Friday, 3 February 2017

Dude, Your Movie, Like, Totally Sucks!

For want of anything better to write (I can't bear to write about Trump or Brexit, it's all too depressing) I've decided to jot down a few thoughts about the last 5 movies I've watched (on DVD). Roger Ebert I ain't, but it might be fun*.

*This is not going to be fun for any of us, including myself.

Stand By Me (1986) 

You know what movies make me nervous? Movies like 'Stand By Me'.

They make me nervous because a lot of people LOVE these movies - the 80s movies that they grew up with and have adored ever since - and I'm scared I'm not going to like them and become a bad guy.

A good example of this is 'Ferris Bueller's Day Off', which I just didn't like. Or was it that I just didn't like him? I dunno.

Anyway. No need to be nervous here. 'Stand By Me' is brilliant. It's sort of like the grown up version of 'The Goonies' (loved that too) and what it lacks a little in plot it makes up with with character and spirit.

'Stand By Me' may not speak to me as strongly as it does to 80s kids, but it still sucked me in all the same.

Rating = 8/10

Vertigo (1958)

Ol' Alf Hitchcock and I have a love/hate relationship, in the sense that I LOVE his films until they get to their conclusions, which I HATE.

'Strangers on a Train', 'Rear Window', 'Shadow of a Doubt' - all great films, until you reach their laughably stupid endings.

'Vertigo' builds up the same way, but then suddenly hits you with A) A really good twist and B) An ending which is...well...OK. It's still a bit silly, and very Hitchcock, but it kinda works.

The reasonable ending makes this a very strong film, and I'm always a sucker for anything Jimmy Stewart is in.

Rating = 8.75/10 (although I could stretch to 9/10 if persuaded)

Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (2000)

Watching movies on DVD, on a relatively small TV and years after their cinema release, is both a curse and a blessing. It's a curse, in that it's very difficult/almost impossible for a movie to "wow" me with special effects. On the other hand that's a blessing, as it means I can concentrate on the plot of a film and watch it more analytically than I would in a cinema.

In the first few moments of 'Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon' then, the characters gliding over rooftops still looks good, but feels cliched. It's hard to get pumped up for a scene you've seen 1000 times before in a Snickers advert featuring Mr. Bean.

So let's hone in on the plot of this one, then. Frankly, it's a bit of a silly one, and very much plays second fiddle to the beautifully choreographed fight scenes throughout.

Is CTHD a great film? Debatable. Is it one of my favourite films? No. Is it a really fun and enjoyable film to watch on a Saturday night with a big bag of Doritos? YES.

Rating = 7/10

Dazed and Confused (1993)

Ah, Richard Linklater. The director of two of my most beloved films (the Befores Sunrise & Sunset) and a bit of a genius, in my eyes.

I judge each case on its merits, however, and I call a spade a spade, and I have to say that despite my love for the director, I didn't like this one at all.

Maybe if I was a teen in the 70s myself, getting high all the time and listening to Foghat all day, I might have appreciated this one a lot more. But I wasn't, so, I didn't. 'Dazed and Confused' has lots of Linklater flourishes, a truly great soundtrack, and some nice lines of dialogue. But that's about all it has. Not for me, Clive.

Rating = 5/10

The Maltese Falcon (1941)

Everything about 'The Maltese Falcon' is fast. Bogart speaks quickly. The plot moves quickly. Scenes come and go quickly - as do characters (Bogart's partner in the detective agency is in the film for about the first two minutes).

With most films, I can take a moment to take my eyes off the screen - to have some water, perhaps, or to look at my phone, or to (and this is most likely, let's be honest) break off a triangle of Toblerone and stuff it in my mouth.

I could do none of these things with The Maltese Falcon. The plot moves so speedily that it's fatal to take your eyes off the screen - particularly as, apart from Bogart's character Sam Spade - every single fucker in the film is lying. So you absorb a two minute story by a character, think "OK, cool, got that" then find out that Bogart knows she's lying and that the entire story was bunkum. Cool.

Nevertheless, this is a good film, and one I'm pleased I've now watched. I do, however, prefer Bogart in 'Casablanca'.

Rating = 7/10

See ya next time knuckleheads!

Thursday, 29 December 2016

So. Farewell Then.

We are all, in our own ways, a fan of something. Yep, even you.

Whether it's a foodstuff, a sports team, or - in the case of Katie Hopkins - thinking up something "controversial" to shout online to get attention, there is something on this planet we enjoy and take an interest in.

I'm a fan of a lot of things. Manchester United. Curry. Bill Bryson. Sussex CCC. Boobs. Those little tubs my mum used to get me every Friday after primary school where you dunk the breadsticks into the chocolate dip.

I am (was?) also a fan of the Serbian (ex) tennis player Ana Ivanovic, who yesterday announced her retirement from the game at the age of 29. Man, that sentence felt weird to write.

Being a fan of an individual sportsperson is, frankly, asking for trouble. They can only let you down - a sentiment I know only too well having been a huge Lance Armstrong fan growing up. Nobody is perfect, and the world isn't made up of "good people and bad people", and that's a life lesson you have to learn as you mature.

When you hold someone up as an idol, however, that common sense approach to life goes out of the window when they fall from perfection. You feel...betrayed. Which is mad, I know, but true.

Being a fan of an individual you don't know, will never know, and will probably never even meet, doesn't make any sense. But yet we do it. I do it.

I first became a fan of Ana Ivanovic in....2009? 2010? No, must be earlier. Late 2008? I can't remember. Certainly after her 2008 triumph at Roland Garros, anyway. Since then, Lord knows how many of her matches I've watched, or, on one particular occasion, listened to on the Australian Open radio station because her match wasn't being televised.

I'm probably going to regret writing this forever, but the reason why I became a fan of hers was mainly because of how nice she is. As I mentioned earlier, this is a problematic attitude fraught with danger, but at least with Ana her crown is, as far as I can tell, thoroughly merited:

As Heather Watson alluded to, it also helped that Ana is staggeringly, bewilderingly, impossibly gorgeous - the kind of woman you'd want to lie down next to and just look at for hours. The nicest person imaginable and one you'd marry in a heartbeat? Yeah, that will do for me - and let's not forget her work for UNICEF either.

But now she's gone - retired, I should point out, not deceased. Let's not be melodramatic. But one minute she was there, the next...she wasn't.

Her retirement still hasn't sunk in, and I doubt it truly will until the draw for the Australian Open comes out early next year and I excitedly search for her name only to find it isn't there.

No more plotting her way to the final, working out who she'd likely play round by round. No more of that blistering forehand. No more of that laughably terrible ball toss. No more taking the train to Birmingham just to see her play in the Wimbledon warm up tournament. No more "ajde" after winning a point.

I was fortunate enough to meet her in 2011 and it remains one of the most memorable days of my life. We had a bit of banter about her not being able to spell my name (picture below, she went with Patrik initially until I had to correct her) and she was every bit as lovely as I had hoped.

So thanks for everything, Ana. I'll miss you.

Tuesday, 1 December 2015

Dead Man Walking

I'd like to begin this blog post, if I may, with an anecdote about an eccentric Dutchman by the name of Louis van Gaal. The use of this particular anecdote will make absolutely no sense to begin with, but stick with me, OK?

For those of you who don't know, Louis van Gaal (or LVG, if you prefer) is a rather odd football manager from the Netherlands. Currently manager of Manchester United, he previously managed the German giants Bayern Munich, and it is here where we begin:

Van Gaal has mellowed with age somewhat, but not entirely. At Bayern Munich, one of the most bizarre of his outbursts occurred early in the successful 2009/10 season. Striker Luca Toni, who was sold by the club in the summer of 2009, detailed the following incredible anecdote:
“The coach wanted to make clear to us that he can drop any player, it was all the same to him because, as he said, he had the balls. He demonstrated this literally by dropping his trousers. I have never experienced anything like it, it was totally crazy. Luckily, I didn’t see a lot, because I wasn’t in the front row”.

And so onto Jeremy Corbyn.

For those of us who predicted that Jeremy Corbyn would be a disaster as leader of the Labour Party, this should be a period of smugness. But there's no satisfaction on my part.

I'm not a Labour Party member, because I don't particularly fancy giving any political party a chunk of my money every month, but I have voted Labour at every single election since I turned voting age, I identify myself as a Socialist, I believe in Labour's cause, and I hate the Tories more than I hate peanut butter.

Believe me, watching the Labour Party tearing itself apart isn't a time of celebration. It just makes me feel sad.

As for Corbyn himself, I like him. I really do. He has his beliefs - many of which I agree with - and he's a throwback to the older, better, Labour. He just isn't a leader, and that's why I wouldn't have voted for him and didn't have any confidence in his time as Labour premier.

The discontentment with Corbyn's election among the Labour MPs began on Day One, and has been bubbling away ever since. Unwavering belief in his leadership has been in short supply, and that's putting it kindly.

All this has reared its head at the time when Corbyn faces his first big test as leader - the issue of Syrian airstrikes. Corbyn, as I'm sure you know, is the UK's new celebrity pacifist, and refutes David Cameron's claims that airstrikes against IS/ISIS/ISIL/DAESH/whatever the fuck they're called today are necessary.

Amusingly, his shadow cabinet largely disagree with him - including his foreign secretary, Hilary Benn. This issue will be put to a vote tomorrow, and with the support of Labour MPs, David Cameron will win, and bombing over the Syrian skies from UK jets will begin.

First big issue for Corbyn, then, first logjam.

Newsnight reported two interesting nuggets the other night. Firstly, Labour MPs have already spoken to legal experts, trying to determine that if a coup is sprung, Corbyn can't just place himself on the next ballot and win again.

Secondly, Newsnight heard from well placed sources that this coup is already being lined up for just after the upcoming by-election in Oldham West. Corbyn hasn't even been leader for three months.

It's clear that there is terminal disharmony between shadow cabinet and leader - and it cannot continue. All in Westminster know it.

What's happening to Jeremy Corbyn is a long, torturous, painful death. He'll try and hang on, and hang on, and hang on, until he's finally forced to resign/booted out, with the whole sorry shambles leaving Labour in chaos for months.

Question: what can he do? Answer: not a lot - he's fucked either way.

But let's go back to Louis van Gaal. Because here's something that Jeremy Corbyn can do - he can show his bollocks.

Not literally - I'm not asking him to display his testicles to Angela Eagle - but to do the political equivalent. On the issue of Syrian airstrikes, he should have put his foot down. We know his view - he's against them - so rather than giving his MPs a "free vote", he should have taken charge.

"I'm the leader. Here is my decision. We're the party of opposition, I'm opposed to it - we vote no. Back me, or fuck off. We'll carry on without you."

Political suicide? Maybe, but here's the point - he's dying on the job anyway. If you're gonna go down, go down swinging. In short - be a leader, Jeremy. Because right now, the Labour Party is sliding its way into being a pressure group mired in complete chaos.

I see the irony here, by the way. Asking the nation's #1 pacifist to take "the nuclear option" is pretty ironic. But if you open the "How To Win a General Election" booklet, Page 1, Paragraph 1, Sentence 1, says this:

"Everybody needs to be on the same page."

Forget about anything else. If you can't get this right, you don't stand a chance of winning. Voters aren't stupid - they know when a party is in disarray.

It's time to take charge, Jeremy. It's time for the big fight. Prove me wrong, and be a leader.

Saturday, 29 August 2015

Marconi Didn't Die For This

Hello again. Fancy hearing about the shittiest radio programme of all time?

Course you do.

My Friday night began normally enough - Assassins Creed on the XBox, Hall and Oates greatest hits on Spotify, a nice glass of iced water on the go (don't tell me I don't know how to live) - when a tweet popped up on the eyePad which caught my eye...

I quite like Lynsey Hooper, she knows her stuff and seems like a cool cat, and I've been an on/off talkSPORT listener for years.

So, as 10pm edged closer, I had a decision to make. Could I really abandon "Kiss on My List" for somebody called Terry Tibbs?

I decided that the answer was "yes" - a decision which will go down in history alongside boarding the Titanic or that time I drank a glass of port on the night I started taking Citalopram as the worst choices EVER made.

Because "Talk To Me", hosted by 'Terry Tibbs', his 'son' Lionel, and featuring poor old Lynsey Hooper as "the studio guest", was the worst radio programme I have listened to in my 28 years of being on this planet.

You may think I'm joking. Or exaggerating. I am not.

I've been listening to talkSPORT for decades, and I've experienced the good (Hawksbee & Jacobs, the late Mike Dickin, James Whale, Ian Collins), the bad (Rushden & Glendenning, Patrick Kinghorn, Ronnie Irani) and the downright bizarre (Champagne and Roses with Gerald Harper, George Galloway), yet nothing in those latter two categories comes anywhere close to this.

Nothing on ANY other radio station comes anywhere close to this, either.

So, let me tell you all about it. 'Terry Tibbs', apparently, is an alter ego of somebody called Kayvan Novak, who, apparently, fronted a comedy show called 'Fonejacker'. No, me neither. Novak was born and educated in London, so naturally he supports Liverpool.

The show begins with Tibbs, in a rather bizarre accent I can't really place, rambling on about Slovakian chewing gum, or something. Ordinarily I'd have already switched off by now, but I soon begin to realise that this is so extraordinarily shit I can't. I literally can't.

Throughout the show 'Lionel', with an increasing hint of utter despair in his voice, beseeches the listeners to call/text/tweet/email into the show - anything to give them some material to work with.

Nobody does. The only calls are plants - presumably Novak's mates, or members of the production crew - who engage Tibbs and Lionel in bizarre conversations which tick precisely none of the boxes that constitute good radio.

20 minutes in they bring in Lynsey, like a Wulfrunian lamb to the slaughter. So far we've had precisely 0.00% of the billed "Terry Tibbs hosts the nation's funniest football phone-in", but I'm optimistic that that will soon change.

It doesn't.

Lynsey Hooper is well known for co-creating "The Offside Rule"podcast, which is a podcast specifically created to make neanderthal men understand that women like football too, and they get it, and their opinions should be treated with respect.

As such, Tibbs and Lionel pick up on the pioneering work Hooper has done in this field, by barraging her with questions about her private life, such as which footballers she fancies, and whether a player has ever tried it on with her.

As you can imagine this is fascinating stuff, which Lynsey plays along with gamely until the "lads" ask her what her relationship status is. "I don't know if I want to say that" she quietly replies, and if you listen closely you can actually begin to hear the will to live swiftly leaving her body as she does so.

More hilarious bants swiftly follow as Tibbs screeches the "O" in newsreader Lisa O'Sullivan's name in an faux-orgasmic way whilst she's on air, chalking up another victory for misogyny in the process.

Do I need to go on? During the two hours(!) this pile of excrement is on air, the sole highlight - and I use that term loosely - is the occasions when Novak's cod accent keeps on fading, transforming him from an Arabian-esque ranting cleric to, amusingly, sounding peculiarly like Bob Mills.

Into the second hour we go, and at this point, a Twitter search for "talksport terry" brings a smile to my face:

(There were more, but you get the picture)

After a crude impersonation of the Chinese segway rider who felled Usain Bolt the other day - so you can add racism to the list of everything that's wrong with this show - I begin to notice something. Lynsey has disappeared. Where has she gone?

From 11pm to the time I finally gave up on this shit sandwich - 11:43pm - Lynsey is AWOL. "She was only booked from 10-11pm" I consider, a logical conclusion that still doesn't stop me fantasising about her exiting the studio and coming back with a Kalashnikov, 16 rounds of ammo, and a severe loss of temper.

I'm not going to go on. I won't even mention the toe-curling phone interview with an American "naked life coach" or something. Remember folks - this is "the nation's funniest football phone-in"!

Instead, here's a link to the whole sordid, depressing, amateurish, embarrassing, shameful, putrid affair:

Listen to that, and whilst you do so, remember - this is a national radio station with over 3 million listeners.

To conclude, you might be wondering why I care. Why do I care so much about a terrible radio programme on at 10pm on a Friday night when every normal person is out clubbing, and why do I care so much to ramble on about it for god-knows-how-many-words.

My answer is a simple one. Think about all the talented radio presenters out there, on local radio stations, who work their fucking arses off to hone their craft in front of 17 listeners and a small dog called Kevin. They'd give their right arm to present on talkSPORT - even at 10pm on a Friday - to host a show which could be informative and entertaining.

Instead, talkSPORT serve us this pile of cold sick. Shame on them, and shame on me for listening to it.

Monday, 10 February 2014

Benefits Street

If you live in the UK, you probably already know about the Channel 4 programme 'Benefits Street', a documentary series which has attracted an awful lot of attention and controversy over the past month or so.

For my overseas readers, a very brief synopsis - 'Benefits Street' is a crude nickname for James Turner Street, a suburban avenue in a rough part of Birmingham in the West Midlands. According to the programme, the street has acquired this nickname because the majority of residents there are unemployed and living on benefits, with some never having worked at all. The series documents these people's lives over a year by shoving cameras in their faces and talking to them etc. The programme has generated controversy because many believe that our current Government - with the help of their friends in the media - are demonising poor people/people currently living on benefits. We're encouraged to believe that these people are "scum", are an inferior race, and should all be shot, or something.

The first two episodes of 'Benefit Street' were grim. Episode One centred on a chap called Danny who has a penchant (great word, I'm pleased with that one) for nicking things, selling them, then buying drugs with his "earnings". We saw Danny's tactics - lining a shopping bag with foil to stop the alarms going off - and we saw him being forcibly arrested in Birmingham city centre.

Episode Two wasn't much better. This time, we saw a group of Eastern Europeans move in to James Turner Street, having been promised work doing fruit picking on a farm, or something. To their horror they soon realised that they were being treated as slaves, and with no money and about twelve grown men trying to share a house suited for a family of four, they upped ship and cleared off, presumably back to their own country. They originally fled their country for a better life - one guy's sole aim was to earn some money and send it back home to help feed his starving child - but they soon found they were being treated worse over here than they were back home.

Grim stuff, but Episode Three was painfully tough to watch, and the episode which has made me want to put pen to paper (or the blogging equivalent, anyway). Episode Three centred around a young couple, Mark and Becky, who - and I'm kind here - aren't going to be winning Mastermind any time soon. Mark has never worked (more on this later), and spends his time with Becky looking after their two young children, Casey and Callum.

Callum is, to be polite, a problem. Over the course of the episode we see Callum demanding a bowl of cereal at midnight, not going to bed until 5am, not going to nursery because ????? and having rather impressive temper tantrums that see him ending up in 'Punishment Porch' - a lovely little prison cell for him between the front door and a stairgate contraption.

Watching between my fingers, I soon began to realise why I found Episode Three so much harder to watch than the first two episodes. It was because I was watching a child's life being utterly destroyed. A child destined to grow up without a fucking chance of making anything of his life.

Callum's childhood seems to be a vicious circle of bad behaviour, violence, imprisonment, no education, verbal abuse and a twisted body clock. Unless there's an urgent intervention, we can see Callum's adult life following an eerily similar pattern - bad behaviour, violence, imprisonment, no education. Callum has no chance in life. None. And it isn't his fault. When he hits his mother and screams "Me hate mummy" it's hard to disagree with him, or blame him for his incorrect grammar.

As I touched on earlier, Mark, the father, has never worked. During Episode Three we saw him - to the obvious shock of his partner Becky - land a "job" doing door-to-door for a charity for 100% commission. Yep, that's right - any penny Mark received had to be off the back of a successful encounter. He absolutely tried his best - he put on a smart suit, and grafted all day, but he wasn't very good, to be kind to the lad. He came home shattered having earned precisely £0.00.

Now Mark might not know what the capital of Andorra is, or the square root of 225, but he's not thick enough to know that this was a load of bollocks. "Hard work pays" shouts our Chancellor, but for Mark it didn't. He jacked in the job and went back to his benefits. Blame him? I don't. I really don't.

Instead I just feel sorry for Mark. At one point he reflects on how nobody is going to give him a job, and to be fair to the lad he's absolutely right. I know how hard it is to find work at the moment, and I have a degree and work experience, am astonishingly intelligent, good looking, and modest. Mark has nothing. He can't put anything on his CV. He can't win - a problem which then filters down to his child, who can't win in life either.

When I think about the residents on James Turner Street, I sit back and I wonder what their dreams were when they were, say, 10. White Dee, Fungi, Danny, Black Dee, Mark and Becky - I bet none of them daydreamed as a child about a soul-crushingly boring life on benefits, going through life "existing" rather than "living", until they die and they're buried somewhere and nobody gives a shit.

At the beginning I mentioned how 'Benefits Street' has proved controversial. Many believe that programmes like this are put on solely to demonise these people, to encourage society to label them as "dossers", "scum", "lazy scroungers" etc etc. When I watch the programme however, I can't bring myself to think this. Instead, I just feel sorry - sorry for them, but also sorry for society. Mark and Becky went to their local food-bank during the episode - not because they particularly wanted to, I don't think, but because they had to, just to feed their child.

Think about that. In the United Kingdom, 2014, people are having to use food-banks to feed their children, whilst the Government tries their hardest to turn one section of society against these people. It's enough to make you weep, and think "There but for the Grace of God...." I wish I knew what the answer was, but in the short-term, sniggering at these people and thinking of them as a hopeless underclass probably doesn't help.

Help. That's what these people need, but right now they're not getting much of it.

Shame on us. Shame on us all.

Tuesday, 31 December 2013

Bucket List 2013/2014

Well then, here we are.

Another year is (almost) in the books, and in the process we've again said our farewells to a load of talented, famous/infamous people. Off the top of my head, 2013 has seen us lose: Nelson Mandela, Margaret Thatcher, James Gandolfini, Tom Clancy, Dennis Farina, Peter O'Toole, Seamus Heaney, Lou Reed, Paul Walker, Stan Musial, Ken Norton, Sir David Frost, Marcia Wallace, Michael Winner, Richard Griffiths, David Coleman, Iain Banks, Richard Briers, Paul Shane, Lewis Collins, Mel Smith and Bill Foulkes.

With the exception of Thatcher, we will miss them and look back on their lives fondly for ever more.

But how has the 2013 crop affected the result of the Bucket List Game? Unless something rather dramatic happens in the next 12 hours, here's the final scores:

Margaret Thatcher, Nelson Mandela, Zsa Zsa Gabor, Clint Eastwood, Denis Norden (2)

Nelson Mandela, Paul Gascoigne, Bruce Forsyth, Denis Norden, Kirk Douglas (1)

Fidel Castro, George Bush Snr, Christopher Lee, Andy Kershaw, Paul Daniels (0)

Nelson Mandela, Prince Philip, Bruce Forsyth, George Bush Snr, Margaret Thatcher (2)

Nelson Mandela, Prince Philip, George Bush Snr, Margaret Thatcher, Maradona (2)

Nelson Mandela, Prince Philip, Margaret Thatcher, Keith Richards, Christopher Lee (2)

Margaret Thatcher, Rupert Murdoch, Zsa Zsa Gabor, Hulk Hogan, Dick Cheney (1)

Margaret Thatcher, Prince Philip, Eileen Derbyshire, Liz Dawn, Lisa Scott-Lee (1)

Ian Watkins, Barbara Windsor, Mickey Rooney, Dave Whelan, Dame Maggie Smith (0)

Nelson Mandela, Margaret Thatcher, Muhammad Ali, Dennis Skinner, Frank Worthington (2)

Arsene Wenger, John Bardon, Jimmy Carter, Phil Taylor, Sol Campbell (0)

Margaret Thatcher, Prince Philip, George Bush Snr, Justin Bieber, Harry Styles (1)

Nelson Mandela, Bruce Forsyth, Susan Boyle, Sir Alex Ferguson, Giovanni Trapattoni (1)

Raymond Briggs, Englebert Humperdinck, Paddy Ashdown, Sir Bobby Charlton, Brian Blessed (0)

Bruce Forsyth, Nelson Mandela, Scott Hall, Muhammad Ali, Kirk Douglas (1)

Bruce Forsyth, Margaret Thatcher, Prince Philip, Hugh Hefner, Ian Watkins (1)

Nelson Mandela, Prince Philip, Kirk Douglas, Betty White, Pete Doherty (1)

Norman Tebbit, Alex Reid, Mikhael Gorbachev, Henry Kissinger, Colin Powell (1)

A) Yes, Kirk Douglas is still alive.
B) With two deaths each, it's a 5-way tie for the win between me, @conorobyrne, @gongclough, @Boro_Monkey, and @snideysimon1919!
C) Apart from the "big two", our predictions this year weren't terribly successful....

Many thanks to all who took part in the Bucket List 2013, but the fun doesn't end there! Like London buses, here comes the next one - it's the Bucket List 2014 Game!

"This looks like fun, but tell me, what are the rules?"

Thanks for asking! Here are the rules:

A) Five famous people who you think will peg it in 2014. How do I define "famous"? For this game, the definition is that they must have a Wikipedia page, and be 'known' to some extent.
B) Entries are NOT limited to British people - figures from across the world are acceptable entries.
C) Famous figures with terminal illnesses are NOT allowed. That would be cheating. Poor health is acceptable - so, at this moment in time, you could select Michael Schumacher if you so desired - but a figure with a terminal illness is not allowed. Final call on that one ends with me.
D) Please do not kill the people on the list yourselves, or arrange for them to be bumped off. This will find you disqualified from the game.
E) If you played in 2013 (see above), you CANNOT pick any of the five figures you picked for 2013. They must be different. However, you can select figures which other people picked in 2013.
F) There is no prize for winning. I'm not that morbid.
G) There is no time limit for submitting entries. You can submit your entry next December, if you want.
H) To play, either: Leave a comment on this blog entry, or tweet/DM me at @Bruno_Di_Gradi

2014 is going to be interesting, mainly because the two traditional entries - Maggie and Mandela - have shuffled off, meaning those two predictable/obvious choices can't be chosen any more. A bit more thought is required. Is this the year that we lose a Royal? Are Zsa Zsa Gabor and Kirk Douglas finally going to prove that they're not indestructible? It promises to be fascinating.

So here's my List of Five for 2014:

Kirk Douglas, Carl Douglas (not related), Ian Watkins (paedo one, not the one from Steps), Peter Fonda, Ken Rosewall

Good luck y'all!

Monday, 9 December 2013

Feel the Moyes

Supporting Manchester United can be a funny thing. People always seem to have a question for you, eager to know what you think about the club, the players, and so on, or to offer you their opinions. Wayne Rooney, David Moyes, The Glazers, the atmosphere at the ground, the pies they sell there, etc etc - every thing is fair game when it comes to United. Sometimes, when a stranger asks me who I support, I'm tempted to say Aldershot, or Bristol Rovers, or Cheltenham, just so I don't have to answer their questions for the next twenty minutes about what's wrong with Patrice Evra, or listen to their opinion on Roy Keane.

Of course, this is particularly the case at the moment, as every fucker lines up to give their thoughts on our manager, David Moyes - a 1-0 home defeat to Everton the latest twist in the United roller-coaster which shows little sign of levelling out any time soon. So as I'm a massive big head, and this is my blog, here are a few of my thoughts on everything that's going on down M16 way.

(I wrote that bit before Saturday's game, so the "latest twist" is another 1-0 home defeat, this time to Newcastle, why aye mon)

First and foremost, I genuinely believe Sir Alex Ferguson is the greatest manager of all time. Now whether he is or he isn't, it's fair to say that David Moyes (or whoever) was never going to replicate what Ferguson did. It wasn't impossible, but it was, frankly, unlikely. To expect that would be foolish in the extreme - I'm a believer that us United fans have been spoilt rotten, but surely not even the biggest spoilt brat believed that Moyes would just waltz in and 26 years later leave with a bundle of European Cups and a statue of himself outside the ground.

We're not going to win the league this season and that's fine. Our realistic targets at the beginning of the season should have been a Top Four place (more on this later), the knock-out stages of the Champions League, and runs in the two domestic cups. In terms of Moyes, our thinking should have been that he'd be given time - and by time I mean "years" - to take the current, inherited squad and shape it the way that he wants.

So let's look at where we stand right now, Monday 9 December 2013. We've qualified for the knock-out stages of the Champions League, so Moyes has landed that one. We beat Liverpool in the League Cup and are still in it, so that's great, and we haven't played an FA Cup tie yet. The case for the defence, however, breaks down there. Because it's the league that's the worry - the big worry.

United HAVE to get a Top Four finish. HAVE to, because their business plan is based on continued success. You get Top Four, you get into the Champions League, which = lots of ££££, your good players wanting to stay, and the continued ability to attract the big name players from elsewhere.

(At the end of last season, the Arsenal players celebrated on the pitch when they had sealed fourth place in the league. That seemed pathetic at the time, but Champions League football enabled them to sign Mesut Ozil, a top class player - an impossibility if they had missed out)

You don't finish Top Four, and you get stuck in a cycle which is very difficult to get out of - you can't attract the world class players, and the good players you do have will want to leave, meaning you either have unhappy players playing against their will or a happier dressing room without any world class players in. You're pretty much fucked either way.

At this moment in time we've lost 5 games out of 15, and are 7 points off fourth place. That isn't an insurmountable gap, particularly as we'll (presumably) strengthen in January and United tend to finish the season strongly, but blimey, it's a worry - we're nearer relegation than Arsenal!

Now if this was bad luck, I'd be OK - if we had hit the woodwork five times against Newcastle, and Tim Krul had a blinder, and their goal hit Rafael on the arse, then hit a goat who had somehow wandered onto the pitch, then went in - I'd be content that our luck couldn't get any worse. But the football is TERRIBLE. It's really, really, really poor. Newcastle deserved to win, quite frankly, and against our friends on the blue half of the city we were humiliated. It was 4-1, it could have been 8-1.

I'm prepared to give Moyes time, as said earlier, although I do have three concerns. Firstly, clearing out the old coaching team and bringing in all your own men seems foolish. I understand why he did it - Moyes proving he's his own man, new broom etc - but to bring in coaches who have won nothing, to coach players who have won everything? Is the apple cart worth upsetting that much?

Secondly, as mentioned, the football is REALLY bad. There seems to be little/no creativity, a lack of accountability, a lack of leaders on the pitch. I've always enjoyed watching United, and I knew that after a bad performance, the backlash was up next. Right now though, watching United is a bit of a chore - there's no pace in the team's play, no urgency, no flair.

Thirdly, some of the things David Moyes has said recently are a bit worrying, to say the least. Before the Newcastle game he threw out there that "we're going to make it as hard for them as possible"; afterwards he admitted he didn't take van Persie off (when he needed to come off) because he was mindful of the reaction of the crowd/pundits. Think Sir Alex would have said either of those things?

(One final thing - how much better under Roberto Martinez do Everton look?! Eeek!)

So, what to do? Well, I'm not a hypocrite. I was happy with the appointment of Moyes, and as said earlier, he should be given time - so I'm sticking by him. (Besides, if we did sack him now, who the hell do you appoint then?) Nevertheless, some of the things he's saying and the football on show makes me sympathise with those who believe he's a Ford Mondeo driver asked to chauffeur a Rolls Royce, and that he simply isn't up to it.

Time will tell, and that's how it is at Manchester United - there's always intrigue around the corner,  there's always something to talk about.

Would we have it any other way?