Grey Days & Away Days…..
August 8, 2010

It’s been another hectic week……..

Having returned to a miserably overcast Birmingham Airport, late Monday afternoon, from blue skies and 40 degrees  in Spain, thoughts immediately turned to our next jaunt, motoring in France, next week.

We booked tonight’s ferry crossing from Portsmouth just over a week ago so rather a last-minute decision. We don’t have a fixed destination in mind but thought we would head, in leisurely style, towards the châteaux and vineyards of the Loire Valley, an area we last visited way back in 1982!

Hopefully, along the way, there will be plenty of opportunities  for me to gain much-needed practice in my spoken French – pre Rwanda.

Having checked out a few hotels on-line, all of which looked rather over priced, we have decided where possible to camp. Having recently spent four weeks under canvas in Zambia I think I can just about manage another week on the Thermarest mattress shoe-horned into my mummy style sleeping bag.  

Thinking our camping days were well and truly behind us we got rid of our old frame tent and cooking equipment during a loft clearance exercise a few years ago. We have therefore invested in a lightweight, erected in seconds, affair – we’ll see! We are taking just the single gas burner, a small kettle for an early morning cuppa and a box of cornflakes but apart from that we intend to eat out.      

Having given Tuesday over to selecting and buying a tent, Wednesday was ear marked for  getting to grips with the  beginners’ Kinyarwanda course, which to be honest is proving easier said than done.

Half an hour in and I received an emergency phone call from VSO. Apparently the Rwandan authorities require my CRB clearance to be updated before they can issue a work permit. With time of the essence and my passport, which I will be using next week, required as evidence I had no alternative but to present myself in person at Putney HQ.

Thursday, at 6.30, I joined the early morning commuters from Pershore station, bound for Paddington. By 9.30 I had negotiated the District Line down to East Putney and presented myself at the VSO office. Within thirty minutes I had completed the paperwork, the accompanying documentary evidence  had been scrutinised and I was on my way again.

Having made my way,via the Central Line, to Chancery Lane I collapsed inside Café Nero, with a much-needed black Americano and  a (low-calorie) sticky toffee muffin, for breakfast.

This was my pre-appointed place of rendezvous with Gem who has recently taken up an appointment, as features writer, in the Old Holborn office of Love It magazine. We managed to grab 40 minutes or so together and she seems very happy with her new job which seems to be going fine. You can check out what she’s up to every Tuesday, copies available from all reputable newsagents and stationers!

Friday was another day of Test cricket, this time at Edgbaston. I hadn’t realised when I booked the ticket, months ago, that Pakistan would prove such light weight opponents this year and that I would be spending the day under gloomy Birmingham skies watching the play against the grey backdrop of a building site.

A 30 million pound redevelopment of the pavilion end is mid completion. It will be great when it’s finished (right) but it remains a mystery to me how the ECB could justify scheduling a Test Match at this venue, under these circumstances, given that there are a number of other grounds perfectly willing and able to stage the game.

The ball seamed and swung and, with Pakistan all out for a paltry 72, by mid afternoon the game was, to all intents and purposes, over. Given the advantageous bowling condition and the fragile state of the Pakistani batting it’s quite difficult to judge just how good the England bowlers are but it was good to see Stuart Broad amongst the wickets again.

Yesterday, Saturday, was the first day of the 2010-11 football season for all of those teams outside the Premier League! Forest were away at Burnley, who were relegated from the top-tier last year and are favourites to bounce straight back up again.

I decided to make the journey north to Turf Moor as there won’t be too many opportunities for me to watch the Tricky Trees before Christmas. With the aid of the trusty sat nav I was there in two and a half hours, motorway all the way.

It was a bit of a nostalgic trip for me. Back in 1966-7 Forest finished runners-up in the old 1st Division and as young 13-year-old fan I tried to get to as many games as possible. Visits to away grounds were quite a rarity in those days and Burnley was one of the first that I managed to get to.

I remember  it vividly. A friend’s uncle arrived mid afternoon in his old Morris Minor and offered to take us to the Easter Tuesday evening match. Of course we jumped at the chance. The old car wasn’t much of a speedster, especially with five of us in it, but we made the kick off.

I can remember the glistening cobbled streets around the ground which was tucked in amongst rows of terraced houses. It was real flat cap and whippet territory and the accents on the terraces were as thick as Lancashire Hot Pot!

Forest won that night with two goals from the legendary Zigger Zagger , Zigger Zagger, Joe Baker!  We could have done with him up front yesterday. He would have buried at least one of the three chances Nathan Tyson managed to lash into the crowd. The 1-0 defeat, was hard to take but the performance suggested we will be there or there about again at the business end of the season.     

That’s  just about it for this week. I’ve mowed the lawns, packed the car and the sun is even shining for the first time this week. La belle France beckons!

PS.

Bonne Anniversaire Gem!  I hope you are enjoying Lille and Reims with Nicci and Rache and enjoying a celebratory bottle of fizzy (or two)!

Buenos Dias de Cordoba!
August 1, 2010

Buenos Dias de Cordoba, Espana!

It’s been a hectic few days.

Wednesday: I visited my Dad in Nottinghamshire. Following lunch in our favourite local, the Horse and Groom at Linby, I spent the evening at the City Ground watching Forest take on top French side, Olympique Lyonnais, in a pre-season friendly. Not surprisingly they lost 3-1, however there was no shame given that Lyon were Champions’ League semi finalists last year & beat Real Madrid in the quarters!

When Gemma lived in Lyon, for a year during her university course, I had the opportunity to visit La  Stade Gerland and have subsequently always followed OL’s results. This has coincided with a phenomenal run of three consecutive French Championship titles and the last two seasons as runners-up!

Two of their goals last night were scored by Bafetimbi Gomis (right), a 13 million pound striker who has earned the nicname Baby Drogba. He certainly looks a hot prospect to me and I think we’ll hear more of him in the future!

They also fielded Hugo Lloris (goalkeeper), Jeremy Toulalan (midfield/defence), Jimmy Briand (winger) – all French internationals -and Michel Bastos who appeared five times for Brazil at this summer’s World Cup!       

Thursday: Having stayed overnight in Papplewick I made my annual pilgrimage to the Trent Bridge cricket ground (just across the road from the City Ground!), spending the day in the upper tier of the splendid Radcliffe Road Stand, watching the opening day of the 1st England v Pakistan Test Match.

Having chosen to bat England wobbled against the Pakistan seam attack, losing four wickets for 118 if memory serves! However a splendid maiden Test century from Eoin Morgan (which has probably earned him a place in this winter’s Ashes squad), ably supported by Paul Collingwood, saw England reach 331-4 by the close.

Subsequent text messages, received here in Spain, suggest that Pakistan were on the way to being bowled out cheaply in reply & I guess it could all be over by the time I return to the UK on Monday.

Friday: Chris & I were up at 4.00 am and away to Birmingham Airport for a 6.30 am flight to Malaga from where we took the high-speed AVE train to Cordoba (50 minutes).

We are staying at the Hotel Cordoba Center which I have previously used on a school European project visit. It’s ideally situated, 5 minutes walk from the station and it takes 15-20 minutes down into the old town.

Yesterday we visited the splendid Mezquita, a 16th century christian cathedral built in the heart of an 8th century mosque – an amazing combination of architectural styles and juxtaposition of religions.There are more than 850 columns of granite, jasper and marble supporting the roof which create a stunning visual effect.     

Today it was the palace of the Christian Kings (Alcazar de los Reyes Cristianos) built in the 14th century and where Ferdinand and Isabel stayed during their campaign to conquer the moors and take Granada. There are also Roman mosaics, excavated nearby,and  lovely gardens with fountains and ponds.

In between the sight-seeing Chris has been enjoying a few rays on the roof top sun terrace. It’s at least 40 degrees C at the moment. We’ve also enjoyed some excellent tapas, a few local Cruzcampo beers and the odd bottle of local wine.

My 30 minutes are up now so posting ready or not – adios, hasta luego!

The English Patient
June 30, 2010

English football requires radical surgery if the national side is to recover and ever thrive again. It has been said before (after every major football championship since ’96) and it is being shouted from the rooftops, by the media once again, after Sunday’s dismal and embarrassing exit from the 2010 World Cup. But will those in power listen?     

The obvious and likely response, to the debacle of the last few weeks, is likely to see Fabio Capello heading out of the door but to be replaced by who? The current consensus seems to be that we’ve tried two overpaid foreign managers who didn’t deliver so let’s go back to an English manager; someone with in-built national pride who can communicate more easily with the players and sing the national anthem with gusto!  Remember Steve McClaren? He was supposed to fit the bill, but might have done better auditioning in the West End for ‘Singing in the Rain’!

I don’t think changing the coach/manager is the answer. They should stick with Capello, who has a better track record, at club level, than any of the other likely candidates being touted around. If he can’t revive the English patient then I suspect nobody can.

Do we really believe cheeky chappy ‘Arry Redknapp or big Sam Allardyce are going to turn the national side around? Just look at their career records!  Roy Hodgson, who has international experience as a coach , might be a better choice but he has opted for the lesser of two evils by joining another ailing English patient, Liverpool!

In my book, the best British club manager by a mile (and I haven’t forgotten the Scottish knight here) is Martin O’Neil. However Martin is Irish, intelligent, outspoken, doesn’t suffer fools gladly and would only take the job on his terms, so nothing going for him then!      

I think we should stick with Fabio for the next couple of years and involve him in a full top to bottom enquiry into the state of the ‘English game’  involving both the FA and the Premier League. The key questions are  simple and blindingly obvious. Do we want a successful national team or the mediocrity we have just endured?  If the answer is yes, how do we balance the needs of the national team, with the needs of the clubs and the money-making machine which is the Premier League?

The fans should also have an important say. Is the average football fan prepared to put the quest for a successful national side (once every two/four years) before that of the club side they follow, week in week out?

Needless to say the questions are much simpler than the solutions, but perhaps we need look no further than the example set by the Germans, who I’m sure would have beaten us (perhaps not so easily) even if Lampard’s ‘goal’ had been given.

The domestic Bundesliga is not as interesting or entertaining as the English Premier League, German club sides with the exception of Bayern Munch  have a modest record in the Champions League and yet whenever a major international tournament comes around the national side is always well conditioned, technically adept, tactically astute and monotonously successful (as we know to our cost) being three times winners of the World Cup and the European Championship.

Mind you, I do fancy Argentina to beat them in the quarter finals!

I suspect nothing radical will happen and in four years time the English patient may well be on the way to the morgue, whilst the Premiership coffers grow fatter and fatter!

The ‘golden generation’ has come and gone without ever looking like it would deliver, in Germany 2006 or Spain 2010. If we are serious about future international success the ‘new generation’ (worryingly thin on the ground) has to be given the right opportunities and conditions within which it can develop and flourish.

At the very least the following should now be seriously considered:

  • Reduce the number of Premier League teams to 18
  • An agreed minimum quota of English qualified players in every first team squad
  • An agreed minimum quota of English qualified players in every starting line up
  • The Carling Cup to go, or be officially downgraded to a competition which develops young home-grown talent   
  • A mid-season winter break in January

Now let’s leave the footballers in their misery for a while and turn our attention to the summer sports where we continue to enjoy a degree of success.

The England cricket team have now tied up the 50 over series against the Aussies and now well and truly own the bragging rights, having beaten them in all three forms of the international game during the last twelve months. Let’s hope their good form continues throughout the forthcoming Test series against Pakistan as they prepare for this winter’s Ashes tour.    

All eyes now turn to Wimbledon where tennis fans have enjoyed the recent glorious weather, oblivious of the trials and tribulations in South Africa, and Andy Murray has seemingly glided through to the quarter finals without dropping a set. HM popped in for her first visit since 1977, when Virginia Wade won the ladies’ singles – the last British champion! Could history repeat itself 33 years later, but this time in the men’s singles?

Bring on the Germans and all that Jazz!
June 24, 2010

So it’s confirmed, we will be playing our old adversaries, the Germans, in the last 16 of  2010 World Cup. It just had to be didn’t it?  But I have a feeling that  playing them now, rather than later in the tournament, could be better for us!

The match will be played in Bloemfontein on Sunday afternoon. It promises to be a barbecue weekend here in the UK  so stock up on the bangers, burgers and beer!

Today, the sun is shining  already and I’m about to set off  for an all together more tranquil sporting occasion down by the riverside in Cardiff. England versus the Aussies in a day /night, 50 over cricket international at the SWALEC stadium in Sophia Gardens. Come on England let’s make it 2/2.

It heralds the start of a busy weekend with  friends arriving tomorrow, from the north-east, for the 25th annual Upton-on- Severn Jazz Festival.

So what with cricket, jazz, barbecues, beer and sunday’s big football occasion I’ll be putting the blog on hold until Monday.  By then the nation will be euphoric or wallowing in the depths of another depression.

 

Top tips for Fabio and England:

1. Same starting XI

2. Keep the red shirts

3. Extra practice on penalties

Let’s make Franz ‘the Kaiser’ Beckenbauer eat his words!

Time to stand up and be counted!
June 23, 2010

90 minutes to kick off!

If you don’t know or understand what all the fuss is about now would be good time to head for Tesco, you should have the place pretty much to yourself.

The country is about to grind to a halt. For 90 minutes the revival of the national economy will take second place to the revival of the national football team. Even DC announced, in PM’s Questions, that he is hoping to catch the second half.

Will the flag of St George will still be flying over the House of Commons at 5.00pm – we’ll see! Ridiculously, if we put in a half decent performance today and win, the trials and tribulations of earlier this week will no doubt be replaced by a cautious optimism that we could still lift the trophy. Crazier thing have happened – just look at the English cricket team!

Yesterday they saw off the Aussies in yet another assured one day performance, Eoin Morgan leading the way with a fine century. There was a time, not long ago, when we could not buy a victory in the short form of cricket and the likely outcome of any  match against the Aussies was a ‘no brainer’.

In the space of twelve months, the English cricket team has wrested back the Ashes, lifted the World T20 trophy, after hammering the Aussies in the final, and are currently 1-0 up in the one day (50 over game) series. 

I’m looking forward to seeing more of the same, tomorrow, when I visit Cardiff for the second day-night match. I don’t want to put my foot in it and spoil our chances but are the Aussies, for so long seemingly invincible, fast becoming our whipping boys?  Even Johnno’s rugby team sneaked a win down under at the weekend. Come to think of it, it’s a pity we aren’t playing the Aussies this afternoon instead of Slovenia!      

‘Nothing builds confidence like success‘, ‘success breeds success’ and ‘winning becomes a habit’ are well-worn sporting clichés because they tend to be true. It is being amply demonstrated by the England cricket team right now.

To quote another cliché, ‘you don’t become a bad player/team overnight’. England are ranked 8th in the world by FIFA. They are playing a Slovenian team ranked 27th. Nothing but a stirring display full of pride, passion, and no little skill, resulting in a victory for England, will do this afternoon. It’s what the nation needs, deserves and expects.  And while I’m in cliché mode: ‘there are no more excuses’, ‘the time has come to stand up and be counted’ and ‘don’t leave the tournament wondering what if………..’       

30 minutes to kick off!!!

It’s time to play ‘3 Lions’, grab a beer, dust down the vuvuzela and steady the nerves.

COME ON ENGLAND!  It’s Coming Home, it’s coming home, it’s coming, football’s coming home……….. 

Silly Hats, Strawberries & Streakers – The Great British Summer!
June 20, 2010

World Cup Final tournaments are addictive; they should carry a government health warning!

Admittedly the football, in South Africa, has hardly set the pulses racing, largely due to negative tactics and coaches preoccupied with self-preservation. Never the less the atmosphere is vibrant, results have been refreshingly unpredictable and the ongoing debate over the suspect ball and the omnipresent vuvuzela, have all been riveting for the football enthusiast. Not to mention the soap opera which the England team has become! Hopefully the best is yet to come, in the final group matches and knock out stages.          

Meanwhile, in the shadow of the ‘greatest show on earth’ and largely neglected by the national media, the great British sporting summer rolls on. It is of course the traditional season for silly hats, strawberries and streakers!   

This week at Royal Ascot the premier flat race meeting has come and gone with barely a by your leave. But even this traditional preserve of the sport of kings was infiltrated by the World Cup, with a Ladies’ Day vuvuzela hat, paraded on the front page of Friday’s Times newspaper.         

The Wimbledon Championship, at the All England Club, has crept upon us almost un-noticed. As from tomorrow, tennis enthusiasts will be descending on SW19, hoping for that elusive British success but ever ready to drown their sorrows with lashings of Pimms and strawberries. Normally the sports pages would have been hyping up Andy Murray’s chances for the last week or so, but in this World Cup year he has barely rated a mention. Hopefully this might work in his favour?

Similarly the razzmatazz of the county cricket T20 competition is passing us by and the forthcoming one day internationals will probably go unnoticed by many. Not by me though! I’m looking forward to making my debut, at the SWALEC stadium in Cardiff on Thursday, for the day/night England v Australia game. I’m looking forward to seeing Stuart Broad and Graeme Swann (a couple of part-time  Notts players) and, weather permitting, I anticipate it might prove the perfect antidote to England’s football performance against Slovenia on Wednesday!  

Yesterday, on the other side of the world, in Sydney, the England ruby team raised their game, at long last, and ‘hammered’ the Aussies 20-21! It was their first win ‘down under’ since they lifted the World Cup in 2003 (on the same ground) and only their second away win in two years. But this narrowest of victories might prove vital in England’s rehabilitation process, almost certainly keeping Martin Johnson and his coaching team in their positions until after the 2011 Rugby World Cup, and perhaps proving the turning point we’ve been waiting for. Ever the optimist!

I don’t like to upset my Welsh family members by referring to their latest performance against the All Blacks, so I suggest they look away now. They were soundly thrashed 42-9!

Finally a mention for Formula 1 (Scalextric for grown ups!) where two Brits continue to the lead the way in what is becoming a highly competitive championship. It was good to see the oft maligned Lewis Hamilton back at is his best in Montreal and last year’s champion Jenson Button proving he wasn’t a one hit wonder!  Next up his Valencia, in a week’s time and then Silverstone on World Cup Final day!

I wonder what odds I might get on England to win the World Cup, Andy Murray to lift the men’s singles and a Hamilton/Button 1-2 in the British Grand Prix? Dream on!