Moral Mercy…

30 01 2009

Over the past couple of days there has been outcry in America over the result of one high school basketball game. It was not an important game, and in no other way was it remarkable, save for the final score:

100 – 0.

Yes, you heard right. The Covenant School from Texas beat their counter-parts from Dallas Academy by 100 points. To nil. This result has had America up in arms though. It has cost the Covenant School coach his job. It is argued, by pretty much everyone, that such a score, in such an unimportant high-school game, is hugely demoralising, and that when the score got to, say, 40 or 50, the coach should have told his girls to stop. That Covenant School is, unsurprisingly, a Christian school, has simply fanned the flames further, with parents and teachers alike admitting that such a drubbing is un-Christian-like. You can read more of the details here.

Basketball has no mercy rule. Nothing to tell the winning side to stop when the margin gets silly. The girls from Dallas, who were on the losing end of the result, are winless for four years now, but this drubbing must have done so much more to shatter any confidence than anything previously. Pundits, commentators, and the public alike are reasonably unanimous in arguing that the coach had a right to stop his team inflicting such a hammering on the Dallas team. I agree. It was wrong of the coach to let the match continue with his team so comfortably in front. He should have had a responsibility to the match, rather than just his side.

Yet, I cannot help but recall a rugby scoreline from just a few weeks previously, where Alcester beat Coventry Saracens 194-3. There was no such media outcry over the result. Nobody really heard about it, and fewer still cared about it. The only difference that I can really see (other than the obvious one of different sport) is that the ages of the different sets of competitors was different. In America we are looking at high-school kids. In England, the guys were older, in their 20s and 30s. It seems somehow more acceptable for older people to lose by hugely demoralising scores. This maybe because they could just go to the pub and drink away the pain and humiliation of defeat after the game. It may be because we, as a global society, are more sensitive to stuff affecting young people. I would argue however, that regardless of age, a defeat of such gargantuan proportions (Alcester must have scored 26 converted tries [7 points], and 4 penalties [3 points] – or some other combination) would be hugely demoralising. Does the Alcester coach have a responsiblity to stop his team from butchering their opponents? Not in the eyes of the British media, who instead marvelled at the ‘record’ score (which has since been wiped from the records due to Coventry not fielding enough players).

It seems to me that you either need to have mercy rules enforcable in all sports, thereby protecting all teams from an embarassing hiding, or none at all. We either need to accept that teams are going to get beaten, potentially by a lot, or we need to give the rubbish teams a safety net to stop them being so overwhelmed by superior teams. It should not be left to the morals of the individuals involved, as this has been shown to be an entirely ineffective way of preventing thrashings such as that in America.


To Remember…?

27 01 2009

My daily perusal of the BBC has seen me stumble across an interesting debate. Of course today is Holocaust Memorial Day, and it provides a good opportunity to remind ourselves of the devastation caused by a policy of racial cleansing in Germany in the late 1930s and early 1940s. The BBC has posed the question “Should Auschwitz be left to decay?” and has provided the two sides of the argument in the form of Robert Van Jan Pelt (historian) and Wladyslaw Bartoszewski (former Polish foreign minister and inmate of Auschwitz). The points raised by both writers are interesting ones, the arguments for the motion, in my eyes, more so than against.

My natural instinct is to say no to the idea. Losing Auschwitz to nature would, in my eyes, be as simple as forgetting the events that went on there. I feel that this should not happen, and that Auschwitz should remain as a reminder for all those who have fascist ideologies. The current return of fascist thinking across Europe (including in Britain, with the BNP) is something which should not be ignored. If there is no warning from history of the logical consequences of extremist thinking, then the orchestrators have nothing to fear. If, however, there remains a visible scar, a legacy more potent than what is found in books, then this is a powerful deterrant to the logical outcome of extreme fascist thinking.

In addition to this, I maintain it is a travesty to be willing lose something that is so embedded into history as Auschwitz is. ‘Hands on’ history is something which is powerful to younger generations. I know from my own experiences just how much a tour of the battlefields affected me when I was younger. It somehow made the whole First World War more real. In a similar way, I would imagine a trip to Auschwitz would put the whole thing into perspective, to make everything clearer to those who know little of genocide. Numbers on a page are ultimately meaningless, the famous phrase “one death is a tragedy, a thousand is a statistic” serves to indicate this with succinct clarity. It is only be seeing, touching and experiencing can the horror (I was going to say the true horror, but this is impossible to really comprehend) be appreciated. My own thoughts are reasonably clear on the topic.

The counter-argument, provided by Robert Van Jan Pelt (who has a great name by the way), is interesting however. His assertion that we cannot ever really know the horrow of Auschwitz is true, but he uses this idea to indicate that the shell, as he calls it, should not become a drain on economic resources. He is in agreement that it should remain open as long as there remains survivors to focus their suffering onto something physical, but explains that this should be as far as Auschwitz should go, and that once the last survivor has died, then the appropriate time to let go of a historical burden has arrived. The physical collapse of Auschwitz would signal the time to erase such a travesty from memory.

Obviously I do not agree with Van Jan Pelt’s view, nor do I fully understand why such a thing needs to be erased from memory. In my mind it is something which should remain as a stark and bleak reminder of the destructive potential of mankind. In a similar manner to Rwanda which has preserved the remains of those killed in that genocide, so too Auschwitz should remain as the blot on the landscape for people to sit up and notice. Erasing Auschwitz from our memories is comparatively easy, it is the remembering it which is the hard part.

Window of Opportunity…

23 01 2009

The continual debate over the nature of the transfer window is one which will continue to raise its head throughout January’s in the future. There are many arguments both for and against the window.

From a fan’s point of view, the window provides excitment, discussion and gets people talking. The evidence is there in full for anyone to read on the BBC 606 fans forums. The window is something to look forward to half way through a season when the trials and tribulations of following a football team are becoming apparent.

Yet many players and managers dislike it. The window has the potential to tear apart their season. Wigan, I think, will be this years prime example. With the departure of  Wilson Palacios and (likely departure) Emile Heskey, not even the signing of Stephen Hunt could ensure that Wigan continue to do as well as they have in the first part of the season. Yes, their funds will have been swelled by the departures, but this money isn’t running out onto the pitch every week playing football.

For those clubs in financial difficulty, the window provides an opportunity to sell players to help the club survive.  But there is the painful catch-22 of selling your best players for larger prices and then falling further down the leagues. Luton Town are a good example, as are Leeds United. It is here that the window could be said to be a good thing. It serves to grossly inflate the prices of players, knowing that if the buying club really need a player in this month, they must agree. The market is a sellers one. Craig Bellamy, as good a player as he is, is never really worth the £14million that Manchester City paid for him. Lassana Diarra (Portsmouth-Real Madrid) is not £20million worth of player, and never has been. Roque Santa Cruz is not worth £40million, the fee that Sam Allardyce put on his head. The window makes good players very expensive, and average players just expensive. For those clubs who need the cash, this is a good thing. For everyone else, it isn’t. Somewhere along the line, the money must be generated. It invariably comes from the pockets of the fans. Subtle increases in ticket prices, or official shirt prices help the club chase those players more expensive. Someone has to pay somewhere, and it generally has to be the fans, and whilst we could think about other sources of income (sponsors for example), they are usually not putting as much in as the fans (season ticket, shirts, matchday food, programme- all told could be upwards of £700 a season, per person). It is the fans, undoubtedly, who pay.

Yet what about those clubs who need the players? Arsene Wenger has today said that the inability to sign players in January would be good punishment for those teams who failed to strengthen during the summer months. This view is interesting, but fails to take into account the variables in a football season, especially injuries. If a team had, for example, injuries to a certain number of key players, is it right that they then cannot reinforce their squads as best they can during one month? I think that removing the window would penalise such teams through no fault of their own. Wenger himself has a long list of injuries (Eduardo, Walcott, Rosicky plus others) and naturally, the chase of Andrei Arshavin is a different case to everyone else trying to sign players this month.

Those richer clubs, can, of course, afford to pay the prices, and here is the next counter-argument to the window. The poorer clubs are priced out of the market by the teams around them who can pay just that bit more. The poorer club then has to look at other players, cheaper, worse players if they want to strengthen their team, which is something of a paradox. Don’t get me wrong, there are some good, cheap players to be had, but generally, the poorer clubs are hustled out of the market. Is this just some warped version of the Darwinian survival of the fittest theory? Possibly. Is it fair? Certainly not. Should it change? I hope not.

The window has its faults, of course it does. There are many reasons to not like it, it contributes to the obscene amounts of money in the game, it makes average players seem good, it hinders smaller teams. These are all valid arguments, but I still like it. The drama, the debates and discussions, the potential of a new player to reinvigorate your team, these are reasons to love the window, and, lets face it, it isn’t going to disappear any time soon.


22 01 2009

Just a few quick thoughts about the new president.

1. He has already made a positive impression – Guantanamo has been ordered to close today. Despite this, I maintain that the only way is down for him from here. When I say this, I mean only in terms of public opinion. I feel reasonably sure that he cannot ever be as popular again as he has been these past months. When he starts making decisions that actually affect people (taxes for example), then his popularity will, inevitably, fall.

2. He is a breathe of fresh air, but (!), we mustn’t lose track of the fact that he is a politician, and therefore by definition someone who will divide people.

3. He cannot, will not, and does not have all the answers. I am becoming hugely frustrated that people, the world over, are looking at him as some sort of saviour, sent to rid the world of trouble. He can’t. What he can do is let America lead by example in a number of fields. It is unfair to expect him to rid the world’s troubles, or indeed, America’s.

4. Is anyone else seeing parallels between him and the legendary Mandela? To my eyes, Obama is re-treading a path already walked by Mandela, and whilst I accept that there are key differences between the two, I think there are interesting comparisons too.

In short then, yes, it is impressive how many people support him and believe in him, but no, he cannot be expected to right the wrongs of the world in four or eight years. Obama will make a difference to the world, but issues such as the economy, the middle-east and global warming are ones which will obstinately refuse to disappear over the course of the next years. How he deals with them will define how he will be remembered and judged by history.


15 01 2009

That’s how much Manchester City are offering AC Milan for Kaka, former world player of the year. The fee is obscene, of course it is, but that’s not the point of this post. Instead, I want to say how sorry I feel for Mark Hughes. Reading his comments today that try to justify such a fee, it seems he is floundering amid the pressure of being manager of the richest club in the world, and not liking it one jot. It doesn’t make business sense at all. £91million is quite a lot of money for one player. Then you have various fees, wages and the rest. It will cost City’s owners a lot in the long term.

Nor does it make footballing sense. Manchester City are not floundering near the foot of the Premier League due to their inability to score goals, they have outscored everyone at home so far this season (with the exception of Manchester United). Their problems lie in their defence. The once impressive Micah Richards and Richard Dunne look bereft of confidence and, at the moment, ability. Vincent Kompany is not looking like the sort of player that fans of Football Manager know. Wayne Bridge has been bought to help the problems, but from left-back, it is hard to make a really telling impact in the centre of defence. Manchester City need world-class defenders, not attackers. If they sort out this problem, then they could begin to look at climbing the table, with the possibilty of considering a European place next season. Until then they will be top heavy, and will lose football matches.

I seem to remember Real Madrid making the same mistake. As they built a team of Galacticos at the start of this decade, they bought the likes of Zidane, Figo, Ronaldo and Beckham, which had the effect of making them great going forward, but lacking in defence (despite the ever impressive Iker Casillas in goal). Yes, it did win them the Champions League in 2000 and 2002, and La Liga in 00-01 and 02-03, but then they won nothing for four more years, as the stars waned and got older. Their defence was always considered their weakest link (as evidenced by the importance to them of Makelele), but they had enough good players to win them games. Manchester City do not have that yet, and regardless of whether they add Kaka this month, this will remain the case.

Nor is it clever to assume the player will find top form straight away. Robinho has been good, but has hardly set the league alight in the same way as Van Nistelrooy or Torres have done previously. For a £32million player, you would be inclined to expect a little more. The same could happen to Kaka. Don’t get me wrong, I am a massive fan of Kaka, and have been for years (whilst he was still relatively unknown), but moving to a new country, a new club, a new climate, a new culture and a new league can impact upon players. Morientes was a great player in Spain, Shevchenko was great at AC Milan, but when both came to England, they struggled, and looked shadows of their former selves.

I genuinely hope Kaka doesn’t come to Manchester City this month. I think that he is too good a player to be found at a club like City (or indeed a club like Chelsea). I would much rather see him in a side that plays the game in the same manner as he does, exciting, flowing football, scoring goals for fun, that hint of genius running through the side. In the Premier League there is only one club I would like to see him at, and that’s Arsenal, but that Sylvan Wiltord is still Arsenal’s record signing tells you all you need to know about Wenger’s transfer policy. Money may well talk, but I really hope it doesn’t.


12 01 2009

This whole saga surrounding Prince Harry is, I think, so very unfair. In making a personal video, Harry, apparently, insulted one of his squad-mates by calling him a “paki”.

There are two things to be noted here:

1. It was a personal video – it was not meant to be seen publically.

2. It was directed towards a mate. There was nothing meant by the remark, in the same way that nicknames such as ‘shorty’ or ‘ginge’ mean nothing for example.

Yet over the weekend we have been subjected to various different groups throwing their hats into the ring saying how Harry was out of line and racially incorrect. They have succeeded in forcing the royal family and Harry into an apology as public outcry continues. Harry, apparently, is not allowed to laugh and joke around with his mates in the same way that any other young man can. Whilst I accept that Harry is a public figure, I think there are times that we should accept his privacy, and accept that he will say things which may not always be politically correct, in the same way that most people are not always politically correct when they are talking with friends.

Now I understand the difference between a nickname such as those given above and a nickname which makes reference to race or ethnicity. But that is not the point, the point is that it was a joke, it was a personal, private affair; and Harry should not be chastised for it at all.

Mind Games…

11 01 2009

I am one for history repeating itself, and, over the past couple of days, I think it has happened again. When Rafa Benitez pulled out a list of various misdemeanours committed by Sir Alex Ferguson over the course of this season, it was apparent though that this was so very much the same, yet so very different.

Everyone remembers Kevin Keegan’s famous outburst as his Newcastle team faltered as the season drew to a close, allowing Manchester United to win the league. Many were praising Alex Ferguson and his team of kids. Ferguson had won, both on the pitch and off it. Fergie, one of the best managers of the modern era, plays the mind games so well, and he broke Keegan so completely that the latter fell apart so publically, letting Fergie take the glory. Keegan had no answers to Fergie’s questions.

As Ferguson has gone on and had so much more success, no-one, and nothing has fazed him. Yes, he has complained (in pretty much every press conference), yes he has moaned (about all manner of things, including fixtures, referees, the FA, other managers, and players), but he has never been beaten when it come to the mind games.

As Liverpool have moved to the top of the Premier League this season, so Ferguson has played his cards, and so he has got under Benitez’s skin, to the point the Liverpool boss cracked on Friday. The trouble is, everything Benitez said was true. His points were considered, they were thorough, and they were all correct. Benitez, in his mind, was merely airing an opinion and substantiating it in a very precise manner. Many pundits have agreed with his views, as have the fans. But that really isn’t the point any more. For everyone now, it is about how Ferguson has got to Benitez, forcing a response.

Such an attack has been read as Benitez failing to cope with the pressure of being top of the league. It has been read that Benitez has been affected by Ferguson’s various indirect snipings. I don’t agree though, to me it seems that, for someone who has won two league titles in Spain with Valencia, pressure isn’t an issue. I’m not sure Ferguson has won any mind games, yet. All Benitez was doing was highlighting the inconsistancies that occur when the FA deal with Ferguson as opposed to other managers. The outburst may have had the affect of increasing the pressure on his players, but such pressure exists anyway. Maybe it could have been saved for a later date, say, when Liverpool had won the title. The point though, had to be made, and hopefully the FA will sit up and take notice of Benitez’s comments, and take a good look at itself, as it is so badly run that it is painful to most football fans.

In the long term, I think Liverpool will lose the race for the title, and Manchester United will win it again. Whether this does, or does not happen will be irrespective of Benitez’s comments on Friday.

On another note, it is nice to be able to say I was right with regard to Manchester City and their fortunes this season. As they flounder around near the foot of the table, Mark Hughes has a real job on to save the richest club in the world from problems.