Wednesday, December 12, 2012

We Need To Talk About Kevin

The weekend’s Premier League games saw yet more controversy.  Diving players, racist taunts, pitch invasions and a bloodied Rio Ferdinand reeling from a missile impact which, had it landed a centimetre below the eyebrow it struck, could well have blinded him.    Yet this type of behaviour is nothing new.  Fully four years before the birth of Ferdinand, on 24th August 1974, at the rear of Blackpool Football Club’s Spion Kop, a young man named Kevin Olsson was stabbed in the stomach during an altercation with rival fans.  As the seventeen year old lay bleeding on the stepped terraces amongst the discarded pie wrappers, glowing cigarette butts and freshly expelled urine, he might briefly have wondered what would become of the game that he followed. 

Kevin, you were the first person to be murdered inside a British football ground.  And I’m sorry to have to report that, along with you, football died that day in 1974.

Since that time, our national game has flattered to deceive with successive makeovers designed to make it more palatable and appealing to successive generations.  Yet the game has been so full of short-term greed and lacking in long-term visionaries that it has consistently failed to right its wrongs.  As a leopard never changes its spots, this animal will always revert to its natural state – a wild and ugly beast that symbolises all that is wrong in our spoiled and petulant society.  A game riddled with racism amongst many of its supporters, a preternatural propensity to cheat amongst its players and a singular lack of respect for authority from significant sections of the baying masses that gather to participate and support at almost every level of its existence.

Disasters of every type have come and gone since Kevin Olsson’s death.  At Hillsborough and Bradford, hundreds perished in terrible tragedies at substandard stadia where supporters were treated like cattle.   The Taylor Report that followed revolutionised ground safety with fans ensconced in all-seater comfort within brand new hospitality-suited pleasure domes.  For a short while, it seemed as if progress was being made.

An Australian media mogul named Rupert decided football was the sport on which he would build his television empire and with that decision came an injection of previously undreamed of wealth.  Soon, clubs were fighting for their share of the millions in a spectacular and unseemly display of greed.  The Football League was fragmented, with the FA Premier League formed to house the elite.  Football once again demonstrated an all too familiar ability to reflect the society it serves to entertain.  The rich would get richer, the poor could take their chances. 

Murdoch’s millions inflated player salaries to ludicrous levels, with clubs living wildly beyond their means.  In the past twenty years, the average national UK wage has risen by 186%.  The average wage of a UK footballer has risen by over 1,500%.  Top players earn more than £1 million per month and the wage bill alone of several clubs outstrips their total turnover.  Yet this profligacy and excess, this mercenary milking of a club’s resources has become the norm.  “Who can blame him”, are the words most often heard when yet another player jumps ship to secure a further ten grand a month on an already unimaginable salary.  And that is symptomatic of the problem.  There is no blame in football, simply a resigned shrug and a bow to what is perceived as market forces.  The last time we had such a collective bout of sticking our heads in the sand to avoid confronting such a problem, the banks crashed around us and the repercussions swept around the world like a giant tsunami.  Whilst the demise of football as we know it will never be as cataclysmic, it will surely come unless we acknowledge that some form of root and branch review of the way the game conducts itself is required.

The sport has become a plaything of the rich and famous, stripping once local clubs of their identities as more and more overpaid outsiders (from within and without the UK) are parachuted in to clubs - clubs that once relied on talent scouted from within thirty miles of their grounds – to chase yet more financial rewards in the form of European competition.  The end result has been to leave many of those who follow their team to fashion a revised identity through a reversion to obscene chanting, racist gestures and random, missile-throwing, violence.

For, if it is about nothing else, football is about identity.  It is a raw, tribal force – a gathering of young men to prove their virility and manhood.  It is about geography, a kind of sawn-off nationalism that demands respect for, and defence of, one’s ‘turf’ -  both on and off the field of play.  That’s all well and good in modern times as long as that with it comes an understanding of the role of our own and other communities within a broader society.  But, as a moral beacon to those following, football’s light is barely a flickering Swan Vesta.   The financial stakes have relentlessly increased and the rewards have become too great for those participating to ignore.  Cheating has become the norm.   Cheating off the pitch by way of running companies based almost entirely on debt or the ‘false’ income of sugar daddy owners.  Cheating on the pitch by way of diving, referee abuse, feigning injury, the wagging of imaginary cards and all manner of other, so called ‘professional’ actions.  How surprised should we be then, that many fans, like children spoiled by indulgent parents with no sense of fiscal value, have become recalcitrant and unpleasant, unable to contain the bile and vitriol that comfy seating and stainless steel pie ovens have carefully plastered over for the past two decades.

Behind the family friendly fa├žade of Sunday afternoon kick-offs and worldwide television audiences lies a world of avarice, fiscal irresponsibility and a lack of respect and authority.  The lunatics, on and off the pitch, are firmly in charge of the asylum.  The good and decent majority are, once again, silent.

I suspect, if Kevin Olsson were alive today and had been able to see the blood flowing down Rio Ferdinand’s face, he might have opined that the game that exists as we go into 2013 is, despite its shiny packaging, in many ways more cynical, more unpleasant and more deeply rooted in the unedifying values of greed, desperation and a desire to win at all costs than the one he so tragically left behind on the concrete of the Blackpool kop on that warm and balmy August day in 1974.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Slowly... slowly...

... catch your monkey.

Jeez, I hate that saying.   But it kind of sums up my attitude towards training at the moment.  I've begun to cycle again, having let my weight get up to 97 kgs at the beginning of the year.

So far - since January 4th - I've covered 487 miles on the bike and I'm beginning to feel the strength return to my legs.  I'm not too worried about speed at the moment, there's plenty of time for that - so as the boys at the tri club do the usual thing of tearing it up in January, this year I shall sit back and do my own thing.   I've already dropped quite a bit of weight, probably down to around 93kgs and there'll be plenty more to come off.

My left achilles has been giving me problems so I've - once again - had to curtail my running.  I seem fated not to run again but I'm sure I will, one day.

The girls are back at school, the afternoons are beginning to show signs of lightening up and I shall resume on the booze when I go up to see England play Scotland at Murrayfield.

Much to look forward to -- including a trip to see the David Hockney exhibition at the Royal Academy.  Tickets are selling  like hot cakes and we've bagged some for February.  Can't wait.  I'm a huge Hockney fan -- dig around his work, it's hugely influential and contains so much variety and experimentation.

Above is one I'd like to share with you... it's called 'White Lines Dancing in Printing Ink'...

Toodle pip...

Tuesday, January 10, 2012


Over time, I've come to know my weaknesses.  In life, rather like sporting events, I'm not a fast starter.  Hence a return from a prolonged period of holiday or rest results in an uncomfortable feeling of confusion at resentment at having, once again, to start work.

All of which is strange as I love my work.  But I guess that's not to say that it doesn't come with exactly the same pressures as work does to someone who doesn't love what they do.  Possibly more so as the knowledge of what one 'wants to do' hangs heavy around one's shoulders.   No matter how successful I become in terms of relative happiness or ticking boxes against early life's goals I always seem to manage to want more, to never be fully satisfied.

Maybe that's a good thing.  I guess it keeps me hungry.  So I've promised myself just one thing this year.  No more wasted days.   Whatever happens I will never, ever, waste a day.  Something will be achieved that I have set out to do that day.  Too often it's been too easy to coast.  And I think that might be the issue.  Instead of actually setting new challenges, I've coasted or drifted into a situation where many older goals have been achieved, yet new targets haven't been clearly defined.

Re visiting my blog today has helped, if only in some small way to make me become more accountable to myself.  I need to be able to look myself in the mirror, not only after a race but after every day of the race of life.  For whatever reasons I've not been doing that recently.  Time to change.  Time to shape up.

And the photo?  It's an artwork I bought recently.  Postcard sized by an artist named Alexandra McLain.  I keep it on my desk.  I like it and wanted to share it.

Wherever you are -- a happy and prosperous new year to you.  May your life be filled with happiness and the goals you set yourself be tough but attainable.

Peace and love.

Tuesday, November 01, 2011

Things to do...

There are several things I want to do before xmas

1.  Teach my daughters to play chess.
2.  Complete another screenplay.
3.  Begin to run again without injury.
4.  Hang my recently purchased artworks at home.
5.  Go to the movies (at least once) with my wife.
6.  Take on a new client at work.
7.  Spend less time on the internet.
8.  Visit my brother in Amsterdam.
9.  Re-commence swimming sessions.
10.  Drink a little less booze.
11.  Eat a little less dairy.
12.  Keep my weight below 14st 7lb (92.3kg)
13.  Walk in the countryside once a week with my wife.
14.  Get an eye test.
15.  Improve my posture.
16.  Strum the guitar more.
17.  Plan some goals for next year.

There will be more.  But these will do for the time being.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Super 8

I've not used the blog for film reviews but there's always a first time.  I went to see the new JJ Abrams movie, SUPER 8, last night.  My review?  Well, in a pithy one liner, I'd say it's more Standard 8 than Super 8.  That, of course, is an in joke for those of you who might have made your own films as a teenager before the advent of video.

In truth, the movie was okay but it rarely raised itself higher than the sum of its parts.  It borrowed shamelessly from eighties classics like THE GOONIES, ET and even STAND BY ME.  Stephen King's IT was referenced too.  The resultant story was entirely formulaic and the film makers seemed to give up on the nice conceit of the movie within a movie (the kids that form the centre of the story are making their own movie) and resort to explosions and tired cliche's of the town being evacuated, explosions and, naturally, the happy Hollywood ending.

The one thing I did take from SUPER 8 though, and what has stayed with me to this morning, was that it rekindled in me the fires that burned so brightly as a youngster when I first picked up my dad's wind up cine camera and began to make my own movies.  The freedom to experiment, the love of working with your friends, the blissful ignorance of 'rules' governing story and style allowing a totally individual approach to expressing yourself through angles and shot making.  This is the cinema and movie making that I yearned to be a part of and wanted so much to make my career.

I've been lucky (and determined, I guess) that I've managed to do that.  But the freedom of those days has long gone and SUPER 8 reminded me that it's still out there.   Why is it that those of us with experience seem unable to tap into it so freely as those without?

Well, from now on... I'm going to think freely and cease to worry about rules and industry expectations.

Let's see what happens.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Mission Accomplished...

So... the plan was to get to the start line and I managed that just fine.  How would the race go?  Well, let's backtrack a bit.  Aleck (my buddy from Team MK) and myself shared driving duties on the wednesday on a journey which took us under the channel, across Europe and down to Nuremberg in Germany.  We met our other Team MK mates and supporters and were soon on the lash in a Bier Keller, drinking litres of strong lager.

Perfect Ironman preparation.  Whilst Roth was a good race - we'll come to this later - the town itself isn't the best place to hold one of the world's largest triathlons.  Organisationally it was all a bit demanding, with the swim some 15km and T2 about 1km from the finish.  Add to this that there is only one hotel in the entire town and the whole thing adds up to an event which, in my opinion, has far outgrown its origins.

Anyway, I had the car so that made it easier than for most.

As for the race itself, having achieved my goal of starting I wanted to finish.  That may sound strange and what I mean by it is this;  all my efforts had been focussed on getting to the start line.  Once there, I realised that the one thing that would nail me was the run, specifically getting there too tired or pushing too fast whilst on the run.  Either of these could cause the achilles to give up on me and I very much didn't want that to happen.  So my plan was to keep a lid on proceedings throughout the day.

The swim start was in waves, with me off in wave number two of the age groupers.  In front of me were the Pros, the women and the elite age groupers, plus the faster wave.  My previous IM swims had been 63, 63 and 60 mins (not counting Switzerland last year where I swam from the back as a training swim). I figured that with the reduced mileage this year and also with not wanting to push too much and over rotate my back my swim time would be around 65 minutes.  Guess what... my swim time was 65 minutes.

I took longer than usual in transition to stretch the back and achilles, met up with Aleck who was in the swim wave before me, and  headed out onto the bike course.

Roth is a fast course... no two ways about it.  But you have to ride what's in front of  you.  You have to have a plan otherwise you'll crash and burn.  Witness the fact that two of our fastest cyclists posted their most disappointing IM times.  My cycling times on IM courses had come down over consecutive years with my fastest currently sitting at 5 hours 20 mins for the 112 miles, requiring an average speed of 21 mph.  I'd been cycling well this year so my plan was to sit at a 21mph and see how I felt.

In the end, I felt good.  The course is rolling and my size allowed me to pick up speed on the downhills and use it to power up the inclines.  I tried to keep my power output constant and to ride at a higher cadence than I had been doing a year or so ago.  I saw Aleck pass me and followed him for a long time but in the end let him pull away.

My first lap was done at just over 22mph average speed but I eased back on the second lap and ended with a bike split of 5 hrs and 6 minutes, at an average speed of 21.8 mph.  More importantly I felt good.  I'd got my nutrition right, constantly slurping from my aero bottle and eating reasonably well all the way round.

Time to run.

Having only been back running for the last three months after over a  year of inactivity, I knew that the hardest part would be slowing myself down at the beginning enough to be in reasonable enough condition to get through the race.  I set out to run 9 minute miles which would have given me a sub 4 hour marathon.  By halfway, I was just drifting out on that time and decided to walk for a couple of minutes and slug back some coca cola.  My heart rate came down and so did my temperature and I was able to kick on again.  Fuelled by coke throughout the last 21km, I managed to keep a reasonably even pace to complete the marathon in 4 hrs 7 mins... not by any means a fast pace but, given that at one stage in the months previously I'd doubted whether I'd ever run again, one I was happy to embrace.

I crossed the line in 10 hrs 29 minutes and 56 seconds, which is another PB and I'm also I'm a newly minted member of the sub 10:30 club.

The injuries felt fine.  My back has behaved itself - testament I think to all the rehab done since my slipped disc in October - and my achilles never felt like it would be tested to destruction.  Yes, it's sore and tender, but it's resting now and it thanked me for putting it through another Ironman (I may be lying about that last bit).

So, that's it.  Injuries don't have to mean the end of athletic careers.  Don't listen to the naysayers and doom merchants.  Focus on what you can achieve and what you need to do to get better.

Anything is possible.

Tuesday, July 05, 2011

Let's Get Ready to Rumble...

Usually, my focus is all about finishing a race.  But the past eighteen months has been very different.  Everything has been with the express intention of making the start line on another Ironman Triathlon.  And here I am, barring last minute acts of God, about to fulfil that promise to myself by starting Europe's greatest irondistance triathlon - Challenge Roth - on Sunday morning.

There have been tough times, no doubt.  I couldn't run for over a year and my slipped disc saw me in excruciating pain for a couple of months, barely able to move at all.  But, as ever when faced with adversity, I simply set my focus on some seemingly impossible targets and resolutely refuse to buckle in my desire to achieve them.

This time the target was to start another Ironman within six months of my spinal surgery (injection).   So, the race itself will be icing on the cake.

It was touch and go for a while whether my achilles would recover in time to take part in the run but I'm at the stage now where I'm confident of getting out onto the marathon course.  From that point I'm in the lap of the gods.  It will either go well or badly.  But then that's always the case in an Ironman.  My great fear is that the achilles could simply flare up which would make running impossible - but the worse that can happen would be that I'd have to stop.

As a result of my focus on simply starting the race I've been a lot more relaxed in my training.  In a nutshell I've done far less swimming and am happy to accept a slower swim time if that's the result.  The constant rotating in the water was irritating my back and I think was a factor in the disc problems I had.  Running has been practically non existent until the last couple of months which, whilst saving me much wear and tear on my battered knees and achilles, has, of course, made me less confident of speed around the marathon course.  Bike has been good.  I'm stronger than ever before and I'm hoping for a decent time.  But I'm going to hold back and save something for the run.  The last thing I want to be is going out for a 26 mile run with my legs and lungs mashed.

So, let's see.  What will be will be.   To finish will be an epic achievement in terms of demonstrating that recovery from injuries is possible.  One thing's for sure... with this attitude of making the start the main focus, I've never been looking forward as much to a 'race'.

You can follow my progress on the Challenge Roth Website.  In a red band, just below the main photo, you'll see several categories of drop down menu.  One of them is ATHLETE TRACKER.  Click on this and put in my starter number of 1169 (they've messed up my surname).

Send me positive thoughts.  Everything helps.

cheers my lovely people...