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