Blackadder goes forth and the ‘Great war.’

A hundred years ago Britain was mired in a nightmare war that seemed to be going on forever.  It was meant to have been over by Christmas 1914 as Britain’s men were encouraged to do their bit for ‘King and country.’  There are those that try to varnish the past from the reality of the Great war and attempt to portray it as a necessary war.  It was as Edmund Blackadder said to Baldrick ‘a war which would be a damn sight simpler if we just stayed in England and shot fifty thousand of our men a week,’  such was the strategy of the Generals.

The saddest aspect was that it was a futile war.  It was more about protecting Empires and asserting their own power over rivals.  Once the patriotic fever was over it was not an adventure but a horrible nightmare of mud, barbed wire, trenches, and the continual slaughter were whole village regiments were virtually wiped out.

Blackadder goes forth pretty much captures the madness through its dark humour.  From the insane General Melchett who has Blackadder court martialed and sentenced to be shot at dawn for killing his pigeon ‘Speckled,’ Jim. Indeed soldiers some of whom suffered from shellshock were summarilly tried and executed for ‘cowardice.’

Then of course there is Field Marshall Haig who casually uses a brush and rubbish pan to sweep up the toy soldiers from his plan of the battlefield.  The scene of course showing the disregard that the Generals had for their men.

Each week for the six episodes we watched Captain Blackadder desperately trying to escape the madness of the trenches.  Whether it was posing as Chefs, organising a variety show or hunting a German spy in the hospital Blackadder tried every method to try to escape certain death.

At times it would drag Blackadder almost too close to being killed until he eventually runs out of luck in the last episode.  From being the commissioned artist who goes into no man’s land with Melchett sending a couple of flares up that he is ‘lit up like a Christmas tree for miles around!’

Then there was the episode when Blackadder joins the flying corps believing that all he has to do is twenty minutes work and spend the rest of the time ‘loafing about in Paris, drinking gallons of champagne,’ with experienced French girls.

The look on Blackadder’s face as he realises that the reason why Flashheart’s flying corps are called the ‘twenty minuters,’ is because the average life expectancy of a new pilot is twenty minutes, is one of jumping out of the pan into the fire.  Again there is some element of truth  as pilots and certainly those fresh from flying school were not expected to last long.  They may have had in the words of Flashheart ‘tasty tucker,’ and a uniform so smart it’s got a PhD from Cambridge,’ but the finger of death was never far away.

So much so that like some troops who shot themselves in the foot to escape the western front, Blackadder shouts at George ‘You lucky, lucky, lucky bastard,’ after a German bomb puts George in hospital.  In desperation Blackadder sticks his leg out and shouts ‘over here, Fritz!  What about me?’

The madness of the Great war is something that Blackadder goes forth captures perfectly.   In ‘Captain Cook,’ Melchett tells Blackadder that Field Marshal Haig has formulated a brilliant tactical plan to ensure final victory.  Blackadder asks ‘would this brilliant plan involve us climbing over the top of our trenches and walking slowly towards the enemy?’  Captain Darling asks Blackadder how he knows  as it is classified information.  The response being that they have used the same plan over and over again.  Melchett madly says that the Germans won’t expect it again and will ‘catch the watchful Hun off guard.’

Incidentally the British troops were instructed to walk slowly across no mans land during the battle of the Somme.  The belief was that the heavy artillery fired previously would have broken up the barbed war and killed many Germans.  Instead they were slaughtered in their thousands.

For the likes of Melchett the Great War is more like a sporting game.  When it is pointed out about the danger and deaths, Melchett just casually brushes it to one side and likens it to his old school rugby match who won against all odds.  ‘We ducked, and we bobbed, and we wove, and we damn well won the game 15-4.’  Even when Blackadder points out that the Harrow full back wasn’t armed with a machine gun, Melchett dismisses it with the wave of a hand before instructing Captain Darling to make a note of Gunners for the Harrow full backs.

Despite the endless slaughter of men nothing much was gained.  For example when Blackadder is captured behind enemy lines, Melchett asks Darling how much land they have recaptured by looking at the plan which is the actual copy of the couple of yards taken.

Even now after twenty-eight years after the final episode titled ‘Goodbyeee,’ it is still a very moving and emotional episode.  The walls are very much closing in as Blackadder frantically tries to escape ‘Insanity Melchett’s invite to a mass slaughter,’ or in other words preparing to go over the top at dawn.

There is very much a sombre mood as we quietly count down to when Blackadder and co. get ready to go over the top.  At the beginning George is very much gung-ho believing that the big push will be worth it.  Blackadder questions how it can be worth it when ‘millions of men have died since 1914 and we’ve moved no further than an asthmatic ant with heavy shopping.’

Ever the optimist George declares it will be ice cream in Berlin in fifteen minutes whilst Blackadder declares that the reality is that they will be ice-cold in fifteen seconds in no mans land.  Now is the time that Blackadder believes that he needs to get out of the madness of the war.

There is a slow realisation from George that he is the last of the ‘Trinity tiddlers,’ who had all volunteered in 1914 fresh from Cambridge University.  Baldrick tells of the pride of how he felt joining up with a woman kissing him as he marched.  Again this would have been the feeling of those volunteers in 1914 as the country was whipped into a patriotic fever.

With Baldrick there is almost a childish quality as he realises that they have been stuck in the mud of the trenches for three years.  Suddenly Baldrick asks ‘why can’t we stop, Sir?  Why can’t we just say no more killing, let’s all go home?  Why?’

George is at a loss to explain why they just can’t pack up and go home despite his blustering that it just wouldn’t work.

Desperation sets in for Blackadder who sticks two pencils up his nose and sticks his underpants on his head pretending to be mad.  Only Melchett is onto that trick having shot a whole platoon in the Sudan for trying that stunt.  Overhearing Blackadder pretends to tell Baldrick of the story.

The reality of what awaits is still there in the air even when General Melchett declares Blackadder’s soldiers as ‘fine body of men out there.’  In response Blackadder coolly replies ‘Yes Sir – shortly to become fine bodies of men.’

Time starts to ebb away as the trio talk as though it is going to be their last night together.  Blackadder is getting increasingly agitated as he sees any chance of escaping certain death slipping away if he can’t think of something to get him out.  It doesn’t help that Baldrick is also delivering an oratory of his war poems as Blackadder cries ‘I’m sorry, but I’ve just got to  get out of here!’

Without realising Baldrick gives Blackadder a belief that he can escape the big push by calling on a favour of Field Marshall Haig. This was a promise made to Blackadder after he saves Haig’s life twenty years previously from a sharp piece of mango when they served together at Mboto Gorge.

It literally is the last throw of the dice with Blackadder thinking that he has escaped by the skin of his teeth.  Only he hasn’t after Haig’s advice is to ‘ put your underpants on your head, and stick two pencils up your nose.  They’ll think you’re crazy and send you home.’  Blackadder’s response  after Haig slams the phone down is ‘I think the phrase rhymes with clucking bell.’

Poor Captain Kevin Darling now finds himself reluctantly being sent to the front.  The huge shadow of Melchett’s driver that looms over Darling might as well be the shadow of death as he is on his knees begging Melchett not to be sent over the top.

There is an air of self resignation as the minute hand draws ever closer to the big push.  George confesses that he is not at all keen at dying whilst Darling admits that he wrote in his diary ‘bugger,’ when being driven to the front.

As the orders can be heard in the background Blackadder reminds George not to forget his stick, who responds that he wouldn’t want to face a machine gun without one.

The tension can be felt as the guns temporally stop.  Darling, George, and Baldrick think that they have been pulled out of the fire as it indicates a ceasefire.  Blackadder advises the trio that they have stopped as the Generals are not that insane as to shell their own men.  Instead they find it more sporting to let the Germans do it.

It appears that time has finally ran out for Blackadder and co. although it doesn’t stop Baldrick telling Blackadder that ‘he has a cunning plan.’  The response from Blackadder eloquently sums up his attempts of trying to get out of the trenches.

‘Well, I’m afraid it’s too late.  Whatever it was, I’m sure it was better than my plan to get out of this by pretending to be mad.  I mean, who would have noticed another madman round here?’  That comment more than sums up the insanity of the Great war and had more than a grain of truth in it.

As the whistles can be heard to tell the men to go over the top there is a realisation for the viewer that Blackadder and his friends are not going to get out of this.  Like many soldiers of the Great war there is that fear that death is only minutes away as soon as they step over the top.  To feel that trapped and fearful of being mown down by German machine guns can  probably not be described.  Hoping against hope that they somehow get through it.

The final scene even now gives you goosebumps and you can feel a lump rising in your throat as the haunting playing of the Blackadder theme sorrowfully plays out as they charge over the top.  There is the low heavy sound that could be guns as the viewer realises that Blackadder, Baldrick, George, and Darling have been killed.  A slow mist descends over the mud and barbed war before it slowly transforms to the present and a field full of poppies were Blackadder and his friends met their fate.

Some historians have tried to pour scorn on the anti-war and the futility of the First World war that Blackadder goes forth portrayed.  There are even those that try to defend Field Marshall Haig like Gary Sheffield that he was not a callous man and that inevitably there would be lots of casualties.  Although Haig cannot be solely held accountable the deaths of soldiers are not just mere statistics.  These were people who were slaughtered in their thousands.  They were someone’s son, husband, brother, Father, and friend whilst whole village regiments were almost wiped out in a senseless war.

Wilfred Owen who in one of his famous poems ‘Dulce et decorum est,’ sums up the futility and pointlessness of the Great War.  ‘My friend, you would not tell with such high zest, to children ardent for some desperate glory, the old lie: Dulce et decorum est pro patria mori.’  (How sweet and honourable it is to die for one’s country).

Blackadder goes forth captured some of the sentiments of Wilfred Owen’s poem ‘Dulce et decorum est.’  It is worth considering this especially as there are attempts a hundred years on to gloss over the mindless slaughter of the Great war.  This was meant to be a war to end all wars with the poppy not just a symbol to remember those who fell but a symbol that all war is futile.

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Why the Coutinho transfer saga is more about Liverpool’s poor recruitment strategy.

With a pocketful of cash from the Neymar deal and Barcelona needing to re-build it was slightly inevitable that the Catalan club would be linked with Liverpool’s Coutinho.  It has been a move that has been mooted for the past year especially as Barcelona are re-building and require an attacking midfielder.

Of course there is the argument that the majority of teams are selling clubs, especially when Barcelona and Real Madrid come a knocking but regardless of whether you think it is good business or not, it has shone an awkward spotlight on the transfer and scouting under the Fenway group.

The problem has now been exasperated as Coutinho has now put in a transfer request.  This has led to a few believing that he should be sold for the highest price possible.

However the quality of the Liverpool squad is not up to scratch especially as it needs to improve despite finishing fourth and qualifying for a Champions league play-off spot. There are still problems with the defence with the lack of quality of the bench very much apparent last season as there were no options when Liverpool struggled to break down defensive teams.  There were no player who you felt could change the game or change the formation to test the opposition.

From a footballing point of view it does not make sense to sell Coutinho no matter the fee offered.  I imagine there might be a few people scoffing at that notion, after all every player has his price.  However Liverpool do not have the time to get an adequate replacement and will be to the detriment of the club’s progress this season.

It is a team that needs building for Liverpool to be challenging for the major honours.  Losing your best players is going to make that harder as well as questioning the ambition of the club.  After all it has been five years since Liverpool won a major trophy and even then that was the league club.

Although the years have been lean Liverpool due to its history and large support still has some stature in the footballing world.  It needs more than ever to start proving that the last few years have temporary or very soon be just a famous name from the past.

Liverpool’s first game of the new season away to Watford which ended 3-3 has shown the same old problems of the last year.  A poor defence and the inability to hold onto a winning lead with only a few minutes remaining on the clock.  The club is great in attack but there is always the sense that they are only a moment away from a mistake in defence which will wilt so easily.

These are problems that should have been rectified prior to the season beginning but swift action is needed otherwise it will be a groundhog season for 2017-18.  Regarding the transfer request from Coutinho it would probably be better if Liverpool could reach an agreement that they will let him go next season. This though would be on the proviso that the fee is acceptable and that Liverpool find a suitable replacement.

A club can only be successful if its recruitment and scouting is good.  Take Atletico Madrid for example.  They have consistently obtained quality players for decent fees and have been consistent challengers in La Liga and European football which has seen them win major honours.

Fenway appear to have a business strategy with regards as to how Liverpool sign players.  Namely signing young potential players who they hope will live up to their reputation and then selling them on for a vast profit whilst bringing in a new batch to keep Liverpool competitive.  The only problem with that is that you have to ensure that you have the right recruitment and scouting in place.  If that was the case then there would be no real resistance to Coutinho being sold to Barcelona.  The quality in the squad would already be there to cope with a loss.  Added to which there would be the confidence the scouting system would provide a more than adequate replacement.

Unfortunately the reality has been very different to the business theory of the Fenway group.  The likes of Downing, Carroll, Charlie Adam, Coates, Borini, Markovic, and Balotelli to name but a few have failed to live up to expectations and have been poor.  Even the likes of Jordan Henderson, Lovren, and Mignolet have been average and not been good enough to take Liverpool up to the next level.

The successes can be counted on one hand with only Suarez, Mane, and Coutinho being the players who have shown the quality required if you wish to compete at the highest level.  Fenway’s money has been spent on mediocrity.    It could be argued that when non-footballing individuals or people with self-interest are involved then problems are going to arise which has been the case with Liverpool.

It seems that the problem isn’t so much about Coutinho being sold to Barcelona it really is about Fenway’s scouting and recruitment strategy for Liverpool and the next direction that they take. 

Roger Nouveau – the modern fan of the Premier league era

 

There was a time when the football season ended in May and certainly in the odd year when there wasn’t a World Cup or European championship then that would be that until August.  Granted there would be a little bit of transfer speculation but it felt like a proper break away from football that come late August you would embrace it like a glass of cold water after hiking across the Sahara desert.

Now the coverage is constant that you almost wonder if the season has ever really ended.  Every day during the summer months there is the endless constant speculation of who is moving where that at times it matches the political intrigue of Macbeth.

That though is the circus that is the Premier league.  It needs to feed the hype and speculation in order to keep selling its product which is how it and let’s be honest football clubs see supporters as customers.

The money that is not only being pumped into football through television deals but spent on players is mind-blowing.  With the average player going for thirty million pounds the sense of any true value has been lost.  For Sky the billions spent on securing the rights to screening Premier league football is not just about securing the survival of the channel but about the clubs spending big so that supporters world-wide will continue to watch.  Hence the continuation of subscriptions and now in the age of streaming the reliance on overseas television rights.

Consequently it is important to keep generating the speculation about talks of Bale going to Manchester United for example or Ronaldo returning back to the UK.  With huge sums of money being spent it is meant to convince people that the Premier league is the one to watch and that Sky can provide this exclusive access.

The drama of deadline day is now something that is part of football.  At times it represents as though it is a life changing moment such as the Berlin wall coming down.  If it was watched twenty-five years ago people would wonder if it was a spoof as the coverage at times resembled Chris’ Morris’s Day to Day.  Who for example could forget the hapless reporter who had a purple dildo waved in his ear outside Everton’s Finch farm?

Football now is about marketing and rather than being a fan of the sport is more about being seen at the event.  It is more about construing an image rather than participating as a supporter.   Everything now is all about presentation so that for example Liverpool v Burnley on a cold February afternoon is a unique game to remember.  From the naff Premier league anthem, the presentation tops that both sides wear as they shake hands to the referee picking the ball up from the podium.  Gone are the days when both teams ran out and prior to kick off a firm hand shake from both Captains before tossing a coin to decide who would kick off from which half.  Half and half scarves which are wrong on so many levels are now souvenirs for the tourist who visits and will most likely not return again.

Packages are sold for tourists to sample ‘the real passionate white-hot heat of the Kop,’ that has helped Liverpool win major games over the years.  Ironically those type of supporters who are used for the posters have been priced out.  For those that have remained they are now well into middle-age and less inclined to be noisy as they once were in their youth.

The sound of seats clanking up as Crystal Palace took the lead against Liverpool in the last ten minutes was louder than the cries of encouragement than Liverpool fans as a large majority slunked off.  Previously there would be a stunned pause and a loud roar, snarling, and willing Liverpool to equalise and even grab a winner.  Now those type of supporters who throw in the towel are the first into their cars to moan about how Klopp doesn’t know what he is doing whilst incredibly questioning the players passion.

Radio phone ins and social media keep the interest and drama of the product alive.  Everybody can be an expert and whereas a similar incident from thirty years ago would barely generate a headline now a dodgy penalty is given the coverage of JFK being shot.  A soundbite or controversial comment from the manager is used to keep the hysteria and if a club is having a bad run of results well then the hysteria hits meltdown.  Rumours of losing the dressing room and the dreaded vote of confidence are mooted.

This of course encourages the expert fan who never goes the game but watches from his armchair who gets on the blower to say something incredibly stupid.  Once on the air they will preach their ignorance which of course ignites another load of angry calls which feeds the frenzy rather than any genuine debate and discussion about the game.   In other words its click bait with newspaper distributing articles or tweets knowing full well they will get hits and replies.

Part of the hype has brought a sense of entitlement amongst this new elite of supporters.  Unless their team is two-nil up within ten minutes they are screaming and slamming their prized hampers with frustration.  Of course nobody likes to get beat or drop points in vital games but if the players have given everything then at least accept they have done everything.  Besides moaning is not going to help and only makes the players more nervous.

The problem in this Sky era of football is that it has made supporters accountants who believe the Premier league is the be all and end all.  It is a remarkable achievement by Sky and the Premier league that a season of mediocrity is more acceptable than getting to a Cup final.

Getting into the top four is seen as a trophy with the money that a spot in the Champions league generates.  The money though doesn’t go into the pocket of supporters and nor does it mean extra money to bolster that squad.  A budget has been set regardless and players although ambitious will move where the money is regardless of whether the team is in the Champions league or not.  Yet supporters believe this spin that has been spun and would put a top four finish above winning the FA cup and a trip to Wembley.

Football is now increasingly about the hype and making as much money as possible from this new world-wide fan base.  That’s why clubs fly over to Australia, the far east, even the USA because there is money to be made and not because it will help pre-season training.

The International Champions cup which is currently a pre-season tournament can be seen as a future replacement or rival with the UEFA champions league.  With the money that it generated (incredibly ticket prices for the Madrid v Barcelona game in Miami  went for $5,500) it wouldn’t be a surprise if this happened.

Of course this would be by invitation only and not by earning a place.  After all despite AC Milan being a pale shadow of the team that they once were they have a global appeal and therefore can sell.  These games would not be played in the home cities but various stadiums across the globe to generate more cash and global appeal.  In turn these clubs such as Barcelona, Real Madrid, Manchester United, Liverpool, and AC Milan would in effect be the footballing equivalent of the Harlem Globe Trotters.

This is why the controversial thirty-nine Premier league game was mooted.  Forget about upsetting the balance of fairness of the competition there is more money to be had from sales abroad and the television deals that would be made as a result.  Although dropped the idea still lurks like Jaws stalking Amity Island.

The £198 million deal for Neymar wasn’t just about signing a top player or even a signal of intent of winning the Champions league but about putting PSG as a major force in the global market.  Of course it is an intent to win the major honours but the price gets publicity, courts new supporters from across the world, and therefore increases the television deals.  Added to which is the marketing appeal that Neymar brings not just in terms of shirt sales but other promotions in the interest of PSG.

Madrid, Barcelona, Manchester United and any other big names spend big simply to boost their global appeal as well as improving the team.  Signing the top players keeps that interest and makes supporters excited that the latest big name has joined their club.

Increasingly football is moving away from its community and identity that clubs had.  Slogans such as ‘more than a club,’ ‘you’ll never walk alone,’ are increasingly sounding more like a brand rather than ‘the real thing,’ that it once had.  Even St. Pauli who view themselves as very much to the left in their ideals find that the skull and bones flag once flown as a symbol of defiance, has now been marketed.  Indeed you could argue that St. Pauli has now been sold as a ‘kult club,’ for people wanting something different.

Football is far removed from the working class game that it once was.  Certainly amongst the big clubs they are a brand that can be consumed as easily as a can of coke.  Hype and money keeps it ticking over with the global fan base proving ever more lucrative.  Just don’t surprised when the only connection that a football club has with its community is the name.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Why the snobbery about Harry Potter?

Snobbery within the arts is nothing new.  Providing that you are in the right clique you could publish a novel full of your drunken rants and critics would delight in how marvellous and left field it is.  If you are outside that precious little circle then it is open season on any works that are considered inferior, thrashy, or silly pulp fiction nonsense.

When J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter became a phenomena with children all over the world, some the critics couldn’t help but sneer not just at Rowling’s writing ability about the stories themselves.  It was perceived by some critics as third-rate writing who couldn’t believe that adults never mind children enjoyed the magical world of Harry Potter.

Now if Rowling had declared herself to be the next big thing since Tolkien and that Harry Potter was the greatest piece of art then some of the criticism would be fair.  The fact of the matter is that Rowling has never professed herself to be a genius.  As most writers will tell you is for people to enjoy the stories as much as you enjoy writing and creating them.  From the interviews I assume that Rowling is satisfied so long as her fans enjoyed the exploits of Harry Potter.

A good work of fiction doesn’t necessarily have to be testing or require the works of  the Odyssey to understand the plot.  The art is to tell a good story that grabs hold of the reader and takes you deep into the pages of the world it is portraying.  This whether the critics like it or not is what Rowling excels at and is one of the reasons why Harry Potter is so popular.

It is that excitement of discovering a new world where you can be yourself. A place of magic that temporally takes you away from what is happening outside.  These are characters that they can relate to as Harry and his friends develop to young adults. What Rowling does and does well is create a well written story that the reader can easily become enthralled and feel an emotional connection to the characters.  There is a undeniably a feel good factor that good will always overcome evil.

You would think that any books that encourage children to read and enjoy the world that literature can bring is a good thing.  However there are people who frown at Harry Potter and even some that are aghast that their children not only devour them but are big fans. Some will argue that they are badly written, juvenile, and that there are better works of fiction that should be read.

That though is just snobbery.  Reading is about enjoyment.  It is about discovering and moving on to other works that you want to try or sends a tremor of excitement when you read the blurb on the sleeve.  Reading should be fun and down to the individual to decide what they want to read.

Of course you don’t necessarily have to like the books your children or even your partner enjoy.  Sometimes that can be the fun part of having a proper debate about the stories.  What is not acceptable is deriding the book simply because it is either J.K. Rowling or Harry Potter.  To just dismiss it as childish nonsense and to tell them to read something proper like Charles Dickens Bleak House

Books lead to other stories and how many children have discovered the likes of C.S. Lewis the tales of Narnia or even Roald Dahl through Harry Potter?  Influences that are quite evident within the Harry Potter world.

Is everything a bit too black and white in Harry Potter?  Maybe.  Are some of the characters such as the Dursley’s too much of a caricature?  Possibly.  Besides the strong themes of friendship, love, loyalty, even coping with the death of a loved one are all topics that are covered quite well in Harry Potter.

The main thing is that the Harry Potter stories are enjoyable page turners.  You can feel the joy, excitement, the injustice, and the danger within the pages of Rowling’s novels.

That for me as a writer is a success.  To hit that connection with the audience has to be the overall aim.  You want the reader to feel that they know the character and care about their journey.  You want them to feel part of that world and delight in it.

JK Rowling whether critics like it or not has made her mark in the literary world.  Harry Potter like Bilbo Baggins or Aslam the lion are very much well-loved and known literary characters.

It is high time that some critics stop being a snob and mocking books that doesn’t fit into their criteria of literature.  After all we all need a bit of escapism and books are about entertainment and enjoyment.  Besides anything that encourages children to read has to be a good thing.  Rowling certainly knows how to write a good book and for that at least should be given praise for that.

 

 

 

 

When the player-manager was in vogue

The 1980’s invokes images of big hair, shoulder pads, crap but catchy pop tunes, blockbuster movies that were original and a time when there was only four TV channels to choose from.  It was also the period that the player manager became fashionable after Liverpool led the trend by appointing Kenny Dalglish as player manager who promptly led the reds to the double in his first season in charge.

Prior to 1985 the view was pretty much the same as now.  A manager needed to be experienced to manage at the top-level.  Furthermore a manager needed to take a detached view to assess the play and make changes when required.  Being on the pitch would limit that opportunity whilst also making the relationship with players slightly difficult.  The role of manager also means responsibilities off the pitch such as contracts, scouting, discussions with the coaching staff, and media work.  Something which can distract from concentrating on your game.

The only time that a player became a coach was either in a moment of instability such as the manager being dismissed.  In other circumstances it would be due to a lack of numbers such as when Don Revie had to name himself as a player when he first took charge of Leeds.  A player manager was never intended to be a long-term prospect.  That of course belonged to the comic pages of Roy of the Rovers.

One of the greatest players in the club’s illustrious history Kenny Dalglish could quite easily have hung up his boots and still have been a Liverpool legend.  As it was Kenny Dalglish was to become an icon for his achievements and statesman like support for the city.

There are no specific reasons as to why the Liverpool board decided to appoint Dalglish as manager.  With Fagan being the last of the original boot room staff perhaps they felt it was time for a new generation to lead Liverpool forward.  They may also have felt with the likes of Ronnie Moran and Roy Evans as part of the backroom staff it would make the transition easier whilst Dalglish learned the ropes.  For extra support Bob Paisley was to provide assistance and advice when required.

With the aftermath of Heysel which led to English clubs being banned from Europe after Liverpool fans were responsible for the death of thirty-nine mainly Juventus supporters it was in some respects a season of uncertainty for the 1985-86 season.

Everton were very much in the ascendency whilst Manchester United’s ten straight wins to the season saw them viewed as genuine title contenders.  It seemed that this was to be a season of transition as Dalglish got to grips with management.  Alan Hansen would later complain to his friend and manager that it was the worst Liverpool team that he had played in.

That was something else that Kenny Dalglish had to get to grips with and that was the relationship between being a player and now being their boss.  It meant distancing himself away from his teammates and not allowing himself to be involved with the jokes of the changing room.  Now it was his responsibility not just to install discipline but ensure that there was no favouritism.  Players would have to be dropped even sold whilst Dalglish picked what he thought would be his best eleven. That incidentally also meant dropping himself if appropiate.

Despite all these problems Liverpool still managed to keep themselves within distance as Manchester United faltered.  However a 2-0 defeat at home against Merseyside rivals Everton in February saw many believing that the title would be staying at Goodison.

This though was when it started to resemble a story from Roy of the Rovers as Liverpool went on a twelve game unbeaten run gaining thirty-four points.  The turning point had been when Everton had unexpectedly lost 1-0 away to Oxford whilst Liverpool beat Leicester at Filbert street.  It meant that the title was no longer in Everton’s hands with Liverpool needing to beat Chelsea to clinch their sixteenth championship.

It was to be a spectacular goal from the player manager Kenny Dalglish as he carefully chested the ball with his upper body before rifling the ball into the Chelsea net.  No manager had single-handedly won the title but that goal by Dalglish did.

 

A week later Liverpool had the chance of becoming only the fifth club to win the ‘Double.’  Standing in Liverpool’s way was Everton who had narrowly missed out on winning the title.

Once again the story of the match resembled something out of the pages of Roy of the Rovers.  Everton started off well and took the lead courtesy of a Gary Lineker goal as they led at half-time.

The second half was to be Liverpool although a bust up between Bruce Grobbelaar and Jim Beglin after a mix seemed to galvanise the team.  It was to be the finger tip save over the bar from Grobbelaar from a Graham Sharp header that was to be turning point.

By now Jan Molby was running the midfield and played the ball through for Everton’s kryptonite Ian Rush to equalise.  It was Molby again who set up Craig Johnston before Rush secured the cup and broke the camera as it hit the back of the net.

Image result for kenny dalglish 1986 cup final;

Wearing a large red hat and a beaming smile Kenny Dalglish had led Liverpool to an unexpected double.  Both on and off the pitch he had been influential in adding a new chapter of continued success for Liverpool.

The next season was to see Liverpool end the season empty-handed finishing runner-up to Everton in the league and being beaten by Arsenal 2-1 in the Littlewoods league cup final.

Although Dalglish had tried to restrict his presence on the pitch Liverpool still missed his influence.  Conscious that the team couldn’t rely on his presence on the pitch forever he aimed at bringing in players to remedy this concern.  Spending some of the money as Ian Rush had been sold to Juventus it was to lead to one of the most exciting Liverpool teams as Dalglish signed John Barnes, Peter Beardsley, John Aldridge, and Ray Houghton.

For the 1987-88 season Dalglish’s influence was now from the dug out as the reds ran away with the title going twenty nine games unbeaten.  A FA cup win the following season followed although that season would be remembered for the ninety-six lives lost at the semi-final at Hillsborough through the gross negligence of the Police and authorities responsible for hosting the venue.  Kenny Dalglish was to be a statesman and support for the club and the city of Liverpool during this traumatic time.

The club retained the title in 1990 with Kenny Dalglish to make his final bow as a player coming on as a substitute against Derby County on the 5th May when Liverpool had clinched their eighteenth league title.  A year later Kenny Dalglish had left Liverpool after the 4-4 all draw against Everton in the FA cup final.  The pressure and Hillsborough had caused a massive strain on Dalglish who for the sake of his health stepped down.

Due to the success of Kenny Dalglish there was a spate of player-managers.  Glasgow Rangers had decided to follow Liverpool’s lead and appointed Dalglish’s former team-mate Graeme Souness in 1986.  Prior to taking charge, Rangers had last won the league in 1978 with the only recent success coming in the Scottish league cup.  Aberdeen under Alex Ferguson prior to taking charge of Manchester United had knocked Rangers into the shade to become the dominant force in Scottish football.  With Celtic winning the title in 1986 Rangers felt that swift action was required to ensure that they did not stagnate further.

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As a player Souness was a proven winner as he won numerous league championships and European cups with Liverpool.  Sampdoria had also brought success with a Coppa Italia and he was still very much a formidable player at thirty-three.  With money to spend Souness signed the top stars of the English game.  The likes of Chris Woods, Terry Butcher, and Graham Roberts were signed.  Other English stars to follow were  Mark Walters, Gary Stevens, Trevor Stevens Ray Wilkins, and Trevor Francis.

It was to have an instant impact even though Graeme Souness was to mark his tenure on his debut by being sent off in the 34th minute for two straight yellows against Hibernian.  The second yellow could quite easily have been a red for what was a nasty challenge on George McCluskey.  Despite this Rangers won the Scottish Premier league and league cup beating Celtic in the final of Souness’s first season in charge.

During his time in Scotland Souness was constantly at loggerheads with the SFA with Souness admitting years later that he ‘was obnoxious and difficult to deal with.’  One touch-line ban saw Souness provocatively get round it by naming himself as a substitute.

Some viewed Souness’s time as manager of Rangers as a revolution and he certainly built the foundations for the Gers dominance and nine in a row Premier league titles.  Souness also has to be given credit for ending the club’s sectarian view on not signing Catholic players.  Of course there was controversy when Souness signed Mo Johnston in the summer of 1989.  To add fuel to the fire Johnston had reneged on agreeing to re-join his former club Celtic meaning he received from both sides.

Souness was unperturbed and simply stated that he signed players purely on their footballing ability and not the religion of the footballer.

Following Dalglish’s shock resignation from Liverpool it was Souness who promptly accepted the offer to join his former club in April 1991.  That though was not to be successful.  Apart from an FA cup, Souness was unable to bring the success that Liverpool had become accustomed to.

Other clubs seeing the success that Dalglish and Souness had brought to Liverpool and Rangers felt it was the way forward.  One of the reasons was that a big name could attract the best players.  Seeing a renowned player manager gave the impression that the club had ambition.  Furthermore it also meant having an experienced head on the field and with the likes of Glenn Hoddle who was in the autumn of his career could still be influential on the pitch for Swindon Town and Chelsea respectively.

Hoddle became the second-player manager to lead Chelsea to the FA cup final against Manchester United.  Naming himself as a substitute and coming on in the sixty-eighth minute for Craig Burley there was no inspired come back as Chelsea were soundly thrashed by Manchester United to claim their first double.

The former Everton star midfielder Peter Reid became Player-Manager of Manchester City after Howard Kendall returned to his former love and club Everton in November 1990.  It didn’t bring Manchester City any silverware but brought stability and whilst Reid was in charge a hope that they were building towards something long-term.

After Lennie Lawrence had failed to get Middlesbrough promoted straight back to the Premier League the club’s chairman Steve Gibson turned to Manchester United’s Bryan Robson who became player manager in the summer of 1994.  It was seen as a mutual arrangement for both parties.  For Bryan Robson it was a chance to cut his teeth in management away from the harsh glare of Old Trafford as well as a chance to keep on playing.  Of course Robson saw it is a learning curve with the ambition at the time to replace Alex Ferguson when he decided to retire or to take the England job.  With Middlesbrough promising the financial backing it was a job that Robson felt was hard to refuse.

For the Teessiders it was a signal of intent and that the club were ambitious in not just getting back into the Premier league but to be a footballing force.  With a shiny new stadium far removed from the dilapidated and tired Ayresome park it meant that with Bryan Robson in charge that they could show how serious the club was in trying to attract the best talent.

It certainly worked with Robson leading Boro to promotion to the Premier league as Champions.  This was to be an exciting period for Middlesbrough with the club living up to its ambitions.  Juninho was in many respects a shock signing as Robson signed the Brazilian from São Paulo for £4.75 million in October 1995.  Seen as one of the best young Brazilian prospects not many expected Juninho to sign for a newly promoted club that had been in many respects been a yo-yo club between the divisions.

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The signings didn’t stop there with Ravanelli and Emerson also purchased in the summer of 1996.  It was a season in some respects to rival Sky’s football soap Dream Team that also began in that year.  Middlesbrough suffered a three-point deduction for not fulfilling a league game against Blackburn Rovers.  Robson cited a bug that had hit the squad but the FA felt that it was too late notice and that Boro could have fielded a team hence the points deduction.  Ironically the three points was the difference between staying in the Premier league and were relegated as a result.

However the drama didn’t stop there as Middlesbrough reached two cup finals for the first time in their history.  Both were to end unhappily as Boro lost to Leicester in a league cup final replay 1-0 after drawing the first game at Wembley 1-1.  The FA cup final was to end in defeat as Chelsea beat Middlesbrough 2-0.  Ironically Chelsea’s manager Ruud Gullit was also a player as was Gianluca Vialli when Chelsea again beat Boro 2-0 in the 1998 league cup final.  Neither Robson who had played his last game as a footballer in January 1997 against Arsenal or Gullit would play in the respective final.

That though was to be the height of Robson’s managerial career.  Although they won promotion back to the flight at the first attempt that was about as good as it got.  Middlesbrough still signed the top stars such Boksic, Ince, and Karembeu but Robson was unable to win the club silverware.  He resigned as manager in 2001 with his replacement Steve McClaren winning Boro’s first trophy the league cup after beating Bolton Wanderers 2-1 at Cardiff’s Millennium stadium.

Chelsea seemed to think that the player-manager was still in vogue with Ruud Gullit being appointed player-manager.  Although sacked nine months later after winning the FA cup he would later describe his time at Chelsea as the ‘happiest time in his career.’

Gianluca Vialli was Gullit’s replacement and again he was also player-manager in 1998.  This though was to be the last time time that a player-manager would be appointed full time with a top flight club.

Success also came Vialli’s way as he led and played in the 1998 Cup Winners Cup final with Chelsea beating Stuttgart 1-0 courtesy of a Zola goal.  Vialli also played the full ninety minutes of the final although did not start or name himself for the League cup final when Chelsea beat Middlesbrough 2-0.

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That though was to be the Indian summer for the player-manager as the big clubs gravitated back to the experienced coaches.  Now the criteria was a manager’s past success and whether he was tactically astute.  A footballing legend as player-manager is no longer a pull of ambition to attract the top stars.

Of course there are other reasons why the player-manager has fallen by the wayside.  As previously stated the role has become much bigger in terms of dealing with off the pitch activities expected of a manager.  This can vary from dealing with contracts, agents, scout players and the opposition as well as having to constantly deal with media demands.  Managing full time can be a tough and lonely job without the added worry of your current form as a player to contend with.

A Premier league manager is now expected to hold a UEFA pro licence which again means a player finding the time to complete and pass prior to a football club offering a manager’s job.

There still has been player-managers in recent years but these have been more of an emergency due to the manager being sacked.  Garry Monk for example was interim manager after Brian Laudrup was sacked in 2014, whilst Ryan Giggs was an interim manager for Manchester United in 2014 after David Moyes was dismissed.

With expectations and the pressure to succeed so high football clubs are now reluctant to take a chance with a young player manager.  There is also less job security as a football manager with clubs getting itchy as soon as the team hits a bad patch of form.  Consequently most clubs would rather now go for experience believing it to have a higher chance of success rather than pitching into the unknown.

Nevertheless there is a certain bit of magic and drama of having a player-manager in charge of your football club especially if he scores the winner that clinches the league title.    After all isn’t that part of the charm of football that it brings unreal magic and stories that would make the editor of Roy of the Rovers think twice as a story line?

Teresa May the real life ‘Nicola Murray’

After having to deal with another calamitous mistake by Nicola Murray ‘the thick of it,’  Malcolm Tucker tells her ‘You’re a fucking omnishambles, that’s what you are. You’re like that coffee machine, you know: from bean to cup, you fuck up.’ After the complete mess that Theresa May has made of the 2017 election there are probably many Tories who share the same view of their hapless Prime Minister.

When Theresa May declared an election it was according to her to strengthen her hand in Brexit negotiations and to give her the mandate to ensure it was carried through.  It was also a chance to increase the Conservative majority and to take advantage of what they perceived was a Labour party in turmoil.

However rather than leading to a landslide it was to be a disastrous campaign that far from being a ‘strong and stable government,’ led to a hung parliament and to a weak and unstable minority government. Rather than Jeremy Corbyn looking out of his depth it is Theresa May drowning in a pool of her own incompetence.

The Labour party ran a first class campaign and although they didn’t win enough seats to form a government they did enough to make a lot of ground from the last election.  It would have been one almighty swing to Labour if they had romped home but it is progress especially as the Conservatives now rely on the DUP to form a government.

Although there was still a lot of media bias against Corbyn he was still shown to be able to connect with the public.  To paraphrase the West wing it was best to let ‘Jeremy to be Jeremy.’  He connected with the electorate, was pleasant, personable, and was seen to be comfortable answering questions from the media and the public.

This was in complete contrast Theresa May who looked shifty, uncomfortable, and only seemed to speak in soundbites.  Everything was stage-managed from the public events that she attended to the questions being vetted.  At one news conference a journalist in Cornwall was shown the door for daring to ask a third question.

Theresa May has consistently performed poorly at PMQ’s but she was to take this to a new level.  Meeting the electorate seemed to be an inconvenience and there seemed to be an arrogance that the public would accept anything.  The so-called ‘dementia tax,’ policy backfired spectacularly when the Conservative manifesto made plans to make people pay more of their own social care.  The policy caused anger because payments after death could eat into the inheritance of offspring whose parents were unlucky enough to suffer from a condition – like dementia – in which reliance on social care is inevitable.

It lead to a u-turn by Theresa May who scaled back proposals but considering that she was meant to be a decisive leader who wouldn’t stand any nonsense in brexit talks, made May look as though she would buckle under the slightest pressure.

The campaign by May led to personal insults against Corbyn and negativity throughout.  It seemed that so long as May got in her buzz words of ‘strong and stable government,’ that people would believe that she was the only one that could deliver this. However it just seemed stale and clichéd as Theresa May stood there nervously.  When forced to take questions May would take a sip of water to quench the nerves of being out of her comfort zone.  Again a trait that hardly inspires confidence.

In many respects Theresa May is one of those company middle-managers who are promoted way above their ability.  As a result they cause mayhem and damage before being quietly moved on.

By now it seemed to be as though the Conservatives were seeing Theresa May as a liability due to her consistent poor performances in public.  The decision to duck the leadership debate was poor judgement.  After all if you couldn’t comfortably argue your case and take questions how could you be deemed fit to negotiate in Brexit talks?  Inadvertently May raised Amber Rudd’s chances of taking her job by allowing her to take her place and performing well.

Of course the election was more than Brexit it was about the cuts in social service, education, the NHS and how austerity is affecting the ordinary person.   Labour’s manifesto seemed to an attractive and fair solution to bring about a fairer society.

As election day drew near it was the hope that people would allow the sound bites and uncertainty thrown about Corbyn to stick with May.  Indeed many thought the Conservatives would still win comfortably despite the poor performances of May.  They were to be shocked when the final poll at 10pm on the 8th June 2017 rightly declared it be a hung parliament.

Labour may not have won enough to govern but they had made progress whereas Theresa May had spectacularly shot herself in the foot.  She had called an election believing it to be a formality and a chance to increase the Conservative majority in parliament.  Instead they lost seats and rather than bringing ‘strong and stable,’ May now presides over a minority government with less MPs.  Now they have to rely on the DUP which will bring about other issues.  Furthermore due to the lack of a majority May will have to deal with factions within her own party.  Rather than talking about moving forward it is now about uncertainty and when another election will be called.

Even as the ceiling has come crashing down and with bits of plaster in her hair, May still acted as though she had won a massive majority.  Despite the clichéd key words that had fallen as flat as a fart at a funeral, May still couldn’t help herself declaring the coalition with the DUP as bringing a ‘government of certainty.’  It was as though May was hoping to hoodwink the public that everything was fine rather than being an almighty mess through her own making.

This didn’t go down with the party faithful especially the candidates who had lost seats.  To not even acknowledge that this was a massive set back was another poor error of judgement.  However Theresa May calamitous flounders around like Nicola Murray that it can’t be long before she declares a policy for ‘every day bat people.’

Prior to this election many felt that it would be the end of Jeremy Corbyn as leader of the Labour party.  Many were probably already writing his obituary.  Instead it is a dazed, incompetent, and weak Theresa May who staggers on after losing all credibility.

After this poor performance and weak leadership it surely can’t be long before Theresa May steps aside.  Whether she makes that decision or is forced out will be played out in the coming months. There really is no way that May can continue as Prime Minister.  She looks weak and above all has been shown to be incompetent that another election probably seems certain by the end of the year.

 

 

 

Liverpool 2016/17 season review

Expectations are always high at the beginning of the season.  This was especially so after Klopp had led Liverpool to the League  and Europa cup finals in the 2015/16 season.

The omens also looked good.  At the beginning of the 1987/88 season Liverpool played Arsenal away on the opening day and just like that year there was a delay.  This time it was due to the completion of the new main stand rather than a collapsed sewer under the Kop.  Nevertheless it could be seen as a positive omen.

Being a season ticket holder in the new main stand it certainly lived up to expectations.  Although high up the view was excellent especially as the seat is on the half way line.  It gave the advantage of being able to see better the teams shape and build up than my previous seat in the Kop.  There was also the novelty of leg room and the acoustics of the stand was spot on as the noise can carry when the fans are in full voice.

Without European football for that season it was wondered whether the benefit of playing no mid-week games would have the same effect as it did for the 2013/14 season.  Liverpool of course narrowly missing out on the league to Manchester City.  Certainly Liverpool got off to a flier beating Arsenal 4-3 a dramatic game whilst the first home game of the season a 5.30pm kickoff against Leicester saw the champions thrashed 4-1.

The football was a game of intense high pressing with teams unable to cope against Liverpool’s attack.  Mane the new signing from Southampton looked scintillating in attack whilst the likes of Lallana and Firmino came on in leaps and bounds.  Previously they had been inconsistent and only showed flashes of what they could do achieve.  This season they were not only consistent but players that Liverpool relied on.

A brief surge to the top made fans dream but unlike the 87/88 team the defence and overall quality was not as good and consistent that it needs to be.  With injuries to key players at certain points in the season and Mane unavailable due to the African cup of nations there was not the depth in squad to cover.  Furthermore the opposition had learnt to stifle Liverpool by playing deep, restricting space and making use of Liverpool’s vulnerability at set-pieces to score.  The bench also offered no real options in terms of changing things tactically on the pitch.

Indeed Liverpool’s record against the other top six clubs was impressive.  Mainly because with the likes of Spurs and Arsenal who were more open benefitted Liverpool who with their pressing game were able to exploit the spaces left open.

The realistic hope of course was that Liverpool would win one of the domestic trophies and finish within the top four.  Liverpool disappointingly were beaten 2-1 at home against  Wolves in the fourth round of the FA cup.  It appeared that Klopp had overestimated the quality of the overall squad as they struggled to get the better of the Championship side.  In the league cup Southampton beat Liverpool 2-0 over both legs which just left the pursuit for a top four spot.

Despite a few stumbles Liverpool managed to make it over the line although if they had not dropped points against the likes of Southampton, Palace, and Bournemouth they may have just finished third and avoid the Champions league qualifier.

Nevertheless for a fourth placed finish it was still achieved with a high points total of seventy-six that would have won Liverpool the league twenty years ago.  Although not spectacular it is an improvement in the league.   Prior to the season you would expect Liverpool to finish between fourth and six if you were judging on what was spent.

There have been highlights namely the back to back wins against Arsenal, beating Leicester, and Everton.  Then of course there is Emre Can’s spectacular goal against Watford.

Mane has deservedly won the Liverpool player of the year and has been sorely missed when he has been absent.  It is also worth noting that Simon Mignolet has improved significantly this season after temporally being dislodged by Karius.  Unless a keeper of the quality of Pepe Reina becomes available then a goalkeeper is no longer the priority that it once was last year.

The only negatives this season from me has been the atmosphere at games.  It is unfortunately one of the changing facets of football that the ordinary fan is being priced out.  There are more corporate tickets and with the likes of Liverpool, Manchester United, and Arsenal it is more being seen at the event rather than love for the team or even the sport.

When you have the likes of two middle-aged men in front of you more intent on showing each other pictures on their mobiles than watching Liverpool play Manchester City it is going to affect the atmosphere.  Then there is the panic if Liverpool are not one up within ten minutes that shows up the sense of entitlement some fans feel.  Silly comments are thrown about before going down to get a pint five minutes before half time and then sodding off in the 85th minute.

Of course you want Liverpool to win but there has to be a sense of realism.  This after all is not 1984 even if the outside world seems to portray Orwell’s dystopian novel.  Getting behind the team is crucial and again can help the team to snatch a result.  The sound of seats slamming as Palace scored the second rather than the sound of Liverpool fans roaring the team to grab an equalizer in the last ten minutes is galling.

Unbelievably there were a few idiots that booed after the draw against Southampton.  Was it frustrating?  Of course it was but the team had given everything and it just didn’t happen on the day.  We had a limited squad with a lack of options on the bench.  You can only do so much and Klopp has got the best out of the team.

For next season and certainly with European football the squad does have to be strengthened.  The defence certainly needs to be improved.  At times they seem shaky and certainly at set pieces seem more vulnerable in conceding a goal.  The team does need to learn to defend as it breeds that confidence with a solid defence.  A centre-half and left back are certainly required.

Another midfielder preferably someone with a bit of pace and guile, and another forward have to be priorities.  Besides this we also need more options to choose from the bench especially when it is difficult breaking teams down.

I am certainly not expecting a marquee signing as this isn’t the way the Fenway group do business but I certainly expect some activity as the defence and size of the squad were issues that became apparent during the season.

This season has seen Liverpool move in the right direction.  If they can keep hold of Coutinho and get Emre Can to extend his contract then it will be beneficial.  Can of course holds divisive opinions but I would say that he does has the ability to be one of the top midfielders in the game.  Critics seem to forget that he is only young.  He can at times be sloppy but he never hides and always tries to make the correct pass or make something happen.  If Can leaves Liverpool I certainly don’t want to regret watching his talent benefit another club.

With European football back and hopefully champions league it will be an exciting season which will hopefully see Liverpool win a trophy.  Above all though I want to enjoy the thrill that the likes of last season’s Europa cup run, the title tilt of 2013/14 and certainly wouldn’t say no to a similar season in the Champions league of 2004/05.

Football can be frustrating and bring despair.  At times you question your own sanity watching a dull 0-0 on a cold January night but games like Istanbul and last season’s game against Dortmund make it all worth while.  Sometimes you have to suffer a bit of misery to appreciate the joy.  That is after all what football is to the majority of supporters.

Above all though I just want to enjoy watching the mighty reds and hopefully experience another rollercoaster journey that Liverpool are good at doing.

The countdown begins to the 2017/18 season!