Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Ballad of Cable Hogue

That was a decent enough start for England last night, and they played as anyone who has ever watched  a Hodgson team thought they would. At the time, I was reasonably happy, but as night has turned to morning and I've listened to phone ins and read and heard reports, I am wearying of it all. The consensus, especially from ex players and the professional pundits, is that it was a superbly disciplined performance and we did brilliantly to keep France at bay. Where people have dissented, and said that it was bloody tedious to watch, they have been ridiculed……….the wise ones say, hah, how idiotic, play more openly and you will get ripped apart, As is often the case with football debates, people can only entertain extremes. It is shit, or it is bust.

The style didn't surprise me, and, given that we all knew what was coming, it didn't disappoint me. If that's the way we are going to play,we may as well do it well, and we did do it well, especially as it was Hodgson's first competitive game. As was the case when Eck managed Blues, I live in hope that as the players become more attuned to each other and the system, the relationships between defenders, midfielders and forwards will become more fluid and cohesive. I live in hope that we will play on our toes, rather than our heels. My dreams never came true with Eck, but Hodgson has much better players at his disposal; I would hope that their own sense of dignity and self worth will compel them to offer more of a threat.

I have nothing against teams playing to their strengths, whatever they are, and I have nothing against managers analysing the opposition and working out ways in which to nullify the threats they pose, but, there has to come a point when you pose a threat of your own. These are games being played at the highest level, you cannot just play for set pieces, you have to be able to offer a surprise, to work out how to unsettle the opposition. France didn't look all that good last night, perhaps because we didn't let them, but the thought nags with me that if we had attacked with just a bit more purpose, or cohesion, we may have won.

Playing defensively is no guarantee of success. Just because Chelsea pulled off a bit of a coup doesn't mean that England will. Big media is being very kind towards Hodgson this morning, but if we go out having achieved 3 dogged draws the tide will turn….. it's OK to be defensive when you are the underdog, as we were perceived to be last night,  I recall some heroic 0-0 draws under Eck, but, if that style is your default position whatever the opposition, and you fail, life becomes uncomfortable. Just ask Big Fucking Eck.

People are commenting on Alan Shearer's new found desire to gurn idiotically every time a camera is pointed at him. Someone needs to tell him to desist……..it's the scariest grin since Jack Nicholson in The Shining. It's one thing being allowed to travel the world at licence payers expense, saying not very much at all; it's quite another to induce nightmares in the children of the nation.

Reactive football can be thrilling

Monday, June 11, 2012

Circle Round A Tree

The good news is that Blues finally got their accounts done. The not so good news is that no one is any the wiser, and the auditors seem to believe that they represent a crock of shit. There are those who now fear for our future, and are worried because it looks like we will have to sell players to keep going. To these people I say, congratulations for finally taking your collective head out of your collective arse. No offence meant, obviously. Mind you it hasn't stopped fanciful speculation from people regarding who our new manager might be. Fanciful is a much nicer word than idiotic, I believe. At least we have something to debate, and fret about; it keeps our interest up in these horrible close season months, months during which life becomes meaningless.

This isn't too bad a close season though, because we have the Euros, So far, they have been all right. I don't think there has been a really putrid game yet, and Ireland caused me great amusement last night. I have nothing against Ireland, you cannot grow up as a catholic in Birmingham and be anti Irish, but the predictable nonsense being spouted by the commentators was seriously aggravating, and I was laughing at them more than I was the Irish. England play France tonight, and I think putrid might finally put in an appearance.

I like Hodgson, I really do, and despite his obvious dissembling regarding Rio, I like his honesty, and his matter of fact and realistic air, I don't like his style of football though. I remember a game between Birmingham and Fulham. Eck v Hodgson. Eck won. There were those who proclaimed it a cerebral victory for the Blues…..we out thought them….. Eck got his tactics spot on. What we did, was we matched them and so provided a feast of stultifying football. It was as though both teams were trying not to score. Defending is part of the game too, I know that, but it's not an exciting part of it. Hodgson may surprise us all, and send the team out with instructions to sparkle, I can't see it though. He is the pragmatists pragmatist.

It's probably a bit too early to pick on him, before a ball is kicked in anger, but I am naive and romantic. You see the way Barcelona and Spain play, you see the way younger managers like Martinez, Rogers, Lambert and Adkins are getting their teams to play, and you hope we are entering a new footballing era, a brighter era in which the percentage merchants like Megson, Bruce, Allardyce and Mcleish have had their day. Then you read article after article describing Hodgson's obsession with defensive organisation and solidity, and you shake your head, and you sigh, and you accept that you have been dreaming all along,

Watching the game whilst tweeting adds to the fun, especially during games in which not much is happening or you have little interest in. The poor old commentators and analysts have come in for some serious shit from the twitterati, and rightly so, because, almost to a man, they are shit…..shit to the point of embarrassment. Our embarrassment, not theirs…….some of them seem to delight in the abuse they are getting. I can't figure out why it has to be this way.

At the risk of alienating everyone again, I'm going to praise Sky. Their presentation and analysis of rugby is superb………cogent, entertaining, informative and witty. You might say, well, it's a middle class sport, so the buggers on telly have all been to good schools and university and are extremely articulate, but Sky's boxing coverage is equally as good, and the coverage of Spanish football and cricket isn't far behind. Try watching the Tour de France on Eurosport; they will talk all day long, hour after hour about a load of blokes pedalling bikes, for mile after endless mile, and it is great……..so how come the nations main broadcasters can't find a bunch of blokes who are able to talk about the best game in the world for half an hour, without everyone wanting to put their foot through the screen?

Friday, June 08, 2012

96 Tears

So, Hughton has gone and  the various rumour mills and their mongers are working overtime. The wishful thinkers are beside themselves. I think the best thing we Blues fans can do is set our sights low, I can't see that any established manager who still has a reputation to lose will find us attractive, and nor will any ambitious young bucks. Who knows what tomorrow will bring though.

Enough of Blues, for now. Read any good books lately? I have. I've read some shit ones too, I won't mention those though.

For years, I couldn't get on with Walter Mosely. I found him a bit po faced, and always felt like I was reading a black consciousness polemic rather than  a novel. I may have been doing him an injustice, I have little patience with books that start off by getting on my nerves…... maybe his books were better than I thought. Last year, I gave one of his later novels a try, one with a new hero, Leonid McGill, and set in the present time and, I was, well, blown away, man.

I first got into crime fiction because of Margaret Thatcher and the death of the engineering industry in Brum. After leaving school, without so much as a CSE in art or woodwork, I found it quite difficult to find gainful employment, once I went on to adult pay rates anyway, and I became unemployed and unemployable . I would spend all this free time in a flat in Bromford Bridge, way before day time telly, the internet and all day pubs had been invented, reading. Obviously, I was skint, so would get my reading matter from Brum central library, much loved by Prince Charles, I believe. I virtually worked my way through the whole damn catalogue.

By chance, or because I had got to the "G's" I picked up a Goodis, or it might have been a Cain, I don't know, I can't remember, but I can remember being astonished. I had never come across anything like it. Despite my lack of educational achievement, I had read like a bastard since I was first able to read, and although I had read the kitchen sink stuff of Barry Hines  and his like, mostly, when I escaped into a book, I escaped into a cosy, middle class, English world. At the time I picked up that Goodis, or whoever it was, I had mostly been reading books by the likes of A.N Wilson, Kingsley Amis, David Lodge and Malcolm Bradbury. Oh, and Knut Hamsun. I loved Knut Hamsun…….nothing cosy about that old Nazi.

So, Goodis, and Cain and Thompson, and Woolrich and Hammett and McCoy, were a surprise and a delight. Here were blokes that had been writing decades before, in a place far, far away, that touched me in a much more profound way than all these English professors could manage. The English lot amused and diverted me, but they didn't engage me; they dealt in fripperies, whereas these hard boiled dudes got to the heart of the matter. Which reminds me, I was reading a fair bit of Graham Greene at the time as well. These Yanks didn't record their latest long dark night of the soul, or engage in middle class angst. They knew that life was too important for all that shit.

Being crime novels, what you got, was crime, then the books would go off at surprising and interesting tangents. The economic circumstances of the time would be looked at, and the psychology of the perpetrators might be examined. Notions of justice would be considered. The heroes were not necessarily heroic. These books examined the lives of people who had been handed the shitty end of the stick. I loved this stuff, and became a bit of an aficionado. I know what an aficionado is, because, at the time, I also read a bit of Hemingway.

Finding all this great stuff also presented me with a bit of a problem. Most crime writing is shit. Finding books that lived up to my new found expectations was difficult. It's difficult now, even with Amazon and twitter throwing up recommendations; it was a task and a half in pre internet days. You certainly weren't going to find this stuff in the review pages of The Guardian and TheTimes. I became hard to please, I'm still hard to please. I work hard to find these books and if they want me to like 'em, they had better be good. Even then, when you find an author who writes like a bastard, there is a tendency for them to become formulaic, you can find yourself, essentially, reading the same book over and over again.

Which brings me back to Mosely and his new McGill novels. He gives us aficionado's something different, something to get stuck into. The books are highly readable, which has to be the overriding criteria, but on top of that they are funny, in a wry, understated way; they are morally ambiguous, and they engage the emotions. Best of all……. the ripe red cherry on the top…… they are radical. The best crime fiction is radical. Mosely could well be the most radical writer currently at work. What I'm trying to say, I suppose, is that the McGill novels hit the spot.

I've also discovered Roger Smith in recent months, thanks to twitter. I needed to be convinced here. There is a surfeit of authors who write well enough, are good at ratchetting up the violence to unlikely levels but don't really have much to say to us. That's OK, I have no problem with that, but it's not my cup of tea. I feared that Smith would be amongst this lot, but I was wrong. I've read two so far, Mixed Blood and Wake Up Dead, and both have had me making regular trips to the internet to find out more about  the places and people he writes about. Not many authors inspire that. I now go to bed at night saying my prayers, and praying that some devilish demon of the night doesn't deposit me, innocent and ripe for the plucking, in Cape Flats. If you want a comparison, he would most definitely be up there with early Pelecanos for pace, wit and energy.

I'm not a slave to crime though. Browsing the shelves at the incredible Cwmbran Library I came across The Visiting Angel, by Paul Wilson. It's not the type of book I would normally read. It was about an angel, for a fucking start……….then, it featured a hero (?) who had endured a parental loss at an early age, and it was set in a hostel for people recovering from mental illness, all of which is a bit close to home for me. I don't like misery memoirs and I don't like anything that is even remotely connected with work, so I wasn't likely to enjoy, or even finish reading this book.

Initially, I struggled; he was writing about stuff I know about and I was finding it irritatingly implausible, but the thing drew me in. It is warm, has it's moments of wit and pathos and is moving and wise; you come to like and care about all the characters in it. It is highly fanciful, but who gives a fuck? It gives you pause for thought………not that it is a difficult read, any book I manage to get through has to be readable above all else. I recommend it, with a capital R.

If you feel like reading a brilliant piece on the value of crime fiction as art……here you go. Mind you, I wouldn't class the work Woodrell as crime fiction.

An excerpt from Smith's Mixed Blood and an excerpt from Wake Up Dead

An excerpt from Mosely's The Long Fall and an excerpt from All I Did Was Shoot My Man

Wednesday, June 06, 2012

Let's All Go To The Bar

Bugger me. It looks like yesterdays blog needs updating already. There were reports last night that Chris Hughton had gone to Norwich, whereas it seems that all that has happened is that the club has agreed that he can talk to them, which, in reality, means he will be orf.

I will have to avoid Blues message boards for the rest of the day, at least. They have gone a bit hysterical. It's like "The Second Coming".
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.
I wonder what rough beast will be slouching towards us?

There are those who find Hughton's action (I'm being presumptuous here) dismal and despicable; I'm not one of those people. It is ludicrous to expect any manager to show loyalty; it doesn't happen, and one of the reasons it doesn't happen is becauses clubs, and fans, rarely show loyalty to any manager. Hughton is not in a position to strengthen Blues squad, and the likelihood is that by the time next season kicks off, the squad will be significantly weakened. There are two issues here, one is that as a matter of professional pride, why would Hughton want to stay working with such restrictions when there is no need, if he can go somewhere else and put himself to the test against better opposition with better players and without having to run for dear life to cling on to a non existent precipice, like some cartoon cat? The other issue is his reputation, which can be lost overnight in football. Look at Phil Brown, Roy Keane, Steve McLaren et al. Hughton might perceive that in our current state, his hard won reputation is at too great a risk, and that would be a perfectly rational perception.

There are those that proclaim that Hughton knew what he was getting into when he joined us, so he has no right to squeal like a girl and go scampering off now. They say that he was quoted often enough last season to the effect that he had a good relationship with Pannu and was being kept fully informed. I don't believe that he did know the full extent of the shit we were in when he joined, and I don't think Pannu did either. It is one thing to be told that because we had been relegated the squad would have to be trimmed and there would not be much money available for replacements, quite another to find the owner arrested and charged with money laundering 6,000 miles away, have a transfer embargo slapped on the club, and have to sit by and spout bullshit as the club repeatedly fails to publish the accounts. Hughton was just being a savvy media operator with his pronouncements.

Now, there are those who have already come to hate the man, and liken him to Big Eck, and say that they hope he goes on to massive failure. I don't understand this stance. As I said yesterday, last season was the most enjoyable for bloody decades. It was tremendous fun being a Blues fan again. If he goes, it will be a perfectly rational, understandable decision, and I will be watching Norwich with interest, because I like the man, and  I like his style, I am keen to see how well he does at the higher level, presumably with players that he wants, rather than who he can afford. Obviously, he still won't be shopping in Harrods, or even Marks and Sparks, but you get my point. I don't have much interest in the prem even when we are in it, so he has at least given me a reason to keep an eye on it.

It's strange the way that we football fans respond to abandonment and desertion. Some go with our blessing and remain revered forever, or until they insult us, and some are immediately despised. Eck hasn't got many well wishers amongst the faithful and nor has Robbie Savage, despite making massive contributions, in their own ways, to periods of relative success; yet TF remains loved despite leaving us for money all those years ago, then failing to get us promoted as a manager. I don't love or revere Hughton, but I respect him, and as brief as the relationship has proved to be, it was fucking fun while it lasted.

Tuesday, June 05, 2012

Look The Other Way

Well, that last blog post, all the way back in October turned out to be a pile of old shit. There are reasons for it, some more valid than others, but I can't be arsed going into that now, I will though, very soon, maybe. I'm sure it will be fucking fascinating when I get round to doing it...... first though, I have to get some practice in writing more than 140 characters.

Frankly, I'm disappointed in Roy Hodgson.  He's a man I'd like to like. I like his crumpled and dishevelled look, and I like his generallly bewildered but amused air. I like the fact that he comes across as urbane and well read; I like the fact that he has a hinterland. What does he know who only cricket knows, as it were. Or some such shit. I think he has a form of Tourettes though, one which compels him to bark "footballing reasons" as his response to any difficult question. This would be hilarious if it didn't also compel him to regard the football supporters of this nation as idiots.

This tendency first came to light when, at his first press conference, he was asked why he had broken the sporting boycott of South Africa. To be honest, I thought it was a bit of  a cheeky fucking question, and not entirely appropriate, not at that time: it became interesting in retrospect though. Roy's response was that he had gone to South Africa for "footballing reasons". Well, Roy, few of us thought that you had gone for gastronomic reasons. I suspect that  few people care about this, it was just some smart arse journalist trying to make mischief, but this was the first sighting, by me, anyway, of the footballing reasons response.

Regardless of the cheek of the question, Hodgson could have given a much more interesting answer. I don't know why he went, maybe he wasn't as intelligent then as he is now, and hadn't given it any serious thought, or didn't think it mattered, or was a supporter of apartheid;  it would have been interesting though, to hear if his perceptions had changed while he was there, and if he had any regrets about his decision. He chose not to be interesting, which, in the light of subsequent controversies with Micah Richards, Rio Ferdinand and John Terry, is, well,  interesting.

We all know that Rio was dropped for footballing reasons. Fair enough, but to continue to drop him for footballing reasons, as defenders drop like flies, looks a bit clumsy. He looks a bit of a butterfingers. When it comes to football, I have no idea what Hodgson's reasons are for repeatedly disregarding Ferdinand, and I have no brief for Rio at all. Frankly, I could give as much of a shit about him as I could anyone who does not play for the Blues……..not much of a shit at all, but, something seems wrong here, and it wouldn't be entirely irrational to consider that Rio is a victim of John Terry's poor behaviour and reputation. Few would now believe that Rio has been dropped for footballing reasons, and, in my opinion, as worthless as it is, if anyone should be dropped for non footballing reasons, it should be Terry, not Ferdinand.

In fact, as footballing reasons go, they are both serial failures. This pair are part of a golden generation that has succeeded only in humiliating the nation. Could the team have coped without John Terry? Well, Chelsea managed it, and it seems unlikely that he would be missed on account of his winning personailty. According to a few reports I have read, half the squad can't stand him, if not for one indiscretion, then another. Then there is his laughably egotistical behaviour at the Champions League final. The wrong man has been sacrificed here.

Does it matter? Most pundits are writing us off before we start, so this is where will see the mettle of Hodgson………in how he gets the players he has taken to perform. He has a way and style of playing that he likes and he will have picked players to suit that style, people he can trust to do the things that he wants them to.  Apparently, his preparations are meticulous and his players are extremely well drilled. He likes a solid defence and midfield, his teams are very hard to break down. We will, no doubt, make life very difficult for the opposition when they are in our half, I'm not so convinced that we will make life difficult for them when we are in their half, but, football truly is a beautiful and strange game, and anything can happen.

If you are interested in Hodgson's philosophy, there is a brilliant article in todays Guardian

So. Blues. It's really good being a Blues fan. I don't know how many times I have said it on this blog over the years, but there genuinely is never a dull moment. Once again, we are enjoying a close season of drama and intrigue. Will we get our accounts published? Will Carson manage to pay his rent? Is there a mystery buyer waiting in the wings, maybe another Ken Wheldon, waiting to flog off the few bits of silver we have left?  Will Chris Hughton leave for some mediocre bunch of nobody's? Who knows, who knows.

Last season, there was some debate around whether we would prefer to win that tin pot cup nobody but the winner cares about, or stay in the prem. My preferred option was both of the above, but, if I was only allowed to choose one, it would have been to stay in the prem, not because I have much love for the place, I don't, but because the indications were that if we went down we would be in serious shit. Many on the various message boards were blase about relegation, believing that we would quickly rise again, as we had before. I never believed that, the whole of last season reminded me throughout (and I said so across various social media) of the year Saunders took us so disastrously down. People were saying then that it wouldn't hurt to go down for a season, regroup and come back stronger. It took 18 years. I was worried last season that history might be repeating itself, and I am more worried now.

Not overly worried, you understand. I am a Blues fan, after all. Most of us are stoics, we don't expect much. We are made of tough stuff. If nothing else, we should be able to shed a few of the cry babies that have decided to support us since our brief elevation to yo yo club. There is a disappointment though, or a potential disappointment, as no one knows what the next few weeks and months will bring. Chris Hughton has been a breath of fresh air. Last season was the most enjoyable since the 70's. Not all of our performance were delightful, but enough of them were. Hughton brightened up a place that had become rather grey. He did it with cast offs from other clubs, bargains from obscure Scottish clubs, our own flotsam and jetsam that weren't good enough to be pilfered by others, and some young talent of our own.

It looks likely that Hughton will go, and I would also be surprised if we can hang on to Butland. It would be ace to have one of ours play for England, but never to have seen him play a first team game for us. Redmond, Mutch and Burke will probably be wanted as well, and maybe King, and with our finances the way they are, I can't see us refusing any money, for any player. For the first time in years, we have a manager and players with the potential to keep us smiling, and there is every chance that we will piss all that potential and talent up the wall.