Monday, 28 December 2009


It has been a decade of technological change, political upheaval, natural disasters, conflicts and sporting achievements. I’ve delved through the (recent) history books to present my review of the 'noughties' in 750 words. If you think I’ve missed something out that should be included, please let me know! Right then, here we go...

The Millenium Bug is nothing near the threat that computer 'experts' were predicting. Google begins selling advertising against search results, which helps it buy out various companies and quickly become the people's choice for online searching. Big Brother launches and results in a number of sequels throughout the decade and a huge race controversy. Dr Harold Shipman is given life imprisonment for murdering 15 patients and is later found hanged in 2004. George Bush succeeds Bill Clinton as US President. Blockades by protestors result in a UK fuel crisis after panic-buying. 113 people are killed after Concorde crashes in Paris.

Terrorists bring down the World Trade Centre on 9/11, in a devastating attack that contributes hugely towards much foreign policy throughout the decade and kills 3,000 people [pictured]. Tony Blair wins a second election as British Prime Minister. America joins forces with the UK to launch a retaliatory war in Afghanistan against the Taliban. The foot-and-mouth crisis causes big problems for farmers as the agriculture industry tries to survive.

The Queen Mother passes away and her funeral is held in Westminster Abbey. The bodies of Jessica Chapman and Holly Wells are found after they were murdered by school caretaker Ian Huntley, in an event that shocks the town of Soham in Cambridgeshire [pictured]. The Euro currency comes into use across 12 of the European Union countries. 202 people are killed in Bali by terrorists.

World opinion is split as Iraq is invaded by 250,000 US troops and 45,000 British soldiers [pictured]. The Hutton Inquiry causes a radical shake-up in BBC editorial policy and Dr David Kelly commits suicide after being exposed as the source on the government's weapons of mass destruction dossier. England win the Rugby World Cup. Ghyslain Raza, a French Canadian student, achieves global fame from his Star Wars lightsaber online films, which help propel YouTube into the mainstream. The Ugg sheepskin boot launches in the UK and helps define fashion in the noughties.

Facebook is invented and revolutionises the way we communicate with friends and relatives. Paul Foot, one of the country’s most successful investigative journalists, dies aged 66. Hundreds of thousands die in the Asian Tsunami on Boxing Day. The Madrid train bombings put transport networks worldwide on even higher alert than after 9/11, after 191 people are killed. The siege of Beslan school in eastern Europe sees 334 die.

The football world unites to pay its respects to George Best, who passes away aged 59. 7/7 brings London to a standstill as we experience a major terrorist attack on our transport system and 56 people die [pictured]. Hurricane Katrina sweeps through New Orleans and becomes one of the deadliest in the country's history. Pope Benedict XVI takes over as pontiff after John Paul II dies. London wins the bid for the 2012 Olympics. Prince Charles marries Camilla Parker Bowles.

Southend United beat Manchester United 1-0 in one of the biggest football cup upsets of the decade. Alexander Litvinenko dies after suspected poisoning after eating in a sushi restaurant. The Nintendo Wii heralds a new era in motion-sensitive video gaming. Israel goes to war with Hezbollah in Lebanon. A stranded whale in the River Thames dies despite the efforts of a rescue team.

Madeleine McCann is taken from her family's holiday apartment in Portugal and has still not been found after a two-year global hunt [pictured]. Gordon Brown hands over the Treasury to Alistair Darling. Northern Rock requires emergency government funding to stay afloat and economic concerns begin to grow. The political crisis in Zimbabwe results in hyper-inflation and accusations of tyranny against Robert Mugabe. The BBC iPlayer goes live and dramatically changes how we view content and the future of television. Benazir Bhutto is assassinated in Pakistan on a dark day for politics. 32 die in the Virginia Tech college massacre.

The collapse of Lehman Brothers paves the way for a recession which causes huge job losses and stock exchange crashes around the world. Barack Obama is voted in as American president and Democrats welcome a new era of politics. China welcomes the world for the Beijing Olympics and it's a rare chance for foreign cameras to picture modern life in the country. Russia invades Georgia over the breakaway region, South Ossetia.

The Copenhagen summit tries to unite the world in battle against climate change and global warming. The pop music world mourns the losses of Michael Jackson [pictured] and Boyzone's Stephen Gately. The swine flu pandemic from Mexico causes worldwide panic. Cumbria is flooded and Eurostar trains get stuck under the English Channel after extreme winter weather conditions.

Bring on the ‘tens’.

Monday, 21 December 2009


Maths supply teacher Olive Jones has been suspended after offering to pray for a sick pupil. We've heard a few stories of 'persecuted' Christians recently, such as Caroline Petrie, the carer who offered to pray for her patient. I felt compelled to write something about the link between faith and work after reading about Olive [pictured]. Firstly, well done to both women for talking about this so openly in the media and making sure everyone is aware of the problem. Divine healing is an exceptionally complex issue as it cannot ever be proven in stone, but this is irrelevant really - many people believe God heals and that Christian belief should be respected by all.

I think the main issue here is that a Christian has been suspended for offering to practicise their beliefs in the workplace. Maybe Olive should have prayed for the child on her own without telling them? But she didn't actually pray for them anyway - as far as we know - because the mother said they were not believers. So has she actually done anything wrong? It seems somebody thinks she did. I think that offering to pray for a friend, and them saying 'no', is fine. They're unlikely to formely complain about you to anybody - just politely say 'no'. I think many non-Christians actually wouldn't mind being prayed for by a Christian, as it's a no-lose situation really - it can't make their illness worse.

But when you take the offer of prayer into the workplace, and get suspended from your job because of it, that concerns me a little. I don't see faith and work as two separate things, and think there are many positives from being a good Christian in the workplace. But it seems even offering to pray for someone is off-limits in North Somerset. This is an interesting topic, and I'm not sure what I think yet, but eagerly await the results of the council's investigation.

* * *

Whenever we get a bit of snow in this country, everything goes into meltdown. Schools close, roads shut, trains stop - and it's not ideal. In fairness, most railway lines over the last week - including my local one, c2c, and the London Underground - have continued to operate with a minimum of fuss. And my old senior school stayed open last Friday. But Eurostar was a different case altogether. During probably their busiest week of the year, with people returning home for Christmas across the channel or going away for a short break, five trains got stuck in the channel tunnel on the same day. The result has been travel chaos, with 2,000 people stranded underground at one point, having little idea of what was happening. It's not impressive. Eurostar has been a successful venture and it's great that Paris and London are so close in travel time nowadays, but I can't imagine this is going to help their sales next year.

The company has apologised and offered refunds, but that will be little consolation to those who were hoping to get away (or get home) for Christmas. I also think it must be one of the first times in history that a transport company has asked people only to travel with them if it's "absolutely necessary"! I hardly think many people book an expensive train journey on the off-chance that they might travel to France on that day. Almost everyone's journey will be 'absolutely necessary' as far as I can see. Hopefully Eurostar - and other travel companies - can learn from the mistakes of this episode (both technically and organisationally) and ensure that when the next cold snap arrives, it doesn't freeze up the transport system. In the 21st century, we can't be having cross-channel trains break down a few days before Christmas. Hopefully Eurostar can emerge from the happenings of the last few days better prepared for next year.

* * *

Well done to FC Barcelona. Again. The Independent reports that they have now become the first team to ever win every competition entered in one season. The Catalans' 2-1 win over Estudiantes in the World Club Championship at the weekend capped off a remarkable year for Pep Guardiola [pictured]. There aren't many teams in history as good as this Barca side. From Lionel Messi to Carlos Puyol, and Zlatan Ibrahimovic to Xavi, the side's talents are astounding. Manchester City might have spent more money on their squad, including the likes of Robinho, Emmanuel Adebayor and Carlos Tevez, but it isn't just money that buys you success, as their ex-manager Mark Hughes discovered on Saturday.

Barcelona show that you need an excellent team spirit, top coaching, superb fans, a good youth system - and a little bit of cash too. Amazingly, Guardiola (a former Barca player) had no top-flight experience of being a manager before signing up at the Nou Camp 18 months ago, so talk about 'being thrown in at the deep end'. But he has taken the job in his stride and achieved a record no manager in the world has ever secured. A good crop of players helps, but the boss is so important in football. Just look at England under Steve McClaren and Fabio Capello - almost the same players but a completely different culture in the side who have achieved good things already. Guardiola has labelled his side 'immortals'. It's maybe a bit over-the-top, but I'm not going to argue with him...

Monday, 14 December 2009


Last night was a truly unforgettable evening. I was a guest at the 56th BBC Sports Personality of the Year 2009 by the red carpet and inside the Sheffield Arena. It was a fabulous evening for everyone who lives in Sheffield by confirming its status as a great sporting city and I found it a proud moment seeing local athlete - and former University of Sheffield student - Jessica Ennis scoop third place.

The Department of Journalism Studies had managed to secure a few dozen tickets for students to stand near the red carpet and for a restricted view seat, on a first-come, first-served basis. I managed to get one of these but didn’t think the evening would be anywhere near as exciting as it turned out to be. Within 15 minutes of arriving and being escorted into a ‘pen’ - it was effectively a ‘hire-a-crowd’ operation from the BBC - boxers Amir Khan and David Haye had walked past and said hello to us, signing autographs. I thought that was pretty impressive, but then along come Fabio Capello and Jenson Button! I shook Capello’s hand and wished him well for the World Cup next year. Maybe he’ll send a scout to watch me in five-a-side football soon. Maybe not.

Then last year’s runner-up Rebecca Adlington [pictured] walked past. She looked fabulous. Frankie Boyle made a comment about her appearance on Mock The Week recently as “someone who's looking at themselves in the back of a spoon”, which was judged by the BBC Trust board to be unfair and offensive. A good judgement. Where on earth does Boyle get these ideas from? I actually think she’s one of the most attractive sportswomen around and she looked great last night. The best way for her to answer her critics is to ignore them and get on with her life. It’s not as if she should be judged on how she looks anyway - a great swimmer is a great swimmer, after all, and we should be proud of our best sports personalities for who they are.

The event itself was a wonderfully glitzy affair. I have seen Arctic Monkeys, Coldplay, Kasabian and Snow Patrol at the Arena during my time in Sheffield and was impressed on each occasion at the fantastic production, video and lighting. But last night took it a step further as the set was simply awesome and used to great effect in the entrances of boxing champion David Haye. They also placed a gymnastics floor in the middle of the Arena for Beth Tweddle to show off her skills. The transitions were seamless on screen and live in the venue, and it was fascinating to watch how the producers and cameramen were moving around next to the stage organising each scene.

It was good to see golfer Seve Ballesteros given the Lifetime Achievement Award, and the former Ryder Cup team members on stage were holding back the tears as the trophy was handed over via a videolink abroad. But perhaps the most moving moment of the evening was a montage of sporting heroes who have died over the last year, concluding with former Newcastle United manager Sir Bobby Robson [pictured]. The applause for him lasted for a good deal of time after the montage and it was a fitting tribute.

Well done to Fabio Capello [pictured] on picking up the coach of the year trophy. I don’t think many people fully realise how much the transformation in England’s fortunes over the last year is down to him. His disciplinarian stance has ensured players respect the manager and know their place in the team is not assured, which has led to a much better feeling in the side. Capello is an exceptionally talented tactician and England will certainly not be dying with a whimper like they did under Steve McClaren. Well deserved, Mr Capello, and thanks for shaking my hand on the red carpet!

Manchester United’s Ryan Giggs won this year’s overall award, which was something of a surprise as second-placed F1 driver Jenson Button probably achieved more over the last year in relative sporting terms, but the Welsh midfielder is a footballing legend and deserved the recognition at least. A public vote decides the main winner at SPOTY, as it’s affectionately known, so being the only footballer gave him a good chance, because it is the nation’s favourite sport. The Independent reported today that betting odds on Giggs were slashed during the week, and although I hoped that Button would take the gong, it was a good chance to reflect on the career of a player with the best trophies count in English football.

What a great evening. Please can I get a free ticket for next year too?


Monday, 7 December 2009


When I was a lad, I was so interested in Ancient Egyptology that I might have ended up studying it at university if I hadn’t decided upon journalism. The amazing architecture, religion and history of the era has always fascinated me, and it was great to visit the country in October 2006. But I was reading in The Independent today that Tutankhamun’s tomb and coffin are both showing signs of decay, and Egypt’s Supreme Council of Antiquities have called in experts to try and preserve it all.

The millions of visitors who have looked around the site in Luxor - me included - all marvel at the design of such a historic tomb in the Valley of the Kings. It’s therefore ironic that those same tourists - me included - could well be a timebomb hanging over the future of the site.

So where do we go from here? The Getty Research Institute in California are going to look at every centimetre of the chamber to consider how the paint and mortar was constructed and developed. This should enable them to preserve it if all goes well. But if there are issues with their archaeological research and they find that continual exposure to tourists will further damage the tomb, then I believe it should be closed to the public.

Tutankhamun’s tomb is such an important part of world history - and such an iconic figure - that to lose it would be a travesty. I would rather never have the chance to look around it again than for it to be gradually eroded and destroyed. In the words of journalist Guy Adams: “Given the peace and quiet [he] enjoyed for three millennia, it has been a rough 87 years for him since he was discovered.”

* * *

The relationship between press officers and journalists has always made for interesting study. For example, there was the classic case in June 2003 when Alastair Campbell [right] turned up unannounced at Channel 4 News to talk about what turned into the Hutton Inquiry (watch here: As soon as he arrived the whole planned 7pm show was dropped so he could be interviewed, as it was such a hot topic at the time and he was the most important ‘press officer’ in the country. He was effectively rewriting their agenda that day.

I believe press offices exist to maintain a good image of their brand or company in the media and make it easier for journalists to interview their staff when required. But the relationship has been heavily criticised in recent years - none more so than by Nick Davies in Flat Earth News - where he accused press offices as contributing to widespread ‘churnalism’. This is the idea that newspapers’ resources are so stretched that they will publish anything sent to them without verification or challenging any facts.

In a way this has made life much easier for communications offices. They know that if they produce a well-written story on an interesting subject, with quotes and photos, it is almost guaranteed to make the local - if not national - press. Nigel Green wrote in The Guardian today that “the media are increasingly relying on police press releases for crime stories”. It’s probably true. I have worked with one police press office as a journalist and found it helpful in clarifying facts and sending pictures for media use on stories. It was a well-run operation which also sends out a large amount of releases which obviously all portray the force in a positive light.

They cannot be criticised for this as it’s their job. But the police will make mistakes over time and crime levels will not always be positive in every area, although the media will not be spoon-fed negative information. It has to be found out through Freedom of Information requests and so on, which are not easy to organise with the lack of resources facing most local newspapers. The benefit for press offices is that they are often much better staffed than newspapers, and journalists know that by upsetting them, they might cut off the very hand that gives them so much content.

* * *

On paper it looks a great draw for England. We will have the USA, Algeria and Slovenia in the 2010 World Cup group stage. Then it could be Germany, Australia, Serbia or Ghana in the next round. If we could avoid the Germans - which we would if both teams came first in their groups - then I would be confident of making it through. There are no easy games in international football, for sure, but by avoiding tough teams such as France, Portugal, South Korea and the Ivory Coast in the group stage, Fabio Capello [pictured] should get three morale-boosting wins under his belt before England move towards the business end of the competition. But there are still questions to be asked of whether England can actually win the World Cup this year.

I don’t yet have an answer. But I think we’ve got a good chance. There will be some excellent teams as ever in 2010, and I still can’t see us getting past the likes of Messi for Argentina, Ronaldo for Portugal and Torres for Spain. But I do have lots of confidence in Capello to do a good job - he is a very intelligent man and has already turned around an England side who were seriously lacking in ambition and confidence. I reckon a few good friendlies against similar opposition to those we will meet in the group stages - maybe Mexico, Egypt and Slovakia - would be the best thing to do now. Then we can just wait and see who turns up in South Africa. It’s important Capello has a settled starting XI, and nobody is yet assured of their place. Bring on June 12th next year!

PICTURES 1, 3 & 4: Daily Telegraph

Monday, 30 November 2009


George Orwell would be delighted to hear this. MPs on a Commons committee have criticised politicians and civil servants for their poor usage of English. It often makes as much sense as the picture [right]. They said much language in reports was misleading, vague, euphemistic and full of jargon. It’s exactly the kind of thing Orwell criticises in his essay ‘Politics and the English Language’ and that was written over 60 years ago. He said: “If you simplify your English, you are freed from the worst follies of orthodoxy.”

I’m fed up of reading jargon too. I come across lots of it as part of my degree course, because I’m often attending council meetings and court cases - as well as reading the official reports before and after. It’s no surprise that many people feel disillusioned with politics as it is often simply inaccessible to those who do not understand words and phrases such as: “rollouts, step changes, public domains, fit for purposes, stakeholder engagements, across the pieces, win-wins, level playing fields and going forwards”. It’s not big and it’s not clever.

Let’s take an example. A recent 'Recession to Recovery' report on the Sheffield City Council Cabinet website said: "Cabinet is asked [with] regard having been had to the City Strategy, and to the Secretary of State’s issued guidance on the use of the well-being powers, to agree that, if successfully implemented, the various measures proposed in this report would be likely to promote to some extent at least the economic well-being of Sheffield in general and in particular those persons resident in the city who are directly or indirectly assisted by these measures.”

Say again? I’ll have a go myself. How about: "Cabinet should consult the City Strategy and Secretary of State, then use this report to benefit Sheffield's economy and residents.” If you can do better, please have a go. I am no angel in avoiding jargon, but I certainly try to. I’m pleased the committee have brought this issue up, and hopefully some politicians can be taught how to write in a style that does not need to be decoded.

* * *

I know two people who work on the Worksop Guardian and their work is about to become a lot more expensive to read on the internet. Owner Johnston Press has announced it’s going ahead with plans for an online paywall and trying to generate serious income from their website.

This is something of paramount importance in media circles at the moment, and we await to see how Rupert Murdoch implements the idea at The Sunday Times shortly. The Nottinghamshire paper will be one of six to charge £5 for a three-month subscription, along with the Ripley & Heanor News (Derbyshire), Whitby Gazette (Yorkshire), Carrick Gazette (Ayrshire) Southern Reporter (Selkirk), and Northumberland Gazette.

There are many questions that should be answered for Johnston during this experiment. Will people pay the money? Will it improve advertising? Will it affect printed circulation? Will it be rolled out nationally? Will it create more jobs? So many things to find out. The concept of local papers having niche content is certainly something that will help them. I’ve always thought specialist paper websites like Media Guardian and the Racing Post are much better suited to online payment, as they hold specific information which you often cannot find anywhere else.

It is the same with local news and I admire them for having a go and seeing what happens. I don’t like to say it, but the future of local news could depend on how this goes. I really hope it works. Maybe it’s time to buy some Johnston Press shares?

* * *

Living 300 miles away in Essex usually means I don’t get much of a chance to see Newcastle United play at home. Despite being a loyal fan of the Toon Army for over a decade, I haven’t seen them at St James’ Park (or should that be the @ St James’ Park Stadium?) for almost five years. Over that time I’ve probably watched over 150 matches involving Southend (my other team) and the Toon Army away from home.

But living 130 miles away in Sheffield makes it a little bit easier and I made the trip to Tyneside on Saturday to see a comfortable 3-0 win against Swansea City. It was the 24th football match I’ve seen this season and definitely the best atmosphere of any so far. Well, a Barnet v Southend friendly on a Tuesday night really doesn’t compare.

The wonderful thing about Newcastle is that everyone in the city is so passionate about football. As soon as I got off the train with a friend at 1pm I could feel the excitement in the air as fans got ready for the match. It helps that the Magpies are top of the league at the moment, but the wonderful supporters in the north-east have always been one of my favourite elements of following Newcastle.

They absolutely love their football, and the difference in the city’s feeling between the return of Kevin Keegan and relegation just shows what it means to them. I might have lived most of my life in Essex, but Newcastle is such a special place to me. I think it’s because it’s tucked up in the corner of England and has its own unique culture. And you can’t beat an obese Geordie with his top off in the pouring rain. Magic.

Monday, 23 November 2009


I interviewed Nick Clegg last month and he seems a very pleasant chap. One of the more genuine politicians out there, you might say. I was mildly surprised to read today that there is a chance he could form a Lib Dem-Tory coalition at the next election. His party could help Labour or the Conservative Party to get over the finish line if neither gets enough seats to form a government, and latest polls suggest it’s getting closer between the two main parties. I feel the idea of Clegg helping David Cameron would not go down too well with some of Clegg’s party’s activists. The Lib Dems are very strong in Sheffield, currently holding the city council, and have a much bigger presence on campus than any other right-wing group. I cannot imagine most of them would be immensely pleased if Dave and Nick lead our country together.

The election battlefield is starting to intensify at the moment and it’s getting exciting. Cameron and Gordon Brown were both criticised by the Dean of Westminster Abbey for trying to compete for photo opportunities at a Remembrance Day service and have since apologised. Labour are stepping up their high-speed rail proposals with a timetable, costs and precise route due to be released before the next election. The Tories have said they need an “emergency budget” within 50 days of being elected into power. But whilst all this is going on, Clegg actually has a vital role to play, as he could determine who gets into power. The Lib Dems will have the choice of who to form a coalition with, and we could see the bizarre situation of having a left-wing party combining with a right-wing party in government. I can’t wait for Prime Minister’s Questions...
PICTURE: The Times

* * *

I think a full investigation into the expenses of judges and magistrates could prove to be very interesting. The Independent revealed some of the first details today, and there must be more to come. The public outcry following the Telegraph’s MPs’ expenses files was understandable as MPs are public figures who are well-known in their local communities. However far less people come into contact with judges - it’s mainly only those working in the legal profession, those who come in front of them in court and journalists. If I asked you to name five judges in the country, I bet most of you couldn’t. But almost all of you would know the names of five MPs at least.

The wigs worn by judges are symbolic of the fact that there is still a big barrier between the legal profession and the general public. I think the justice system in this country is very good - I’ve observed many court cases as a journalist already and have never seen an unfair trial, in my eyes. But because so few people come into contact with judges - and they’re seen by many as people with wigs and robes entrenched in an archaic system - as more details come out about their expenses, it could stoke huge public anger. But I’m not suggesting anybody is a crook. Let us wait for the Freedom of Information Act to work its wonders over the next few months.
PICTURE: Judiciary Service

* * *

What an awful decision the officials made yesterday to allow Paul Scharner’s goal for Wigan against Tottenham. It was a blatant handball from the replays I’ve seen. But hold on a minute. Nobody’s talking about that handball because Spurs won 9-1. This is the second-biggest winning margin in the Premier League’s history, eclipsed only by Manchester United 9 Ipswich Town 0 in 1995. Many congratulations to them as well. But it’s interesting how a refereeing decision goes relatively unnoticed when it has no impact on the game. I’m obviously drawing parallels here to Monsieur Henry last Wednesday [pictured] when his handball - “the ‘main’ of God” (or) “the hand of frog” - put France through to World Cup 2010 at the expense of the Republic of Ireland.

In both cases, a video replay would have proven the mistake and disallowed the goal. This argument has for some time made me in favour of video replays in football. But I was chatting to one of my friends on Saturday, who is a match official up to Conference South level, and he explained why video replays are a bad thing. I have to say that he’s changed my mind on the subject. He argued that if you implement replays at the top level of football, then it suddenly becomes a different game. The rules are the same at every stage of the football pyramid - whether it be Essex Senior League or Football League Championship - but replays will give certain teams in higher leagues an advantage. And the game loses its beautiful platform of everybody playing by the same rules - Chelsea or Concord Rangers. I think the introduction of video-replays would only serve to widen the gap between the top and bottom tiers of football - and for that reason, it’s a bad thing, unless we can work a technology that is affordable at every level. But I would prefer it if referees didn’t make any mistakes. Ideally.
PICTURE: Daily Telegraph

Monday, 16 November 2009


The latest ABC newspaper circulation figures have been released and decreases are slowing up, which is good news. Daily Star and Daily Star Sunday continue to be the only papers showing a year-on-year increase. They are up 20% and 3%, which shows that Jordan is still a British treasure. Or, at least, people just like reading about her latest exploits with that cage-fighter chap. But aside from the Star titles, everything is still falling. Worryingly for Guardian Media Group, The Observer is down 19% and The Guardian down 12%. But elsewhere the Telegraph is doing very well on the subscription front, with over 320,000 copies being sent out, and this is providing a solid funding base on which they can better predict their medium-term income.

I am not subscribing to one paper at the moment as I enjoy reading a different one everyday, but I can see this being a key business model as we come out of the recession and people start to get larger disposable incomes. Meanwhile, the London Evening Standard have had a 469% circulation increase, but of course the paper is now free. I doubt it will have too much impact on the nationals as they are all morning papers, and the Standard continues to set the evening agenda with little competition in print now thelondonpaper and London Lite have disappeared.
PICTURE: Taradel

* * *

The government’s plans to give power to the Financial Services Authority for cancelling any pay deals which reward undue risk-taking are a dangerous idea. Former chairman of Royal Bank of Scotland Sir George Mathewson is right that it interferes with contracts “between willing participants”. Bankers are still about as popular as MPs at the moment - just try being a journalist or traffic warden, I tell them - but that is no excuse for such a draconian measure as this. If this is a sign of things to come in the shake-up of the FSA, then I am concerned.

Everyone needs to take the blame for the recession - consumers, producers, bankers and regulators - and telling banks how to pay their staff is not the best way out of this. If a banker takes a big risk and makes a big profit then he should be rewarded for it. The decisions of stockbrokers can make millions of pounds for corporations quite easily, and I don’t think there is anything wrong with them getting a share of this profit. Banks need to work with the FSA to ensure they don’t come up with any more ideas like this.

* * *

Regular readers of my blog will know that I think the train fares system in this country needs a big shake-up. It’s too expensive and too difficult to find the cheapest ticket. Today, the two main lines going through Sheffield - East Midlands and Crosscountry - announced increases of around 2 per cent. But there was good news on the Southend to London lines - National Express East Anglia and c2c - that fares will be frozen or reduced next year.

This is in contrast to some lines around the country where unregulated fares are increasing by up to 16 per cent. But as Peter Slattery, of the Southend Rail Travellers’ Association, pointed out, we should not be surprised by a price freeze, because inflation has fallen. In fact, a reduction would have been nice. But it’s good to know National Express are avoiding last year’s mistake of putting fares up significantly. Everyone can do with the extra change at the moment.
PICTURE: The London Daily

* * *

The weather can always make for an interesting game of football. Arguably the best moment of the season so far happened at Gigg Lane on Saturday when Danny Nardiello's shot for Bury beat Notts County goalkeeper Kasper Schmeichel but stuck on the goal-line as it was so wet and muddy. Schmeichel raced back to his line and picked up the ball from the puddle with the grin of a Cheshire cat. The video is well worth a watch on BBC Sport:

It reminded me of when Southend played Barnsley in The FA Cup third-round almost three years ago. The game had started off normally, but by the second-half it was getting ridiculously wet. However as Southend were 1-0 up, all of the home fans wanted the game to carry on. I don’t think Barnsley fans particularly wanted to come back to Essex again for another try either. The ball was splashing about, managers were checking which players had taken their Pool Frog 2 swimming badge and it was very funny indeed. But in the last minute, a free-kick bounced into the Shrimpers area and was handballed into the net by a Tyke. Replay on a Tuesday night in Yorkshire. Oh dear. At least we won the second game 2-0!
PICTURE: Sky Sports

Monday, 9 November 2009


We’ll find out tomorrow what the winners of Friday's £90m Euromillions jackpot are going to do with their money. What on earth would you do with £45m? A couple in South Wales and a group of office workers from Liverpool have got that wonderful decision ahead of them. As has been widely reported in the media, £45m is a similar fortune to that of footballer Michael Owen or DJ Chris Evans - both of whom have worked very hard to achieve that wealth. I would feel a little bit guilty if someone handed me a cheque for £45m after I’d bought a £1 ticket and so many others had lost, but I’m sure I wouldn’t mind that much. ‘If you don’t buy a ticket’, as they say...

So would £45m bring me happiness? I might give £5m to Southend United - they need it more than most, despite thankfully avoiding administration today - and probably £5m to my church. Maybe a nice pad in central London and Ferrari will set me back another £5m. I’m dreaming now, but there’s still £30m left. I might give mum and dad a few quid too! But although I would never have to work again, I don’t think I’d want to sit around all day doing nothing. Journalism and the media is where I want to be - whatever happens. And I don’t even play the lottery.

You often hear stories about lottery winners who want to carry on working, and it’s that sense of career fulfilment and a wish to make the most of life that would keep me going. Angela Kelly, who won £35m in August said: “My win has enabled me to bring a great deal of happiness to my friends and family, which has in turn made me very happy.” She’s probably right. By giving your money to other people - and spending a bit on yourself whilst trying to continue your normal life - you will get the most satisfaction from a lottery win. An interesting thought for the day indeed...

* * *

It’s usually the little things that get blown out of proportion which make the headlines in politics. The Sun has recently been a watchdog for the government - even more so since it switched allegiance from Labour to Tory - and today’s revelation that Gordon Brown misspelled the name of a soldier killed in Afghanistan is a good story for the paper. Jamie Janes [pictured, MOD] - not ‘James’ as the PM referred to him both in Parliament last month and in the letter to his mother - was killed in October. His mother, Jacqui, claims the letter was a ‘hastily scrawled insult’, which doesn’t consider that the PM’s eyesight is poor and he writes with a black felt-tip pen to help him see. But he should not be making spelling mistakes - especially on the lad’s name.

The mother has said it was "disrespectful" and an "insult" to her son, but as Business Secretary Lord Mandelson pointed out today, it’s ridiculous to suggest Mr Brown intended to show any disrespect to the boy or his family. It was simply a mistake and I agree with Lord Mandelson. The PM has lots of important things to do with his time, and whilst it’s good that he writes to bereaved families, he does have a country to run too. This should not be blown out of proportion - yes, a soldier has died, and everyone is grateful for the sacrifice he has made for us, but Mr Brown made a few spelling mistakes and suddenly there seems to be a witch-hunt against him. The BBC’s political editor, Nick Robinson, put it perfectly: “The reason this is a story is because of the widespread sense of doubt about the continued value of British forces fighting and dying in Afghanistan.” It’s nothing to do with Gordon Brown’s spelling and handwriting at all.

* * *

On the subject of war remembrance, I was at Hillsborough on Saturday to watch Sheffield Wednesday v Queens Park Rangers, where a one-minute silence was immaculately observed. It’s quite surreal to be high-up in such a massive stadium when everything falls silent [see Anfield, pictured]. This is why I think we should have silences for all remembrance - whether it be for a former player or club director, or anyone else significant. I have a bit of an issue with ‘a minute’s applause’ because I don’t think it’s as powerful as silence.

Football grounds are noisy places during games at the quietest of times, so it’s much more poignant to absorb a lack of noise before a game. The recent Bobby Robson tributes were comprised of a minute’s applause - and some fans even chanted ‘There’s only one Bobby Robson’. Whilst this was obviously not meant to be disrespectful to the legendary man, I just feel the recent obsession with applause and chanting for one minute is not the right way to remember people. An observed silence is the best tribute.

* * *

What on earth is Nottingham Forest's safety officer Alan Bexon thinking? His idea is that home and away fans can sit together in the family stand at their home game with Doncaster Rovers on November 28 at the City Ground [pictured]. Mr Bexon said: “We sincerely hope the idea will catch on and lead to us eventually getting back to a situation where there is no need to segregate fans. Football has evolved since the days when hooliganism was at a peak and we believe the initiative could be a step in a very positive direction.”

Now it’s certainly true that football has moved on since the troubled days of the 1970s and 1980s, but putting home and away fans in different areas is surely a no-brainer. I love going to away matches with Southend and Newcastle because you get some great banter - as I mentioned on the blog last week - and it’s what helps make football special. The idea that one day we would never have segregation is unbelievable - not because it will never be safe enough, but because fans value being amongst their own. It’s their community and family - and they don’t always like the neighbours.

Monday, 2 November 2009


I remember waking up one morning last week to the radio, as you do, and finding it rather strange to hear that an expert would claim ecstasy and LSD are less harmful than tobacco or alcohol. I thought common sense would say otherwise. But I never imagined the furore that has come out of the episode, which has seen the chairman and two members of the government’s drug advisory body leave over the last few days. More could follow shortly.

The question now is whether this is another issue of freedom of speech - following the recent mass hysteria around the Trafigura super-injunction - or if Professor David Nutt should have known better than to say such a thing. Home secretary Alan Johnston has clearly stated why Professor Nutt had to go - “not for his views” but “because he cannot be both a government adviser and a campaigner against government policy”. This is an interesting concept. Should the government hire somebody to advise but then fire them when they question their policy?

Let’s look at Sir Alan Sugar. If he was to state that the government should think again on some of their employment and training policies, I doubt he would suddenly be kicked out as their business adviser. It’s important that people with opinions are allowed space to give those opinions, as freedom of speech is a staple part of our society. If the government don’t like those opinions, then they should sit down with advisers to find out more about why they think such things. The answer is most certainly not just to get rid of them, even if they do disagree with government policy.

* * *

I love radio. I wake up and work to Classic FM, I listen to BBC 1Xtra, BBC Radio One and Kiss 100 when I’m out and about, I tune into BBC Radio Five Live or BBC Essex for football commentary and I download a variety of podcasts from BBC Radio Four. Radio is such a fantastic addition to daily life as it’s entertaining and it's the only media where you can do something else whilst consuming it. Newspapers, magazines, television and websites require your time but radio doesn’t.

I’m a big champion of DAB Digital Radio, and have watched its development (or lack of) with great interest over the last few years. I own a personal and portable DAB radio - which cost around £150 combined around 3/4 years ago - and they were superb investments. It means I can listen to London stations in Sheffield, access extra BBC content not available on analogue and get fantastic music quality down my eardrums. I rarely look at the scrolling text function, but have occasionally used it for song titles. But, similar to when you go back to analogue TV after trying Sky HD, there is a huge difference in output.

The concern now is that although millions of people are still tuning into radio, last week’s Rajar figures suggest only 21 per cent of us use digital - less than a third of the 66 per cent who listen to AM or FM. I still think the major problem with DAB is that it is not yet widespread in cars - a location where much radio listening takes place. Additionally, the signal is pretty poor in some areas - for example, I never use my DAB radio on the train because the signal is always going in and out, and it’s not worth the hassle. So that’s two things for Ofcom to address - getting it into cars and increasing coverage. Oh, and while you’re at it, why can I only get two bars of mobile phone signal in my room in Sheffield but perfect DAB? I suppose both would just be greedy.

* * *

When is a chant not allowed in a football ground? Alex Ferguson is appealing to Manchester United fans in an open letter for them to stop singing “sit down you p*****phile” to Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger. A few weeks ago we had the latter say Birmingham City fans who chanted “There’s only one Martin Taylor” (in reference to the defender who broke the leg and ankle of Arsenal’s Eduardo) were “stupid”. So where do you draw the line? I go to many football matches every season - it’ll be 20 already for 2009/2010 after Sheffield United v Newcastle United this evening - and often get involved in chants against the opposition or their fans.

I think it’s part and parcel of the game that you’re going to get some friendly abuse between fans. It's in the nature of football, from my experience. Whether it’s fans waving £20 notes at Southend, singing “you’re not famous anymore” to Newcastle or “where’s your Beattie gone?” to Sheffield United - you’ve got expect a bit of banter. But calling someone a “p*****phile” without any evidence or laughing about a player whose ankle fell out of their leg a year ago isn’t so funny. I’ve been in crowds before where I haven’t joined in with one of two chants as they’ve been a bit near the mark. But the majority of it is all right. I just hope that Manchester United can set down a precedent here that the majority of chanting is OK - but a small percentage is most certainly not.

P.S. By the way, Sheffield United v Newcastle United tonight will be the first time I’ve ever see two of the teams I support playing each other. However, I will be in the away end as I’m a bigger fan of the Magpies!

Monday, 26 October 2009


The amount of strikes on recently makes me think we’re either living in a the Thatcher era or, indeed, France. Please may I send a letter home? No you’ll have to wait because some people aren’t happy with their pay, conditions and modernisation. Please may I take the London Underground? No, you’ll have to walk because some workers aren’t happy with job losses, pay and disciplinary issues. Please may I fly with British Airways? No, there’s some cost-cutting measures that cabin crews have to sort out, so there might be a strike on there soon as well.

I’d like to point out that I am in a trade union - the National Union of Journalists (NUJ) - and regularly attend meetings so have a good idea of how unions operate and how strike action is considered. I don’t doubt that it’s a last resort for most workers, but my problem is that the consequences are often not properly thought through. If the post doesn’t operate, millions of people and businesses are affected despite having done nothing wrong. If the trains don’t run, millions of commuters and their companies are affected despite having done nothing wrong. Of course, this means unions are in a good position because they can impact more people than just themselves and their own company. But that doesn’t necessarily make it right.

I mentioned the NUJ, and there are often strikes at newspapers - I regularly read about them. If a local paper doesn’t run for one day - or operates at a lower capacity - it might mean people can’t read it. But whilst this might affect advertisers and be considered a disservice to the public good, it isn’t going to cause the same sort of problems that mail or transport workers will. From this viewpoint, newspapers are luxury goods whereas mail or transport are essentials. I’m not saying that therefore journalists have more of a right to strike, I’m simply pointing out that they cause less havoc to third parties.

I have no doubt that there are people in this country who do not get paid the right amount for what they do, but do hope this recent rise in strike action is temporary and we might get back to some sense of normality soon. The worst time to strike is during a recession, and the workers know that, but it’s a sure-fire way to seriously annoy your customers. Hopefully unions and companies can work together to get agreements laid down without the need to stop working.

* * *

When the very existence of your club is in danger, you start to be grateful that it simply exists. Accrington Stanley, Oldham Athletic and Bournemouth have all been there - but to name a few. This week it seems to be the turn of my beloved Southend United. Rumours have been flying around recently that a transfer embargo has been placed on the club since they owe the taxman a big sum of money. It was finally confirmed yesterday and this Wednesday will see the Shrimpers face a winding-up order in the High Court. This could result in administration, and the resulting 10-point deduction would put us bottom of League One, meaning a huge effort would be required just to stay up.

But the £660,000 owed to HM Revenue and Customs is the least of the club’s concerns, with just 12 fit professionals available for this Friday’s game against Gillingham. I was in Carlisle on Saturday with 170 other die-hard Shrimpers to watch us go down 2-1. The lack of substitutes was embarrassing - at half-time there were three players warming-up and two of them were unknown youth-teamers. I’ve been worried about Southend before. In fact, I’ve spent many moments of my life worrying about Southend. But this is different - as I could be without a local football team to support soon. I hope it won’t get to that stage, but the club is clearly in a crisis. Surely there’s an Essex businessman with a bit of spare cash? Ah well, if not, there’s always Newcastle and Sheffield United to follow...

Monday, 19 October 2009


It’s quite a crazy thought that I graduate in eight months time and university will be over forever. Hopefully I will find a job though. Anyway, an interesting report was released today by lecturers’ union UCU which shows a “mass migration of graduates to London” who are moving in order to find work. This means that certain areas of the country are lacking in a working age population with a degree because many locals are moving south or towards the capital in search of a better life.

I find this hardly surprising. Almost all of the work experience I’ve ever done has been based in London - and in Leigh-on-Sea, I live a 45-minute train journey from east London, let alone west London. I very much expect that my first job will be in the capital city, and will probably end up living there at some point too. It’s the place to be as a young person - I spent six days out of seven most weeks this summer in London (mostly working in Westminster or going to church in the West End), and love it.

I feel I can only make it big in the media if I work in London, as that is where the headquarters of pretty much all the national newspapers, radio stations and TV channels are located. If I was to live in Sheffield after graduation - which around two-thirds of undergraduate students do - there would be jobs to aim for at a few places such as the Yorkshire Post or BBC Radio Sheffield, but nowhere near the amount of opportunities given to me by London. So this UCU report is spot on, but it does highlight a need for universities in poorer areas to try and hold onto their graduates, as that is one of the only ways in which some regions can improve their proportion of citizens with a degree - by effectively importing them from elsewhere.

* * *

At 32 years of age, Mark Kleinman is a breath of fresh air. The new City editor of Sky News was interviewed in today’s The Guardian and made exceptionally clear what makes a good business reporter. Contacts, contacts and more contacts. Never was a truer word (or phrase) spoken. I’m sure Robert Peston would say the same - and although the BBC’s ‘face of the recession’ is not everyone’s cup of tea, there is no doubt he also has an awesome book of contacts that can give him fantastic exclusive stories - such as the scoop on emergency funding for Northern Rock. You just don’t get that kind of thing from looking through press releases.

Kleinman studied at York University and has worked his way up the ranks at an incredible speed - from Leisure Week to Marketing magazine, the Express to the Times, and now the Telegraph to Sky. He is only 12 years older than me and has already got an editorial position on one of Europe’s biggest news channels. Now that’s impressive. As one former colleague put it: “He’s done so well that you have to be careful of sour grapes.” I think Kleinman is an inspiration to all young and student journalists that by working hard and building up contacts along the way - you can still make it up the ladder. Good on him.

* * *

A beach ball became the first static object since Michael Ricketts to score a goal in a professional football match on Saturday (no offence Michael, but Southend sacked you after a few months for not putting in enough effort). I’ve seen some super goals over the years; for example, the Darlington v Bury own-goal (where a defender tried to clear by an overhead kick but it rebounded off him and into the net) and the various attempts by Liverpool midfielders to chip the goalkeeper from their own half, but the beach ball has to get the nod. It wasn’t even a legal goal, according to quotes for former referees today, but I don’t think that will bother Sunderland or Darren Bent as it gave them a 1-0 win over the Scousers. Make sure you check it out on BBC Sport Online.

Football is indeed a funny old game - and there have been countless moments over the years when I’ve laughed out loud whilst at a game or watching it on TV. Who could ever forget Tes Bramble (brother of Wigan’s Titus) trying out in goal for Southend or Steven Taylor’s fake ‘death’ to stop Aston Villa scoring. It’s moments like that which make football more than 22 men kicking a ball around a pitch. It can often be pure comedy genius.

Monday, 12 October 2009


Before I start properly I must say that I’ve never lived in “digs decked out with flat screen televisions” or enjoyed “lunches of smoked salmon sandwiches” whilst at university. But it seems that Kevin Sharpe, Professor of Renaissance Studies at the University of London (Queen Mary), thinks this is the norm for students and believes an upper-class lifestyle is the reason behind students graduating with £20,000 of debt on average. He says that most students have “the latest iPods” and spend much time on “mobile calls at peak times”. Well this is hardly unique to a student population, is it? The majority of people I know (although not me) have got an iPod and contract phone - students and professionals - and this is not an indication of “upper-class living” at all in the UK. But maybe this factor isn’t the thing that was most thought-provoking about Professor Sharpe’s research.

I have come to university to get a degree and enjoy myself - hopefully in equal measure! There will only be three few years of my life when I am a student (this will be the last one as far as I know), and I’m determined to have a good time. Whilst this does not mean reckless spending on gadgets and items that I don’t need, it does mean that I will go out for a drink or meal with friends and not worry too much about the cost. This concept of a “luxurious lifestyle” lived by students - according to Professor Sharpe - simply doesn’t exist, and the majority of people I know at university are very careful with their money.

The bottom line is that getting a degree will cost you money and the living & entertainment costs on top of that are not going to be cheap. However, university is such a wonderful experience - and you can get so much financial support anyway from the government and your institution nowadays - that money should not be a concern, as much as you should watch your spending. Very few students do go out and buy M&S sandwiches and live a “luxurious lifestyle” from my experience, so it seems Professor Sharpe needs to go and research a wider sample on my evidence. However it’s certainly interesting research that’s worthy of further study.

* * *

Sky are launching a rival subscription download service to iTunes, where they will get users to pay £7.99 for the download of one album (or 10 songs) per month then unlimited streaming. However there seems to be a better alternative for the consumer. On Spotify, you have a free streaming service with a few adverts inserted here and there - although there are fewer than on the radio. On iTunes you can download an album or 10 songs for a similar price. So far, an equal service when comparing Sky Songs to iTunes and Spotify. But - and here’s the important bit - iTunes is not subscription based so you can buy as little or as much as you like. This makes it a better alternative as you get more choice and purchasing power than with Sky.

I don’t quite know what it is about downloaded music, but I’ve rarely paid money for songs online. I’ve also never downloaded any tunes on sites like Limewire or Kazaa, but do stream them on Spotify and YouTube occasionally. In fact, I have only ever bought one album to download - Insides by Jon Hopkins - and a couple of singles here and there. I hope that I’m not being too old skool by mostly purchasing CDs from HMV, Play, CD Wow and Amazon.

Last week I wanted to buy The Cut-Up Boys’ latest mix album, and although it was cheaper to download I popped down to HMV to pick up a hard copy and then put it into my mp3 player. The experts among you will point out that it would have been easier - and cheaper - to download it straight onto my mp3 player from online, rather than gone out to buy the CD, rip it onto the computer and then download. But there’s something about CDs that makes me still enjoy buying one in a shop, looking at the artwork and putting it on the shelf. I suppose it’s somewhat like buying a hard copy of a newspaper rather than reading it online - I’ve grown up with news and music in tangible forms, and that’s how I most enjoy to consume them both.

* * *

Every true football fan pays good money to see a good game and it’s such a shame when the referee spoils it. There are often matches when some decisions made are so blatantly wrong that everyone in the ground knows it - such as the phantom goal at Watford last season, or the goal that wasn’t at Bristol City recently. It couldn’t have happened to a funnier person than Crystal Palace’s Neil Warnock - what a legend. Anyway, Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson has landed himself in hot water over the last seven days for suggesting referee Alan Wiley was unfit and “needed a rest” in their 2-2 draw with Sunderland. This personally upset Wiley to the extent where he considered quitting the game, according to The Independent today.

I feel managers should have the right to criticise the referee for their performance - although not personally - as long as they get a right of reply. Exactly this situation happened after Swindon Town v Southend United two months ago: Blues manager Steve Tilson said the referee had made a mistake, and he then apologised to the football club for a bad performance after realising that he had indeed made a mistake. This is good professionalism and should be encouraged. It might not change the score but at least the referee was honest - he certainly earned my respect for this. Referees always try their best in football matches, I’ve no doubt about this, but they will make mistakes - and hopefully these even out over a season. Debate between managers and referees should be encouraged after a game, so maybe we could have a few more interviews with officials. I bet it would make post-match reports a lot more fun...

Monday, 5 October 2009


‘It’s The Sun Wot Won It’. So said Britain’s biggest-selling daily newspaper on 11 April 1992 when the Tories unexpectedly won the General Election. For 1997, they changed their traditional right-wing allegiance to support Tony Blair, at a time when the Conservative Party was in disarray. But in a game-changing moment last week following Gordon Brown’s speech at the Labour Party Conference, The Sun backed the Conservatives once again. The headline ‘Labour’s Lost It’ may well sum up the next election when it’s referred to in history books of the future.

The importance of a newspaper, with a reading circulation that compromises of one in every six people in the UK, backing a political party cannot be underestimated, and David Cameron must be absolutely delighted. Foreign secretary David Milliband reminded his party last week: “The earth does revolve around the sun - just not the one that’s printed in Wapping”, but it’s a hammer-blow to Gordon Brown’s chances of remaining as Prime Minister.

* * *

It’s been an exceptionally interesting time for London’s newspaper market recently. The London Evening Standard last week announced it was reducing its 50p price - in fact, that it was dropping its price altogether - and will be circulated for free around the capital. The paper has seen off 14 rivals in its long history - the latest being thelondonpaper which closed 17 days ago - and the London Lite is also likely to close in the near future. It’s another incredible marker of how badly newspapers have been hit by the recession, but the circulation has fallen from almost 450,000 in 2000 to under 130,000 three months ago, so it’s hardly surprising that drastic action was needed.

The proprietor, Alexander Lebedev - who bought a majority stake in the paper in February from Associated Newspapers - has probably had a switch to free in his mind for some time. Emily Bell of The Guardian suggests this is a “last throw of the dice” for the paper, and it’s true that this will only work really well or end in catastrophe. The fact is that when I’ve bought the Standard to read on the way home from work in London, it’s always represented value for money. It used to take me ten minutes on the Tube to read the London Lite and thelondonpaper cover-to-cover, which I was hardly surprised at seeing as I paid nothing for either. My hope is that the quality of journalism produced by the Standard will not be reduced - and that staffing levels will be maintained - but I’m worried for both. I just hope that Russian knows what he’s doing with a piece of London heritage...

* * *

I almost stopped in shock this morning at the newsagent when I saw the banner headline on The Independent, saying: “Was Monty Python actually funny?” I then read John Walsh’s article and was even more infuriated! He suggests: “Goodness, how tired it looks - the pacing is all wrong” and also points out that he was confused when the ‘Funniest Joke in the World’ sketch was never translated from German. Well, Mr Walsh, if you remember, the joke is supposed to kill anyone who hears it which is why it is never translated into English for the viewer! What he criticises as being “comedy of the schoolroom” and “playing foolish japes of figures of authority” is what much comedy programming is all about.

Monty Python celebrates its 40th anniversary today, and although I might not have been around when it first launched, I absolutely love the films and television series. My brother and I are often quoting the best bits word-for-word to each other! You may have seen the BBC documentary ‘Monty Python - Almost the Truth’ on Saturday (if not, check it out on the iPlayer). It was a fantastic hour-long programme that looked at how the Python idea came out and how it was received by the public. However, they neglected to mention the most famous programme proposal that was never aired - a 30-minute show on which the volume would slowly decrease throughout, forcing viewers to turn up the TV sets, and then a big loud noise at the end causing shock around the country. The BBC didn’t like it and it never happened, but this was just another great comedy idea by a bunch of great comedy geniuses. Long live Monty Python.

* * *

I will be very interested to see how many people pay £4.99 in advance to watch Ukraine v England this Saturday (rising to £11.99 on the day). It’s going to be the first-ever England international game to be screened online-only, and provides a very interesting experiment for online viewing. We know that Channel 4 can attract large online audiences of young people for series such as Skins and The Inbetweeners, and we are known as the ‘YouTube’ generation, but this is a live football match we’re talking about here.

Who wants to sit in their room in-front of a PC for 90 minutes watching a webcast which could crash at any time - when you could be down the pub with your mates and a pint of Carling, watching it on a big screen? I certainly won’t be paying to watch it myself. I know that there was no other option after every terrestrial TV channel backed out at the asking price, but I hope this is a one-off. Fortunately it’s a ‘nothing’ game as England are already qualified for World Cup 2010, so I won’t be missing much. All the same, Come On England!

Monday, 28 September 2009


Fabio Capello has been a mostly uncontroversial figure since he took over as manager of the England football team. This is in stark contrast to many of the previous incumbents such as Sven, McClaren and Hoddle. The Italian’s workmanlike approach to the job has won him many fans, although his recent privacy case against the News of the World and Daily Mail has caused a bit of a stir in the media world. He received an apology and “substantial” damages (paid as a donation to charity) from both papers after they printed pictures of him on holiday covered in mud with his wife. The interesting thing about this case is that the Press Complaints Commission told newspapers beforehand that the couple were concerned about the presence of photographers whilst on holiday - so therefore printing the photos was “bad manners”, says Stephen Glover in today’s The Independent. But Glover also makes the valid point that it is not illegal to publish photos of public figures taken in a public place.

There have been various privacy cases that have gone through every court twice in this land - I studied many of them as part of my degree last year - and it’s evident that nobody really knows what the press can get away with. We cannot allow a situation where the British press cannot publish pictures of celebrities and well-known people in public places, as that is not an element at the heart of a free media. Yes, Capello’s privacy request was not respected, but the Press Complaints Commission did not give this out as a legally-binding precedent. If he is on holiday, then there is a reasonable expectation of privacy from paparazzi snappers, but the nature of being a football manager is that there are hundreds of thousands of people who want to know about everything you’re doing. Luis Felipe Scolari was quite open about how one of the reasons he didn’t take up the England managerial position was because of the way in which the British media operates - and that his privacy would have been intruded upon. But now Capello is in the hotseat, and is doing a very good job, people want to know about everything he is doing. It’s no surprise and the price of stardom is that the media will follow him everywhere he goes in public. In my opinion, they shouldn’t be stopped from doing this.

* * *

Nominations for The Guardian Student Media Awards 2009 were released today, and I’m pleased to say the paper on which I was News Editor last year has been shortlisted for Newspaper of the Year. Forge Press at the University of Sheffield has had a very successful first year in its new, rebranded form - and it’s exciting what the future holds. There is stiff competition this year in the Newspaper category - the other four finalists being Leeds, Cardiff, York and Imperial - and it’s no surprise that the former two are the only other established universities with Sheffield that run undergraduate journalism courses. Last year’s editor on Forge Press, Ciaran Jones, did a formidably good job in running the show in Sheffield - and I had a great time putting together the news section with fellow Journalism Studies student, Robert Golledge.

Getting involved with the university newspaper is one of the best things I’ve done in Sheffield - it’s a very well-run operation which has taught me many skills that I’m sure will come in handy in the future. You get to meet important people in and around the university, work against deadlines and learn how to organise a team of around 50 journalists. With a circulation of 15,000 it was a big responsibility - and I’m pleased to still be writing content for the paper this year; just not from an editorial position. I’ll also give a special mention to Paul Garbett - another one of my coursemates - who has got his second successive Guardian nomination this year. Well done to him. If you’re at university, or soon to be heading there, try and get involved with student media as it’s a super way to find your feet in journalism.

* * *

I never really realised there was a north/south divide until I came to study in Sheffield. Then I met some people from the north and realised that - even in an often-jokey way - they didn’t really like southerners. Everyone’s favourite football chairman, Ken Bates (Leeds United), thought it would be helpful to add to the debate last week. He said: “Yorkshire people like their own. They don’t like southerners.” Well, that’s wonderful, isn’t it. Leeds United - the club where ‘everyone hates us but we don’t care’ - are not exactly trying their best to make friends, are they? There’s the old ‘dirty northern b******s’ chant directed at clubs north of Watford at southern grounds, but most fans are more concerned about their local rivals - not any old team in a different section of the country.

I don’t think a north/south divide really exists in football as much as it does in other areas of life like housing and finance - in fact, the north-west is this year’s powerhouse for the Premier League (representing 12 of 20 sides if you include the west Midlands). So Mr Bates’ comments were not really called for - even though he was only referencing manager Simon Grayson’s local roots. Why stoke an argument that doesn’t even exist? The old ‘waving the five pound note’ and ‘we pay your benefits’ chants are not directed by Southend fans to most northern teams - it’s usually to the likes of Milwall and Leyton Orient to wind up local rivals. So maybe Mr Bates could think again before generalising the whole of Yorkshire in a single statement. I’m sure there are some people in Sheffield and Leeds who don’t mind the fact I come from Essex!

Monday, 21 September 2009


Music is a wonderful thing that brings people together, triggers personal emotions or memories and is very good at providing a soundtrack to life. It’s interesting how much impact location has had on some of our best songwriters in this country - and one city of note here is Sheffield. From the Arctic Monkeys [pictured] (“You’re not from New York City, you’re from Rotherham”) to Richard Hawley (“Cold city lights glowing”), the Steel City has been the inspiration for a wide variety of music. I love listening to songs in cities where they started life, such as being on the Tube with The Streets on in my headphones (“my Underground train runs from Mile End to Ealing”) or even The Apprentice soundtrack when in Canary Wharf! It’s great to get a feel of their background and influences.

There is a great mini-feature by Dave Simpson in The Guardian today about music in Sheffield - although he begins by saying: “a city peppered with architectural horrors [is] not an obvious place to write a song about”. This made me think that one of the reasons why we have an exceptionally diverse music scene in this country is because the landscapes and buildings of different areas have different impacts on musicians - no UK city is the same. Another good example of this is the rapper and saxophonist Soweto Kinch, whose album B19: Tales of the Tower Block charted the lives of budding musicians in Birmingham who felt they could not escape from their council flat. Such a wonderfully diverse country gives many musicians an great inspiration for song-writing - and it’s great that Sheffield is a good example of this. From the old steelworks to football grounds, and Park Hill Flats to Broomhill mansions, it's a very useful source of lyrics.

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It’s not often that Facebook is blamed for suicide, but that’s exactly what happened after a tragic case recently. The parents of one schoolgirl have said social networking sites place “huge pressures” on young people. Their 15-year-old daughter, Holly Grogan [pictured in The Times], fell 30ft to her death from a bridge in Gloucestershire last Wednesday. Reports suggest she was consistently bullied on her Facebook wall, and this was a major factor in the girl’s decision to end her life. There is no doubt that Facebook has dramatically changed the way that students and young people interact, as it is a central communication hub that is an incredibly useful tool. But the downside is that if you’re unpopular within certain circles nowadays, you can never escape from bullying online.

A few decades ago, before other technologies such as texting and instant messaging became widespread, if you were being bullied at school your home was a safe refuge. But now it will follow you everywhere - and it seems the shame of being bullied online may have led Holly to take her own life. I don’t think I have ever seen serious bullying on Facebook, but maybe that’s because the majority of my friends are of a university age where this is less widespread anyway than at school. However, the concept of out-of-hours bullying is something that needs to be addressed by the government to avoid more tragic cases like this. My suggestion would be that Facebook - at least in this country - should make it easier for children to say confidentially if they are being bullied online, and then for parents and Facebook to work with schools to eradicate this. It may seem a idea too large to implement, but then again very few people predicted Facebook would ever reach the size it has now become. If the government see online bullying as a serious enough problem, then they will spend the necessary money to reduce - if not, eradicate - it.

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Google is one of those things which almost everyone loves, but at the same time is a little scared of due to its all-encompassing size. Matt Brittin, UK Head of Google, says: “We want to help newspaper publishers but we are a technology partner”. A quarter of their revenues last year went back to people whose websites they are “helping to monitise”, according to Brittin. So even though Google have become incredibly big in just over 10 years, it has also created lots of revenue for media organisations by making it easier to find content. Everyone is well aware that newspapers are looking at alternative ways of making money online, and it’s not Google’s fault that few are yet charging for online content.

The problem comes when claims are made that the corporation is making money out of somebody else’s time and effort. But Google News is an exceptionally useful tool, and I often find exactly what I need by using it’s sophisticated search engine which covers around 25,000 sources. In fact, I probably only look at some newspaper websites - especially local - because Google has picked them up. Trinity Mirror chief executive Sly Bailey doesn’t particularly like Google News - claiming it’s making easy money out of other people’s hard work - but just think for one moment, where would the internet be without Google? Surely in a worse place.

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Did anyone watch either Europa League match last Thursday involving Everton or Fulham? For the first time in a match involving professional English sides, there were six officials. Yes, SIX [pictured in The Guardian]. One referee, two linesmen on the wide touchlines, two more linesmen on the end touchline, and a fourth official (or should that be sixth). There was probably a seventh somewhere as well as a backup. How many people do you need to make a decision in a football match?!

This just seems to be another ill-fated experiment by UEFA instead of simply introducing video technology. These new referees are supposed to tell if the ball has crossed the line, but those sort of marginal incidents probably happen every once every ten games or so - and does that really need the investment of another two officials in every game? I think not. Video replays can confirm decisions for certain and should be a much cheaper investment in the long-term anyway. UEFA are just prolonging the inevitable, but until then at least managers have still got something to moan about to journalists.