to buy Liverpool (who, I hasten to add, would have probably been just as happy to share a duvet were it not for the then board’s dithering) with government money?

Were Blues supporters really happy to see a “serial human rights abuser” (according to Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International) and man with a few question marks about corruption, not to mention around £800m in frozen assets, take control of their club?

I keep coming back to Manchester United – a club I’ve no particular love for – and the protests that greeted the Glazers’ takeover. Or Arsenal, not renowned for being the most vocal of supporters, who weren’t best pleased at seeing Alisher Usmanov try to take control.

Shinawatra’s past wasn’t exactly difficult to find out, contrary to some claims. A quick Google could have told you about some of the more questionable parts of his character. Yet he’s still seen as a saviour and shining beacon by many City fans. Why? Am I missing something again, other than the money?

About a week ago I stepped outside my usual topic of lower league football and wrote a somewhat strong critique of Manchester City’s current woes at Soccerlens. It didn’t start out as a criticism of the supporters, and wasn’t intended to be, but the more I put the article together, the more it felt, to me, as if the fans should at least take a portion of responsibility for their current situation when they welcomed Thaksin with open arms, and continue to keep those arms open. Or perhaps I’m missing something again here?

Predictably, Manchester City supporters weren’t happy. Predictably, I was called a Manchester United supporter. I was kind of expecting that, but it was still bewildering to see just how defensive the fans got.

On one level, it’s understandable. Football fans do tend to get quite defensive when anybody has a pop at their club. I’ve got unnecessarily angry at stories about Exeter that make ridiculous assumptions or just patronise us as a small insignificant club (or, worse still, assume Uri Gellar has anything to do with the club).

But on the other hand, I’ve met enough football fans and posted on enough forums to see supporters question their board, especially when there’s a question of odd goings-on at boardroom level. That just doesn’t seem to be happening with Manchester City.

Today, Manchester City fan and one of the best football journalists in the business, David Conn, wrote a piece on the club’s current plight. The comments make interesting reading. There’s more of a mixture of fan views here, but still a very vocal and sizeable chunk complaining that the article shouldn’t have been written.

Now, it probably was one of Conn’s weaker pieces given that he’s written very similar articles before but it doesn’t stop him nailing many of the key issues, and showing that the concerns at the takeover are the same concerns surrounding the club today.

But there’s still been a lot of Blues fans calling it a cut and paste job and asking why he isn’t writing about other Premier League clubs. That isn’t the point. If Conn’s cut and pasted, it’s from his own work and the reason there’s an article about Manchester City’s backroom going ons is because they’re in the news right now, whether the club’s fans like it or not. Plus, Conn’s probably covered most of the 92 league teams and beyond at some point or other.

Weirder still – and this is one thing I REALLY don’t get – is the Millwall-esque attitude that seems to have enveloped a large chunk of the support, with repeated claims of a media conspiracy or vendetta against the club.

You could certainly make a valid point about the media’s fawning over the Big Four and looking down on other clubs. Witness the FA Cup last season, where it was labelled a waste of time as soon as they were eliminated. Or the treatment of Martin Jol once they’d decided Spurs didn’t deserve to be in the Champions League (not that Spurs make life easy for themselves…).

But a huge media conspiracy to do down Manchester City at every opportunity? Perhaps I’m missing something by not being a Man City supporter here, but, you wot?

So, while I don’t want to see Manchester City, or any other club bar Franchise FC, go down the swanny (and I’ll be surprised if they do, although it may be a long season) the attitude of a large section of their fans in refusing to even countenance the idea that Thaksin could be anything less than the Second Coming does not make it easy to give sympathy. Or understand.

Like I say. Perhaps it’s me. Perhaps I just don’t get it. I don’t know. But I can’t see this going away or ending in anything other than tears. And I really don’t feel like lending a handkerchief.

[And this is all without mentioning the odious Garry Cook, the club’s new chairman. I would have nothing but contempt for him no matter which club he was at, including Exeter. Sadly, he seems to be exactly the type of person who would happily pitch in to relaunch Game 39 or, if he were a turkey, vote for Christmas because he was pretty sure he knew the farmer and would be spared the chop.

And as somebody in the Guardian comments pointed out, the idea of Cook and Sir Dave Richards sitting down to talk fit and proper people to run football clubs is a very bitter joke, especially fi you’re a Sheffield Wednesday fans.

I’ll leave the response to Cook to Two Hundred Per Cent:

“In an amazingly wrong-headed interview with The Times, Cook proposes a closed shop, fourteen club Premier League with no Premier League, with no promotion or relegation. It is, of course, a massive coincidence that fourteen clubs would be exactly the right number to just about guarantee Manchester City’s inclusion in it, safeguarding their future against inconveniences such as being completely bloody useless and getting relegated, which is, let’s be honest, something that Manchester City are prone to doing every once in a while.

It is a fairly timely reminder of how the minds of those running the Premier League work. Cook is blithely dismissive of the interests of fans, stating that, “the sport will change and the fans will find a way to get passionate about a piece of it”. Oh we will, will we? We’ll like it because you tell us to? When questioned about whether this new look league will be of less interest to sponsors, he states that, “you would create that excitement in another way, wouldn’t you?”, although he fails to elucidate on how this would be. The Lord alone knows that the Premier League is dull enough anyway these days, so what benefits would there be for anyone other than the fortunate fourteen themselves?”

And Two Footed Tackle:

“I oppose this proposal on ALL counts. Cook is clearly not a football man. He is working for a [removed by my lawyers] with seemingly no remorse. And football needs to get back to basics, not continue on this tragic path to global obsolescence. Sooner or later, most of us will ditch our Premier League clubs out of frustration. But not because of the beliefs of the likes of Garry Cook.”

Quick note: I know this is generalising and there are a lot of City fans who aren’t keen on Thaksin. But on message board and online they’re a lot quieter.


Gary elsewhere (and a quick apology)

Soccerlens: Stevenage’s struggling start to the season.

Also, in my bold predictions for the new season, I thought Cambridge would take a while to get started this season and Barrow would seriously struggle in the Blue Square Premier.

Goes to show what I know.

Especially as I also tipped Oxford and Torquay to be in the top five and currently both of them are doing their best to prove everybody’s pre-season predictions wrong.

I did, however, think that Woking would struggle. So at least I’m not a complete idiot. Just a partial one.

Ultra-ultra local: for the people, by the people

Restoring an old Devon flour mill to full working order for the first times in decades may not have been headline news, but it was big enough to attract about thirty visitors from the surrounding villages on the day, possibly more.

On a bank holiday visit to my parents, we’d stopped off on the way home as my mother wanted to have a look around. Watching a couple of people videoing the mill got me thinking about local news and those who use it.

Us bright young twentysomethings may be changing they way we get our news, be it online, through communities, Twitter, mobile phones and probably, in the future, some kind of Kindle-like application. What’s to say the bright, somewhat older retired communities won’t be doing something similar, albeit in a more specific way.

Let’s back up for a minute here to collect a few thoughts. Firstly, Britain’s retired and elderly populations are growing and will continue to do so. Secondly, they’ve moved away from the stereotype of your grandmother being unable to turn on a computer. Many are extremely active online, have very set, successful, specific communities and are willing to experiment with new tools.

Thirdly, and this is probably the most important thought, they have a lot more time on their hands than the bright young twentysomethings, who’ll as likely be holding down regular jobs while they evangalise about social media. Even if their job is the evangalise, having a job will still naturally limit time available.

And it’s time, mixed with relevant skills, that should worry the media, local newspapers especially.

If experiences growing up in Devon are anything to go by – and assuming they still hold true – there’ll always be a few people in villages and towns who’ll have the get up and go to organise events, whether it’s coffee mornings or something on a much grander scale. They may be one and the same as the people who write the local newsletters (or, as is becoming more frequent, setting up local news blogs). If they’re not, they’ll probably know them.

Along with many others in the village or town vicinity, they’ll have a strong interest in local affairs. Chances are, they’ll probably be involved in many of them at some stage. There’s plenty going on in their community, and they’re usually at the heart of it. You’ll probably know or have known somebody like this.

But while what’s interesting to the local community and the local media often intertwine, the news values are slightly different and it may not always get the coverage. Neither, in an age of under-resourced newsrooms, will staff necessarily be able to go out and cover these events, let alone video them. The story may not even be deemed video-worthy.

Now, think if you’ve got a few recently-retired tech-savvy hearts of the community. They could build their own website or social platform and keep bits and pieces of news up to date – they don’t have to have been a professional journalist (although this may start occurring more frequently).

Now, let’s head back to the flour mill. Perhaps could have used Qik to stream live for anybody who couldn’t make it. Any video footage could then form part of a local community website. They could even create a further video and a small report and other pieces for the community online and bypassing the local media.

This isn’t to say anything the local media did on it wouldn’t be read or viewed, but it’s an interesting piece of competition that perhaps hasn’t been taken into account. Does it sound too fanciful currently? Perhaps. Unrealistic? Definitely not.

In some respects, services like ITV Local, the proposed new BBC local video plans and some – but definitely not all – local newspaper website offer an upload and interact facility. But – and this is no criticism – they are, by necessity, broad umbrellas, even an an ultra-local level. There are ultra-ultra-local levels – and where there’s a niche, there’s the potential for an online community.

It’ll be interesting to see how traditional media copes with a teched-up, locally aware, online-friendly set of (and apologies for the cliche) silver surfers, who if they don’t exist now, surely aren’t too far away.

Again, unless some of the smaller papers get the resources and adapt to cater for this type of audience they could find themselves undone by a new breed of citizen journalists who have the time, inclination and knowledge of the patch. It’s at once a frightening and exhilarating thought.

So, I was going to write stuff, yeah…

And I’ve got a whole of host posts in my draft folder to prove it.

But then:

1. I got very busy with work.

2. I’ve been feeling a bit run down and not great.

3. I finally had the root canal done. This morning. Thank God for neurofen.

4. Tonight was provisionally pencilled in to do household chores, relaxing and blogging. But then a friend of mine mentioned her new flat didn’t have a working cooker.

If there’s one piece of pain I truly feel after spending three months with a barely functioning Baby Belling, it’s being without cooking space.

Which meant tonight turned into an lovely impromptu dinner party, where the star of the show were Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s Guinness and Walnut Dark Chocolate Brownies.

God, I can sill taste them now.

For main course were peppers stuffed with courgette and lemon and coriander couscous, which are ridiculously simple to make. Chop off the top of your pepper and core. Brush down your peppers with olive oil and coriander and stick them in a pre-heated 200 Celcius oven for about ten minutes.

Meanwhile, heat a small bit of water (I’m not great with measurements or terms. Some, a bit and lots are about as far as I go) in a saucepan throw in just over 100g of couscous, with a bit of butter and chopped coriander.  Squeeze in juice from a lemon and a dash of olive oil, stir, cover and let it simmer until the cous cous has absorbed the fluid.

Dice a small amount of courgette and chop a couple of medium size garlic cloves. Take your peppers out of the oven and spoon in the couscous. When the pepper is half full, put a layer of courgette and garlic across and spoon more couscous on top.

Put back in the oven for another 7-10 minutes (or until the betters start turning seriously black at the edges). Take out and serve with salad.

Now you can see why I’ve not managed to write anything coherent tonight.

Gary Elsewhere

Soccerlens Watching Wembley in the FA Cup. Lovely club. I may go back some day.

ALSO: Son of Rambow review at Den of Geek. It’s been a while since I did any film reviews. It probably shows.

Pet hates: Prestigious

Every editor, sub-editor and writer has a list of words they detest seeing in copy. Words that range from meaning nothing to desperate padding by the author, or just a plain misunderstanding of the context. Words that will induce apoplexy if repeated too far.

My second least favourite word is prestigious.

I was trained in the school of journalism that encourages the striking out of unnecessary words, usually adjectives. Not all adjectives, as you’d end up with a few peculiar sentences, but long words that add nothing to the copy. Unless you’re a very good colour or feature writer, or possibly Russell Brand. I’ll let you off then.

In newspapers, the fewer unnecessary words in your copy, the more space you have to tell the reader what happened, while staying within the word limit. Or having a sub remove bits of your copy because you’ve tried to recreate War and Peace in a report on a council meeting over car parking spaces.

Note: you may also want to be careful of adding the word ‘a’ before the word ‘nosh’.

In radio, tight writing is at a premium, especially if you’re working in commercial news. You have 15, 20 seconds at most to tell the story. Anything that doesn’t inform the listener should be, and often is, struck out.

If you’re writing a press release and the word prestigious appears, then you’re clearly trying too hard to convince the reader that whatever you’re writing about is genuinely honestly interesting, honest. Have faith in the writing and whatever the publicity is, it should sell itself. Ultra-prestigious events don’t need bigging up, and are probably cheapened by doing so. Think Kerry Katona presenting the Nobel Prize here.

Prestigious tells the reader or listener absolutely sod all and should largely be throttled to death with its own superflousness, revived only in times of absolute need.

Any time I see the word prestigious in copy, my heart immediately sinks. Most of the nouns subjected to prestigiousness already locally have have prestige conferred upon them.

The most common is the prestigious award. Awards, by their very nature, confer prestige upon the nominee. Nobody needs to be told that an Oscar is prestigious, and neither should they need to be told this about any other award, just as you wouldn’t need an adjective to describe those who collect the wooden spoon.

Neither should we need to be told how prestigious an event is. Chances are the reader can work this out for themselves with the rest of the copy. It also implies the writer is deciding whether or not the event is prestigious and, by default, deciding other events are less worthy.

This can be applied to anything remotely prestigious. You’re nominated for a prestigious award? What’s the unprestigious alternative? You’re conferring prestige upon this person or event – do we really need to know this? Does the reader or listener really need to know if this is prestigious? Do they care about the prestige, or finding out more about the award or the person nominated?

Yet prestigious still crops up with alarming regularity in places that have enough prestige in their writing to know better; almost as if the writer feels that an award or even is naked without prestige. They can live without it, largely.

If it’s really not clear if something is prestigious then by all means use it. But if you’re debating whether something has prestige, then chances are it doesn’t. Err on the safe side an leave it out. It’ll make me happier.

So, they’ll be nothing prestigious on my watch, thank you very much. Any intros with a whiff of prestigious awards will be subjected to red pen, and if I’ve not printed it out, I’ll email back the word document with red highlights. And don’t even think of trying to sneak it in on the fourth paragraph down. I’m wise to your games. I’m not trying to start class warfare here, just making your copy a better place.

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August 2008

Throw letters together and send them to me

Yes, this is my name. And my email. Use it wisely or you're not getting a biscuit with your tea: garyllewellynandrews [at] gmail [dot] com