Congestion charge

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on December 2, 2008 by richie71

This week I will have to vote on whether Manchester should introduce a congestion charge.

I haven’t quite made up my mind yet. The ‘no’ campaign, funded by small business but with the backing of some cross party politicians, tells me the charge will be a disaster. Businesses will have to put up prices, the city council – and the tax payer – could end up saddled with millions of pounds of debt and millions of us could have to pay over £1,000 a year to drive in the city.

Friends of the Earth want me to vote yes. They say it is a one-off chance to reduce congestion, carbon emissions and improve public transport.

I want better public transport. I don’t want business to suffer. I don’t want debt. But I want congestion and carbon emissions reduced.

So which way do I vote?

Peter Roberts, chairman of the Driver’s Alliance believes the Government is intent on introducing congestion schemes all across the country. If the Manchester scheme is approved, he believes, congestion charges will be rolled out throughout Britain.

Driving from Cheshire to a traffic choked Stoke-on-Trent this morning, which was virtually ground to a standstill by the overnight snow, I couldn’t help wonder about the benefits. Every day I get through the M6 fairly smoothly, then come to an abrupt halt when I hit the A500. Tunstall in particular is an absolute nightmare. Nearby Crewe, my home town, is just as bad. Although I don’t often drive through Manchester, I have hit worst traffic in Stoke and Crewe than I have ever been stuck in, in the big city.

So if a congestion charge is right for Manchester, is it for Stoke-on-Trent? Despite an adequate bus service, public transport is poor. Unlike in Manchester, there is no metro and trains are sporadic. Crewe grew up around the railways, but for day to day journeys, you really need a car.

If I vote ‘yes’ am I also voting ‘yes’ for congestion charges in Stoke-on-Trent? At least if it is introduced, Manchester had a decent tram network. There are alternatives to the car. That’s not the case in Stoke-on-Trent or Crewe. Sure you can get the bus, but if you plan on leaving your own little neighbourhood for more than a weekly shop, you really need a car.

The problem is, once congestion charges are introduced, there’s nothing to stop the city council moving the goalposts, making more people elligible to pay. As it stands, you will not be charged for using the M60 ringroad around the city, but that could change.

So, much as I want to go for better public transport and a reduction in carbon emissions, just like Friends of the Earth tell me, I think I’m going to have to, reluctantly, vote ‘no’.

Danny Murphy, Crewe’s heroic loan ranger

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , on November 27, 2008 by richie71

Have Crewe Alex ever made a decent loan signing?, The Sentinel’s website, somewhat harshly, asks.

Apart from Kenny Lunt, who recently returned to the struggling club from Sheffield Wednesday, where he is surplus to requirements, yes they have.

Perhaps in recent years, no-one has particularly stood out, but it hasn’t been all bad.

In particular, casting my mind back to the 1998/99 season, Danny Murphy was a huge success.

He had been sold to Liverpool after helping Crewe win promotion to the old first division, but agreed a temporary deal to come back, after failing to secure a first team place at Anfield.

At the time, Crewe were rock bottom of the league and points adrift. Things looked bleak. Murphy came back to Gresty Road and transformed the whole season.

Playing at the apex of midfield, his creativity sparked an amazing revival. The speed of St Vincent international Rodney Jack had been without direction before Murphy’s return. But, with Crewe’s returning play-maker able to pick out Jack at will, Alex’s fortunes soon changed.

Murphy scored a crucial goal against fellow relegation strugglers Oxford and inspired his team mates to escape relegation, to survive in league one for another year. Seth Johnson was another key player that year – he was offered the chance to go to Derby for £1 million, but turned it down to help Crewe survive. A remarkable display of loyalty which is often lacking in the modern game.

As for Murphy, after his relegation heroics, he returned to Liverpool, where he won a starting place in the first team, scored numerous winning goals against arch-rivals Manchester United, and went on to play for England. He is still a star performer today, for Fulham, who he captains. And judging by his recent performance as a pundit on Match of the Day, could have a career in the media when he hangs up his boots.

Thank’s for everything Danny.

Survivors or surviving in Stoke-on-Trent

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on November 25, 2008 by richie71

What would you do if you were the last person alive on Earth?

I’m interested by doomsday scenarios, which is why I’ve started watching the BBC’s new series, Survivors, starring Max Beesley.

I liked it. The writers were clearly far more interested in what happens to the survivors of a global catastrophe, rather than the cause and initial effects of the disaster itself, which is why the flu epidemic depicted on screen seemed to wipe out the whole planet in a day.

But I can forgive them that, because I’m more interested in how the survivors would cope too. And a flu pandemic destroying man kind isn’t so unbelievable. After all, the Spanish influenza epidemic killed more people than the First World War and all of us can remember the recent panic over bird flu.

It makes for a great scenario. The world is still intact, but everyone, bar a handful of survivors are dead. What would you do?

In Stoke-on-Trent, the city is divided into six towns: http://www.thisisstaffordshire.co.uk/hanley, Fenton, Stoke, Tunstall, Longton, and Burslem. They’ve always been a bit of rivalry between them and its fair to assume that the survivors of each (using the logic applied to Survivor) would become even more tribal. That could see raiding parties from Fenton charging Sainsbury’s in Hanley looking for supplies.

Port Vale and Stoke fans already hate each other. With no police, no laws, no boundaries, could we see pitch battles fought over Vale Park and the Britannia Stadium? Or with no players left alive, maybe the fans would bury the hatchet.

How would religion and race effect the survivors and their ability (or lack of it) to cooperate and rebuild society? Particularly in a place like Stoke-on-Trent, where racial tensions have been inflamed by immigration and the BNP.

The numbers of unburied dead bodies lying around the city would mean disease, rats and carrion. Survivors would have to carry out a mass clean-up of each town, or leave pretty quickly.

There would be plenty of cars to choose from, and you could use a syphon to get petrol from the petrol stations. But, when the mass panic of so many people dying so quickly set in, the D-Road, or A500 and the A50, the two main links out of the city, would have clogged up pretty quickly. Then as they got stuck in traffic, people would have become more ill and died. The infection could have spread from car to car as the last humans curled up and died.

The survivors would likely leave the six towns, on foot, motorbike or cycle, and head for the Staffordshire Moorlands, where there is plenty of good farming land where they could start again, making a living from the land as their ancestors did.

It would be years, centuries even, before there was a ‘Great Britain’. With no government, civilisation would return in pockets. Perhaps, when nature had done its work in cleaning the five towns (after all, human remains are as biodegradable as anything else), perhaps settlers would return. The towns would each develop at a different pace. Competition for survival in the new world would be high, and it is easy to imagine a settlement at Stoke nervously preparing for invasion from a Burslem, jealous of its new natural resources.

As the years went by, trading links would open up. Friendships would develop as transport links were reopened and the paranoia of the early fight to survive began to let up.

Until one day, invaders from Crewe in Cheshire came to conquer….

Jonathan Ross and Russell Brand vs The Daily Mail

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , on November 24, 2008 by richie71

Finally, the whole Jonathan Ross and Russell Brand/ Andrew Sachs/ Daily Mail row seems to have run its course.

I’m annoyed with myself for being so interested in it. And for at least initially, agreeing with the Daily Mail.

Because it is out of order to phone up and old man, then brag about having sex with his granddaughter. So what that she’s a Satanic dancer, or whatever. So what that she’s exploited the situation to get her picture in every national and regional paper out there. So what that she did have sex with Russell Brand. And so what that Andrew Sachs is in the public eye and is only famous for a mildly racist portrayal of a Spanish waiter.

It wasn’t on. It wasn’t. Sachs has no doubt got a rose-tinted picture of his grandaughter and the last thing he needs is an image of Russell Brand sliming all over her.

Personally, I think Jonathan Ross was far more guilty than Brand. It was Ross that blurted out “he fxxxxx your grandaughter”. He started it all. Course the BBC should have known they’d gone too far and not put it out.

Then, I though Russell Brand came across quite well when he quit his radio job. He was clearly disappointed he’d caused so much upset, he apologised personally to Sachs, and I ended up quite liking him.

Ross on the other hand has hidden away, waiting for it to all blow over, and he will return in a few weeks to his lucrative BBC job, with no harm done. And to be fair, much as he sometimes annoys me, why not? Nobody died, there was no lasting damage and Sachs seems to have forgiven the pair, so why can’t the rest of us.

Specifically, why can’t the Daily Mail? Ok, I initially agreed with the Mail, but after the first story, I soon left its side.

The Daily Mail thinks it is the the guardian of public morality. Not for me, thank-you. I find the Mail’s coverage of asylum seekers, foreigners, gypsies, and even the Royals and Strictly Come Dancing more offensive.

After it got the public on its side by slating Brand and Ross, it seemed to think it could sensor anything deemed offensive in the Mail newsroom. Like a joke about the Queen on Mock The Week.

Directly phoning and leaving an offensive message on an old man’s answerphone is in poor taste. Making a joke about a public figure, how ever unseemly, isn’t. Back off Daily Mail, let the middle-aged housewives and middle management of middle England think for themselves.

And going back to Andrew Sachs, even Prime Minister Gordon Brown jumped on the bandwagon by slating Ross and Brand. Why? Isn’t there a financial crisis they should be dealing with? What about the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan? But no, it’s more important for them to appear outraged at a comment made to Manuel.

It was the same with John Sergeant leaving Strictly Come Dancing, with Anne Widecome saying the judges should be sacked. Why get involved Anne? Have you nothing relevant to say about Britain’s financial crisis, or is it that no-one cares what you think about anything important.

Anyway, for now, I’ll wait for the Mail and the politicians to find a new folk devil to blame all of society’s ills on.

Maradona, Gary Lineker and the Hand of God

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on November 20, 2008 by richie71

Maradona was treated like a hero when he took his Argentina side to Scotland.

The reason – the infamous ‘hand of god’ incident, when he punched the ball into the back of the net in the quarter-finals of the World Cup in 1986, effectively knocking England out of the competition.

I was a young school boy growing up in Crewe at the time and I was devastated.

I’d been convinced England were going to win the World Cup. In fact, I was a little bit obsessed by the prospect. I spent hours recreating how Mexico 86 would play out on the Subbuteo table, and every time England won.

So when the competition started, I couldn’t believe how bad England were against Portugal (0-1) and Morroco (0-0).

And from the start, Italy may have been champions, Brazil everyone’s second favourite, but Argentina were clearly the team to beat. Not that they had a particularly good side, but it was built around Diego Armando Maradona, the world’s best player.

I’ve never seen a player dominate any competition so completely. Pele and George Best were before my time, so for me, Maradona is simply the best player of all time. He was just so much better than everyone else. In 86 he was at his absolute peak and was pretty much unstoppable. I was a huge fan of his, how could you not be, he was so good. I was even worried he would get injured and forced out of the competition, when Argentina were drawn to play against Uraguay, the dirtiest team in that World Cup.

But, I was still focused on England. And against Poland, thanks manager Bobby Robson’s decision to switch to 4-4-2, move Glenn Hoddle into the heart of midfield and introduce the deep lying forward Peter Beardsley to partner Gary Lineker up front; England were excellent. A Lineker hat-trick saw the Poles dispatched 3-0. Then England were flying to beat Paraguay by the same score, this time Lineker getting two and Beardsley the other.

So England vs Argentina in the quarter final. From the start, Maradona was virtually unplayable, dominating the game. And then he cheated. He leapt with Peter Shilton and punched the ball into the back of the net. The referee inexplicably didn’t see it and awarded a goal. I was devastated. My youthful sense of justice was outraged. How could a player so talented be such a dirty cheat? How could it be allowed? I was furious.

Of course his second goal was amazing. Then England launched a near-heroic fight back, after John Barnes came on. Lineker got his sixth of the tournament, then somehow missed a teasing Barnes cross and England crashed out of the tournament.

And Maradona lifted the trophy. Looking back, he was the best player in the world, so probably deserved to win the World Cup. But why cheat?

The next day, Maradona was no longer my hero. In fact, going into Coppenhall County High School in Crewe, I burned his picture in biology. I scrawled “I hate Maradonna” on all my school books. Looking back, I probably went a bit mad.

But he betrayed me. And millions of other fans. It actually took a long time for the young me to get over it and forgive Maradonna.

Now, sat at my desk in Stoke-on-Trent, I’m glad to see Maradonna back in football. I’m glad he sorted out his health problems and quit the drugs which blighted his later career. And I’m glad I have such vivid memories of an amazing player.

It’s just a shame he was such a filthy little cheat.

Steve Holland departs Crewe Alex

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on November 19, 2008 by richie71

This morning we learned that Crewe Alex FC had sacked its manager for the first time since 1983.

After a dismal record of just 19 wins out of 72 games, Steve Holland was sacked as first team coach by chairman Steve Bowler.

In his place, Dario Gradi, ‘Mr Crewe’, returns to take charge – the boss who steered Crewe through all its glory years and oversaw the rise of talents like Danny Murphy, David Platt, Neil Lennon, Robbie Savage, Dean Ashton and Seth Johnson.

Personally, I feel sorry for Steve. He is a good coach who has been groomed for years to take over from Dario. He took charge of the youth teams with great success for many years, before finally becoming manager.

I remember watching Crewe’s U17 side play some superb football, with a youthful Dean Ashton banging in the goals, brilliantly coached by Holland.

But in the end, results count. I understand Steve is talking to the board, and there is a reasonable possibility he could return to his old job. I hope so. He’s a nice man – if a bit of a Dario clone when giving interviews – and a talented coach. He’s part of the family at Crewe.

The trouble is, Crewe have no leader on the pitch. The current crop of youngsters don’t have the talent of earlier sides. There is no Ashton, Platt, Lennon, or Savage. Or a new Kenny Lunt, Steve Foster or Gareth Whalley.

Now, the search is on to find a permanent replacement. Former players like Craig Hignett and David Platt could be in line to come back to Gresty Road. Hignett is untried, and Platt’s managerial career has been a bit of a disappointment. He would stick to Crewe’s passing game, but I wouldn’t like to see him return. I met first met Platt when he was a player, just after his move to Aston Villa, when I was a young student dreaming of being a sports writer. He was a really nice bloke, very friendly and easy to talk to. I met him a couple of times years later when he returned from Italy to manage Nottingham Forest, and I was a freelance sports writer. I don’t know what had happened to change his attitude, but he was rude, miserable and aggressive.

Of course, if he did manage Crewe and kept them up, he could be as rude, miserable and aggressive as he likes and I wouldn’t care.

So, until Sven Goran Erikssondecides to take a multi-million pound contract at Crewe, I just hope Dario can return to work some of his magic and get Crewe climbing back up the table again.

The great National Lottery con

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on November 18, 2008 by richie71

I’ve got a theory about the National Lottery.

It’s very simple.

It’s all a big con.

Think about it, how can you possibly win the lottery? The odds are so far against you, that I believe it is officially classed as a mathematical impossibility.

Let’s try a little test – I’m thinking of a number between one and 49. Try and guess which one I’m think of.

Wrong – it was 37.

Now, to win, you have to guess correctly six times. You’ve got no chance.

But people do win it, almost every week, you may argue. Maybe so, but I can say with a degree of certainty that YOU will never win it. Or me, worst luck.

The thing is, every time some lucky winner hits the jackpot there’s a big photo-call and press conference. They get there picture in the newspapers and on TV and everyone gets to feel bitter and annoyed that someone else has been made a millionaire. We can all have fun slagging them off and thinking how ‘they don’t deserve to win a million, I do’. And at the same time, it gives us all a little bit of hope to think that maybe, just maybe, next time it will be me.

But you can bet your bottom pound it won’t be. In the past people used to look at their rubbish lives, then go to church, and think, ‘it doesn’t matter that I live in hovel, work 18 hours down the mine, and still can’t afford to pay the rent, because I will be rewarded in heaven’.

Now, in our ‘want it now’ society, those of us who don’t aspire to get on Big Brother dream of winning the lottery. You could argue that the lottery has replaced religion in that respect. Ask most people what they dream of and they won’t say a reward in heaven, they’ll say they want to win the lottery.

So basically, you can’t win and it’s all a big con to stop you from getting ideas above your station. Why strive for better, you might win the lottery tomorrow.

Which, at the end of that rant, makes it all the more remarkable that Jackie and John Livesley, from Longton, in Stoke-on-Trent, actually did win the lottery. They are now contemplating a new Range Rover Sport, a holiday in the Maldives and whether to take early retirement.

And, as the National Lottery were keen to tell the gathered reporters and TV crews at Stoke City’sBritannia Stadium, Jackie didn’t want to leave the house because of cold weather, and but for John’s gentle pursuasion, the couple would never have bought the winning ticket from Morrisons in Leek.

Through teeth clenched with bitterness, I wish them good luck. They are obviously overjoyed at winning and seem as if they will use their money wisely.

So indeed, good luck to them. And I speak partly out of selfishness. The only thing I hate more than not winning the lottery is when the lucky bleeder who does win it appears in the paper a year later, saying things like, “I had all the money in the world, but it couldn’t buy me happiness”, and “I was bored, so I just drank”.

Lottery losers I can live with, lottery winners who turn out to be massive losers….well, for goodness sake, if you have so little imagination that you can’t think of anything constructive to do with your money, you deserve to be a hard luck story in the Sun funnies.

So, maybe I will buy a lottery ticket this week, after all, it could be me…

Oh, hang on, I forgot. No it couldn’t.

Defending Pete Doherty

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on November 14, 2008 by richie71

Pete Doherty opened a storming if haphazard set at Manchester’s Ritz, to Time For Heroes, and closed it with The early Libertines favourite, What A Waster.

That pretty much sums up the two opposing views of the Babyshambles singer – a hero to some, a waste of space to the rest.

I went alone to watch him perform a rescheduled show – he cancelled at the last minute in October – after friends who would normally happily come to pretty much any gig, all told me they would rather stick pins in their eyes than see Doherty. They are not Daily Mail readers outraged by Pete’s lifestyle, they simply think he’s not very good, and, probably, an annoying media whore.

I think they’re wrong.

Last night Pete performed alone, with just an acoustic guitar which he slung into the crowd, along with his hat, at the end of the gig.

Sure, he’s not the best guitarist in the world, or a particularly good singer. I wouldn’t say he looked like he had been living a clean, drug-free lifestyle. He was late. He dashed off suddenly, saying he needed a break, then returned to stage complaining of stomach trouble.

But you never know what you are going to get with Bilo. What he does have is bags of charisma – if a certain drug addled charisma – and some great songs, which will last far longer than he will.

Take the honesty of his lyrics. In Can’t Stand Me Now, he wrote the line: “Your light fingers through the dart, shattered the lamp into darkness it cast us,” for band mate Carl Barat to sing about the time Pete burgled his flat. Or talking of his own reputation as a waster in Babyshambles’ You Talk: “I never said it was clever, I just like getting leathered”.

Last night, Libertinesclassics like  Time For Heroes, The Good Old Days, What Katie Did Next, Don’t Look Back Into The Sun and Babyshambles hits including F*** Forever, and Down In Albion, had an enthusiastic crowd of Pete devotees singing along to every line.

In fact in many ways, it was a sing-a-long with Pete, rather than a proper performance. Personally, I think the vast majority of his songs need to be performed by a band to get the full effect, but there aren’t many artists who can turn up with an acoustic guitar and still prompt the near-hysterical, hero-worshipping reaction he received. 

I saw him perform with Babyshambles at the V Festival in 2007. Then he wasn’t performing to a room of Pete fans, in fact some people seemed to have turned up just to boo him. None the less, he was in his element. He looked cool, he sounded great and the band were superb. All in all, I thought it was the performance of the weekend.

But Pete will continue to polarise opinion. In Stoke-on-Trent, thanks to his various performances at The Underground, and the Sugarmill, he remains an icon.

A few of the reporters at The Sentinel have met him. One even allowed Pete to use her toilet. For fans, he is one of the more approachable artists who can sometimes be found hanging out with fans after a gig.

That is why he remains an icon, that and the quality of his songs. He doesn’t always get it right, in fact Babyshambles can be downright shambolic at times, but when he does get it right he’s pretty much spot on.

For me his best work will always be found on the two Libertines albums. And now he has reconciled with bandmate Carl Barat – who recently called time on his band Dirty Pretty Things – I’m still holding out hope for a new Libs album.

But for now, Pete will continue to be a drug addled pariah to some, and the best British songwriter of his generation to others. A hero or a waster….. Well, we can’t all be Coldplay.

The Battle of the Somme

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on November 13, 2008 by richie71

Last night I watched The Battle of the Somme, a British film made in 1916, which shows scenes from before and after what became the bloodiest battle in British army history.

The silent movie, shown on the History channel, was a remarkable piece of archive footage, which preserved the images of thousands of the soldiers who actually fought in the most famous battle of the First World War.

In 1916, movie cameras were extremely rare, and I doubt if any of the regular soldiers filmed would have owned a TV. Yet, just like the crowds you see on Big Brother today, they all waved, cheered or smiled for the camera, which in itself is remarkable given they were all heading off to fight and probably die.

It was amazing to look at the faces who took part in a key point in history, almost 100-years after the battle took place.

The film itself was very much a War Office approved version of events. The British army suffered 420,000 casualties, and 60,000 on the first day – yet just by watching the film you could be mistaken for thinking only a few Tommies were killed.

But what the footage couldn’t hide was the haunted look on some of the soldiers returning to the trenches after watching friends and comrades slaughtered, as much by the outdated military tactics of a slow and steady advance towards the enemy, as the German machine gunners themselves. One clip shows a Tommy staggering back to the trenches, carried a wounded friend on his back. Another shows an injured Brit resentfully barge a German prisoner out of his way. There was also a still of the Lancashire Regiment’s pet dog, killed alongside his master while storming the German trenches.

Much has been written about the appalling waste of life, brought about by Generals who clearly had no understanding of modern warfare. Looking back from a 21st century perspective it seems astonishing that they were allowed to send wave after wave of men to be cut to pieces by machine gun fire. And why did they persist in a tactic that was killing so many men for such little reward? What did they think of the soldiers they allowed to be slaughtered in such numbers? Did it bother them that so many died every time they ordered an advance?

What is certain is that such loss of life would not be tolerated today.

Can you imagine any modern conscript – if there were such a thing – willingly walking towards machine gunfire and the prospect of almost inevitable death?

On Armistice Day, a two minute silence was held at The Sentinel, when everyone (bar one annoying bloke) stopped typing to remember the war dead. I was told that in one location in America, the Last Post, embedded on the Sentinel’s website, rang out to mark the occasion.

In the Second World War the reasons for fighting were far more black and white. Adolf Hitler was intent on world domination and the mass murder of the Jews, blacks, gipsies and anyone else he didn’t consider a worthy member of the Aryan race.

But that doesn’t make the tales of heroism any less astonishing. Like Tom Berrisford, who was shot twice through the stomach, and left for dead on the battlefield by medics who thought it was too late to save him. He was rescued by pals and is now well in his 80s, after surviving against all the odds.

Or Ernie Morris, who was sent out to fix a broken communication line, only to discover it had been cut by a German sniper, who was lying in wait. The sniper missed and Ernie returned fire with his service revolver, shooting his enemy right between the eyes.

I interviewed a number of these veterans for Remembrance Day. I was called later by one of the veterans, who said the story made him feel strangely proud – he had never before considered that what he did was in any way heroic, it was just what he and all his generation did at that time.

Hopefully no future generations will have to go through the same thing.

Goobye to the Axis Festival and The Wombats

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on November 12, 2008 by richie71

The plug has been pulled on next year’s Axis festival, which would have taken place in Stoke-on-Trent, after the city council withdrew its funding.

Earlier this year the Wombats headlined Axis 08, in a charged atmosphere at a packed out Victoria Hallin Hanley.

Axis organisers say Stoke-on-Trent City Council had promised £45,000 for next year’s event, but now won’t confirm if it will provide the cash. The city council says no decision has been made on funding because it hasn’t received a formal application.

So will the authority support the event or won’t it? If Stoke-on-Trent City Council does, as it claims, support music and arts in the city, then why can’t it commit to funding?

For the organisers to scrap the festival at this stage, after last year’s event was such a success, negotiations with the council must be in a pretty dire state.

It’s a shame and it highlights once again the real failings to the people of Stoke-on-Trent made by the city council, which prompted the Stoke-on-Trent Governance Committee to slaughter the city’s leadership in a damning report.

Axis was set up so that the youth of Stoke-on-Trent don’t have to travel to Manchester or Birmingham to see a big name live band. Getting the Wombats to headline earlier this year was a real coup. At the times they were probably the biggest new band in Britain, with the infectious single Moving To New York, riding high in the charts.

Who knows what calibre of act could have graced Stoke-on-Trent next year if the festival went ahead.

It’s also sad because the quality of bands playing the underground music scene in Stoke-on-Trent has probably never been higher. Bands such as This Is Seb Clarke, The Novellos and The Title would have embraced the chance to support a big name act with open arms.

The sounds of the Wrong Pop vibe sweeping the city would have been given a greater audience, which couldn’t fail to be impressed – and probably surprised – by the talent the city has to offer.

Stoke-on-Trent’s Sons (Soul of North Staffordshire) record label has already been compared with Factory Records, which was at the heart of the Madchester music explosion in the late 80s and early 90s.

Recently four Sons bands were in the top five of the national indie charts. Imagine if they could repeat that feat in the mainstream charts.

Look at the success Manchester and Liverpool has built around its music venues, clubs and the quality of bands.

In Stoke-on-Trent, the only place you can see a decent out-of-town band is The Sugarmill, or occasionally at Keele University. Not that venues like The Victoria Hall couldn’t support a big name act, and indeed, big names have played there before, like KT Tunstall and Scouting For Girls.

Bands who do play in Stoke-on-Trenttend to be blown away by the enthusiastic support of a crowd, who are simply so grateful to see a decent live show in an area normally avoided. When James Dean Bradfield performed his solo show, he was so pleased with the crowd reaction, he promised to return with the Manic Street Preachers.

But despite its claim, the city council’s doesn’t support its vibrant music scene, at least not to a decent extent. So the big names don’t come to Stoke, and the local bands keep plugging away on the pub scene, or travel to Manchester for a decent, regular gig.

The city council is missing a great opportunity to promote the city and its people. Stoke-on-Trent City Council has badly let down the youthful generations of the city.

Still, Jonathan Wilkes is switching on the city’s Christmas lights, so there is at least one performer who can count on the city council’s support…..

Fred Nukagem and Cameroon

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on November 11, 2008 by richie71

In a terraced house in Middleport, Stoke-on-Trent, a family of five are waiting to find out if they are going to be deported and – they believe – murdered.

Fred Nukagem, his wife Sandra Yonga MBell, and their three children, are failed asylum seekers threatened with deportation back to Cameroon.

From feedback on The Sentinel’s website, most natives to Stoke-on-Trent seem to think they should be sent packing. Yet Fred and Sandra say they will be killed if they are forced to go home.

People are clearly sceptical and I can understand that.

But if the Nukagem family are sent back to Cameroon, none of the commentators on the Sentinel’s website will have to worry about the consequences. If they do go back to Cameroon, it is unlikely we will ever find out what happened to them. Whether they go on to lead a life of wealth and prosperity in Africa, or if they turn up dead in a ditch. We won’t hear about it and most people won’t spare them another thought. 

So what’s so wrong with allowing them to stay?

If someone is living in Britain illegally, they should be kicked out. But not when deporting them is handing them a death sentence. Not when they are law abiding citizens.

Mr Nukagem and his family are not here to sponge off the state. They are not criminals. So, if there is a reasonable doubt – which there certainly is – that they will be killed in their home country, surely they should be allowed to stay, at least until the political climate in Cameroon changes. 

We don’t hear very much about the political situation in Cameroon, with Robert Mugabe’s Zimbabwe hogging all the headlines.

After World War I, Cameroon was divided by Britain and France, with the Brits taking about 20 per cent of the country to the south, the French colonising the rest. That caused a division between the French speaking mainland, and the anglophiles to the south.

The Republic of Cameroon gained independence from the French in 1960. A year later, the Muslim majority to the north of British Cameroon voted to become part of Nigeria, while the remaining Christians decided to join the rest of Cameroon.

It’s very complicated.

The Southern Cameroon National Council (SCNC), which has been declared illegal by Paul Biya, President of Cameroon, now wants seccession from the rest of the country.

When they lived in Africa, Fred Nukagem worked as a government informer. Sandra’s family were heavily involved with the SCNC and her uncle, a prominent party member, was murdered by government forces.

Fred, who says he gradually got sucked into his work for the Government, was ultimately asked to inform on his wife and her family. He refused. He was tortured. His wife fled the country. Fred escaped to Holland. Both suffered separate atrocities at the hands of soldiers before being reunited by coincidence in Britain.

Now, not just they, but their three children are being threatened with deportation back to Cameroon.

They could all be killed. Or their detailed story could be a lie. I’ve met and interviewed Fred and Sandra. I believe them. But I could be being naive.

But there’s a very good chance they are telling the truth, that Fred, Sandra and their three children will be murdered if they go home.

If, as public opinion appears to be saying, they are sent back to Africa, we will never know what happened to them. And we won’t have to live with the guilt.

Bonfire Night

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , on November 7, 2008 by richie71

When I was a child growing up in Crewe during the late 1970s and 80s, Guy Fawkes Night was one of the many highlights of the year.

From the end of summer I would be out with all the other children from my street, collecting fire wood. We’d pick up unwanted wardrobes and felled trees from people’s houses – with permission – then scour derelict sites for whatever we could salvage.

One year a row of factories was being knocked down and we spent days ripping off doors and carrying them back to the Hillside, a patch of open land near to Coppenhall County High School, where we would build our bonfire every year. That year it was so tall it seemed to tower above the neighbouring houses.

The build-up to bonfire night would last at least two months of careful preparation. On occasion, some of the older boys would even camp out by our bonfire, to make sure rival gangs didn’t burn it down. Every year there were horror stories of children actually sleeping in the bonfires and being accidentally torched themselves.

There would be a Guy made, of course, which would be hawked round the estate to cries of, “penny for the Guy”.

Then on Guy Fawkes Night itself, all our parents and pretty much the whole community would get involved. My mum would usually make sausage rolls, someone else would provide treacle toffee and bake jacket potatoes.

Fireworks were purchased and set off by parents or older children on the night.

Looking back, I have some very fond memories of those nights in Crewe. There was the odd injury, one year I picked up a sparkler which had gone out by the wrong end and burned my hand, another year I stood on a rusty nail.

But they were great nights. In later years I remember going to proper organised bonfires, but they were never as much fun as our own community bonfire on the back field.

Today its almost unthinkable to think you could get away with behaviour like that. With the mass paranoia and hysteria of today’s society, would parents allow their children to knock on strangers’ doors asking for wood? Certainly the firebrigade would be called to put out the bonfire, if the collected fire wood had not already been taken away by the council. And in the insular way people tend to live their lives, there aren’t many neighbourhoods left which would come together in such an unprompted way.

It’s sad. I don’t think children are allowed to have as much fun these days. I’m not saying there weren’t obvious health and safety hazzards about bonfire night back when I was a child, but, at least at our fire, no-one died, no-one got more than a superficial injury (usually me) and everyone had fun.

Today children don’t gather around community bonfires, now known as illegal bonfires. Instead gangs of kids wander the streets, setting off fireworks, causing outrage and consternation amongst adults. Bonfire night was on Wednesday this year, but the random sound of bangers, rockets and roman candles have been heard for weeks. This weekend, when all the organised bonfires take place, more youths will take to the streets to set off yet more fireworks.

I’m not saying kids didn’t throw fireworks through the estates in the 70s and 80s, but it was easy to take a hands on roll in a bonfire near you. 

I don’t know how the statistics of fireworks injuries compare now to the 70s and 80s, and I’m not saying it was a better way of doing things when I was a kid.

But when I was a child, I never felt alienated, I was rarely bored and I never felt the need to wander the streets hurling fireworks.

Crewe Alex, Danny Murphy and Robbie Savage

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on November 6, 2008 by richie71

Watching Crewe Alex this season has been something of a chore.

The Alex are mired to the bottom of the first division (in reality, division three) and coach Steve Holland is facing increasing protests and calls for his head. Even local radio correspondent Graham McGarry was barracked for not being critical enough of the club.

I can’t help but look back to the late 90s, when Crewe played their football in a higher league than either of their local rivals, Stoke City or Port Vale.

Back in the 1996/97 season I was covering Crewe Alex for the Crewe Guardian newspaper. It was a nail biting season and the Alex eventually finished sixth, poor away form spoiling their chances of automatic promotion.

That season Crewe had an excellent team which played some wonderful, creative football, but would sometimes be out-muscled by other teams.

The club was led by manager Dario Gradi, who was already a legend at Crewe, for his ability to find and nurture some of the best talents around.

In midfield, Danny Murphy, later of Liverpool, Tottenham and Fulham, pulled the strings, alongside club captain Gareth Whalley. The pair had an almost telepathic understanding, and going forward, they played some incredibly inventive and imaginitive football. They were backed up by hardman Robbie Savage, the golden haired Welshman who later became one of the Premier League’s most hated footballers. Savage was restricted at Crewe, by his manager’s determination to play the game properly and fairly, which meant he couldn’t indulge in the wind-up tactics and hard tackles he later became famous for. But he proved he could play football, that season covering every position across midfield and up front.

Dele Adebola led the attack, with power and pace, supported by wingers Mark Rivers, who was once courted by Arsenal, and Colin Little, now playing non-league football with Altrincham Town.

In goal was former Everton reserve Jason Kearton, an Australian with outstanding reflexes, if a little short for a keeper, and a back four made up of Shaun Smith, Lee Unsworth, Ashley Westwood and Steve Macauley.

It was the midfield which drove the side, usually in  a 4-3-3 formation which Gradi felt was the best to play passing football. It’s interesting that years later, Premier League sides like Chelsea, Liverpool and Manchester United have all copied Gradi’s tactics. Along with virtually every team at the 2008 European Championships. 

In the play-offs, Crewe were drawn against Luton, recognised as the best team in the division, but showed immense character to come back from 2-0 down at Kenilworth Road, to win the two-legged tie.

Then it was Brentford at Wembley Stadium in front of the Sky cameras. It was a magnificent day. The town emptied of people as fans packed onto trains leaving Crewe’s famous station for London.

On Wembley’s wide pitch, Crewe were in their element, playing some of the best football I ever saw them produce. Even without Savage, who was dropped for Phil Charnock and never played for Crewe again, Whalley and Murphy ran the midfield, playing brilliant possession football. One incisive move saw Murphy hit the post after a superb back-heel from Whalley.

In the end, Alex were worth far more than the 1-0 win, secured by a Shaun Smith strike from a corner.

They were dancing in the streets of Crewe that night.

This season, we don’t appear to have a Dele Adebola capable of running past a defender, and Crewe certainly don’t have a Murphy or a Whalley who can run midfield. Gradi has retired, and now looks after the children signed on the club’s books.

And Crewe are in severe danger of falling all the way back to where they started from.

A change is gonna come? Barack Obama and George Bush

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , on November 5, 2008 by richie71

Who would have thought it, a black man in the White House.

Movies and even Little Britain have been predicting it for years, but certainly when George Dubya Bush was first elected eight years ago, no-one dreamed Barack Obama would be the man to succeed him.

Obama, who was fiercely critical of Bush’s decision to invade Iraq, because, “we’re America, we can”.

But like most people outside America, I’m just glad Bush is going. It pains me that Tony Blair coseyed up to Bush so much during his term. So much so that we followed America into a needless invasion which killed thousands of innocents, destabilised the middle east and caused resentment and hatred of Britain and especially America, for generations to come.

For there can be no doubt that America is hated all over the world, and by association, so is Britain. And its easy to see why. America seems to see itself as the world’s sherriff, the tough good guy. It clearly isn’t. It has behaved like an arrogant bully.

So lets hope Obama will bring about change. Certainly he has already caused a softening of world public opinion towards America. For one thing, Obama isn’t hated like Bush was, except perhaps in a few redneck southern towns where some God-fearing hick is no doubt dusting off a sniper’s rifle – we’ve already seen the first youtube death threat against the new president.

But for the first time since Bush walked through the White House doors, there’s a bit of optimism about how America will behave.

Apart from Iraq, Afganistan and the hope that Obama can put things right in the middle east, the main belief is that he will take action to heal the environment.

Bush refused to adopt the Kyoto protocol, the greatest international agreement to reduce greenhouse gasses, despite America’s status as the world’s biggest polluter. That pretty much summed up America to much of the world. Arrogant and greedy. Profits before everything. Who cares about the rest of the world as long as the good old US of A was making money, right?

But now Bush is gone and good riddance. Obama has already said he needs to tackle the two wars, the sick planet and the financial crisis, which is already more than Bush ever did.

And fair play to the American voters. Something like 350 million of them turned out to vote. Millions more tuned into the televised debate between Obama and McCain. By contrast, I think about 12 people listened to a debate on BBC Radio Stoke on the recent mayoral referendum.

Now there’s a contrast. For weeks, months even, all discussion in America has centred around the election. It has dominated the media and water cooler conversation.

In Stoke-on-Trent the electorate were asked to decide whether the city should continue to be run by an elected mayor, or change to a different system of government led by a council leader and cabinet. The main difference is, the people would directly elect a mayor. Councillors – who have in turn been elected by the people – would choose a leader, which would then be buffered by a cabinet. The city’s existing mayoral system had been roundly criticised and absolutely torn apart by an official report. A change was needed.

It may not sound as sexy as an American presidential election – and indeed, it’s not – but all the same, just 19.23 per cent of the 186,698 eligible voters went to the polls. It didn’t monopolise conversation in the city, and I suspect more Potteries people voted for Andrew Castle to stay in Strictly Come Dancing.

Most people simply didn’t care how their city was run. Many didn’t understand the question they were being asked and far too many didn’t even realise a referendum was taking place.

Maybe we could do with just a little of America’s passion for democracy.

Barack Obama v John McCain and Stoke-on-Trent City Council v The BNP

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , on November 4, 2008 by richie71

Two votes are due to take place which will have important consequences on my life over the next few years – and I won’t get a say in either of them.

Today, millions of Americans go to the polls to decide whether Barack Obama or John McCain is the best man to lead the USA for the next four years.

Then next May, councillors will vote on who should lead Stoke-on-Trent City Council, after the city decided to scrap its current elected mayoral system.

Two very different votes, but both will a huge impact on life in Stoke-on-Trent.

As far as the American elections go, the result will have obvious world wide significance. Eight years ago, when George Dubya Bush was narrowly – and controversially – elected to the White House for the first time, it spelled the end of Al Gore’s presedential dreams.

Who knows what the state of the world would be today if Gore had been elected president. It seems unlikely he would have shown the same zeal to invade Iraq as Bush did. That decision has turned out to be a monumental mistake which has caused a hatred of America and Britain which will last for generations, not to mention the deaths of thousands of civilians and soldiers. Without the extra strain on Iraq, perhaps a lasting victory and solution in Afghanistan could have been found. Maybe Tony Blair would have left office as a popular leader and without the stain on his character that was left by his ‘weapons of mass destruction’ claim.

It does seem likely that Gore would have introduced environmental laws and restrictions on pollution which maybe, just maybe, would have slowed down or even halted the effects of global warming. 

So Barack or McCain is a pretty important decision which will determine the way of the world over the next four years.

Barack is well ahead in all the polls, and looks set to become America’s first black president. But the polls don’t take into account the ‘racism effect’. Apparently 8 per cent of those who claim to vote for Obama are actually closet racists and will secretly vote for the white guy instead.

Which brings me onto Stoke-on-Trent and the next council leader. Politically, the Potteries is a strange place. Once a Labour heartland, rising disatisfaction has led to the British National Party getting an increasing stake of the votes.

It isn’t that the city is an intollerant place, the two mayors who were elected to run Stoke-on-Trent are both openly gay.

But, people are sick of what they see as the Labour leadership’s mis-management, ineptitude and spin. In December, 2007, The Sentinel revealed that the city council was spending £23,000-a-month on spin doctors. And at that time journalists calling the city council’s press office regularly found themselves embroiled in an argument about whether the story they were researching was “news” or not.

Since then, the city council’s press office has got much better and is far more open than it was. But the damage had been done. Others would point to worst failings committed by the city’s leadership, such as the Cultural Quarter fiasco.

Now, we are facing a situation where the favourite to lead the city council is BNP leader Alby Walker.

To be fair, Mr Walker is a good ward councillor. He and his wife Ellie, also a councillor, have both got involved in the communities they represent and have no doubt fostered support for the BNP among their predominently white constituents.

But would a BNP-led council be for all the people – including ethnic minorities?

I don’t know what the BNP would do for the city’s economy or services, but I do not what it would do to Stoke-on-Trent’s reputation. The city would be trashed as a racist city. Nationwide, it acquire a reputation is a city of intollerance and racial hatred.

The BNP often claims it is no longer a racist party, but to most people, that argument doesn’t wash. The city’s cause would not be helped by BNP councillor Ellie Walker, who described herself on regional TV as not a racist, but a “racialist”. I don’t know what the difference is and I can’t see statements like that changing many people’s minds about the BNP.

So, who’s going to win? Obama or McCain? The BNP, City Independents, Labour or Conservative?

Here Come The Girls – It’s the Sugarbabes

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , , , on November 2, 2008 by richie71

What a cheap, cynical marketing ploy by the Sugarbabes inc to release a cover version of Ernie K Doe’s Here Come The Girls.

I’ve not got a problem with the Sugarbabes as a rule, its not my music of choice, but they are a good pop package. They’ve got good voices, a decent image and they usually record good songs. Freak Like Me for example, was excellent. Obviously they lost something when Mutya and Sioghan left, but they keep ticking over.

They were always a bit more edgy than your average girl band too. As a rule, I quite like them, I’d say they are certainly Britain’s best girl band.

So how lazy to record Here Come The Girls. A song most people will not have heard of until the Boots advert. I’d hazzard a guess that someone on The Sugarbabes management team has decided to exploit the popularity of the song, the natural airplay it is getting anyway on TV, courtesy of Boots and ride the tide up the charts. 

Most people who like the song will probably buy the Sugarbabes version, most pop pickers will be more familiar with them than Mr Doe and I’m sure their song will be much more accesible. Certainly it will take all the radio play.

But what a cheap trick. I mean, come on. It’s a very similar version, which keeps all the best bits from the original, including the horn section, that people will be familiar with from the advert. It offers nothing new to the song.

It makes me wonder if The Sugarbabes have anything left to offer. Maybe they are washed up, if recycled old tunes timed to match an advertising campaign is the best they can do.

Still, if they antics of the Sugarbabes marketing team leave a bad taste, you only need to take a look at the other end of the scale.

Like the thriving underground music scene in Stoke-on-Trent for example. Contrast the puny efforts of The Sugarbabes efforts with Sons – Soul of North Staffordshire record label. They have an impressive stable of bands, all different, all prepared to do it for themselves. None are afraid to experiment and try something new. Bands like This Is Seb Clarke, The Title, The Novellos and Raphaels have all made an impression on the Indie charts and among the national music press. None of them would dream as anything so cheap as a cover version copied from an advert.

Its a cliche, but they are not afraid to push the boundaries a bit. This Is Seb Clarke for example, you could get 15 musicians on stage together, all clearly loving the jam.

Its music as it should be, passionate and played from the heart. If it breaks the major charts and affords the bands international fame and fortune, they will have achieved their dreams. If not…well, they are living their dream in Stoke-on-Trent anyway, so why sell your soul for record sales.

It’s a far cry from the souless world of marketing and cheap gimmicks the Sugarbabes now live in.

Robinho versus Stoke City

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , on October 28, 2008 by richie71

Sometimes in the Premier League, Stoke City are going to have to accept that they will be stuffed by a better team.

On Sunday the Potters went to the City of Manchester Stadium and were undone 3-0 by the tricks and sheer finishing power of one special player, Robinho.

I’ve watched the Brazilian three times so far this season and, although he does tend to drift in and out of games, there can be no doubting his class.

Backheels, step-overs, dazzling runs, Robinho has it all and on Sunday he was too good for Stoke. For his first goal, the winger smashed home a brilliant lay-off by Welsh youngster Ched Evans.

Number two came at the end of a neat piece of skill by Dean Sturridge, again the finish was clinical. 

A sweeping move completely ripped the visitors apart, again it was Sturridge who laid the ball into the path of Robinho, who completed his hat-trick with another emphatic finish.

And it could have been much worst. Robinho could have finished the game with five goals to his name. Stephen Ireland should have scored and if Shaun Wright-Phillips hadn’t got the ball stuck under his feet, he too, could have created a simple scoring chance.

But Stoke didn’t play badly. They did what they always do – battle. It is that ability and will to fight for everything which could yet – just – keep the Potters up at the end of the season.

But that isn’t always going to be enough. Manchester City defenders Tal Ben Haim and Richard Dunne were rarely troubled by Stoke’s route one attacks. Even Rory Delap’s long throws into the box were easily dealt with.

Substitute Dave Kitson could have scored his first goal with a header from a corner, but by then it was too late.

The point is, Stoke badly need to find another method of attack. Too often they rely on keeping things tight at the back and hoping a set-piece or a Delap throw-in will lead to a scrambled goal. Premier League teams who attack with pace will always get chances against Stoke.

On Sunday, it took just Robinho to undo the Potters and too many teams above Stoke have their own special players. Not withstanding the top four, Aston Villa have Ashley Young, Blackburn have Roque Santa Cruz, Portsmouth have Crouch and Defoe, and even Hull have Giovani.

Stoke have a solid, well organised team of battlers, badly lacking the inspiration of one special player with the ability to conjure a goal out of nothing. Unless they find someone with that quality to operate at that level, it could be a long, long season.

But, Ricardo Fuller has already shown the Premier League the sort of skill he is capable of, with August’s goal of the month. Could he produce that quality consistently? Will Kitson inspire his new team mates when he finally gets his first goal. Then Stoke still have Liam Lawrence, last season’s best player, to return from injury. 

And home support will give the Potters a chance. The Britannia Stadium is an intimidating place to travel, and the Stoke fans who went to Manchester created enough noise to inspire the team to greater efforts.  

And Stoke can always look to the inspiration of Greece – a dull, workmanlike team who won the European Championships in 2004 despite having no star players and far less quality than the likes of Portugal -playing at home and featuring the brilliance of Figo, Deco and Christiano Ronaldo – who they out fought in the final.

War veterans

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , on October 24, 2008 by richie71

It won’t be long until there are no more surviving veterans of the Second World War.

By now, all the soldiers who went to war to stop Adolf Hitler’s German rampage across Europe are in there 80s.

I don’t think we can appreciate what they went through today. Would people go to war with the same attitude today, were national conscription to be restored? I doubt it, I certainly wouldn’t.

Of course the world situation is so much different today, it’s hard to imagine what life was like in 1939. Then it seems as if it was much more black and white. Not only was Hitler aggressively invading his neighbours, intent on world domination, it turned out he was murdering millions of jews, blacks, and gypsies. He had to be stopped and there’s no doubting that the Allied forces had right on their side.

In modern times, can we honestly say the the invasion of Iraq was entirely justified?

So they might have had motivation, and right on their side, but even so, some of the trials the 40s generation went through are incredible.

I’ve just completed a round of interviews with Second World War survivors, and some of the stories are incredible.

Like Ernie Morris, a post-war engineer from Stoke-on-Trent who shot a sniper right between the eyes after being tricked into exposing himself to fire in Italy in 1944.

Or Tom Berrisford, from Longton, who got shot twice in the stomach during the Battle of Caan. Stretcher bearers left him to die, thinking he was past saving. When he was carried to an aid station, he was given a body bag and had his arms crossed over his chest, so orderlies would find it easier to slide him in once he had died. He’s now 88, still has a hole in his back, but talks every day to people all over the world on his ham radio system.

There’s some incredible stories which are waiting to be told. They need to be found and recorded before it is too late.

Petrol prices

Posted in Uncategorized with tags on October 16, 2008 by richie71

Finally, it looks like the price of petrol is starting to drop.

Petrol prices fell below £1 for the first time this year at outlets like Morrisons in Stoke-on-Trent.

It’s about time. I travel over 60 miles-a-day and the cost of fuel is crippling me.

And yes, I know I’m harming the environment by spewing fumes all the way down the M6 to the Potteries every day. That’s a little fact I didn’t mention to Friends of the Earth when I signed up for their newsletter and a monthly contribution.

Because I do believe in protecting the environment – but like most people, I’m a complete hypocrit. I loudly curse America and China for poisoning the planet. I’ll shout swearwords at land rover drivers in their gas guzzling monstrosities as they pass me by (although why you need a 4×4 in Manchester, Stoke or Crewe is beyond me). And I watched Al Gore’s An Inconvenient Truth and heeded its message.

None of it stops me getting in my clapped out Toyota and driving 32-miles to work every morning. It doesn’t get me walking to the shops when I need a pint of milk. And it doesn’t make me jump on a bus when I want to go to town.

Like I say, I’m a complete hypocrite. But I bet there’s millions of hypocrites like me out there. People who don’t put their money where their mouths are, who spit their chewing gum onto the pavement when they think no-one’s looking, then bitch about others dumping cans of stella in the local park.

But, like every other hypocrit in the country, I’ve got my standards, you stick to yours.

Neil Armstrong, Mr Gorski and the neighbour’s kid

Posted in Uncategorized with tags on October 15, 2008 by richie71

This is a true story, apparently. At least, I really, really hope it’s true.

When Neil Armstrong landed on the moon his last words were: “Good luck Mr Gorski.” Everyone know’s the old, “one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind”, rubbish he came out with first, probably at the instructions of some NASA press officer.

No, “Good luck Mr Gorski”. Now, for years no-one knew who Mr Gorski was, and Neil would never say. Journalists checked the lists of astronauts for a Gorski, then when they had no luck, they searched for known cosmonauts. They couldn’t find any reference to a Mr Gorski.

It was only years later, when Neil was presenting a trophy to that year’s Superbowl winner that a reporter asked him once again, “who’s Mr Gorski”.

This time the legendary astronaut paused, and replied that since Mr Gorski had died, he could tell the story.

Apparently, when Neil Armstrong was a child, he lived next door to Mr and Mrs Gorski. One day, he was playing football in his back garden and the young Neil whacked the ball over the fence into the Gorski’s yard.

Neil climbed over to retrieve it, then, just as he clamboured back over the fence, he heard the Gorski’s having an almighty argument. There was a pause, then the air shook with the sound of Mrs Gorski screeching: “SEX??!! You’ll get sex when the neighbour’s kid lands on the moon!!!!!!!!!!!!”

I really, really hope that’s a true story, but somehow doubt it.

I actually wrote a song about the story, and when my band was struggling to choose one of the rubbish names we had so far come up with – Voodoo Shoes, Mantis and McFly (!) were the favourites – we eventually settled on Gorski

And the song, Mr Gorski, captured the biblical act the protagonist wanted so much in non-too subtle phrases, which were virtually guaranteed to offend. Although, having said that, we once played it in front of the mayor of Crewe and he was tapping his feet along quite happily.

Wembley versus The Britannia Stadium

Posted in Uncategorized with tags on October 14, 2008 by richie71

I hate ‘New Wembley’.

What was so special about the old Wembley that the FA had to go and rebuild it anyway?

It took ages to get there, first spending a fortune to get to London, then negotiating the tube with thousands of other fed up commuters and drunken Cockney Eng-er-land fans; my seat always seemed about half a mile from the pitch, and if you needed the toilet at half-time, you could forget about making it back for the second half.

Okay, so it sounded good in all those FA cup chants and Chas & Dave hits of yesteryear, but I mean come on, the actual experience never matched up to the myth.

Unless you won of course, I remember going to see Crewe Alex beat Brentford in the 1997 Division 2 play off finals, and the experience was pretty unforgettable.

But as far as England matches go, it was far better when the national team toured the country, playing at fantastic stadiums like Old Trafford, Anfield and Villa Park. You could guarantee a packed crowd and a fantastic atmosphere, with upwards of 40,000 proper fans shouting England on. And England had a great home record while we were waiting all those extra years and months for New Wembley to be finished.

Now we have a glorious new national stadium. And what do we get? Hundreds of empty seats after half-time while all the corporate prawn sandwich eaters choose to carry on drinking claret in the executive suites rather than watch the match. Engerland fans starting the boos if Rooney hasn’t scored a hat-trick by half time. Spurs and Arsenal fans booing anyone who plays for Chelsea or any of the top northern teams.

Take Saturday’s game against Kazakhstan. Boos at half-time and Ashley Cole gets jeered relentlessly after making one mistake. I know he’s a nasty, arragant, greedy little so and so, but he’s the best left back in the world and it wasn’t as if he was being booed for cheating on Cheryl.

Contrast that with the atmosphere every week at the Britannia Stadium when Stoke City play. Let’s face it, Stoke are a poor team, by Premier League standards, playing unfashionable, long ball football – yet every time they win so much as a throw in, the crowd cheers like they have won the World Cup.

Drunken goalkeeper jailed

Posted in Uncategorized on October 6, 2008 by richie71

Ex-Plymouth Argyle goalkeeper Luke McCormick was jailed for seven years today

He was drunk, he was speeding and he fell asleep at the wheel of his Range Rover at 5.45am, before ploughing into the back of a family car on its way to Silverstone Race Track for a day out, killing two children, Arron Peak, aged 10, and his brother Ben, eight, and crippling their father.

See: http://www.thisisstaffordshire.co.uk/news/Jailed-death-crash-footballer-drove-like-idiot/article-378219-detail/article.html

There’s no question he deserves his sentence. Apparently he was upset at problems with his relationship, which he was on his way to sort out. He’s been incredibly selfish and irresponsible to drive after drinking so much, and when he was obviously very tired.

And he was driving a Range Rover – I hate Range Rovers. It’s a car built for the safety of its passengers so he was okay, but it is not going to do anything for the well being of the passengers of any car unlucky enough to get in its way. 

So yes, he does deserve what he got. But that’s it. I don’t want to have to listen to people going on about how its a disgrace he only got seven years. He’s not a murderer – he is not a murderer.

However stupid, selfish and arrogant he was, he didn’t set out to kill anyone. If he has even the remotest shred of decency, the two children he killed will haunt him for the rest of his life.

Lets not forget, he was a very promising professional footballer. An England youth international and twice Plymouth’s player of the year. It is very unlikely that he will ever play professionally again. His career is effectively over and when he does get out of prison – which won’t be an easy stretch for someone of his former means – he’s going to have to start from scratch, and find a job in the real world.

He deserves what he got, but his life has been wrecked too. He however, has still has the chance to do something about it.

England v Slovakia and Ukraine

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on March 27, 2009 by richie71

Under Fabio Capello England are looking a better team than they have, probably since the European Championships in Portugal in 2004.

In the last few qualifiers and friendlies, England have acquired a balance that they have not had in a long time.

But there is still more work to do. The main thing for Capello is to find a way of playing all, or most of his best players  – mainly Steven Gerrard, Frank Lampard and Wayne Rooney – yet keep that balance.

As a central midfield partnership, Gerrard and Lampard don’t work. They both have strong attacking instincts and there’s no point trying to shoehorn them into roles they have proved, time and time again, they are reluctant to play.

Instead, Capello has played Gerrard in a free role from the left. It works, to an extent. It leaves the Liverpool skipper freedom to roam around the park and join in attacks, while Lampard can play his normal role from central midfield. But if England lose the ball in attack, it could leave left back Ashley Cole vulnerable to attacks, with no support from a left sided midfielder. Playing someone like the naturally left-sided Gareth Barry alongside Lampard could help that, but the better teams have always got an area they could exploit.

If Capello can make it work, it would be better to play Gerrard in, or more or less, the position he plays for Liverpool – in a free role ahead of midfield. These days for his club, Gerrard is more of a forward than a midfielder.  The trouble is, that is pretty much the role Rooney plays for England.

Capello could play Gerrard and Rooney as twin attackers, or with Rooney on the shoulder of the opposition defenders and Gerrard just behind. Rooney has lacked the discipline in the past to play this role. But for Liverpool, Gerrard dovetails expertly with Fernando Torres. Although Torres is the centre-forward, when he drops deep, Gerrard pushes up. Perhaps he could forge a similar partnership with Rooney for England. Both would have to be very disciplined. And stay in constant touch on the pitch. If it didn’t work you could imagine moments when Rooney popped up in the  right-back position to help defence, while Gerrard sat on the left wing.

But if it did work, England could have a lethal pairing combining the talents of two of the best players in the world. To make it work, I believe England would need pace on the wings, which would mean Theo Walcott, Aaron Lennon or Shaun Wright-Phillips on the right – David Beckham on the bench – and either Stuart Downing or Ashley Young down the left. Sadly for Stoke fans, I doubt there’ll be a day when Potters winger Matthew Etherington answers the call.

In midfield would be either two holding midfielders – Barry and Michael Carrick – or one plus the more attacking Lampard.

England lack talent in attack, other than the potential Rooney/Gerrard combination, options are thin. Heskey is excellent, and has brought out the best in Rooney. But he’s over 30 and doesn’t score many goals. Michael Owen hasn’t been fit for over a year, former Crewe Alex striker Dean Ashton is another injury prone forward, Jermaine Defoe blows hot and cold, Gabby Agbonlahor isn’t a clinical finisher, neither is Carlton Cole, while at 30, James Beattie, in brilliant goalscoring form for Stoke, has missed his chance. 

Goalkeeper is another problem position. David James, at 39, is still error-prone when playing for the Three Lions, while Joe Hart and former Stoke keeper Ben Forster, don’t play regular football.

Still, while England are still a long way of the class of a team like Spain, there’s plenty of cause for optimism for the World Cup. As long as Capello can continue to find the right balance.

Blazer and chinos, or hoodie and shell suit?

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , on March 18, 2009 by richie71

I feel sorry for 21st century teenagers.

Obviously not the violent, predatory scumbag type, like Adam Swellings, from Crewe, who kicked to death father of three Garry Newlove, with a gang of his mates.

But the average teenager gets a pretty rough ride. The vast majority would be appalled that someone like Swellings could kick a man to death and wouldn’t dream of similar violence. Yet to an extent, they are all tarred with the same brush.

You could take a group of the nicest teenagers in the world, drop them in a high street to spend their time picking up litter and planting daisies and they’d still be intimidating to pensioners and other middle aged passers by.

There is nothing to do and nowhere to go for todays teenagers. You can’t play football in the street because of all the cars. Go to a park and police will probably slap a dispersal order on you once the neighbours start moaning. Wander the streets and the adults will soon feel threatened. Hang out around a shop and you’ll be deafened by the high pitched alarms, specifically designed to irritate children and youths – adults can’t hear the noise.

It’s no wonder hooded tops are so fashionable. Who wants to be seen when the liklihood is that Mavis from up the road will be straight on the phone to your parents to grass you up for daring to wander the streets in an aimless fashion.

Individuality seems to have left youth culture to a large extent. When I was growing up in the 1980s, there were many subcultures to choose from. For a while I sported a denim jacket with patches on the back declaring alegience to a variety of heavy metal bands; then I turned trendy with a full-on Rick Astley-style blazer, chinos and moccasins. Other mates were goths. Earlier in the decade there were New Romantics. Okay, so the fashions were terrible – as bad as the music – but at least there was a bit of variety.  The 90s were better with decent music and I found a more comfortable identity as an indie kid.

Maybe I’m missing something, but walk around Stoke-on-Trent in the 21st century and every single teenager you see will be wearing a shell suit. Maybe coupled with a baseball cap and a hoodie. Its amazing there are not more fires from all the synthetic material rubbing together. Certainly the sound of all that rustling can be heard above the traffic for miles around.

But with everything against them, is it any wonder they all want to look anonymous? The whole ‘chav’ fashion seems designed to hide identity. Plus, knowing how hated the look is among middle-England, the look also serves as a two-fingered salute to the Daily Mail readers.

Personally, I think it is a terrible look. But then I expected to be taken seriously in a blazer and moccasins.

The Brits, Elbow & the Pet Shop Boys

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on February 19, 2009 by richie71

SHOWBIZ Mercury 44Urgh! The Pet Shop Boys get a lifetime achievement award – why?!

A lifetime of boring pop songs, when there are so many more deserving bands out there.

I know a lot of people like the Pet Shop Boys, but I just don’t get it. I don’t see them as remotely important, and I was surprised to see Brandon Flowers from the infinitely better Killers gushing about them.

I was much, much happier to see Elbow win best band. Well deserved, Elbow have got better with age. There last two albums have been their best and they have been consistently excellent. They write quality songs, are all excellent musicians, and Guy Garvey has one of the best voices in British rock.

Personally, I think they would have been a good shout for best album and best live act too. After all, The Seldom Seen Kid won the Mercury.  I’ve seen Elbow live a number of times and they are brilliant. Guy is a funny and engaging front man, and Elbow’s soaring riffs and melodies were meant to be played live. When I saw them at the V Festival in Weston Park, near Stafford, I was blown away. Songs off the first two albums, which I liked, but didn’t think were stand out, sounded fantastic live.

As for Paul Weller winning best British male, not sure about that. I’ve not heard his album, or any new tracks from him. By all accounts he was excellent at the Victoria Hall in Stoke-on-Trent, as he was at Delamere Forest in Cheshire.

But then who is the alternative? Ian Brown hasn’t released anything in a while and other than that: James Blunt I would cheerfully kill, for reasons too numerous to go into here; likewise James Morrison. And who else is there?

As for the rest of the Brits, it all seemed a bit polished yet dull and corporate. The sight of music-criminal Louis Walsh grooving away to the Pet Shop Boys pretty much summed it up.

England v Spain

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on February 11, 2009 by richie71

England face Spain tonight in better shape than they have been since 2002.

After years of dull, uninspiring performances under previous managers Sven Goran Eriksson and the woeful Steve McLaren, there is reason for optimism.

Under Eriksson, the so-called ‘Golden Generation’ pretty much ran England. You knew the team would be a straight forward 4-4-2, with Gerrard and Lampard in the middle, Owen and Rooney up front, Beckham on the right, eventually, Joe Cole on the left. And that was it. There was no real way of changing tactics when things went wrong, other than bung on the lanky Peter Crouch and hoof the ball up to him.

Under McLaren it was worst. He briefly found a balance, when injury led to him playing Gerrard and Gareth Barry in central midfield, and he was right to recall Emile Heskey to play with with Owen in attack. But he made far too many mistakes, like alienating Jamie Carragher so he retired from international football. Or giving Scott Carson his debut in goal in the must win match against Croatia, in the rain and the glare of media spotlight, with even more pressure because he was replacing error-prone former number 1 Paul Robinson. That decision set him back years.

Under Fabio Capello, the side suddenly have balance. They work hard. And he has plenty of options. It is no longer Gerrard and Lampard in the middle. There’s more than enough evidence to show they are not effective together. It is one of them, plus either Barry or Michael Carrick. Or even Barry and Carrick with two attacking wingers. Theo Walcott suddenly looks international class. Stuart Downing, Shaun Wright-Phillips, Glen Johnson and Matthew Upson have all proved themselves, at last, on the international stage. And the sheer pace, energy and skill of players like Gabby Agbonlahor and Ashley Young give England plenty of options from the bench. England have the players to switch from 4-4-2 to 4-3-3, 4-5-1, or 4-2-3-1.

But then again, I’m an optimist. And I’ve built up England many times in the past only to be disappointed.

While most premier league clubs anxiously wait to see if any of their players pick up an injury on international duty, most of the Stoke City players will just get a break. James Beatie and Dave Kitson are miles away from an England call-up, although new signing Steve Kelly and Noel Whelan could be in action for the Republic of Ireland.

As for Crewe Alex, my home town club, I don’t think there’s an international side desperate enough for any of their under-performing players.

But, at least in the past, there has generally been an ex-Crewe player in the England team to cheer, like David Platt, Rob Jones, or Danny Murphy. And but for injury, Dean Ashton could be lining up for the Three Lions.

Transfer deadline day madness

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on February 3, 2009 by richie71


The most bizarre deal of this year’s January transfer window has to be that of Robbie Keane.

The striker was signed from Tottenham by Liverpool for over £20m, despite loud protests from the Spurs camp. Before a ball had been kicked he was being heralded as the buy of the season.

Now, just six months on, he has been sold back to Tottenham for the princely sum of £12m, only £8m less than he was worth in August.
Its obvious his face didn’t fit at Anfield. Rafa Benitez didn’t pick him even when Fernando Torres was injured. When he did play, he was largely ineffectual, played out of position. But when he did start scoring he was dumped out of the squad completely.

Now struggling Spurs have got a quality striker, to go alongside the other quality striker they bought back in January – Jermaine Defoe.

Meanwhile Liverpool will continue their title challenge with just Torres, who has been injured most of the season, up front. Although they do have Dirk Kujt and Ryan Babel, both are usually deployed on the wings by Benitez. Kujt, although he works hard and has played well this season, is not a goalscorer. Rafa doesn’t seem to trust Babel through the middle, or much on the wing for that matter. From what I’ve seen of David Ngog, he’s clearly not ready for a Premiership campaign.

And Liverpool either failed, or refused, to buy a replacement. Which raises question marks about the club’s American owners, and how much they can afford to spend. Are they to become a selling club?

Or is Keane a pawn in Benitez’s battle with Rick Parry for control of the club’s transfer policy?

In contrast Stoke City, a club with sparse resources in comparison with Liverpool – you would expect – have done well out of the transfer window.

They kept their existing squad together and signed Matthew Etherington from West Ham – a Premiership regular before his much publicised gambling problems. He’s already done a good job filling the problematic left wing berth. James Beattie has scored two in three games, including the winner against Manchester City on Saturday. Henri Camara, on loan from Wigan, will give Stoke something different up front, a pacy striker with the ability to run at defenders who should give the Potters an outlet in away games.

Chelsea’s loan signing of Queresmo from Inter Milan, shows, perhaps, that billionaire owner Roman Abramovitch has lost interest. Instead of competing for Kaka and Lionel Messi, they sign Portugal’s third or fourth choice winger, when he’s clearly surplus to requirements at Milan. Charity from Jose Mourinho towards his old club?

Deadline day buys won’t have any effect on the title race. They could well play a big part in the relegation battle. And the deadline day sale of Robbie Keane could end up halting Liverpool’s challenge.

McFly sticks it to The Man

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on January 15, 2009 by richie71

I was almost the lead singer in McFly.

It’s true. A few years ago I got together with two mates, put out a few adverts and got a band together in Crewe, my home town. Originally called Voodoo Shoes (which is pretty awful) we then played our first at the Limelight Club in Crewe gig called Mantis (even worst). We needed a better name and so Chris, the guitarist, suggested McFly, after the character in the Back To The Future movies. I agreed, but we were eventually outvoted and settled on Gorski.

When the cheeky chart-topping popsters McFly appeared to replace Busted, a year or so later, I was relieved. After watching them on Top of the PopsI couldn’t associate the name with anything other than a teenybop band for children.

My opinion of McFly hasn’t altered much over the years. I never paid them much attention. They don’t play the shows I watch or appear anywhere near any of the bands I listen to – The Libertines, White Stripes, Strokes, Kings of Leon, Radiohead, Arctic Monkeys, etc etc etc. There is no way you would get me anywhere near the Victoria Hall in Hanley, Stoke-on-Trent when McFly appeared there a year or so ago. Or at Pop in the Park in Nantwich last year.

So I was more than a little surprised by McFly’s performance on the return of Top of the Pops over Christmas. Among the array of bland R&B and X-Factor winners McFly stepped on stage, looked as teeny-bopper as ever….And then ripped into a song that sounded more akin with Green Day than McFly/Busted. They were energetic, musically tight and passionate about what they were singing. What is more, the lyrics were actually quite cutting.

McFly have apparently left their record label after becoming disillusioned. The song sticks it to The Man: “So here’s to the liars who dream and conspire
Against the admired, we hope you drop dead”

Fair play McFly. The song is a typically catchy, poppy McFly song, but with deeper, dirgy guitars, and the cutting, cynical lyrics. “So here’s another song for the radio”, indeed.

I’ve spoken in favour of McFly at work, and since been abused and castigated for my troubles. I am NOT a McFly fan, as I have repeated many times since watching them on Top of the Pops.

But, as the band says: “Don’t pretend you hate us when you sing our songs!”

Wedgwood

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on January 7, 2009 by richie71

Sad to see the collapse of Wedgwood.

Receivers have moved in after the company racked up debts of almost £400 million, after six years of loss making.

Wedgwood has a proud tradition. 2009 marks its 250th year in business, the 1,000 strong workforce should be celebrating. Not preparing for the hardship on the dole.

The bulk of Wedgwood’s problems can be traced back to two take-over bids. Back in 1986, the company merged with Irish crystal giants Waterford, becoming Waterford Wedgwood. For years Waterford sucked dry the profits Wedgwood was making simply to stay in business. Then, just as Waterford turned a corner, profits at Wedgwood dried up due to a decline in global demand for pottery, difficult trading conditions, which were exacerbated by 9/11, and the rise in fuel costs.

Waterford Wedgwood’s decision to buy Wedgwood’s former rival, Royal Doulton has turned out to be a mistake too, saddling the company with yet more debt.

The once mighty pottery industry in Stoke-on-Trent has been decimated over the last few years, with Spode and Royal Doulton also falling. Wedgwood was the largest, perhaps the greatest and the company with the proudest tradition. It has perhaps taken the harder fall.

There is still hope. Buyers are circling. Wedgwood – former pottery makers to the crown – has a proud tradition and a strong brand name. Perhaps a buyer will step in. Perhaps Wedgwood’s skilled workforce will be retained. Perhaps, if it is freed from the constraints of Waterford, Wedgwood  can move back into profitability. Or the company’s assets could be stripped, and its work and brand name outsourced to Indonesia, where Labour is much cheaper than at its current base in Barlaston.

Stoke-on-Trent – The Potteries – was once home to all the industry greats, as well as Spode, Royal Doulton and Wedgwood, there was Minton, Beswick, and Carlton Ware. Now just Portmeirion, Dudson, Churchill and Steelite