Monday, 2 September 2013

Transfer Window Madness

Trumpets trump, fireworks explode, agents scramble, fax machines are twirling and Jim White's face is looking more and more like a pomegranate as the evening draws in. That's right folks the transfer window is drawing to an end and I for one am glad to see the end of it. In the age of 24-hour sports, TV news and Twitter, a monster has been created.
It is a heaving, all-encompassing monster that sucks up whispers, conjecture, misdirection and flat-out lies, only to spew them out in 140 characters or a rolling yellow ticker at the bottom of your screen. A monster that has its ring master in the form of a silver haired Scotsman who can muster incredulous excitement from the most mundane of transfers.
A monster with its own legends such as Robinho expressing his delight for signing for Chelsea when it was in fact Manchester City he had joined and who could forget Peter Odemwingie driving to Loftus Road to push through a transfer as football fans looked on agasp. A monster that creates comedy gold like 'The Roll up man' reacting to the fee paid for Wilson Palacios.
As I settled down to watch Liverpool welcome Manchester United to Anfield the buzz in the pub was all about the transfer window which was a mere 36 hours from 'slamming' shut. Patrons were commenting on the quality of the transfer window - it somehow now has a measure of quality. It is now a source of entertainment, an event, but how did we get to this stage and how culpable are we in its creation?
It was 2002 when the transfer window was made compulsory by FIFA. Initially devised to bring some sort of stability to clubs and to prevent those irascible scoundrels, football agents, from destabilising players and clubs by making 'come hither eyes' to other clubs in the hope of a better deal. It also served to stop big teams from destabilising rivals at key parts of the season.
The explosion of social media in the last few years has proved to be a real game changer when it comes to the transfer window. Unsubstantiated rumours become solid gold facts within a couple of retweets. Countless times this summer tweets have appeared referring to deals being done and then the clincher appears on your timeline: "Betting has been suspended on X's move to Y." You can point fingers at any number of potential culprits for these red herrings: agents or players trying to get a new deals, clubs trying to force offers from other clubs or clubs playing PR games with their own players.
These summer transfer stories take one of a couple narratives. Stoorman, Thiago, Fabergas, Fellaini and now Herrera; it has been a rollercoaster summer for Manchester United and their fans in their hunt for a new midfielder. Years of Alex Ferguson ignoring the declining quality in the United midfield meant that David Moyes' first task was to secure a top class midfielder. An addition would solidify the idea that United were making moves to improve an evidently stagnating midfield. Narrative established, it was now down to agents and media to run and run with a long list possible candidates. Fans, myself included, get sucked into the maelstrom and begin to fantasise about the possibilities of these superstars. We should know better, and in moments of clarity we recognise how silly and irrational the whole thing is, but then again there is often very little rational about the relationship supporters can have with the game and in particular their club.

The other most popular narrative is the saga. Sagas were originally stories from ancient Germanic and Scandinavian history; now sagas are the transfer stories that, by the end of summer, will have you sticking knitting needles in your eyes and ears. Last year was Van Persie to United the year before was Fabregas to Barcelona; this year we have Bale to Madrid. The fact that the arch-hardnosed business man Daniel Levy has on one end of the negotiations meant that this one was going to run and run. This particular saga had the added spice of involving a world record fee which in this case seems to be running to almost 100 million euro. The media have a lot of fun totting up fees, wages and potential bonuses into amounts that make the man on the street react like roll up man. I remember having the same reaction when AC Milan paid 13 million for Gianluigi Lentini back in 1992.
The final narrative is the unhappy superstar. Of course rich footballers can be unhappy, it's just a more comfortable kind of unhappiness. We have been spoiled for choice with both Rooney and Suarez filling backpages and timelines with their emotional states. 'Angry and Confused' was Rooney's state of mind after some provocative quote selection by the press. 'Liverpool lied to me' came the headline from Uruguay. The beauty of reports coming in a different lanuage is that anything can be put down to mistranslation. Lazy journalists and Google Translate are a dangerous mix. Fans lap this up and with loyalty being a curious and precious commodity for football fans, the unhappy superstar is manna from heaven for the football media. This is especially true if you have another club willing to play the potential suitor. "Rooney is the only one for us," said Mourinho which turned out to be a barefaced lie, but we enjoyed it.
We have opened Pandora's Box with the transfer window. It has become too big an event now to revert but it certainly could do with reform. The window should shut before a ball is kicked in anger, managers make plans for their season building plans around their most talented players only for a big club to swoop in with an offer which can't be refused. The added TV money has made this occurrence less prominent this season. Modern technology has meant that I will never go back to checking page 338 on Ceefax for transfer rumours but that is not to say that we can't still be surprised by the odd football signing.
For all the transfer junkies the season is drawing to a close but fear not it is only a short four months to the January window and a giant clock counting down on Sky Sports News. At this stage the window could only be improved as a televisual event by the addition on a massive gong to be struck at midnight followed by streamers and fireworks and Jim White flying around the studio like a deflating balloon.

Thursday, 28 July 2011

Read all about it

I'm back, with a new flat, reconnected to the world and settling in very nicely, thanks for your concern. It's been an interesting couple of weeks what with the phone hacking at News International, the tragedy in Norway and most recently the death of Amy Winehouse. A common thread in these events has been the role of the press in modern society: how news is gathered, sold and consumed. What exactly is it that we want from our press? A fair and balanced, to borrow from another of Murdoch's august organisations, reflection of what is unfolding in the world or a corrupt unscrupulous fourth estate with tentacles flexing and intruding in every strata of society. The line where public interest ends and private lives begins has been fudged to the degree that we would require a high powered microscope to locate any particles that remain.

I must admit I did feel a giddy excitement as the phone hacking scandal unfolded, any chance to chip away at the power, control and influence of News Corp should be welcomed by any advocate of plurality in the press. Remember that Murdoch was a matter of weeks away from controlling over 40% of the British press. For this to happen on the Conservatives watch is of course no surprise, Thatcher became so adept at bending rules for the advantage of the Murdoch clan that if the premiership of Britain did not work out, then surely a career at FIFA awaited her. Quiet apart from the worryingly close relationships between the press, senior police and politicians one element of this whole affair that struck me is what it took for the world to sit up and take notice of this story. The Guardian newspaper had broken this story a couple of years ago and since then had continued to write articles about private citizens, guilty of no crime apart from being in the public eye, having their phones hacked. Granted the story had begun to build up a head of steam but it took the hacking of a dead child's voicemail for the moral outrage of the public to unite against the News of the World and for politicians to find their voice. With this revelation the wind had changed and politicians thought "Crikey time to stick the boot in". I am not for one second suggesting that the hacking of Hugh Grant's phone to find out which woman is being subjected to his baffled English toff routine is as objectionable as the hacking of a missing girls phone during an on going investigation . Rather I am bemused by a culture which engenders a press that feels such a sense of entitlement which allows it intrude in to peoples private lives. 24 hour news stations and instantly accessible news online has meant that actual news has been diluted down to such a degree that people are just talking so as to fill the time.
Watch as Sky News jumps into hyper drive with the live unfolding of some new disaster. Helicopter shots of nothing much, with a reporter saying ... well ...  nothing much. Experts are wheeled out to give opinions and frame the events for the viewer at home while yellow banners repeat the half truths, assumptions and guess work that your very hears have just borne witness to. I must get off this train of thought before Charlie Brooker's lawyers crash through my living room window, abseiling from helicopters whilst firing rubber bullets wrapped in writs of plagiarism. The point is that, this 24 hour service means that the news is mostly guess work on these sort of networks, prone to hyperbolic statements and shamelessly misremembering what you had earlier reported. The tragedy as first reported as an Islamic attack, based on nothing other than it was a terrorist attack. When the facts have emerged it still doesn't stop the networks shamelessly pushing their own agenda. This week I witnessed a survivor of the Norwegian massacre being interviewed on SKY by Kay Burley, her of the "chicken licken the sky is falling" school of journalism. During the interview Burley pushed and pushed the man to make sweeping comments on the rise of far right nationalism and the failure of multiculturalism in Europe. To which this reasonable individual responded that, it mattered little what the politics of this madman were, he was a madman who would have felt justified in what he was he doing no matter where on the spectrum of political ideologies he claimed to represent.

With the passing of Amy Winehouse I found myself agreeing with a friend that she was a victim of the time that she had lived. A wonderful talent, today I heard a recording of "Back to Black" she did for the Other Voices show with just a bass and electric guitar that was breath taking, who, if she had been recording in the 1950s all that we would have is the recordings and some classy black and white photos taken in smokey nightclubs. Unfortunately she lived in an era when not only is every mistake under constant scrutiny but is reported in real time. Fall out of a nightclub at 4 in the morning a little worse for wear and the photos will be uploaded in a matter of moments. Think that you are amongst friends taking recreational drugs, think again as grainy photo of you and a crack pipe taken with a mobile phone is front page news. How would other members of the 27 Club have stood up to modern scrutiny. Jim Morrison found dead bloated and fat in bathtub in Paris as tweeted by Perez Hilton, Jimmy Hendix choking of his own vomit on the home page of TMZ. I could go on with other members of this lamentable club, I dare say that the sheen of this cool rock star club would be stripped bare by the modern press and the unfathomable sense of ownership society has for celebrities.

Tuesday, 5 July 2011

Back away from the pipe

It must be almost two years ago that my girlfriend and I went to see the brilliant comic Stewart Lee in the Town Hall here in Galway and this week a part of his set came flooding back to me. The part in question was about a Bulmer’s Pear advertisement that was running in Britain at the time. I’m not going to try and recreate Lee’s dry repetitive monotonic style in print, youtube doesn't even do him justice, he is not a comedien for soundbites. The content of the joke is not what matters here rather the overarching message within it. In this instance it pertained to the fact that the advert in question used the song “Galway Girl”. This song meant a lot to Lee, the Steve Earle original I'll assume and not the version by cowboy hat sporting buffoon from the midlands who covered it recently, as it evoked memories of meeting his wife. A Galway girl funnily enough. It was the misappropriation of the song by advertisers that had aggrieved Lee so much. Why, I hear you ask, did this memory come back to me? Well as I sat in the library staring out the window contemplating the common features of agrarian secret societies and food rioters in late 18th and early 19th century Ireland, I happened to notice three young men, in the range of 19 to 22 (the older I get the tougher it is to put an age on anyone else), sitting on the ledge by the Concourse smoking pipes. This was followed the next day by two young girls of about the same age engaged in the same activity. “The hipsters have taken to the pipe!” I thought in my horror.
I guess at this juncture I should make it clear that the drug of choice in these instances was tabacco but never the less I was agast.You see pipes and pipe smoking have a special place in my heart. Neither of my parents smoked tobacco in any form but I did have an uncle Michael, my father’s brother in law, so smoked a pipe. He was a 6ft 4” gentle giant of a man with hands the size of Christmas hams, who, on spotting an unattended niece or nephew would pick them up spin them around several times and return them to earth dizzy and nauseated. I spent a few Saturday afternoons waiting in his living room for my father to finish work enveloped in the smell of his pipe tobacco and staring at his collection of pipes above the fire. Out of reach and even more desirable for it. He indulged my curiosity once and needless to say that was my last experience of smoking a pipe. On the other side of my family my mother also had a brother in law who smoked a pipe called Michael. I considered entering into an exhaustive research project to find out if there was any correlation between the name Michael and the instances of pipe smoking before thinking the final semester of  your degree was perhaps not the right time. A summer project perhaps. Now I would only ever see this Michael at Christmas due to the fact that he lived in Dublin, and every Christmas without fail he would walk the mile or so up the road from my cousin’s house to visit my father and discuss greyhounds, GAA and other such important matters. Michael unfortunately succumbed to cancer last year and the world is a less gentle place for his absence.
So you see pipes have a special place in my heart and to see them misappropriated by these hipsters breaks my heart a little. Now, I don't want to get bogged down in maudlin nostalgia for lost uncles, pipe smoking probably did little to keep the the grim reaper at arms lenght. I guess for me, there is a certain amount of gravitais required to smoke a pipe and this is a quality rarely found in those in their twenties. I don’t have a problem with hipsters either, in fact I find them quiet amusing. I find their ability to elevate and cannibalize aesthetics into a way of life, endlessly entertaining. My own housemate is a self confessed hipster. Only a couple of weeks ago she returned home in what she half jokingly referred to as a “pikey hipster” hat. She has since then asked if I’d like to buy a gate and to go halves on an internet business selling retro Fisher Price tape decks as jewellery. I have no problem with them wearing skinny jeans, glasses that aren’t prescription or having a complete irony bypass. Go ahead knock yourself out with those particular affectations but please back away from the pipe.

Tuesday, 28 June 2011

At a price.

Once again it appears that the poorest in society are about to take kicking. This week the British justice secretary, Ken Clarke, will, at the second attempt, try to push through his justice reforms. This is the same bill that took a battering about its plans to give up to 50% off prison sentences when the accused enters a guilty plea. This proposal had the curtain twitching readers of the Daily Mail, the conservatives heartbeat, in convulsions. This is one of the problems with the marriage of conservatism and neo-liberalism, the conservatives claim to be the law and order party but the neo-liberals don't want to pay for it.

So now we have this second attempt to get the bill through parliament and one of the most worrying articles within it is the plan to remove funding for legal aid. To quote Lady Hale, the only woman on the supreme court, this would "have a disproportionate effect on the poorest and most vulnerable in society". Access to justice in British society will now be restricted to those who can afford it. Find yourself evicted by an unscrupulous landlord ? Tough luck. Need to question the withdrawal of services from social services? Sorry you are on your own. If you find yourself the victim of medical negligence, good luck trying to take on their team of lawyers, on your own.

This is a clear and pernicious erosion of the most basic of human rights. From the Magna Carta, to the Declaration of the Rights of Man and on the the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, one of the cornerstones of advanced societies is the right to unfettered access to the legal system. It is the word "right" which is the most pertinent here, access to the justice system can not be a privilege, to be enjoyed or rather exploited, by those who can afford it. The consequences of this bill being carried, will reek havoc on society as a whole. As I have alluded to in previous posts, there has been an alarming shift in how the public policies, enacted since the late 70's, view society and the ability of said policies to effect change in society.The ideals of altruism and solidarity have been abandoned and in their place we have policies shaped by personal responsibility and rampant individualism. It is very easy to say that, it is up to you to look out for yourself and your needs when you are perched at the privileged end of the spectrum. When the odds and structures are stacked against you from the very start, it is next to impossible to operate on a level playing field. This government has priced a huge section of their population out of higher education and now out of the legal system. The NHS reforms of GP practices will have the effect of, GP centers cherry-picking the most profitable procedures and leaving the less well off at the mercy of an inferior service with dwindling funding. People need to speak with their feet to stop these policies, as it will snowball into a very unjust society unless something is done. Stand up for your rights as citizens not consumers.

Tuesday, 14 June 2011

Seeking Shelter

Myself and my good lady have recently been on the hunt for an new apartment. The decision has been made to end our exile on the wrong side of town and we are now enthused with the prospect of living with a buzzing metropolis on our doorstep. It is not only the prospect of moving back into town which has us excited but also the return to having a home of our own. Don't get me wrong we've been pretty lucky with the housemate we have had for the last year but their comes a time in your life, and in particular when you are in a long term relationship, when you just need your own space. The knowledge that once you shut the door behind yourself in the evening that nobody else is going to walk in is reason enough to salivate at the idea of having our own place again, not to mention being able to break wind at will.

Now as we are both out of our 20s, handsome and charming to boot we are pretty confident that if we get our foot in the door we could have any landlord falling over themselves to get us to rent their property but alas we are not perfect. Only today I was told that an apartment was too good for me over the phone, shocked and incredulous, I didn't quite know what to say. Moments later I had more snappy comebacks then I care to remember such as "Yeah well ... you smell". I wondered if it was the fact that I mentioned that we were both going to do a post grad in the coming year or was it the question about his openness to the prospect of rent allowance that set off the alarm bells normally reserved for the prospect of renting to a faeces flinging primate. Either way it was a shock to the system to be told we didn't measure up and got me thinking what was this apartment like and what in particular ruled us out. Was it the solid gold bread bin or perhaps it was the coffee table legs carved from the remains of a dwarf blue sheep?
These are the joys of being students at our age and not being able to buy our own place, but this has also worked in our favour.

There are a lot of people our age who have either been working since school or went to college straight out of school and have been eligible for a mortgage are now home owners. A lack of foresight by our political leaders and their economic advisers,"Yes we know every other property bubble burst with disastrous consequences but this time it'll be different", irresponsible lending by our bankers and a world wide economic downturn has left a lot of these people in negative equity. Property bought at inflated price with 100% mortgages is worth a fraction of what they paid and is in all honesty much closer to it's actual value. Now there are people all over the country whose hearts quicken with every interest rate announcement from the European central bank, terrified with the knowledge that an adjustment of one percentage point could mean default and ruination. What can be done by the state to alleviate the worst of these problems? Does the state even have a role to play? There are those who would say, no of course not, these people knew the risks that they were taking when they bought at inflated prices with mortgages that they couldn't afford. Why should I who saved carefully and budgeted responsibility now have to subsidize those who borrowed and bought irresponsibility.

I for one believe that it is in our interest to help these people through mortgage relief, moratoriums or some sort loss sharing between mortgage holders and the banks that the citizens of these state have bailed out and shall continue to bail out for a few years to come. The social cost of the failure to meet repayments will filter through and effect every strata of society. Immigration, deserted homes and the break up of families not to mention the very real risk in a spike in the suicide rate from men facing up the to failure to provide for their families are the very real consequences facing these people. There has since the mid seventies been a pervasive move towards a society which is more comfortable with abandoning people to the worst repercussions of the free market, you are now a consumer of risks rather than a citizen who deserves protection. If the state continues to withdraw from the provision of services and support for the worst off in society the affects will be felt by everybody. In saying that I will still do my best to shave as much as I can from landlord rent demands as they choke back the tears while telling me that the bought at the peak of the market with a huge mortgage.

Friday, 10 June 2011

Rotten Apples

The continuing political machinations across Europe with regard to interest rates for the bailout of nations and the seemingly endless u-turns in policy by our own government and that of the Conservative- Liberal Democrat government across the water stand in stark contrast to the recent developments in Iceland ( These events raise the question as to how long we can continue in a system of democracy which involves us once every 5 years and even then with policies are pitched as soundbites of what politicians think will win them the most votes. Across Europe politicians with one eye on upcoming elections promise to make the Irish give up their corporate tax rate, It is the one thing that is bringing in jobs which help us pay off the massive debt we are kindly paying off for the European bond holders, if the situation gets any more absurd it will become hard to tell the difference between reality and a Wildean farce

"Tough on crime" or "No more Taxes" maybe "Education Education Education" floats your boat. Sounds good to me, I like the cut of his gib that means more money in my pocket and I knew his father, he gets my vote. That's it my job is done, off he heads now to do his best in parliament. Ok so he/she's only a backbencher in the junior party of Government but he/she has a conscience and a wealth of campaign material which would leave you in doubt as to the character and the ideology of the man/woman.
(I should really continue to cover both genders, but who are we kidding, women are hopelessly under represented and the ones that are present, talented and suited to key positions are relegated to junior posts. A once off parachuting of women, akin to what happened in Sweden, into parliament is required to even up the gender split.)

This of course is not the case, the party whip system ensures that the high ideals and promises made in the village halls and on the door steps fall by the wayside in the name of party unity. So we have a government which has total control over the parliament and a government which is under the control of the cabinet who in turn fall in line behind the Taoiseach. What can we do about it? Well to be honest it would seem there isn't a whole lot even our government can do at the moment. Due to the deals struck by the previous government, the most unpopular in the history of the state, with the IMF, EU and ECB, or the unholy trinity as they should now be known, mean that it appears that we have little or no choice but to suck it up and take one for the team. In the dying days of the previous government there was no term which made my skin crawl more than "we have a mandate from the people".Trotted out at regular intervals it felt in the end that it was being delivered with an almost accusing tone, as if it was our own fault and to an extent it was. We allowed a system of patronage and clientalism develop in this country which would have made the acien regime blush. We have now been lumbered with a system ruled by a democratic aristocracy operating within a constitution written in 1937 that just doesn't work in the modern world and a population apathetic and indifferent to the political system. Resign your seat if you take a cabinet position, maintain an open and responsive discourse with your electorate so that policies are realistic, reasonable and dynamic. Force our politicians to take real note of what we want but this of course requires us to be more active in our democracy.

So look across the water, not to Britain or the United States, to Iceland a country that said enough is enough, to hell with the "Markets" lets take control of our democracy, lets hold our politicians accountable in real time and lets take an active role in creating a more equitable and democratic system which is creating a sense of ownership amongst the electorate. If it isn't working fix it, there can be no sacred cows just because it has been done in a certain manner does not be it should continue to be done in that manner. Perhaps it is some post-colonial emasculation which has made the Irish people so willing to do what we are told whether it is the Catholic Church our government or the IMF it is time that we shook it off. Adaptation is the key to survival and our democracy needs to evolve, it no longer serves the people and so is failing in its most basic of aims.