Sunday, 30 January 2011

Final word on the Sky Sports sexism row

I’ve been amazed at just how much this Andy Gray and Richard Keys sexism story has snowballed in the last week.

Their comments on Sian Massey were wrong, but I do feel they’ve been forced out of their jobs on Sky more because of their own unpopularity on the channel rather than for what they've actually said.

First things first, their opinions that women don’t understand offside were stupid and ignorant.

The offside rule isn’t difficult to understand. It’s one of the great football clich├ęs that offside is some incomprehensible rule that takes years to master.

Here’s how I describe the offside rule: The space on the pitch between the last defender and the goalkeeper is offside – Simples!

The only people who don’t understand offside are those that have no interest or understanding of football.

There’s no reason why women can’t be assistant refs. As long as you can keep up with play, raise your flag at the right moments, and spot any infringements by players you'll be fine doing the job.

As bad as Andy Gray and Richard Key’s comments were, did they actually affect the performance of Sian Massey during the game between Wolves and Liverpool?

Massey’s performance last weekend proved how wrong Gray and Keys were. That should have been the end of it. A slap on the wrist and public apology from the two of them, and we would have heard no more.

What did it for Gray and Keys was the leaking of more clips of them privately making further inappropriate comments. Where did these ‘leaks’ suddenly start coming from?

Last Tuesday I was tweeting that it was obvious that Gray and Keys had upset some people at Sky and the leaking of these video clips was payback time.

I’ve read quite a few reports over the last week saying that Gray and Keys weren’t popular or well liked amongst staff at Sky.

The impression that comes out is that they were arrogant and a bit full of themselves who bullied some members of staff. If they were really popular and well liked at Sky I can’t believe these further video clips would have been leaked.

Ok, maybe they weren’t the nicest people to work for, but there are thousands of people who are rude, unpopular and bully their staff at work all over the country. A lot of them can be very good at their jobs.

If there’s one thing that’s occurred to me over the last week it’s the failure of people to distinguish the difference between private and public life.

The comments that really did it for Gray and Keys weren’t public broadcasts, but were private comments said to work colleagues.

How many people have made comments in private that are politically incorrect whether intentional or not? If all our private conversations were made public and influenced our positions and abilities at work, then people would be losing their jobs everyday of the week.

Go to any football match and you’ll hear comments and language, which in most offices would be unacceptable. The bloke shouting idiotic abuse on the terraces one weekend could be a highly successful and articulate CEO during the week. Are all our private thoughts and comments meant to be used against us to say we’re unsuitable for our jobs?

I know Andy Gray wasn’t every football fans favourite, but I never had a problem with him. His co commentary had become the voice of Sky Sports and part of me will miss him, he was good at what he did.

I’m just not falling for some of the manufactured shock and outrage the some people are expressing with regards to Gray and Keys.

They made some ignorant comments in private, with further comments made public because of their unpopularity and not because of some great cause for sexual equality.

Thursday, 27 January 2011

Carling Cup Semi-Final: Birmingham 3 West Ham 1 (4-3) on aggregate

Birmingham produced one of the truly great performances I've ever seen from them last night when they clinched a place in the Carling Cup final. 2-1 down from the first leg, they won 3-1 on the night after extra time. This will be our first Wembley Cup final since 1956!



I watched the game in my local pub full of West Ham fans as I live in Stratford East London.

With Blues 1-0 down to an uncharacteristic Carlton Cole wonder goal, I wondered if it was worth sticking around. Thankfully I had just enough faith not to give up.

Just before the second half began I sent out a tweet saying: Coming up the biggest 2nd half at St Andrews in years!

How true that was. Despite the score I was still optimistic we could at least take the game into extra time.

As we staged our remarkable comeback, the pub descended into silence as each of our goals went in. Anyone paying attention would have noticed I was a Blues fan as I was the only person celebrating when our goals went in.

It was such a bizarre feeling listening to the West Ham fans around me shaking their heads in frustration as they watched what looked like certain victory transform into inevitable defeat.

As West Ham fans moaned how it was all so 'typical West Ham' I remembered how I was saying the same thing about Blues only a few hours earlier.

After Craig Gardner's winner went in I jumped up at the bar, arms outstretched and screamed COME ON!! Thankfully no one noticed as everyone else seemed to gutted to care!

I emailed some old friends today and said last night was one of those great moments where the team you support really steps up and rises to the challenge to achieve someone special. This is exactly what Blues did and I'll remember last night's game for years to come.

Can't wait for the final on 27 February.

Bring on the Gooners!

Sunday, 23 January 2011

In the end Coulson had to go

It was inevitable really that Andy Coulson would resign from his post as communications chief to David Cameron and the Tory Party.

This phone hacking story simply wouldn't go away. Everytime it kept coming back, it made it more difficult for Coulson to stay in his job - this is why he had to go.

I've heard a few comments saying this story doesn't really matter. Nobody outside of the Westminster Village even knows who Andy Coulson is.

It's a fair point - for a lot of ordinary voters, Coulson's resignation doesn't mean much. I on the other hand have been following this story for sometime, it's the media geek in me!

You can read my previous thoughts on this story by clicking on the links below. My opinions haven't changed much.

What's interested me are the reports on Coulson's influence within the Tory Party

Here's someone from a working class background, who grew up on a council estate in Essex, and was a former editor of the News of the World. He kept David Cameron and the Tory leadership in touch with the lives of ordinary people.

Related blog posts

Tabloid phone hacking

Journalism back in the gutter!

On Friday, the BBC's Nick Robinson mentioned this, and so did Channel 4 News in their report of Coulson's resignation.

This evening, I've just been listening to Pienaar's Politics on BBC Radio 5. They had an interview with the Conservative back bench MP David Davis who raised the same point, and argued how Coulsen's resignation was a blow to the image of the Tory Party under Cameron.

It's common knowledge that David Cameron, George Osborne and other senior figures within the Tory high command come from privileged, elitist backgrounds.

It shouldn't really matter what peoples backgrounds are, as long as they can do the job, but in reality it doesn't look good for the Conservatives when the majority of its senior leaders all come from Eton or Oxbridge backgrounds.

The impression that emerges about Andy Coulson was not only was he very good at his job, but he also brought a grittier, tougher mindset to the Tory leadership. He was someone who was there to remind Cameron and his inner circle about the real concerns and thoughts of ordinary people.

The criticisms levelled at Tories could easily be made against all politicians both in the Labour Party and the Liberal Democrats. Many of our MPs seem to come from the same narrow educational and social background.

What's going to be interesting to see is firstly how the Tories communication strategy evolves without Coulson in charge, and secondly where will this phone hacking story go from here. I just know we haven't heard the last of it.

Wednesday, 19 January 2011

The battle for the Olympic stadium

We’re heading into the home straight in the race to decide who’ll take over the Olympic Stadium after the 2012 Games.

I’ve been following this story quite closely in the last few days. It’s now a two-way battle between West Ham and Tottenham.

West Ham must be favourites, but Spurs have come along in recent months to muscle in on the plans of West Ham and UK athletics.

A decision on the stadium should have been made years ago. It feels like we’ve spent the last 6 years discussing what the Olympic legacy should be. With a year to go we’re still not sure.

A final decision will be made next week on the 28 January. None of the proposals are ideal, but If I had to choose I’d prefer to see West Ham get the Olympic Stadium rather than Spurs.

Personally my own choice for the Olympic stadium would be this:

After the Games reduce the stadium's capacity to 20 - 25,000 seats, and turn it into a multi purpose stadium for both sporting and non sports events. If a football club had to come in and use it how about Leyton Orient?

I was under the impression that one of the promises made when London won the bid in 2005, was the Games would leave a legacy for athletics. As an athletics fan, I'd like to see athletics taken care of.

I accept that a 40,000 plus capacity stadium used only for athletics isn't viable. Any stadium that size would need a football club using it, if you wanted to fill it on regular basis.

West Ham's plans show they intend to keep the athletics track and reduce the capacity from 80,000 to 60,000 seats.

This would be great for UK athletics, it could potentially bid for World and European Championships. The main problems are that I can't see West Ham filling a 60,000 stadium - their fan base isn't big enough; secondly football fans in this country don't want to watch football in stadiums with athletics tracks. It's not part of our footballing culture.

Although West Ham moving in wouldn't be perfect, it's still better than Tottenham's proposals. Spurs should stay in North London, and I know most of their fans agree.

Spurs are bidding in collaboration with the sports and entertainment company AEG. They want to demolish most of the stadium, and build a new football stadium which doesn't include a track.

To appease UK athletics, they will contribute financially in refurbishing the athletics stadium in Crystal Palace, South London.

Former British Olympic sprinter Darren Campbell, has said today that Tottenham's plans should be considered. I agree up to a point.

I'd be happy to see Crystal Palace refurbished - it needs it, but I still don't like Tottenham's plans. They haven't yet answered questions on when they intend to fully refurbish Crystal Palace, and how will they afford to do so whilst competing in the Premier League and in Europe?

Firstly Spurs don't really want to move, the Olympic Stadium is their second choice. They've already had plans commissioned to build a new stadium next door to White Hart Lane. By proposing to move to Stratford they can put more pressure on Haringey Council to support Spurs' attempts to build a new stadium in Tottenham.

Anyone who's been to a match at White Hart Lane, knows about the problems with transport links. Any new stadium built in Tottenham would need assurances that improvements to the local transport infrastructure would be made. I'm just wondering where the money for such capital investment would come from in these difficult economic times.

The London borough of Haringey is already one of the most deprived and disadvantaged in London. The revenue that Spurs bring to the area means the council can't afford to lose Tottenham to East London. This is another reason for Spurs to remain where they are.

Tottenham's plans are a non starter, and West Ham taking over the Olympic stadium is the best option.

We'll find out on the 28 January.

Sunday, 16 January 2011

Is Rock & Roll really dead?

I've been reading a few articles this week, proclaiming the death of Rock and Roll.

Last year there were only three rock records that appeared in the top 100 best selling singles chart.

The best selling rock record in 2010 was ‘Don’t Stop Believing’ by Journey, a classic track, but one that's over 30 years old!

Pop, Hip Hop and RnB are battling it out for the popular music crown, with over 80% of singles sales coming from these genres.

Veteran DJ and music professor Paul Gambaccini was quoted saying:

"It is the end of the rock era. It's over, in the same way the jazz era is over,"

I’m a bit sceptical about the idea that rock is dead. Music critics are always looking to declare the death or rebirth of one genre of music or another.

Clearly rock isn't quite so popular at the moment, but then all music goes in cycles when it comes to popularity.

There's still a big market for rock music it just isn't reflected in the singles charts. Have a look at the top 100 best selling albums and it's a different story, with almost a third of sales being categorised as rock.

Reading some people's comments posted on the Guardian's website about this story, it felt like I was back in my old student 6th form common room.

The same silly attitudes, with people taking themselves and rock music far too seriously - complaining about how terrible the charts are because it's dominated by Pop, Hip Hop and RnB. So what, just get over it!

At times I've always found some aspects of rock culture slightly pretentious. Rock has always tried to portray itself as 'proper' or 'serious' music. It's always looking to prove its cultural and musical superiority over other music styles particularly Pop.

Music goes in cycles in terms of what's popular and fashionable. Only a few years ago here in the UK, there was a huge revival of British guitar bands. The charts were dominated by the likes of the Arctic Monkeys, Kaiser Chiefs, The Kooks to name but a few.

Maybe I missed it, but I don't remember complaints from music fans saying there was too much guitar music around. Other music genres don't feel they have this automatic right to dominate popular music culture in the way some rock fans feel.

Rock isn't going to die out, look at the live music scene and all the summer music festivals we have in this country, one of the biggest music acts around are Kings of Leon, a band I have to say I am sick of hearing! The critics can say what they like but rock is still in good health.

Perhaps after 50 years of dominating music culture, we may be coming to the end of rock's era. In terms of creativity there's only so much you can do with a singer, some drums and a lead and bass guitar. It's unlikely that rock can push any further boundaries. It will still by played but played inside a well established form similiar to that of jazz.

People's tastes change and evolve. Rock’s had a good run, but maybe it's musical and cultural influence will never quite be the same again.

Saturday, 8 January 2011

The Ashes: How the tables have turned

For most of my life, Ashes cricket has meant watching Australia give England a harsh cricketing lesson – now it’s England teaching the Aussies how to play.

One of the more interesting theories I’ve heard behind England’s series success, is that somehow England have managed to become more Australian than the Australians.

I’m not so sure about that. At the moment England clearly have a better collection of players than Australia, but talent can only take you so far.

England have been captained well by Andrew Strauss, but the management, background staff and infrastructure of English cricket has improved, and this shouldn’t be overlooked.

Sporting success goes in cycles. This is England’s time; they’ve worked incredibly hard to reach this point. Australia have dominated world cricket for almost 20 years – but nothing lasts forever.

As I mentioned in my last Ashes post, it’s incredibly difficult for any team; regardless of the sport to keep on producing successful winning teams.

Being on top and maintaining that position brings its own challenges, something which Australia have had to deal with in recent years.

Some of the Australian media reaction to the series defeat has been over the top. They’ve become spoilt with success.

Suddenly they’ve become all introspective, questioning how they’re going to produce top quality test match cricketers. Sport is so important to Australia's national self esteem, that you know at some point Australian cricket will re-emerge.

As for England, I remember after the 2005 series win the team were meant to go on and become the World’s number one Test team - that never happened.

In my lifetime England have never been the dominant Test playing country. Becoming the best in the world has to be the next challenge. That's going to be tough and not taking anything away from this Ashes triumph, I’m not going to get carried away and assume England will achieve this.

Have to say though it is exciting times in English cricket. I remember back in the late 90s early 2000s I lost a bit of interest in cricket as England were so mediocre.

Now I’m really looking forward to this year’s World Cup and summer Test series against India

Friday, 7 January 2011

Death of the record shop

It was a bad week for the record shop HMV.

It was announced that in the run up to Christmas, sales slumped by 14% and the group lost £20 million in sales.

This year, HMV is planning on cutting at least 40 of its stores around the country, along with 20 Waterstones bookshops, which HMV also owns.

With HMV taking a hammering in recent years with the CD, DVD, and book market going online, it got me thinking:

Is this the end of the record shop?

Independent record shops have been in decline for years. They were then followed by major High Street retailers. Remember Virgin, Tower Records?

HMV are like the last man standing - but even now they seem to be on their last legs.

I still go out and buy CDs which I know might surprise a few people. Why do I do it?

I actually like physically owning something - but I'm beginning to think this is an old fashioned idea.

I don't like or understand the idea of my record collection being hidden away on a laptop or computer. I like to physically see my record collection in all it's glory.

Secondly, for me there's the sense of nostalgia. Being into music has always meant spending hours in records shops. Whether it's a High Street retailer like HMV or independent records stores.

I enjoy that sense of browsing, seeing what's about, picking records up.

Today there's a whole generation of people whose experience of buying records doesn’t involve going to a record shop. I can only see this group growing

I accept that technology moves on, but I don’t think discovering and listening to music online will ever be as interesting or as exciting as browsing or buying records in a high street or independent record shop.

Read more on this on the Guardian's music blog.

Why we need HMV

Fears for the survival of HMV

Thursday, 6 January 2011

'Censored' edition of Huckleberry Finn causes controversy

Whilst I was getting ready for work this morning, I was watching BBC breakfast. They featured a report on the book Huckleberry Finn by the 19th Century American author Mark Twain.

The new edition of the book coming out this year has caused controversy, as the racially offensive ‘N’ word has been removed.

There’s now a debate taking place asking whether it’s right that ‘the N word’ should be replaced or not.

I hadn’t realised that in America many schools have stopped teaching the novel, because of its racially offensive language.

Those in favour of the new edition argue it will allow more people to feel comfortable reading the book. I don’t really agree with this opinion.

You have to think about the context of the story and this is why ‘the N word’ shouldn't be replaced.

Huckleberry Finn is set during in the 1830s and 40 in America’s Deep South. This was a racist society, and slavery had yet to be abolished.

For me, removing ‘the N word’ from the book is a form of cultural vandalism!

It’s a shame that so many schools in America feel the need to ban the book.

The 2011 edition replaces the word ‘nigger’ with slave, which it’s been reported some people feel more comfortable with.

I understand this, but by removing ‘the N word’ the story will lose it’s historical and cultural relevance.

Although we might live in more enlightened times when it comes to race, it's important to remember that it wasn't always like this.

There's been a journey and progression, particularly in America in regards to race.

A book like Huckleberry Finn is like a reference point for the reader, and shows how attitudes have changed and evolved over a period of time.

At this point I should point out I’ve never actually read Huckleberry Finn, but I do have a copy at home. The book was given to my years ago by a colleague at work.

I tried reading it last year, but as the copy I have is an old edition. I found it quite difficult as the typeface isn’t very reader friendly for me.

It’s still a book I’ve always wanted to read, and I will get round to it one day.

When it comes to 'the N word' it's not as if it's a word that's disappeared from popular culture.

Anyone who listens to Hip Hop on a regular basis will hear the ‘N’ word mentioned all the time.

I’ve listened to Hip Hop for years and barely notice the word in that context. If I’m being honest I can hardly imagine listening to Hip Hop without ‘the N word’ It’s a word that’s culturally relevant to the music.

Last year I watched all 5 series of the critically acclaimed US TV drama, The Wire. Again ‘the N word’ is used a lot.

In the context of the show and the stories that are being told, the word can’t be airbrushed.

Many Societies in the past had beliefs and value systems that many of us may now find abhorrent.

That doesn't give us the right to go around editing things out and re-writing history because we don't like it.

This essentially is what some people are trying to do by censoring cultural works such as Huckleberry Finn.