Ireland v England made me a bad sports fan

March 2, 2011 Leave a comment

Kevin O’Brien’s incredible 113 from 63 balls helped Ireland to a famous win over England. But being a fan can make you a bitter, joyless character about things

It’s all very well, being gracious and everything.

Ireland are a side you often support. In many sports, not just in cricket, their plucky underdog status and spirit of derring-do appeal to all but the coldest-hearted of neutrals. And so it is with me: so I was pleased to see Ed Joyce back in their side – given that he’s not going to play for England; so I was disappointed for them when they failed to chase 206 against Bangladesh in their World Cup opener last week.

And I want to say I am pleased for them for what happened next. That I admire not only their stereotyped qualities of courage and character, but their skill. That they showed themselves to be of international pedigree, proven class. Giant killings are, after all, an almost spiritual part of the fabric of sport.

And I suppose I do. It’s just that when I saw Kevin O’Brien on his way to the fastest ever century in a World Cup, playing a brilliant, brutal innings of hitting against England’s increasingly hapless bowlers (and fielders), the feeling I mainly felt was not respect, nor grudging happiness. I  felt angry, upset and determined that England should get him out by whatever means so that they still might scrape to a win against this non-Test playing nation. Sometimes supporting a team makes you a less good fan of sport. Supporters of England were the only people in the world not rejoicing in the accomplished and fearless performance of the Irish team in Bangalore on Wednesday. We were, to an extent, running against the grain of sport lovers.

And as I sat there, agitated, wishing that someone would bowl a beamer at O’Brien’s face so that he would have to be stretchered off, or failing that, that a wild panther would run onto the pitch and rip the bat out of the burly, red-headed bastard’s hands, I did not feel good about myself. I was upset that England were playing badly, of course. And I was also unhappy that I could not be part of the party: the celebration of a triumph that would have been so heart-warming to look on, were it any other team in the world that Ireland had beaten.

Partisanship is a massive part of the enjoyment of sport. But it doesn’t always make you a good person. And sometimes, nay, often, it’s bloody frustrating.

Categories: Cricket Tags: , , , ,

Hodgson the latest victim in tale of English-manager-phobia

January 10, 2011 1 comment


English football managers are not as good as foreign ones. Reads like a truism, doesn’t it? Well it’s wrong. It is the result of long-term, blatant, endemic discrimination and it must stop.

The cause of restoring the beleaguered image and reputation of English managers suffered a major blow when Roy Hodgson parted company with Liverpool last week. Hodgson’s troubled tenure at Anfield gives credibility to the popularly-held opinion that fine English managers like him, Sam Allardyce, Harry Redknapp, Alan Curbishley, Ian Holloway, Steve Bruce etc are okay when handling a bunch of journeymen at their battling, middling clubs, but can’t deal with top players and manage the top teams. No, no, when one of those jobs comes up, don’t even bother listing an Englishman on the odds list – wasted bet. Not an option.

When the Chelsea job comes up, who will it be? Someone with Champions League experience? Well, then! It can’t be an Englishman because almost no Englishmen are given jobs with teams capable of qualifying for the Champions League. Tottenham is an interloper into what has until this season been a very exclusive cartel, in which two of the top teams – Manchester United and Arsenal – haven’t changed their managers (both not English) for decades. The only real chance for a home-grown gaffer would have been Chelsea or Liverpool, neither of which has appointed an English manager since 1994. So English managers are presumed incapable because none has been given a chance at Champions League level. Harry Redknapp’s performance with Spurs should prove that home-grown bosses do have the knowledge and the expertise: no one was worried about Redknapp’s lack of Champions League experience while Tottenham played champions Inter Milan off the park last November.

It is peculiarly English to denigrate and ignore our own managers, to the point where we can’t bear to appoint one of our own to the national role. In Spain and Italy, if a manager does well with a smaller, middling or good side they are given a chance at a big club (like Roberto Mancini, who did well at Lazio before getting the Inter job). They also appoint rookies of their own tribe (such as Guardiola at Barca) to top, top jobs, and after winning with what were already extremely good sides, these are presumed geniuses.

Sam Allardyce took Bolton into the Premier League and between 2004 and 2007 produced four consecutive top ten finishes: eighth, sixth (which put them in the UEFA Cup for the first time), eighth and then seventh – a record bettered only in that period by the then ‘big four’. Rafael Benitez had done far less before he inherited a Valencia squad brimming with potential. Had Allardyce done the same as an Italian in Italy, or a Spaniard in Spain, he would have had a top job. But not in England. He was fired by Newcastle when an average but improving team were 11th in the league.

It is sad to say it, and it sounds a little shrill, but it really is the case that many people instantly believe a man to be a more serious, impressive manager for a club with ambition if he has an exotic name. Ancelotti is better than Allardyce, Benitez is better than Bruce, Mancini better than Redknapp.

Hodgson’s departure sets back the cause of disproving this fallacy years. In reality, he has not become a bad manager. He inherited a team on the way down: with several very average players, injured good ones, and little money to spend.

He was a crucial test case for English managers everywhere and Liverpool have lost their courage after five months. Regardless of whether it is right or wrong, justified or unjustified, it is a disaster for English football.

The truth is there are plenty of talented and able English football managers out there, but they are banging their heads against a glass ceiling.

Categories: Football Tags: , , ,

Twitter and online journalism – inclusive or exclusive?

November 21, 2010 Leave a comment

15 things Twitter does effectively

Alan Rusbrisger’s Guardian article on the value of Twitter to media organisations provides an interesting summary of the uses of the site and its effects on journalism.

The 15 points Rusbridger raises, and the debates they cover, provoke thought about the way media organisations engage with those around them, the great community of internet “users”. His points are not just about Twitter, they are about the whole of the new, amazingly open world of online.

I want to pick up on four of his points about the way users can now engage with media organisations. Although the internet creates an open and level playing field in which people are able to contribute, participate and engage, is there an unintended side-effect of this exciting influence on journalism? Does the impact of these changes start to exclude those who still want nothing more than to read content?

Rusbridger points out the following on how twitter opens up the previously closed, hierarchical model of journalism:

From his point 7 – It’s a series of common conversations. Or it can be

It’s a series of common conversations. Or it can be As well as reading what you’ve written and spreading the word, people can respond. They can agree or disagree or denounce it. They can blog elsewhere and link to it… With Twitter you get an instant reaction. It’s not transmission, it’s communication.

His point 8 – It’s more diverse

Traditional media allowed a few voices in. Twitter allows anyone.

And point 10 – It’s a level playing field

The energy in Twitter gathers around people who can say things crisply and entertainingly, even though they may be “unknown.” They may speak to a small audience, but if they say interesting things they may well be republished numerous times and the exponential pace of those re-transmissions can, in time, dwarf the audience of the so-called big names. Shock news: sometimes the people formerly known as readers can write snappier headlines and copy than we can.

Major users of the internet as a source of information and opinion love the online world for this egalitarianism. And Rusbridger explains how this in turn has begun to alter journalistic discourse.

his point 9 – It changes the tone of writing

A good conversation involves listening as well as talking. You will want to listen as well as talk. You will want to engage and be entertaining. There is, obviously, more brevity on Twitter. There’s more humour. More mixing of comment with fact. It’s more personal. The elevated platform on which journalists sometimes liked to think they were sitting is kicked away on Twitter. Journalists are fast learners. They start writing differently.

It is clear that this change does not just apply to Twitter. When Rusbridger talks of the “elevated platform on which journalists sometimes liked to think they were sitting,” he refers to a species of journalism he believes is (or soon will be) extinct. Media organisations are surely the better for embracing developments.

Inclusion or Exclusion?

But at this comparatively early stage, there are still people who don’t read news in order to engage, share, link and discuss. There are, I think, a great many people who have no desire, inclination or motivation to add a comment, like a post or share a link. People for whom news is something they need to read to keep up with the issues of the day. They want to know what’s happening and why.

Even amongst regular internet users, recent CNN research showed that 87 per cent of news links are shared by just 27 per cent of users. A minority of hyperactive users share a large majority of all links shared through social media. Most people – even those who use social media tools – don’t do much at all. Many people are still, to use an unholy word to web 2.0 generation, consumers, not users.

But if the tone of writing and style of journalism is changing to adapt to the interactive new world before us, where does that leave those who don’t want to interact? If those who want to read the news and nothing more are faced with a splurge of icons inviting them to comment, upload data, check us out on twitter, answer Do You Think A or B questionnaires or read the dribblings of the commentariat, they will surely be less well served than before. That’s fine, of course. Things can’t stay the same forever. And in any case, they can just buy a printed newspaper.

But what happens after the print newspaper dies its surely inevitable death? Will everyone, over time, learn to play a part in the modern media landscape? Or will the group of passive readers obtain? Perhaps there is a group of people for whom the march of new media and the explosion of online interactivity and opportunity is actually exlcusive rather than inclusive. Are journalists beginning only to provide for those who want to engage?

Perhaps so. Perhaps it really will be a case of get involved or get out.


See my joint blog, Social Jigsaw, at for more on social media and journalism.

Attribution and linking in online journalism

November 4, 2010 4 comments

[1] P. Clarke quoted in D. Cannadine, ‘Apocalypse When? British politicians and British “decline” in the twentieth century’ in P. Clarke and C. Trebilcock (eds.), Understanding decline: perceptions and realities of British economic performance, (Cambridge, 1997), 263

Learning transparency and attribution

One of the best, most revolutionary things about the internet as a place to do journalism is of course the ability to link. Linking connects users to other interesting places and people around the world, it makes available a plethora of evidence, information, commentary and conversation, and all at the click of button. As Mitch Joel has argued, content is an organic linking process.

But what it also does is provide an extremely efficient and attractive way of referencing other writers’ material.

At the top of this post is a footnote taken from my undergraduate dissertation. One thing a degree in History teaches you is the importance of referencing other writers’ work whenever you are discussing an idea or quotation gleaned from reading it. Even with primary source material, such as the newspapers from 1899 and 1900 with which I worked, it is necessary to reference the exact example down to the page, even the column.

Doing so justifies your argument and gives the reader the essential opportunity to check what you are saying. Whether the sources you say you have used are correct, and whether the conclusions you have drawn from them are justified. It is the writer being open about their sources and information, saying: “if you don’t believe me, go and see for yourself.”

I gradually learned the importance of this practice in lending work rigour and meaningfulness. Without references, history writing is mere assertion, and of little value to broader debate. So with journalism.

Footnotes v. Links – what can we learn?

The problem with the traditional hard copy history I dealt in (essays were not submitted electronically) is that footnoting can take up a huge amount of space. It also takes more time than normal people want to give to it. In the world of online journalism, footnoting of this kind now looks an absurd and spectacularly inefficient way to conduct attribution. It’s not only that my example above takes up three lines of text in my footnotes. It’s also that actually making use of the information it provides would require the reader to follow the directions, locate a copy of the relevant book or journal in a library, shop, database or other depository, before travelling, paying or searching in order to access it.

Linking online is an ingenious form of attribution.

Linking allows instant access to the referenced material while taking up no extra space in your text. It enables us to bring scholarly levels of transparency into journalism.  It is perhaps our great luck to be part of a generation who can reference sources and direct readers to other interesting and informative places at the twitch of a mouse, making ourselves more useful than ever, and engaging with people more deeply. Internet inventor Sir Tim Berners-Lee said of linking: “On the web, to make reference without making a link is possible but ineffective – like speaking but with a paper bag over your head.” By placing our work in this deepened context, we can make our writing more meaningful and more valuable.

Journalism without instant attribution? That, surely, is history.

* * * * *

Check out the Nieman Journalism Lab on linkng (one link to it is already given above) and Jeff Jarvis on the merits that links bring to our work.

It’s also worth making use of Paul Bradshaw’s Delicious page for lots of useful articles on linking.

Anyone got examples of bad non-attribution by major  newspapers online?

Can the significance of linking be overdone, particularly in certain types of journalism?

Perhaps you have had even more cumbersome referencing standards placed on you in your academic experience?

Do journalists and academics need to attribute sources in the same way?

Feel free to post any links to interesting writing about linking.

Hard to love you now, Wayne

October 23, 2010 5 comments

Wayne Rooney was always destined to be a legend.

Decorated with natural gifts beyond those of any Englishman for a generation, he was also a very English player, full of heart and endeavour: a man fans could be proud to love and to call their own. It is the combination of Rooney’s being better than all his England team mates and his fans’ perception of him as the committed, down-to-earth, people’s player, that made him their favourite as well as the team’s talisman.

The unseemly saga that unfolded this week is all the more depressing for that. Rooney, in collusion with a clever and determined agent no doubt, has behaved, at best, like an embarrassing, stroppy teenager, and, perhaps more realistically, like a graceless, conniving mercenary.  His actions have been a direct challenge to his employers at Manchester Utd, to his manager and his team mates. Yet he has been rewarded with a brand new 5-year contract, reportedly worth £160,000 a week.

Other than the emotional impact that revelations last month might still be having on Rooney and his family, the historical context of sleazy behaviour by a range of England players is not strictly relevant here. But it does point us to raise the question: how much are supporters supposed to put up with? How far from reality can these players ascend (descend) before we cease to see in them that which was so recognisable and appealing in the first place? Sport is made such a compelling spectacle in part by distilling and dramatising human endeavour. It is that which, lest we forget, leads supporters to part with ever-spiralling wads of hard-earned to pay the wages of its stars. But if our heroes can no longer be recognised as one of us, will we love them?

For we have loved Wayne Rooney. He was ‘crucial’ to our chances in the 2006 World Cup despite beginning the tournament with one leg, and he was equally crucial to our chances last summer. While he flopped, so did England. While he oozes skill, for many fans he also embodies what they love about football and about themselves: the honesty, the passion, the love for the game. The love heaped upon Rooney is clearly something which, at some time at least, mattered to Rooney. His outburst against England fans who booed the team’s World Cup draw with Algeria showed he found it difficult to deal with not being adored.

Setting aside the fact that Rooney has not played to the sparkling level that made his name for several months, let us remember that prior to this week’s elaborately constructed contractual negotiation, he was already being paid £90,000 a week by Man Utd. He has several lucrative endorsement deals and gets paid every time he plays for

"How wrong is the game?" Ian Holloway has been passionately outspoken on the issue

England. He owns a mansion in Cheshire. In short, he is not short of a few bob. Such a public demand for increased pay seems not just ungrateful, but both insensitive and undignified at a time when his club’s owners are in debt and his fans are asked to pay nearly £50 just to see a first round Carling Cup tie at home to Wolves. It also draws wider, sadder reflections on the significance of player power and the state of football today. Ian Holloway is surely right when he says “football should look at itself.”

If Rooney chooses to play audacious contractual hard ball to secure a wage rise from £90,000 a week to £160,000 a week, while of course accepting huge rewards for his various sponsorship deals (and having sold his wedding to OK magazine), he is eschewing emotion, honesty and passion for the game and cashing in on his assets; smartly making the most of his position. But, that being the case, can we any longer let him off the hook for his (various) transgressions on the grounds that he is just a naive boy who would play football for nothing if it meant he could do it every day?

There are some sportsmen whom fans admire, like Pete Sampras or Tiger Woods. There are some whom they love, like Andrew Flintoff, or, until recently at least, Wayne Rooney.

I think I was able to turn a blind eye to the World Cup flops, the fouls and the foul-mouthed rants. Even the hookers were being forgotten, although the cumulative impact of these might have been starting to tell. No doubt, once he regains form, I will continue to admire Wayne Rooney.

It’s just hard to love him now. To Manchester Utd and England supporters alike, Rooney has made his priorities very clear.

I hope he can live without the love.

Categories: Football Tags: , ,

Higher education funding reform is emotional for its opponents and for the ‘guilty generation’ who feel compelled to enforce it

October 13, 2010 Leave a comment

As little as thirteen years ago, nobody paid a penny.

That’s why further increases to the cost of university education, proposed in the Browne Review, are so difficult for people to stomach.

Before 1998, generations of decent-brained, perhaps aspirational people had breezed into universities up and down the country, paying for nothing along the way. Now these people are telling students to cough up for it, and they know how bad that looks.

Just as it is now mountainously daunting for young professionals to know they will work into their seventies in order to support their innumerable aged, so it is for young students to take on the burden of around £40,000 of debt for the privilege of degree study.

The extraordinary good fortune of the baby boom generation, who were the key beneficiaries of free access to higher education (along with several other pertinent points) is detailed expertly by David Willetts – now universities minister – in his book, The Pinch.

It is not for recent or future generations of students to resent their forebears for being so fortunate. But at a certain point it became clear that it wouldn’t be possible to sustain higher education without reform of the generous grants system – no matter how ingrained were its principles in the consciences of decision makers.

These decision makers, and their commentators, the opinion-makers, are the people who benefited from a free university education. When the Commons was threatening to revolt against Blair’s top-up fees bill in 2004, those men and women were acting according to something visceral and something elemental within them. To them, free university education had been a norm, a birthright, a part of their identity.  To move the country yet further away from it was, and remains, heartbreaking.

So the governing generation feel extremely guilty. Their quandary is rather like the life of Vince Cable in the current coalition: desperately not wanting to do something out of long-held belief and principle, but feeling that there is no choice but to do it, for to not do it would be to deny the problem. Meanwhile everyone else is shocked, concerned or angry. Opposition to, and anguish over increases in the cost of university is not only based on a practical assessment of the impending strife. It is also a complex emotional reaction.

The process of review and outrage and debate and outrage is not just a recognition that going to university now requires an eye-watering financial commitment. It is also part of a realisation about the extent to which a generation’s worth of certainties, securities, even sensibilities, are dying.

Categories: Politics

Not New Labour but new…Labour.

September 28, 2010 Leave a comment

Has Ed Miliband’s election as Labour leader and immediate eschewing of the ‘New Labour’ tag caused a bit of a problem for him, and those writing about him?

Ed has made plain that his leadership is a break with New Labour and that he will usher in a new generation.

He can still, after four days, fairly be called the new (lower case) Labour leader, but has spent a great deal of time since his election at pains to point out that he is not the leader of New Labour. New Labour is a ‘project’ (for want of a less nauseating word) from which Ed would rather distance himself, and he did this to great effect in his campaign.

That’s all fair enough. But, as I say, he is the new Labour leader. And news organisations have quite understandably led with headlines such as ‘Ed Miliband is new Labour leader’ (BBC website), and, at the risk of repetition: ‘Ed Miliband is new Labour leader’ (Mirror website). Does that make Eddie wince? Or is he, at this special time, able to forget the unfortunate confusion over the ‘New Labour’/new Labour thing, just as he might forget the crippling blow he has dealt to his brother, whom he loves so much?

Okay, you might say, it’s all still fine and clear because of the lower case ‘n’ on new. Who’s getting confused? Well, what about when the ‘new’ comes at the start of the headline or sentence, as it did on the Daily Record‘s website on Monday? There, the news story might end up being ‘New Labour leader Ed Miliband’ is getting throughly cheesed off that no one seems to have noticed he doesn’t want to be associated with ‘New Labour’. Perhaps SuperEd will soon propose a new ‘Commission for the Clarification of Capital Letters at the Beginning of a Sentence’ to form part of a new (not New) Labour policy platform?

But that’s nothing. Think of the radio… There’s absolutely no way that even John Humphrys can intone a captial letter when reading out the day’s headlines. All we hear is: ‘New Labour leader Ed Miliband will today tell his party….’ Ed must be hitting the bloody ceiling listening to this. “How many times do I have to say that it’s not New, Fuckface Labour!?” he must wonder.

But here’s the problem. Politicians are eternally using the language of renewal, of regeneration. Our kid Eddie is no different: he wants to lead a ‘new generation’. Indeed, so new is Ed, that he’s not even the same generation as David Cameron, only three years his senior. He is newer than the new Prime Minister, who himself is only 43, so no wonder he’s newer than New Labour!

The thing is, Blair and Brown and Mandelson and Campbell played a dirty trick back in the 90s – by actually using the ‘New’ tag as the party name (at least until their second term in office) they stole the word from their party’s future leaders.  So-called ‘New Labour’ could not stay new forever, but the word would always be tainted; never again could the word ‘new’ quite carry that clear and uncomplicatedly positive rhetorical significance.

And so it is that the Labour Party’s new leader is at pains to remove himself from the taint of New Labour whilst emphasising his own apparently embryonic newness as leader of a new generation in a new era.

Get your head round that.

New Labour is dead. Long live new Labour…

Categories: Politics