Saturday, 31 July 2010

Old Spice - How to be a real man

Are you a man who needs tips on impressing women?

You need to start wearing Old Spice again - and check out the videos below:

Apparently these adverts have been reinventing the image of the mens aftershave Old Spice.

To be honest I didn't realise Old Spice still existed. I still vaguely remember their adverts from the 70s and 80s. I was reading in today's Times that the fortunes of the brand have been rescued by these adverts posted on YouTube.

After reading the story I decided to have a look for myself. They're very funny. Sales of Old Spice 'Red Zone' and body wash products have gone up in recent months (and they say Americans don't understand irony)

Unfortunately the actor featured, Isaiah Mustafa isn't quite as manly as the adverts suggest. He's a vegan who doesn't even drink alcohol, and never notices when women are into him!

Things are never quite what they seem!

Guy walks across America in less than two minutes

I like this video, very clever. It's already got 2969 comments on YouTube.

Tuesday, 27 July 2010

2 years and counting before the Olympics begin!

Two years to go before the start of the London 2012 Olympics.

As someone who lives in Stratford, it's really exciting to watch the Olympic site develop right in front of your eyes.

A picture of the Olympic stadium taken on my train to work this morning

On the Guardian's website they have some excellent photos of the Olympic site. You can have a look at them here.

I'd love to have a look around myself but there's currently no access available for people who just want to by nosey and have a look around.

I also found this video below on Youtube which shows you the inside of the Olympic Stadium.

I can't wait for the Olympics to begin, it will be such an amazing experience. I make no apologies for being very pro Olympics.

You're not going to hear any of the cynical 'It's all a waste time' ...'They'll be too many people in London'...'We should be spending the money on better things' blah blah blah on this blog!

I'm sick of hearing those sort of comments. It's a once in a lifetime opportunity for the country to host the event, and for British people to experience the Games in their own country.

Obviously in these tough economic times with the new Coalition government looking to make budget cuts across government departments, the overall cost and legacy of the Olympics is facing even greater scrutiny.

From what I can gather much of the operating costs of the Olympics are currently ring fenced, and it still looks like the Games will be within the 9.3 billion budget. It's the lasting legacy that seems to be under greater threat from spending cuts.

If cuts are made that undermine the lasting legacy of the Olympic Games, then to me we would have failed in one of the main objectives of staging the Games.

Cuts shouldn't be imposed merely as a PR exercise to appease Olympic critics. If spending cuts are going to seriously impact on creating many of the legacies than this will be a mistake.

It should also be remembered that the Olympics isn't just about a sporting legacy. The five host boroughs including the host London borough of Newham are some of the most deprived areas of Britain. The Olympics must leave a lasting positive legacy on these communities, and if it does this nobody can argue that the cost of the Games hasn't been worth it.

This time next year, I'll be writing my 'One year until the Olympics' post, we'll see how things develop from now.

Monday, 26 July 2010

Afghanistan - The real story?

In the Guardian today I've been reading their extensive coverage on the published US Military reports on the war in Afghanistan, which were leaked today by the whistleblowing website Wikileaks.

I reckon this has to be one of the most significant days in the Afghanistan war since US and NATO troops entered the country in 2001.

The story reminds me a bit of the MP Expenses scandal from last year but perhaps on a bigger scale. I don't think the reports are necessarily scandalous, critics of the leak have argued that much of the information revealed was already known, but it does tend to shine a light on the darker murkier aspects of what's really going on in Afghanistan.

The Guardian, the New York Times and the German magazine Der Spiegal have simultaneously published over 90,000 classified military documents relating to the Afghan war.

The files cover the period between January 2004 and December 2009 revealing a range of information on the war.

Topics which have stood out include the number of civilian deaths, information on secret special forces operations, particularly units responsible for capturing and killing Taliban leaders, and evidence of Pakistan and Iran supporting the Taliban.

Although much of the reports hightlight what was already known, it's still come as a surprise to me the number of reported civilian deaths!

We're always being told that our presence in Afghanistan was very much about winning the 'hearts and minds' of the local population. It doesn't sound like we're succeeding on that front with so many innocent Afghans being killed.

Being a student of journalism, I've also thought about the journalistic merits of the leak. Was it right for these accounts to be published by Wikileak? Does it actually help or hinder the campaign in Afghanistan?

Not unsurprisingly the US Military chiefs have have been highly critical claiming the lives of thousands of troops are being put at risk along with US National security.

You'd expect them to say that though, and to be honest I don't believe that publications such as the New York Times and the Guardian would choose to behave so irresponsibly by publishing such sensitive material.

I had a look at the New York Times website today and they wrote:

"The Times has taken care not to publish information that would harm national security interests. The Times and the other news organizations agreed at the outset that we would not disclose — either in our articles or any of our online supplementary material — anything that was likely to put lives at risk or jeopardize military or anti terrorist operations."

On a personal level I think the information revealed has given me more insight into the conflict, and I'm sure like many people made me think more about the overall strategy of American and British forces. It's obviously going to put more pressure on the US government, but this must be a good thing in the long run.

Clearly there are many people who are critical or oppose US and NATO policy in Afghanistan. These revelations will help to vindicate their opposition.

I do think these leaks have revealed an unreported side of the war which we don't hear about from official military and government sources.

Like a lot of people I've been sceptical as to whether America and its allies could claim a conventional military victory in Afghanistan. There were so many factors stacked against that kind of outright success. These leaks have just shown the situation is even more difficult, complex and chaotic than many pessimists would have imagined.

It's been an impressive collaboration between the New York Times, The Guardian, and Der Speigal to produce this news story. It's certainly valuable journalism based on the public interest, and for that reason it's right that these documents have been leaked.

Thursday, 22 July 2010

Currently listening to...New album by Drake

I brought the new album this week by Canadian Hip Hop star Drake.

Find Your Love - video

When I think of Canadian Hip Hop it brings back painful memories of the white rapper Snow and his only hit ‘Informer!’ Thankfully Drake is showing Canada does have something more to offer Hip Hop wise.
I first came across Drake last year, when I heard a Drum and Bass remix of his biggest track to date, ‘Best you ever had’. He released a mini album last year called ‘So Far Gone’ but this year’s release entitled ‘Thank me Later’ is what you’d call his proper debut.

He’s managed to enlist an impressive number of guest artists that include, Alicia Keys, Jay Z, Lil Wayne amongst others all making an appearance.

He reminds me a lot of Eminem mixed in with a bit Kanye West. Just shows how big their influence on the Hip Hop game has become in recent years.

He’s got that same lyrical style as Eminem full of self-analysis and personal introspection.

Anyway, have a listen to this track ‘Find Your Love’ which is one of my favourites off the album – cool video as well.

Tuesday, 20 July 2010

Don't buy the Daily Express if you're an 'ethnic'

Last week the Daily Express printed this headline below.

You may have missed it like I did. If you'd like the pleasure of reading their report you can have a look here.

I've read a few blogs about this story in the last few days. It seems the Express doesn't have much time for 'ethnics' like myself.

That's alright, I've never had much time for this nasty, pathetic, poor man's Daily Mail excuse for a paper!
If it wasn't bad enough that we've had to put up with their obsession for front page headlines about the late Princess Diana, middle class tax rises, and Madeleine McCann stories, they're now attacking ethnic minorities.

Last week the University of Leeds published a report predicting that by the year 2051, one-fifth of Britain's population will be from an ethnic minority.

Notice the word 'predicting' in the last sentence. When it comes to population forecasts these are extremely difficult predictions to get right. Nobody can be completely certain of these figures.

The Express doesn't appear to be bothered about that. Buy using the term 'ethnic' in such a disparaging way they clearly believe that people like myself are 'taking over' and that Britain's culture and identity will be lost forever.

Just to ram home their message further, they included in their story a picture of two Muslim women wearing the Burka. Could they have found a more extreme example of an 'alien culture' in which to strike extra fear into the minds of Middle England?

So why didn't they use a photo of a group of Australians to indicate this population growth? There's thousands of them in London, so it wouldn't have been difficult for them to find some.

If you read the article the Express tries to highlight how this report raises serious questions and fears on how Britain will cope with significant growth in population numbers in the next 30 - 40 years.

There's nothing wrong with looking at these issues, there are important questions to be asked. But this isn't really what the Express is looking at. It's purely a cheap dig at ethnic minorities.

I decided to have a look at the report for myself on the university website which you can read more about here.

The main population forecasts are as follows:

  • UK population could reach almost 78 million* (59 million in 2001)

  • White British, White Irish and Black Caribbean groups to experience slowest growth

  • Other White (Australia, US and Europe) and Mixed to experience the biggest growth

  • Ethnic minority share of the population to increase from 8% (2001) to around 20%

  • Ethnic minorities to shift from deprived local authorities to more affluent areas

  • Ethnic groups to be significantly less segregated from the rest of the population

  • When you look at the figures, what's interesting is that the group predicted to have the biggest population growth are white groups from Europe, America and Australasia. In fact almost half of all foreigners in this country are European, mainly from Eastern Europe.

    The Express doesn't mention this immediately. You have to read through the article to find that bit, and clearly this information doesn't have the same impact as the main headline that's first read.

    Unfortunately for the Express this growth in this white population group doesn't fit into the message that it wants to say to it's readers.

    It's typical tabloid journalism. Newspapers have very specific views on how they see the world, they will then take facts and figures and try and shoe horn and manipulate these facts to fit into their viewpoint.

    One point that interested me were the figures showing the trend of more ethnic minorities moving away from inner city areas and out into the suburbs will continue to grow.

    I've seen this first hand in my hometown of Birmingham, my family moved to the outskirts of Birmingham in the early 80s. When I return home I see much more Afro Caribbean and Indian families living the suburban life.

    You might think this would be a good thing, as more minority groups become more prosperous, and the country becomes less segregated as ethnic groups disperse throughout the country. But no, this isn't good for the Express.

    When you read between the lines of their report, you can't help but feel they're telling their readers that these 'ethnics' are spreading their wings too much.

    They don't even have the decency to remain in poor inner city ghettos like they used to, but are now moving out to the suburbs and the countryside! Oh dear.

    I'm not going to get too upset by this story, I've never had much time for the Express. It only serves the purpose of showing people some of the worst examples of tabloid journalism in this country.

    Whether you're from an ethnic minority or not I suggest you save your money and don't bother with this paper.

    Sunday, 18 July 2010

    Tributes for Moat were wrong, but Facebook was right not to take them down.

    Like a lot of people I've been baffled by all these tributes that have sprung up on Facebook for Raoul Moat.

    To hear him described as a 'legend' is totally ridiculous. The main reason I can see for this view, is because he managed to stay on the run from the police for so long!

    How is anyone a 'legend' because they shot dead one innocent man and inflicted life changing injuries on two other people?

    Facebook came under pressure to remove the comments posted in support of Moat following his death. They refused to back down, and it was left to the creator of the tribute Page, Siobhan O'Dowd to do so, almost through a sense of embarrassment.

    Despite not agreeing with the comments, Facebook did the right thing by not removing them. You have to remember that Facebook and other forms of social media are about people sharing and expressing thoughts, opinions and information. I'm sure the comments of support for Moat would have been said in private by the same people in pubs, shops and workplaces.

    With Facebook, what would once have remained private opinions amongst personal networks of friends and associates are now freely available for the whole world to see.

    You might not like what's been written, but that's social media for you. If Facebook decided to remove the comments because other people didn't like them, then what is the point of Social networking?

    I have to say I've found it intriguing as to why people would show such support for Moat. Despite the tabloids best efforts to demonise him (The News of the World continually refer to him as a monster) others don't see him that way.

    One theory is that there's a huge group of disenfranchised white working class people out there who saw Moat as a champion of the underdog, sticking two fingers up to the authorities.

    I could understand that, if Moat had robbed a bank then went on the run, with no one getting hurt. But he didn't. This was a calculated attack on innocent people.

    Reading in today's Sunday Times, the writer India Knight made an interesting point. She wrote that people seemed to overlook the fact that Moat had a history of domestic violence against his former girlfriend Sam Stobbart, regularly beating her.

    Knight's point is that domestic violence isn't taken as seriously by some people in comparison to other crimes.

    There were comments on Facebook criticising Moat's girlfriend, suggesting she provoked him into violence. They were quite happy to overlook not just the obvious shootings but also the domestic violence.

    I can see her point. I can't believe that if Moat was a paedophile on the run, having abused small children, we'd have seen the 'he's a legend' comments, but beating up women is fine in some people's eyes.

    It suggests that the type of crime someone commits, influences how others are prepared to remember them.

    Clearly Moat had some serious mental health problems, and maybe he could have been helped further by Newcastle Social Services. But I still don't see why people should pay tributes to him, as if he was some sort of anti-hero of our times. He wasn't.

    Robbie rejoins Take That

    So it's finally happened, Robbie Williams has rejoined Take That. They're currently recording a new album which is set for release in November this year.

    I'd heard rumours Robbie was recording tracks with the band months ago on Popbitch. I can't say that I'm surprised. The right moment has finally arrived for them to get back together, but I think Robbie needs Take That more than Take That need him.
    Ever since Robbie left Take That I've always found their story fascinating. I still remember back in 1995 hearing that Robbie Williams had left Take That.

    I was inter-railing around Europe at the time and was a bit cut off from what was happening in the UK. I think some Italians lads told me Robbie had left the band, it was a major shock!

    You couldn't really see Take That continuing for much longer and not surprisingly the remaining four eventually split in 1996.

    Towards the end of the 90s the Take That story seemed to be one of the charismatic bad boy Williams embarking on an ever increasingly successful solo career, vindicating his decision to ditch the goody goody boy band image once and for all.

    On the other side of the story you had the song writing talent of Gary Barlow. There he was trying to make it as a solo artist, but failing miserably.

    He was clearly eclipsed by Williams, before suffering the ultimate pop humiliation of being dumped by his record label. The remaining band members disappeared into pop obscurity.

    During his solo peak, I never really got Robbie Williams. I didn't get the whole cheeky chappie persona that proved so popular with people. I also thought there was a certain smugness and arrogance about him, with regards to his success over the rest of the band.

    It was quite ironic how the four remaining members of the band decided to reform just at the point where Williams career seemed to be in decline not helped by his drink and drugs problems.

    The thing about Take That, is that there's always been a lot of affection for them in this country. I think people were really pleased to see them make a successful comeback as a grown up 'man band' having lived in Williams shadow for so many years.

    Howard, Gary, Jason, and Mark had rarely come out in public to criticse their former band member Robbie and I think they conducted themselves well, certainly better then Williams ever did.

    Over the last few years as they've re-ermerged as a pop force again. I don't think anyone has really begrudged their success. They also showed everyone that they didn't really need Robbie after all. I have to say I was pleased for them as well.

    Take That don't need Robbie but it makes things complete with him re-joining the band. It's like there's been a resolution to the story after 15 years. With his career seemingly going nowhere at the moment, it makes perfect sense for him to re-join.

    It's what the pop public want to see, and I think it will be good for Williams himself. I'm looking forward to hearing what the new album will sound like.

    Tuesday, 13 July 2010

    South Africa's World Cup legacy

    As this will be my last World Cup post, I thought I'd look at what kind of impact and lasting legacy the tournament may have on South Africa.

    Firstly I think the tournament has been a huge success. Ok, some of the football wasn't as exciting as we all hoped; but South Africa has still managed to defy many of the critics and cynics who said the country wouldn't be up to the task of holding the biggest sporting event in the world.

    If there's one thing that South Africa's brought to this World Cup more than any other, it's been the wave of enthusiasm and joy at holding the event.
    This is understandable. The country was reborn with the end of apartheid and the World Cup has really been the first opportunity to show the world a glimpse of the 'new' South Africa.

    I'm one of those people that has a real passion for sport and I do believe that when used in the right way sport does have the power to change people's lives for the better.

    I except that it's naive to pretend that a five week football competition is really going to cure decades of poverty and inequality, it clearly isn't. South Africa is still a hugely divided and complex country facing many social, political, and economic problems.

    The argument you hear and we have the same discussion in this country with the London 2012 Olympics, is that the money could be better spent addressing more pressing issues.

    The thing to remember, is that sport and politics are rarely separate from each other. If like me you want to be optimistic about things, then sport can make a positive difference, even if its only a very small one.

    The cynical view is that the World Cup is a waste of money. A vanity project designed to be one big PR campaign to rebrand the country. An overblown and expensive event that really only benefits FIFA and certain political elites and other interested parties within the country.

    If I was going to make a comparison then look at South Africa's World Cup and compare it to China's Beijing Olympics in 2008.

    Although brilliantly managed, the 2008 Olympics was more about the Chinese Communist Party showing off to the rest of the world, rather than staging an event designed to uplift and leave a lasting legacy for the Chinese people.

    In South Africa's case, I do feel that this World Cup is more about leaving a legacy that can help improve the country and the lives of its people, and yes it is a big public relations and rebranding exercise, but on this occasion what's wrong with that?

    This rebranding doesn't just have to be for the rest of the world's benefit, it can also help South Africans look at themselves and their country in a different light.

    If they can show they're capable of successfully holding the worlds biggest sporting event, why shouldn't they be able to use that same belief and confidence in tackling the countries many problems?

    I've written in previous blogs that when I was growing up, there was never any good news that came out of South Africa. It seemed apartheid would go on forever, but it ended. We thought we'd never see Nelson Mandela released - but he was. Then we were told there would be a civil war between the races - it never happened.

    South Africa has achieved so much already, and the World Cup is another important milestone and achievement. I'm still optimistic that the country is heading in the right direction, which the World Cup has helped to push along in its own unique way.

    I thought I'd end with a great quote I read today, by Archbishop Desmond Tutu which sums up the positive impact of the World Cup.

    When talking of his surprise at how so many people in South Africa from different backgrounds and races had united in a common cause during the World Cup, he said

    'We have all talked about the rainbow nation,"...."But we are the caterpillar that has become the beautiful butterfly'

    Monday, 12 July 2010

    Goodbye World Cup 2010

    The World Cup is finally over!

    I have that slightly sad feeling, like the one you have after having a great holiday and you know it's time to return home back to normal life.

    You sort of want to come home, but you know it's going to take a while before you get back into the old routine. At the moment I can't even get excited about the prospect of a new Premier League season. It all seems so dull and mundane.

    I've really enjoyed this World Cup, the first one in Africa has I'm really proud that they put on such a great tournament.

    It's time for me to look back and pick out my highlights, low points and all round general thoughts.

    How does this World Cup compare to previous ones?

    This has been one of my favourite World Cups, certainly the best since France 98. I've thoroughly enjoyed it.

    I know others have disagreed and said it wasn't a classic, but what are they comparing it to? Is it a poor because it's not as good as Mexico 1970? I'm sorry but no World Cup is ever going to compare to that one.

    The World Cups from 1970 to 1982 all seem iconic in there own individual ways from the clips I've seen, but I never saw those live.

    Mexico 86 is personally my favourite World Cup. Probably because it was the first one I watched, but there were some great games and performances, and nobody can forget the individual brilliance of Diego Maradona.

    Admittedly this World Cup got off to a very slow start with not many goals scored, but things certainly improved as we moved out of the group stages and into the knockout phases.

    When you've got 32 teams starting the competition off I think the standard is going to suffer as a result, and we saw this with some pretty poor games to begin with. I suppose it's the price you pay for having so many competing nations, but that's what makes the World Cup so great.

    What I've really enjoyed and appreciated has been the tactical side of the matches. Football is becoming increasingly sophisticated in terms of the team formations (4-2-3-1 appears the way forward) tactics, and coaching.

    You can argue that many games haven't been end to end goal fests, but I found many matches really intriguing and absorbing to watch.

    The stand out games were probably Germany's victories over England and Argentina. It's unusual to see one major footballing nation completely outplay another at World Cup finals.

    Although it's becoming debatable whether England can still be considered to be a major footballing force.

    Team of the tournament

    It obviously has to be Spain, the best team in the world won the tournament I don't think there will be too many complaints from anyone.

    Some great players, working together to produce a superb footballing side. There were some great emotional scenes from last night's final. The scene of Iker Casillas breaking down in tears of joy at the final whistle will stay with me for years.

    Player of the tournament

    Diego Forlan

    Man Utd fans still occasionally sing:

    'Diego ooohhh!, Diego ooohhh!...He came from Uruguay....he made the Scousers cry'

    This in recognition of his goal scoring record against Liverpool during his time at Utd and more recently with Athletico Madrid.

    Well he didn't make any Scousers cry, but he's been excellent in this World Cup. I'm glad to see his efforts were recognised with him winning the player of the tournament award.

    He's been at the heart of everything good that Uruguay have done. Almost single handedly taking an unfashionable team to the World Cup Semi Final.

    Best team performance

    Germany's 4 - 0 destruction of Argentina in the Quarter final. A brutal defeat for Maradona and Argentina to take.

    Germany have been great. A team of unknowns at the start of the tournament but they've introduced the world to some really exciting and talented young players.

    Worst Team performance

    France's entire World Cup campaign?

    England against Algeria?

    All pretty bad, but I'm actually going to go for Brazil losing to Holland in the Quarter finals. Who can explain the emotional breakdown the Brazilians suffered after Holland equalised.

    Totally baffling!

    The Team has been more important than the individual

    This World Cup was all about collective efforts of the team above the star individual. None of the world's great footballing stars really imposed themselves on the tournament.

    The most successful teams like Spain and Germany and to a lesser extent the likes of Uruguay and Ghana had no star players as such, no egos, or individuals who stood head and shoulders above everyone else.

    The players worked together for the greater good of the team. It's seems unlikely we'll see the likes of a Maradona figure who can inspire an entire team to World Cup glory for sometime.

    Biggest disappointments

    What happened to all those footballing superstars that were going to light up the tournament?

    Wayne Rooney was first and foremost the biggest disappointment but you can also include the likes of Ronaldo, Kaka, and Drogba.

    Players like Torres was clearly unfit and to a lesser extent Lionel Messi only showed glimpses of the player we see for Barcelona.

    World Cups used to turn unknown players into superstars but not anymore. Players make their names in the Champions League and their domestic leagues. The big stars come into tournaments with such a huge amount of hype and expectation that we never used to see.

    This only makes the disappointment greater when we realise these players are either tired, unfit or that playing for their national sides doesn't allow them the opportunity to shine in the way the do for their clubs.

    Best/Favourite goal

    This is a tough one, I'll list my three favourites:

    Carlos Tevez second goal for Argentina against Mexico

    A Brilliant strike!

    Siphiwe Tshabalala for South Africa against Mexico

    The first goal of the World Cup, a great finish and an even better celebration. A beautiful moment!

    Fabio Quagliarella for Italy against Slovakia

    With 20 minutes to go and heading out of the World Cup, Italy finally decided to start playing some football. This was a brilliant chip from outside the box which had a bitter sweet quality to it as it still couldn't stop Italy going out.

    Most dramatic ending to a match

    Easy - Has to be Ghana v Uruaguay.

    If it wasn't for those dastardly Uruguayans, ruining the script and spoiling Africa's party Ghana would have made it to the Semi finals!

    That's what some parts of the media would have you believe. I never fell that to be honest. Ghana were unlucky, but Asamoah Gyan could still have sent them through had he scored his penalty.

    Most Embarrassing moment

    Frank Lampard's goal that never was. How long are FIFA going to act like Luddites and refuse to introduce video technology?

    The Vuvuzela

    I'm a fan! The Vuvuzela was the sound of the World Cup! I don't think I want to hear it in the Premier League, but it gave this World Cup a unique vibe.

    Most annoying thing

    The media's slightly patronising attitude towards Africa staging its first World Cup. Constantly going on about how wonderful it would be for an African side to do well. All great sentiments, but on occasions it just went a bit too far.

    It reached its worst point during ITV's coverage of Ghana's Quarter final match against Uruguay. Embarrassingly biased towards Ghana!

    World Cup villian

    Mark Van Bommell - How did he not get sent off during this World Cup? He rampaged around the midfield kicking anything that moved, with or without the ball!

    Best TV pundit

    Loved Jurgen Klinnsman on the BBC, intelligent and insightful analysis.

    The biggest underachievers

    Now that Spain are both European and World Champions, England stand alone as the biggest underachievers in world football.

    It's unlikely that we're going to win anything soon unless major changes are made to the structure of English football.

    What needs to change?

  • A winter break must be introduced so that players are less tired.

  • A reduction of foreign players in the Premier League (Uefa want to introduce 6 plus 5 rule. 6 home grown players and 5 foreigners in each team.)This should make a difference.

  • Better youth coaching - We need to produce more intelligent technical players.

  • Finally better qualified coaching: here are the figures for the number of coaches with Uefa's top coaching qualification.

  • Germany 34,970, Italy 29,420, Spain 23,995, France 17,588 In England we have 2,769 (figures from the Sunday Times)

  • You do the math.

    Sunday, 11 July 2010

    The World Cup Final 2010

    Spain 1 Holland 0

    The right team won, there's no doubt about that! The more the game went on the more I wanted Spain to win.

    I've just had a look on the website of the Spanish newspaper MARCA. The first sentence of their main story reads:

    'El sueño se ha hecho realidad. España ya es campeona del mundo de fútbol'

    In English,

    'The dream has become a reality. Spain are the football champions of the world.

    It's such a fantastic moment for them.
    It wasn't a great game and won't be remembered as being a classic, but to be fair World Cup finals rarely are great games to watch.

    The only great final I can remember watching was Mexico 1986 with Argentina beating West Germany 3-2.

    I'm so pleased that Spain managed to win, I think I've developed a real soft spot for the country. It probably began when I started learning Spanish around 10 years ago, before visiting the country on a number of occasions.

    I read newspapers like MARCA and El Pais to help improve my Spanish, and I think over the years you do start to develop a certain connection through learning the language and visiting the country.

    Even without having that connection I still wanted Spain to win purely from a footballing point of view. They've been the best team in the tournament and the best team in the World for the last couple of years.

    They probably haven't scored as many goals as their overall football would suggest they should have, but I've still enjoyed watching all their games.

    Spain are like an extension of Barcelona, which isn't surprising when you look at the number of Barca players in the Spanish starting line up.

    Xavi and Iniesta must be the best midfield partnership in world football. Watching Xavi play tonight I just kept thinking, that's what you call a proper footballer.

    If there was a downside to the game then it has to be directed at the Dutch. At times they played like total thugs.

    Any football fan will have a certain level of respect and admiration for what Dutch football has represented and stood for over they years, starting with the great teams of the 70s. But their performance tonight was a betrayal of their footballing tradition and heritage.

    The likes of Mark Van Bommel and Nigel De Jong were lucky to still be on the pitch at the end of normal time. Then in extra time after Iniesta's winning goal the way some of their players conducted themselves towards the referee didn't do the reputation of Dutch football any good at all.

    I feel sad to say, that there's never been an occasion where I've disliked the Dutch more in international football. They can have no real complaints about tonight's result.

    This shouldn't deflect anything from Spain's achievements. For so long the great underachievers of world football along with England, but they've finally started to get it right.

    Spain's victory tonight is no coincidence. This victory has been developed over a number of years and the world is seeing the results.

    They've invested in great coaching of young players, their big clubs have allowed young players to develop and come through the ranks, and they've stayed true to their principles of playing attractive, intelligent football with great style and technique.

    In 2010 there couldn't be a more worthy World Cup winner.

    Vamos Espana!

    Friday, 9 July 2010

    World Cup Octopus

    Is Paul the Octopus the real star of this year's World Cup?

    This story continues to amuse me - the psychic octopus who has picked the winner in each of Germany's World Cup games in South Africa. This even including the surprise defeat against Serbia in the group stage.

    World Cup's have always made household names out of previous unknowns. This year appears to be no different.

    Whereas big names like Rooney, Ronaldo, Drogba and Messi have all failed to live up to pre tournament hype and expectations, Paul the Octopus has increased his reputation with each correct prediction!

    Today he's come out and predicted a Spanish victory in this Sunday's World Cup final. A wise choice I think. Perhaps he's become a big fan of Spain's 'Tiki Taka' style of play.
    With the World Cup almost over, it got me thinking about what the future may hold for him after Sunday's final.

    Perhaps politicians will look to him to make predictions on election results. City bankers looking for financial advice on which way the world's markets and economies will turn. The possibilities for Paul seem endless.

    It's as if he has the whole world at his feet...I mean tentacles!

    Summer Sounds

    A few summer tunes I've been listening to this week. The first two are on a little Latin, Bossa Nova tip.

    I heard these tracks listening to former Soul II Soul front man Jazzy B on his Friday evening show on BBC Radio London.

    If you like anything from Soul, Reggae, House, latin and Jazz you should check it out.

    Nat King Cole feat. Bebel Gilberto - Brazilian Love Song

    I love this little tune - a clever mash up between Nat King Cole and my favourite Brazilian artist Bebel Gilberto.

    Eli Goulart e Banda do mato - Sunny

    I'm quite into my Brazilian tunes, but I'd not come across this track before. An appropriate title for the weather outside.

    Moving onto something completely different you can check this out:

    Jay-Z ft Lil Wayne - Summer in Brooklyn (Quincy Jones Cookin Soul Remix)

    I stumbled across this a few days ago on Kanye West's blog. I've been slowly getting into Lil Wayne, he seems to crop up as a featured artist on quite a few people's tracks these days. I need to start listening to more of his stuff.

    Wednesday, 7 July 2010

    World Cup thoughts - Day 26 & 27

    Day 26

    Holland 3 v Uruguay 2

    Boring, functional, grinding out results!

    Terms you might have associated with old Arsenal teams before Arsene Wenger arrived or previous Germany teams in World Cups.

    But no, we're talking about Holland!

    Holland make it to their first World Cup final since 1978. I still don't think Holland have played that well to be honest.

    I know they beat Brazil, but nobody could have predicted the emotional collapse from the Brazilians in last week's quarter final.
    So Despite going ahead through Giovanni Van Bronckhorst's fantastic goal you got the impression that the weight of expectation was too great for the Dutch, something we've seen before with England. There were periods during tonight's game where they really didn't look convincing at all.

    It made me think that perhaps that's one of the great challenges of winning the World Cup these days. It's not just about beating the opposition and progressing through the rounds; it's about being able to deal with the huge level of pressure and expectation that many of the big footballing nations have to deal with.

    That pressure seemed to weigh even more heavily following Diego Forlan's equaliser. Another great strike, although you have to question what the keeper Stekelenberg was doing.

    A word on Forlan - he's been my player of the tournament. He's been superb! Things didn't seem to work out for him during his time at Manchester Utd but since moving to Spain and finishing top scorer in the Spanish league on two occasions, he's really proved his quality. Even more so during this World Cup.

    Wesley Sneijder and Ajren Robben scored two goals in three minutes to seal the victory, although Uruguay made the last few minutes of injury time interesting when they pulled a goal back.

    It's a bit hard to feel any affection for this Dutch team as they don't have the style and class of the great team of the 70s and other Dutch sides.

    But may be its time for them to put substance over style and actually win something rather then being beautiful losers.

    Day 27

    Spain 1 Germany 0

    Spain the great underachievers of world football are in their first World Cup final.

    The winning goal came from an unlikely source in the form of Carlos Puyol. Great header though, and you could feel the emotion and relief as he and his teamates celebrated.

    It was an intriguing game to watch. If you were to compare it to watching a typical Premier League match you could be harsh and describe it as boring, but that's missing the point.

    Interntational football at this level tends to be more tactical and intriguing! Watching the Spanish play you sometimes might think, 'what's really happening' but at the same time lots of subtle little things are going on - it's quietly absorbing I think.

    Spain were a little frustrating at times, reminding me a bit of Arsenal. It was all pass pass but with no end product. I had a feeling that Germany would make them pay for not making the most out of all their pressure and possession.

    I'm glad Spain won and thought they were the better side. Even though Germany have been the team of the tournament so far, I just feel this is Spain's moment! For years they've always flattered to deceive and now it's all finally coming together.

    How can a country with two of the world's greatest football clubs in Real Madrid and Barcelona continually fail to deliver on the international stage? This was their first ever appearance in a World Cup semi final.

    I understand quite a bit of Spanish and regularly read the Spanish sports paper MARCA. I've been reading it online almost everyday over the last few weeks as it's interesting to see how another country reports on the World Cup and in particular on its own chances of success.

    Reading some of the editorials, I got the feeling that the Spanish knew this was their time. They've never produced a squad of players of this quality before in their history and they couldn't afford to not take this opportunity.

    Holland v Spain in the World Cup final. A 'nice' final as Clarence Seedorf said tonight on the BBC. A very Dutch way of seeing things, but it should be good. I'm looking forward to it.

    Tuesday, 6 July 2010

    Tough times ahead for graduates.

    I was reading today about the problems new graduates are facing in the current job market. Apparently on average, there are 70 applicants for every job vacancy.

    It sounds tough but I'm not convinced the situation is any worse than in previous years. This year's graduates have been told that if they want a job they will need to:

    'consider flipping burgers or stacking shelves when they leave university'

    The report I was reading in the Guardian said that leading firms in investment banking, law and IT are due to cut graduate jobs this year.

    This makes the assumption that every person who graduates from university is automatically looking to get on a graduate recruitment scheme. I didn't, and I know many of my contemporaries didn't either.

    A lot of people don't even know what they want to do with themselves in their early 20s and might not be looking for an immediate long term career.

    For other graduates there's too much of this naive expectation that they're somehow entitled to some amazing job at the age of 22-23 just because they've got a degree. It's time to get real!

    Some of it isn't all their fault though. Schools, the government and the media are constantly telling people that having a degree is some guaranteed ticket to a wonderful job and lifelong security.

    I left university in the summer of 1998. After deciding I couldn't spend an entire month watching the World Cup that summer, I started looking for jobs. I found the whole experience annoying and frustrating!

    It was a struggle just to get a basic admin office job, as recruitment agencies constantly told me; you can't do this or that unless you have a year's office experience, can use MS Office and can touch type at a speed of 50 words per minute.

    I eventually ended up getting a job in a call centre and in fact spent the next year working in various call centres, something which I really didn't want to do.

    After getting sick of call centres I tried finding office jobs, but guess what, agencies were telling me I should stick with call centre work because that's what my experience was in. Ridiculous!

    Stories like the one I read today, make out that graduates struggling to find jobs is some new phenomenon, it isn't. Graduates have been leaving university and doing non graduate level jobs for years, and many of them haven't been complaining.

    I look back my degree and see it mainly as a box that's been ticked, as soon as I left university I quickly realised that the job market is all about skills and experience. The more skills and experience you have the better.

    The Guardian report quoted Carl Gilleard the chief executive of The Association of Graduate Recruiters saying it was better to have some employment then no employment at all. He went on to say:

    'There are lots of other skills required and valued, like people skills: you could be on a counter in a store. It's all about building up your skills base.'

    I'm pretty sceptical about such comments. It's fine if you want to do that type of job for a short period of time like 6 months, but if you continue for much longer, you run the risk of being typecast as employers start believing that's all you can do.

    My advice for students currently at university is to start looking at ways of developing practical skills applicable to the world of work during the holidays and term breaks.

    Learn some office skills for example, learn how to type, this is something which I learnt to do after a I graduated. Having always worked in offices it's one of the best things I've ever learnt.

    Going to university has become little more than a middle-class right of passage for many young people. A transitional period between teenage life and entering the adult world.

    Once you leave university and enter the job market it doesn't matter what qualifications you have, you can never assume that you are entitled to any job you want.

    You have make yourself as well rounded a possible in terms of the skills and experiences you can offer a potential employer. Not only that you need to constantly keep looking at ways of learning and developing yourself in terms of skills.

    Many graduates also need to have some patience and except that the benefits of a degree may take between 10 - 15 years before it really begins to kick in. This might be hard to except for some but that's just how it is.

    Finally, we all need to start being a bit more honest with each other over the needs of the job market and the benefits of having a degree. Some young people have been lied to by schools and the government and I feel sorry for them.

    It annoys me sometimes to read such articles as I think a lot of time they're out of touch with what's really going on.

    I'm glad I'm out of it all to be honest. There are many aspects of the job market that I find frustrating, but I'd hate to be a new graduate now trying to find a job.

    6 Music Saved!

    I was pleased to hear yesterday that the BBC Trust has announced that it has rejected proposals by the BBC to close down the digital radio station 6 music.

    I wrote about my feelings on the planned closure earlier in the year in a blog entitled BBC wrong to axe 6 music!

    It's ironic really, in that by announcing plans to close the station the BBC actually raised the profile of the station to levels that it previously could only have dreamed of. I read that the station's audience share actually rose by 50% following the proposals.

    BBC Trust said the station was a "highly distinctive" service. I agree.

    It's also another victory for the power of social media with people using sites like Twitter and Facebook to galvanise support and highlight the quality of the shows and presenters on the station.

    Monday, 5 July 2010

    World Cup Telly

    One of the things I've enjoyed most about watching this World Cup has been the BBC's coverage which has included a number of interesting reports on South Africa.

    They've reported all over the country, meeting different people and looking at how the World Cup is impacting on their lives and the country overall.

    As well as these reports the BBC has shown some great social history documentaries about South Africa. The last one I watched looked at the Boer War which told the story of the Spion Kop, a term that most English football fans will be familiar with.

    Two of my favourite films included one about Sir Stanley Matthews visiting South Africa during the 1960's and 70's to coach in the black townships.

    I've always known who Stanley Matthews was, but I knew nothing about him coaching in South Africa. After watching the film I had a huge amount of respect for him as it took a lot of courage to visit the country during the years of Apartheid rule and coach in the townships.

    Some of those people who he coached all those years ago were interviewed and still spoke with a great deal of fondness and affection for him and the efforts he made.

    The second film I really enjoyed looked at an area in Cape Town known as District Six. Up until the late 1960's this was a mainly coloured area of the city.

    In 1968 all of the non-white population were forcibly evicted from their homes and forced out of the city into some wasteland area known as the Cape flatlands. The district was re-developed as a designated 'whites only' area.

    It was a poignant and emotional film that highlighted the cruelty and absurdity of the apartheid system.

    When I watch such things, it reminds me that I actually grew up with apartheid still very much alive. It's hard to get your head around the idea that such a system could ever have existed. It's like something out of a nightmarish Science Fiction movie.

    What I liked most about these short films is that you realise that although the World Cup is clearly a sporting event, the very fact it's being held in South Africa makes this a very different World Cup.

    Up until 20 years ago South Africa was pariah state, shunned by the sporting world. For the country to be holding the World Cup at this moment still feels amazing.

    The BBC films have given the tournament as sense of context and you appreciate the significance of the World Cup in South Africa when you realise what a troubled and unsavoury recent history the country has had.

    There's been criticisms of course which shouldn't be ignored. But this has come about only because the issue of sport and politics are so closely linked in South Africa.

    I think following the showing of the District Six documentary, they went back to the BBC studio with pundits Gary Lineker, Alan Hansen and Alan Shearer.

    Hansen when talking about Apartheid went on to say:

    "That system was obviously fundamentally flawed...but now they've got the World Cup,"

    Well that's alright then!

    He was rightly criticised for this but I quite like Hansen, so I'm not going to be too harsh on him on this one.

    It was one of those awkward moments when a sports pundit suddenly realises they've stepped outside of their comfort zone and into dangerous political territory.

    Rather then go any further and makes things worse, they quickly try and wrap things up, and inevitably make things worse.

    Despite this little blip I'm not going to let it overshadow what I think has been excellent coverage by the BBC.

    Saturday, 3 July 2010

    World Cup thoughts - Day 22 & 23

    Day 22

    What a day. What emotion!

    The first of this World Cup's Quarter finals.

    Brazil 1 Holland 2

    Ghana 1 Uruguay 1

    Uruguay win 4-2 on penalties.

    I'll start with the first game of the day - Holland v Brazil.

    How disappointing were Brazil?

    At half time this game was heading towards a routine win for Brazil. You couldn't see how Holland could get back into the game.

    Clearly the turning point came with Holland's first goal mid way through the second half. Brazil's goalkeeper Julio Cesar was at fault, coming off his line and failing to punch the cross that came into the box. Instead, midfielder Philipe Melo got in his way and headed into his own goal. It was one mistake which Brazil never recovered from.

    After going 2-1 down Brazil's Melo got himself sent off for stamping on Arjen Robben, a completely stupid thing to do.

    Brazil didn't exactly 'lose their heads' but they certainly lost their discipline and composure after Holland equalised. It was strange to watch as this team were the tournament favourites.

    When faced with a slight setback and some increased pressure from the Dutch they couldn't handle it and suffered an emotional collapse! It was bizarre.

    So why did they lose it?

    I have my own theory - For many of the so called bigger nations some of the first and second round games aren't challenging enough, they're not tested sufficiently.

    Once they reach the Quarter finals they face teams that should on paper offer a proper test. It's at this stage that serious questions are asked about a team's credentials. Last week, England's weaknesses were embarrassingly exposed against Germany and we saw today that Brazil simply weren't the team we all assumed they were.

    Up until this afternoon Brazil had been fine when they'd been in front, when things were going their way, but faced with a bit of pressure and suddenly they couldn't deal with it.

    Dunga the manager is unlikely to survive this result. His team were hardly loved by the Brazilian public, but they at least won games. They can't even say that now.

    In saying all of this, lets give credit to Holland, they hung in there and took their chances in the second half. They deserved to go through.

    Ghana 1 Uruguay 1

    Uruguay win 4-2 on penalties

    Talk about emotional, this is already a World Cup classic which will be remembered for years to come.

    Sport never ceases to amaze with the range of emotions it can generate. This game had it all.

    Before the game my heart said Ghana would win 1-0 but my head said Uruguay would score at least once. I haven't been overly convinced about Ghana's goal scoring threat, but I have to say I was surprised at just how well Ghana played overall.

    After the game finished 1-1 at 90 minutes, the first period of extra time looked as if Uruguay were going to go on and win it. Second period it was all Ghana, but nothing could prepare you for what was about to unfold.

    last minute of extra time, Ghana have a header handballed off the line, Suarez gets sent off and Asamoah Gyan steps up to take the penalty to send Ghana through to the semi finals!

    But no, he hits the crossbar - unbelievable!

    The penalties

    Fair play to Gyan for stepping up and scoring the first penalty, that took a huge amount of guts which has to be admired, but you just felt the momentum was now with Uruguay.

    The missed penalties by John Mensah and Dominic Adiyiah were some of the worst penalties I've ever seen in a shoot out. With Mensah's you knew as soon as he took a one step run up there would be no happy ending.

    After two misses by Ghana and one miss from Uruguay, it was left to Sebastian Abreu to send Uruguay through.

    People are already arguing that Ghana were cheated out of victory by luis Saurez's handball. Was it instinctive or was it deliberate?

    If Gyan has scored the penalty we wouldn't be having this debate. The officials got it right by sending Saurez off and awarding the penalty but the fact that Ghana missed the penalty makes you feel that justice wasn't really done.

    All I can think of is that the rules could be changed were a 'penalty goal' could be awarded in such situations where clearly a goal would have been scored had it not been for the handball.

    It's a tough one, but it's the nature of sport and life in general. You don't always get what you deserve, and things aren't always fair.

    Ghana have been excellent in this tournament and deserve a lot of credit, they've represented African football well, unlike teams like Nigeria and Cameroon who have underachieved yet again.

    The script was meant to be all about Africa's first World Cup and an African team going further than ever before, but life doesn't always follow the desired script.

    Some credit should be given to Uruguay as well. This was a massive game for them, their biggest in 40 years, a country who most people know little about, with only 3 million people but who have a proud footballing tradition. They've played some good football as well and a Semi final place isn't undeserved.

    Day 23

    Two more Quarter final clashes in another fascinating day at the World Cup.

    Germany 4 Argentina 0

    This must be the result of the tournament - who realistically thought this would be the final score?

    The dream of Maradona leading Argentina to World Cup glory smashed to bits here as Argentina were taught a footballing lesson.

    Germany have to be the team of the tournament so far, and must be favourites for the World Cup. With Germany teams of the past you've always been able to admire their discipline, efficiency and know how in progressing through tournaments, but this Germany team is also highly entertaining.

    As for Argentina - total humiliation. This was another example of a fancied team facing their first real test and failing spectacularly.

    To win a World Cup it usually helps if you have a midfield that consists of something more than just one defensive holding player!

    They had Mascherano as the holding midfielder and on the flanks there was Angel Di Maria and Maxi Rodriguez, but after that nothing. They needed someone in the middle, in front of Mascherano to act as a creator.

    This was cruelly exposed today which made my pre tournament prediction of Argentina winning the World Cup look like a laughable joke!

    Germany's manager Joachim Low correctly identified that there was no creative outlet for Argentina between their defence and attack, it meant for all the talent of Messi, Tevez and Higuain, they barely troubled the German keeper!

    Secondly none of their great attacking players really contribute defensively which allowed the Germans more time and space when they had possession.

    Watching this game I couldn't help but admire and respect Germany's overall footballing culture. The amazing consistency in major tournaments and the ability to organise and reinvent themselves over years and generations.

    If only England could learn something from how they do things.

    Spain 1 Paraguay 0

    It's hard to believe that tonight's result sent Spain into a World Cup Semi final for the first time in their history.

    Spain haven't totally convinced so far, stumbling through matches and not quite playing the beautiful passing game so many people were expecting.

    I imagined this game would be one of Paraguay defending in numbers, making life difficult for Spain who would monopolise possession but struggle to break Paraguay down.

    This is exactly what happened until the game sprung to life in the second half with 3 penalties in 3 minutes.

    Paraguay had a penalty and missed it, a minute later Spain had a penalty which Xabi Alonso scored which he was made to take again, as the referee said there was player encroachment into the box.

    Alonso steps up for a second time, but the keeper saves the spot-kick. From the rebound Fabregas comes running in to try and score but is upended by the keeper! Ridiculously no penalty was given by the ref!

    Thankfully for Spain David Villa came to rescue to score their winner in the last ten minutes. Where would they be without Villa? He's the only player scoring goals.

    At the moment Torres just isn't performing, and looks a shadow of the player we've seen in the Premiership. He's clearly not fit and I don't think there's enough games left for him to get fit and find his true form.

    How much longer is the manager Del Bosque going to persist with Torres? Spain seemed to play better earlier this week beating Portugal after Torres was replaced by the Athletic Bilbao forward Llorente.

    Spain's victory sets up a great looking Semi final against Germany. This is a tough one to call. Spain haven't been great so far but you feel they have the players and talent to beat Germany.

    Germany have proved already that they don't need the so called 'star players' as they function so well as a team. I'd make them slight favourites now, mainly because they're Germany.

    Despite Spain's talents, this is still uncharted territory for them. How will they cope with the pressure and expectation. There's this nagging voice in my head that says they'll bottle it!

    I hope not. We shall see.

    Friday, 2 July 2010

    The Times goes behind the paywall

    For those of you interested in reading the Times and Sunday Times on the internet, from tomorrow you're going to have to pay for the privilege. You can pay £1 for a day's access or £2 for a week.

    It sounds like the £2 for a week is the better option.

    So why has Rupert Murdoch decided to put the Times and Sunday Times behind a paywall?

    Traditional print media is struggling, newspapers both local and national are losing readers, sales and revenues are decreasing, journalists are being made redundant. Overall the old print media business model is collapsing.

    The internet has revolutionised how we consume the media and news stories, there's a whole generation of people who have no experience of buying newspapers and access information from the internet or smartphones. They don't pay for consuming news.

    The great paywall debate is all about how media groups like News International can make a profit in this new media landscape. Why should publishers give away their news content for free on the web? How do actually pay for quality journalism and news production if you have falling profits?

    The whole media industry has been waiting for this moment since Rupert Murdoch first announced his plans last year. The entire media industry will be paying close attention to see whether this experiment will really work.

    I suppose because I'm a part trained journalist this is a subject of great interest to me. I appreciate that producing good quality journalism requires a significant amount of time and resources.

    Good journalism does not come cheap, you need to invest in it. From this point of view I can understand why paywalls are being considered. It probably explains why I've been happy to continue buying newspapers.

    I'm buying a product and I accept that if I want something of a certain quality or standard then I need to pay for it.

    Will the paywall work?

    Although I think quality news content needs to be paid for, I along with many people have my doubts on how successful this paywall experiment will be.

    You have to ask yourself why would you pay to subscribe to the Times website? What is it offering that I can't get elsewhere?

    When it comes to getting news from the web, I normally go to the Guardian or the BBC, occasionally I would read the Times, but there's no reason for me pay for the Times when I already read the Guardian and the BBC online.

    If paywalls are to work then newspapers need to offer some form of niche or unique content; something that's specialised that people feel is worth paying for, that you can't find anywhere else.

    An example is the Wall Street Journal, which readers already pay for and is clearly a niche publication specialising in financial news.

    A national paper like the Times is too general, offering news stories on topics you can find for free elsewhere on the web. In fact newspapers have never focused on specialist interest subjects.

    This is why I think the paywall won't work, but we'll have to see how things develop over the next few months.