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)!

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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!

Viva Espana – una victoria para el futbol!
July 12, 2010

Viva Espana!

Spain, already European Champions, justly won the biggest prize of all at the Soccer City Stadium in Jo’burg last night; an historic win for Spain but an even bigger victory for football.

There can be no argument that the tap pass  footballers of Spain deserved  their victory against the Dutch cloggers, and nobody more so than their diminutive goal scorer, Andres Iniesta, who so exemplifies the Spanish style of play.

Last night the memory of total football which Holland revealed to the world in consecutive 1970s finals, creating a legacy which subsequent Oranje teams have always striven to live up to, was tainted by the cynical pragmatists of 2010.     

There will be many in the Netherlands who will be devastated, not that they lost, but by the manner of their defeat. In a pre match interview we got a hint of what might be expected from the Dutch Master himself, Johan Cruyff.

Cruyff, an architect of the 1974 side, as well as a former player and coach with Barcelona, suggested he was less than impressed with the current Holland team’s style, commenting, “I am Dutch but I will always defend the football Spain play.”   

From the first whistle, Spain were the only team attempting to play football and assertions by Dutch coach Bert van Marwijk, in his post match interview, that, “ it’s not our style to play ‘ugly’ or commit horrible fouls” and, “ I don’t think the referee controlled the match well,” do him little or no credit.

English referee, Howard Webb, must have wondered what he had let himself in for. It was not his fault that he had to assume such a high-profile role in proceedings. The players from both sides, but particularly the Dutch, did not make it at all easy for him.

The previous highest total of yellow cards in a World Cup Final had been six. Webb reached into his top pocket for 13 yellows and finally, in extra time, a red for Holland’s John Heitinga.   

Holland could hardly complain. Arguably, they should have been down to nine men by half time. The chest high kick on Xabi Alonso by Nigel De Jong would almost certainly have been a sending off in any other game but a final!

Mark Van Bommel, who has been cruising for a bruising throughout the tournament, was also lucky to remain after he scythed down Iniesta.   

The Dutch tactics were uncompromising but unambitious. Press up on the Spanish, get in their faces, prevent them from settling into their usual metronomic passing game, pinch the ball and catch them on the counter attack through speedster Ayen Robben.

They needn’t have bothered though, the final result had been pre-ordained by the mystic mollusc. Was it Puyol or Paul the octopus who wrapped a restraining tentacle around Robben as he bore down on goal?

The tentacled tipster maintained his 100% record, correctly predicting 8/8 – a perfect octet of results for the octopus, who can now take early retirement squids in!   

En la familia Aldridge casa, the vuvuzela sounded its final celebratory blast of the tournament as captain Iker Casillas lifted the golden globe and the Spanish squad celebrated.

It was a victory for football purists everywhere and for a much relieved daughter who texted during extra time, “my nerves can’t take this any longer”. She should try watching Nottingham Forest some time!  

Enjoy your sweepstake winnings Gem – the San Migs are on you next time we meet!

England let it slip but no need for panic!
June 13, 2010

Get over it – I’m sure Fabio and the boys will! Despite the harbingers of gloom in this morning’s media castigating Robert Green for his costly goalkeeping slip, we did negotiate a potential banana skin and showed enough to suggest we can grow into this tournament.

As far as England World Cup openers go, and I’ve seen a few, believe me this wasn’t too bad and I still remain confident that we will top the group and be there or there about in the final shake up!

In 1966 we hardly got off to a flyer, with a goalless draw against Uruguay at Wembley and remember, last time around, the eventual 2006 winners , Italy (not the best team in the tournament, in my book) drew 1-1 in their group game against a USA side which was arguably not as strong as the one we saw last night.     

Yes, I was surprised that Green started in the keeper’s jersey, but clearly Fabio must have got wind of my Fantasy Football team selection and the posting I made earlier this week,  suggesting ‘Calamity James’ might eventually come good for England in this tournament. I need to transfer in a replacement now! Any suggestions – the Nigerian keeper, Enyeama, looked pretty handy yesterday?

What is it with England goalkeeping? For years it was the only position in which we had strength in depth but recently it has become a bit of an Achilles heel – Seaman, Robinson, Carson and of course ‘Calamity’ all producing howlers in big games. However, eternally the optimist, I would love to see Fabio give Green the chance to redeem himself and it’s a funny enough game for him to turn national hero in that penalty shoot-out that’s bound to come our way later in the competition (you heard it here first!).

If the glass is half full: there were fine performances from Gerrard, who really stepped up to the mark as captain, Heskey, whose ability to hold up the ball and link up play,  more than justified his selection, and Glen Johnson as an attacking full back.

If the glass is half empty: Rooney worked hard as usual but never got into a clear-cut scoring position, Lennon and Wright-Phillips still need to put in better quality crosses and  King (due to fitness) and Carragher (due to lack of mobility) are not the answer at centre back. For me, the latter is more of a worry than the goalkeeping position.

Is Fabio brave enough to throw in a rookie, Forest old-boy, Michael Dawson? I guess Matthew Upson will get his chance first, in the Algeria game, next Friday, when I expect us to win comfortably!       

Incidentally my Fantasy Football jinx also seems to have put the kiss of death on Lionel Messi’s chances of winning the Golden Boot – he created and missed at least five goal scoring opportunities as Argentina had to settle for 1-0 against Nigeria.

 Mind you, in true football parlance it’s ‘early doors’!