Wednesday, 30 June 2010

Forget It, We're FIFA

In honour of FIFA's stance on recent refereeing decisions during the world cup, I have written them a new, unofficial world cup song, which I'd encourage you all to sing (to the tune of Bobby McFerrin's classic 'Don't Worry, Be Happy'.)

Forget It, We're FIFA

If your shot goes over the line
We'll get to it in our own sweet time
Don't push us, we're FIFA

It seems like the ref just didn't see
Cry goes out for technology
Forget it, we're FIFA

If the assistant flags you offside
Doesn't matter, we'll let it slide
Make decisions? We're FIFA

Doo, doo doo doo do do do do do do do di dooo (Hey Seppy)
Doo do do do do di do (stay merry)
Doo di do di do
Forget it, we're FIFA

The players may not like the ball
But the sponsors' money will make the call
Muhahahahahahahahahaha (now pay FIFA)

Surely it's the game that matters?
Just try asking Joseph Blatter
All bow down, to FIFA

It might be all politics and intrigue
But at least we're less dodgy than the Premier League
Lord love us, we're FIFA

(c) K Holt 2010.

Sunday, 27 June 2010

How the Don was Done

Like many other England fans, I like 'Don' Fabio Capello. I respect his managerial record, as anyone who has won leagues in every country he has managed in deserves respect. I don't agree with that rot about managing at international level being a whole new level - it's different, and you can't just buy your way out of trouble in the transfer window like whoever is managing Real Madrid at any given time. But respect him or not, he has made several key tactical errors at this world cup that have cost England dear.

As is always the way in key England defeats, there has to be a scapegoat and calls are already being made for video technology to prevent incidents like the Lampard 'goal' that would have pulled England level before half-time. Not that this addresses the glaring issues that England have technically, but we'll come back to those in just a moment. 4 - 1 flattered Germany, but they were deserving winners nonetheless and we cannot allow the goal that wasn't to distract us from England's obvious failings during the game.

To begin with, England have an over-reliance on key players who have a knack for not performing in the national shirt. Rooney has previously carried the England team single-handedly, but in this tournament he has been little short of a liability, and when he is not scoring, England do not score. Lampard and Gerrard in England shirts are shadows of their club selves, and their frequent no-shows stymie the attacking instincts of Glen Johnson and Ashley Cole.

The lack of width on the pitch is a disappointing factor in England's failure. The best England teams have always had flying wingers, and the goal against Slovenia on Wednesday came from interlink between Johnson and Milner on England's right wing. Against Germany, Milner was withdrawn early for Joe Cole and Gerrard pulled inside, meaning that England effectively had no wingers at all. Milner crossed at will in the first 45 minutes as Jerome Boateng seemed uninterested in closing him down, but in the second half, even with momentum, England never looked like breaking through packed German defences.

Commentators always suggest that Gerrard should play behind Rooney in a 4 - 4 - 1 - 1 formation - though it is worth suggesting that Liverpool employ him in this way and they certainly didn't look much this season, even with a world-class forward up front. Gerrard does not look to me like an inspiring captain. John Terry at least looks the part as a leader. It is a shame that he doesn't look the part as a defender.

Terry's positioning was poor, and the naivety of his defensive partner Matthew Upson was repeatedly and ruthlessly exposed by Germany's incisiveness. Playmaker Mesut Ozil was not troubled by the man-marking of Gareth Barry, and indeed probably should have scored himself before Germany's opener.

That opener - a tragi-comic effort from Klose which resulted from a simple run onto a bouncing goal kick, followed by a dip of his shoulders that shrugged off a challenge made almost as an afterthought and ended with an inevitable touch beyond the keeper. The BBC commentators described it as a typical Sunday pub-team goal - and in terms of the ability shown, it was probably a generous comparison for England. Sluggish defending followed again minutes later as Thomas Muller's deft touch set up Lukas Podolski for a second. The Germans are hard enough to beat anyway, without giving them a two-goal headstart.

It should have been so different. Unlike many times when England have struggled in the past, this was not due to their inability to get the ball, in fact quite the opposite. Germany sat off and allowed England to have as much of the ball as they wanted. They did not press at all until England got within thirty yards of their goal, so there was really no excuse for England's lacklustre passing and utter wastefulness in possession.

Don Fabio made several critical errors in his assessment of England's ability against quality opposition. He also made bizarre substitutions, taking off Defoe at a time when England needed goals and finally bringing on a winger for a defender when the game was already lost. There will be talks with the FA about where the England team goes from here - as I write this, it seems likely that Fabio will stay on to honour his contract, but 24 hours is a long-time in football. Should the Don decide to step aside, you can rest assured that I am immediately available for the vacant post, and my analysis of England is as follows:

Goalkeeper: England went for their best option in selecting David James, but this tournament was undoubtedly his swansong. While I am a keen fan of Robert Green and know he is a much better shot-stopper than his gaffe against the US would suggest, on the evidence I have seen Joe Hart is the future of England goalkeeping, and bearing out injury, should be assured of his place in the next Euro Championship qualifiers.

Defence: Ashley Cole and Glen Johnson are capable full backs, and they should be encouraged to maraud forward for England at every opportunity. If we cannot defend, we may as well try to score more than our opponents, and in tight matches attacking full-backs can make the difference. Look at Maicon for Brazil.

The central defensive partnership is more troublesome. Terry will probably be good for one more European competition, but both he and Jamie Carragher are now clearly on the wane and cannot offer the reliability that they once did against fast strikers. Ledley King is frequently unfit and that leaves Upson to forge a partnership with a up-and-coming youngster, such as Huddlestone.

Midfield: It's been analysed to death, but whether they can or can't work together, history suggests that Lampard and Gerrard simply won't. Perhaps they are too similar, perhaps they are both attack minded and England would work better with a defensive midfielder, if a suitable one can be found. Barry is hard-working and a better player than many people give him credit for, but he is not the world-class puller-of-strings that England so desperately need. Gerrard is absent on the left-hand side of a four man midfield, a spot which should naturally fall to Joe Cole or youngster Adam Johnson. It will be interesting to see if he develops more swiftly than Theo Walcott, who will probably regain his place in future at the expense of the unfortunate James Milner.

Attack: Rooney...such a world-class talent when he is fit, a sulking shadow when he is off the pace. Above all, coaches have to realise that anyone, even Rooney, can be dropped when he is not playing well. Heskey holds up the ball and wins free-kicks but England simply cannot afford the luxury of a forward who doesn't score, and therefore Jermain Defoe will probably cement a place up front. Crouch looks out of his depth sometimes in the England side, but his goalscoring record is good and he is worth so much more than simply being used as a lightning rod for England when they run out of ideas and choose to lump balls forward instead.

Another disappointing feature of the current England setup is the lack of genuine young talent coming through the ranks. It is difficult to name a 20-year old Englishman playing regularly in a Premiership side, and therefore it becomes a struggle to see who the saving grace will be for England in Brazil 2014. But then, I guess we have to qualify first, which will probably be a story on its own. There's one piece of good news for the 2018 event, which will hopefully be staged back here in Blighty. England's Under-17 side have just won the European Championship at their level, meaning there should be plenty of bright emerging talent ready to step up to the plate when football comes home again. Now that, my friends, is a thought to savour.

Friday, 25 June 2010

Better in Our Day

I never know how to begin these things. I don't even blog that often but I'm becoming acutely aware that my blog entries are haphazard and on occasion, utterly disjointed. This is a source of perturbation for me. I have postgraduate qualifications in creative writing, but not only have I not yet written a best-selling novel, I can't even construct a coherent blog entry within an hour of starting. Proof if it were needed that Coke Zero is not good for the little grey cells.

Okay. I'll try and focus now.

England won. You know this already, if you care. I allowed myself a little smile as Don Fabio gurned his way through an ecstatic post-match press-conference talking about how beer was the secret to England turning round their form in the World Cup. If this is true, the great unwashed that I shared the pub with on Wednesday afternoon could probably win the event themselves without even trying.

The last few weeks have seen a number of the couples I know splitting up. I mention this only because it's a backdrop to a sea change in relationship dynamics that I've noticed and feel is worth mentioning. The older women at work comment on this a fair bit, smug as they are in the comfort zone of marriages that have lasted longer than I've been alive. Nonetheless, they have a point, and it goes like this.

Young people can't communicate. It's a human instinct, but basically, we're becoming increasingly awful at it. Sure, I can blog, and you can reply to me via Facebook or even text message if I really piss you off, but the chances are that you're not going to confront me in person. I could spend the rest of this blog entry pointing out how ugly your mother is, and at worst you're going to ignore me. We have lost the ability to talk to one another, and with it go essential life skills such as the ability to empathise and compromise. What interaction we do have tends to have little to do with actual communication and instead apes the overly-dramatic scenes in Hollywood and Eastenders. We are all attention-seekers now.

There are many peculiar side-effects to this insidious aspect of modern life. We have fewer friends, and are not as close to the ones we do have. We share less, care less, and know nothing at all about our neighbours (apart from the fact that BNP Man across the road owns a labrador I refer to as BNP Dog, for want of a better name, and is always being arrested for being drunk and disorderly at 5am.)

This puts a particular strain on our personal relationships. I know a number of people my age who have simply given up on the likelihood of ever finding a long-term partner (generally, they are the ones who decide that cats and dogs argue less and therefore make better companions.) However, we still yearn to bond with others and typically find this bond in a single uber-close friendship, the kind of which seems to transcend gender and sexuality.

What does this mean for the future of our generation? Are we in a hopeless position, like my colleagues seem to think? Hardly, I feel. People still meet, fall in love, decide to have children and commit their lives to one another. Yes, we are more cynical about our future, and more prone to outlandish gestures at the expense of genuine feeling, but time is on our side, and we can look to learn from the example of those in the older generation who have withstood the pressures of untold years growing together. Above all, we should look to embrace the way that modern technologies allow us to stay in touch with the people we might otherwise lose, while being smart enough to do more to show we care for the friends we see every day.

Monday, 21 June 2010

Anyone want to watch the Footy?

Anyone who says there are no easy international football games clearly hasn't played Honduras lately.

Yes, I think it's time for a World Cup post. I've resisted the urge, watched enough stale football matches in the last couple of weeks to make even the most ardent fan gag on his vuvuzela and I'd really like to write about tomorrow's budget...but let's face it, financial reports are only really going to make England's climate seem cheery in comparison.

So then, time to move from fiscal self-destruction to football self-destruction...and Fabio had better find a big selection to back up his big words against Slovenia on Wednesday. He rightly tore into John Terry for his disgraceful press-conference earlier this week, describing his decision to do so as a 'big mistake'. Terry should remember that while he might still think of himself as the captain, that distinction was removed a few months ago when he proved himself unable to demonstrate behaviour in his personal life appropriate to his professional position.

That said, it is surely time to sit down with senior players and get their opinions on a starting formation for the Slovenia game. Terry should not be demanding the inclusion of his former team-mate Cole - it is certainly not his place to do so - but it cannot be denied that Cole would add some much-needed width against a Slovenia side who will have watched the Algeria game and will surely come prepared to park the bus against England.

Fortunately, when we need someone to take the media spotlight off our beleaguered national team, there are many other sides and individuals vying to do just that. While world champions Italy were only able to scrape a narrow draw against minnows New Zealand and European champions Spain decided that they really didn't fancy it much against a spirited Swiss side, France have apparently decided that the 'hand-grenade' approach to teambuilding is the way to ensure success.

Chelsea striker Nicolas Anelka has been sent home amid allegations that he told manager, Raymond Domenech, 'Go screw yourself, you son of a whore', while Fabrice Evra was pictured scuffling with the fitness coach during training. In true French style, the squad is now boycotting training in protest against Anelka's explusion and may even do the same for tomorrow's match against South Africa, conveniently avoiding the chance of suffering yet another defeat. The French Football Association could have saved the cost of Le Sulk's ticket, given that the rest of the squad will be joining him on the flight home by the end of the week.

North Korea were found wanting against Portugal and cannot now hope to qualify for the knockout stage. The same is true of Cameroon, who threw away a comfortable lead against Denmark over the weekend. In fact, all of the African nations have been mediocre at best, with the much-hyped Ivory Coast set to be eliminated from the Group of Death and South Africa odds-on to become the first host nation to fail to get beyond the group stage of their own tournament. At least in Siphiwe Tshabalala's strike against Mexico, they have given us one of the moments of the tournament so far.

Germany may have lost to Serbia but have looked dangerous in front of goal, while Holland have been quietly effective and Argentina devastating, Lionel Messi's trickery laying on a hat-trick for Real Madrid's Gonzalo Higuain. Question marks remain over their ability to defend against better sides, but I am hedging my bets and saying that with the excellent performances seen from Mexico and Uruguay in addition to the usual suspects, it will be a South American hand that raises the winner's trophy at Soccer City, Johannesburg on July 11.

I found the little gem below doing the rounds on the internet. I don't know if it's a genuine picture, but if it is, it's true genius. England for 2018!

Sunday, 13 June 2010

World Cup? Wimbledon? Pah, I just bought a fish tank

So I've been away from work for a few days, preparing for my final AAT exams, which (thank Christ) will be finished this time next week. I'm preparing myself for a massive sense of anti-climax (which won't be difficult for me to deal with, given the life I've had) but it will be nice to get them out of the way, as I've been feeling a dose of pre-exam adrenaline for days now, and if it goes on for much longer I fear I may just have an aneurysm.

A shout to Kev and Corinne, who came over earlier this evening and entertained me massively by bickering over which of them was the greatest attention seeker and then proceeded to prove the point by taking lots of pictures of themselves eating scotch eggs and so on. Thank you both, and there, I've blogged about you now. I hope you're happy :)

I bought a fish tank! I've wanted to own one for as long as I can remember. My parents owned one when I was very little, and I would come downstairs at night and press my nose against the glass as tiny neon tetras zipped around the plants inside the tank. Furthermore, to my eternal pride, I have paid for the tank, the stand and most of the peripherals entirely with my poker winnings. It'll leave a big hole in the account where several hundred dollars used to be, but if I really am a good player I should be able to put it back there in time. Plus I won't be playing any poker in the near future, what with revision time and work commitments.

I have a very thorough book on how to prepare a working fish tank, and there is more science to it than first it seems. You cannot just add water and fish, because the water needs to be dechlorinated first to make it safe for the fish. Then you have to get the water temperature and pH balance right for the species that you want, add substrate and plants to create the right aesthetic conditions, and run a filter through a cycle of bacteria that convert ammonia to nitrite to nitrate. And this is all before you even begin!

It's silly but it's exciting. The tank looks great, though I'm having some issues with plants dying due to the lack of light in certain areas of the tank. I'm certain I can remedy that. I also have a regular chemistry set of water testing tools that show the filter process is underway, though it's still too early yet for fish to survive. I'll keep you posted on how it goes.

My best friend Erin is very excited about Wimbledon because she loves Rafael Nadal. I hope he wins, because it will make her happy.

Blah blah blah, World Cup...England, USA, Rob Green...blah blah blah.

At least Emile Heskey played well. Perhaps it's something in the water.

Monday, 7 June 2010

Mass-Killing Most Foul

It started innocently enough. A friend posted on his Facebook status that the popular TV series '24' starring Kiefer Sutherland as Jack Bauer, was coming to an end, and that during the 8 series (each of which supposedly represents one day in Bauer's life) he had killed 266 people.

I have never seen the TV show, nor do I particularly have any interest in the premise. I think that Kiefer Sutherland is a solid, unremarkable actor. I didn't know whether my friend had literally watched every episode and kept a running total or simply read the number in TV Weekly, but either way, my maths brain kicked in and I made the following simple calculations.

266 people over an eight-day period equates to 33.25 killings per day, and because I'm guessing the show doesn't take a prolonged hiatus every time Bauer has to pee or takes a nap, this works out at approximately 1.38 bodybags per hour. I don't know if Bauer has an admin who deals with the paperwork on his behalf after these events, but if he does, the admin may just be the only person who has a higher-pressure job than Bauer himself. You can imagine that his relatives run America's most successful funeral business. Similarly, his senior officer has a lot of responsibility on his shoulders. Every time Bauer requests a week's leave, the chief has to weigh up the time lost by the department against the average saving of 166 lives.

Why is this worth a blog entry? On the off-chance that this blog is read by anyone from outside the UK, in the last week we have seen our third mass-killing in the UK within 25 years.

Details of events are still in the process of being patched together, but certain facts seem to be agreed upon. A Cumbrian taxi-driver, Derrick Bird, turned a warm sunny day in Northern England into a veritable bloodbath, avenging slights by targeting a number of people including family members, local businessmen and a former boss before rampaging at random through a number of small towns with a shotgun and a sniper rifle. He killed 12 victims, injuring many more, and it seems likely that most of those killed fell within a very narrow timeframe.

It pains me to admit it, but I can't deny that I'm interested in incidents of this nature. Those of you who know me well will already be aware that I have an analytical brain obsessed with maths and probability. This manifests itself in questions like, how many victims? How many shots? the % likelihood of it happening again on any street, anywhere, tomorrow? It's ghoulish, but I can't help it. It's how my brain works.

In addition to the maths involved, the random element of the Cumbrian shootings held similarities with other events of this type, incuding the Hungerford massacre in 1987, and Dunblane a few years later. This is where the psychology of mass-killers comes in, and like it or not, it is a fascinating subject.

Unlike Michael Ryan, the gun-obsessed loner who opened fire with automatic weapons in Hungerford town centre 23 years previously, or Dunblane's Thomas Hamilton, the unemployed former scout leader with a seemingly unhealthy interest in young boys, Bird seems to have been a popular man with a regular job, hobbies, friends and a close family. However, the reasons for his spree may never be known, as in common with the other two, he killed himself in the immediate aftermath. All three perpetrators held guns legally, and much debate is still to be had over proposed restrictions on gun ownership within the UK in future.

Mass-killers are always men, and men typically prone to anxiety and depression. They exhibit difficulties in communicating with others, and an exaggerated interest in violence. They fit the profile of Stephen Pinker's cross-cultural reference point, the 'amok', a male who revenges his lack of status in a suicidal murder spree.

As a final note, there appears to be correlation between the way in which violent events have been reported and the likelihood of copycat events following. In short, the more coverage and attention that is given to mass killers, the more likely it is that copycat events will occur (this can be evidenced in the Port Arthur massacre in Australia, only a few weeks after Dunblane. The killer, Martin Bryant, upon being apprehended, reportedly asked if he had 'broken the record' for most people killed in a massacre at one time.)

I'll have a few more posts on psychology in the future, but for now, just in case any of you are attention-seeking impressionable types, I'm going to have an evening of mass TV-watching. If I look angry, it's just because 24's about to come on and I've left the remote slightly out of reach.