Friday, May 29, 2009

Editing and generally tidying up...

Having read a significant proportion of my 'back catalogue' over the past week or so, I decided to remove some of the dead wood from the archives.
As some of you may have found yourself, once you start pruning, it's difficult to know where to stop, particularly when, like me, you are your own fiercest critic.
Consequently, with that somewhat time-consuming work still in progress, new posts will be a little thin on the ground for the next few days.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Football predictions...How did I do?

As promised (or should that be threatened) in my two previous posts, it's time to examine my ability as a football pundit, by comparing the predictions I made in August as to where each of the clubs in the English Premier League would find themselves at the end of the season with where they actually found themselves.

Reproduced below are the final league placings and alongside them in red, what I had predicted:

1. Manchester United (Man United)
2. Liverpool (Chelsea)
3. Chelsea (Arsenal)
4. Arsenal (Liverpool)

5. Everton (Everton)
6. Aston Villa (Aston Villa)
7. Fulham (Portsmouth)
8. Spurs (Spurs)
9. West Ham (Sunderland)
10. Manchester City (Newcastle)
11. Wigan (Man City)
12. Stoke (West Ham)
13. Bolton (Blackburn)
14. Portsmouth (Wigan)
15. Blackburn (Bolton)
16. Sunderland (Fulham)
17. Hull (Boro)

18. Newcastle (West Brom)
19. Middlesborough (Stoke)
20. West Brom (Hull)

Well, starting with the good points, I got four out of the top eight in exactly the right position, and - allowing myself a little latitude - correctly identified seven of the clubs occupying the top eight places, with only a now rather eccentric choice of Portsmouth to finish seventh spoiling my set.

Not bad.

But before get too carried away, let's go to the opposite end of the table. Of the three clubs I tipped for the drop, only one, West Brom, was actually relegated and even then, I got their position wrong. And whilst I'm pointing out inaccuracies, I also predicted that the Baggies would be joined in the Championship next season by Stoke City, who finished a very creditable twelfth, eleven points above the relegation zone and Hull City, who survived by the skin of their teeth and one incredibly precious point.

I also have to concede that as late as the day before yesterday, I predicted that Newcastle would stay up (oh dear) at Hull's expense.

Wrong again!

Other than that, I significantly overestimated how Sunderland would fare, suggesting that they would finish ninth, whereas, of course, they were still sweating profusely on the last day of the season.

Those glaring errors aside, I think I can accurately categorise the remainder of my predictions as being 'right desert, wrong tent', missing a number of bulls' eyes by one or two places.

In fact, I actually got more of my predictions spot on than the Daily Mail's Neil Ashton, who's article prompted me to consult the Throne's murky crystal ball in the first place. He only hit the spot with two suggestions, one of which was Manchester United, which, forgive the observation, but a blind man on a galloping horse could have foreseen.

Still, I'd better not give up the day job...

Those of you not as keen on football as I am will doubtless be pleased to read - if indeed you are still reading - that there will be no more posts on the subjct until next August, when I repeat this exercise for the season 2009-2010.

Oh goody! I hear you all cry...

Well done, Burnley...

As promised on Saturday evening, I'll be writing a longer football related post later on, but it would be remiss of me to fail to offer my congratulations to Burnley Football Club on their promotion to the Premier League, having beaten Sheffield United 1 - 0 at Wembley.

Having been by far the better side for the full ninety minutes, no-one but the most myopic Sheffield United fan could argue that Burnley didn't deserve their success on today's evidence.

So eight Lancashire clubs in next season's Premier League it is, then; there'll be a local derby every other week!

All we need now is for Preston North End to come up next season...

Saturday, May 23, 2009

The Premier League denouement...

As I type these words at shortly after 9.15 on Saturday evening, those of you familiar with the world of English football will know that the next forty-eight hours will be the most exciting – and nerve-racking - of the season for the players and supporters of six clubs.

I say six, because after the nerve-shredding tension of the battle to stave off relegation is played out on Sunday afternoon, during which two of Sunderland, Hull City (who started the season with such promise), Newcastle United and Middlesborough will fall through the trap door into the relative oblivion of the Championship, comes the play-off final for promotion to the untold wealth of the Premier League.

Turning first to the battle to avoid relegation, it would appear that barring an entirely unlikely set of freak results, in which they would have to win, whilst all the others lost and in the process make up a deficit of five in terms of their goal difference, Middlesborough will be plying their trade in the second tier of English football next year.

So far so predictable.

But then comes the battle between the remaining three clubs, Sunderland, Hull and Newcastle to avoid the final berth on football’s Titanic. Whichever one of them eventually hits the iceberg, it will be a dark day for football in the north east, because all three of the combatants are from that part of the country. Yes, I know that when people refer to the north east, they are generally speaking about an area starting in Newcastle and ranging as far south as Middlesborough, but on what reading of geography is the city of Hull not in the north east of England?

For what it’s worth, gazing into the Throne’s rather murky crystal ball, I think that Newcastle and Sunderland will escape the drop by the skin of their teeth, whilst Hull will join Middlesborough and West Bromwich Albion on the unwanted journey south.

Meanwhile, on Monday afternoon, a game of at least equal, if not greater, importance will kick off at 4.00pm at Wembley.

That match is, of course, the Championship play-off final between Sheffield United and Burnley, with the victors securing a place in next season’s Premier League and with it the trifling matter of £50 million pounds or so of television money.

Living where I do, I know a good many Burnley supporters (more just recently than ever before; I wonder why…) and contrary to popular belief, very few of them eat bananas with their feet.

Interestingly, if Burnley are successful, they will become the eighth Lancashire club in the Premier League (0r 40% of its membership), joining near neighbours Blackburn Rovers, Bolton Wanderers, Wigan Athletic and the two Manchester and Liverpool clubs in the elite of English football.

What a contrast those riches would be in comparison to the footballing wilderness which is Yorkshire and the north east of England in general.

Fortunately, I will be watching all of those issues unravel as a neutral, but I dare say, having seen my club in both relegation danger and in the play-offs in previous years, that nerves are jangling tonight in those six towns and cities in northern England.

On a slightly different tack, those of you with longer memories may remember that on 12th August last year, I posted an item in which I predicted the way the Premier League table would look at the end of the season.

On Monday, I propose to hold my pundit status up to ridicule by comparing my predictions with what actually happened.
I can hear the gales of laughter already…

Thursday, May 21, 2009

The prosecution of Ali Dizaei: a game of high stakes

I see that the CPS has decided to prosecute Commander Ali Dizaei for offences of perverting the course of justice and misconduct in a public office, arising out of an incident which occurred last autumn outside a London restaurant, during which he had arrested a man on what were, allegedly, trumped up charges.

Regular readers will be familiar with the stance adopted by the Throne in respect of those charged with criminal offences: all of them - whoever they are, however famous, or even notorious -are entitled to the presumption of innocence until such time that their guilt - if such is the finding of the court - is established beyond reasonable doubt. This, of course extends to Mr Dizaei every bit as much as it did to Steven Gerrard, about whom I wrote when he was arrested and charged with offences earlier this year.

As such, and with the matter now sub-judice, I do not propose to offer any further comment on the case itself; but there are one or two issues arising from it which do merit further discussion.

Firstly, I am sure that the decision to prosecute such a high profile individual - Dizaei is both the President and legal advisor to the openly activist Black Police Association, and as a Metropolitan Police Commander one of the most senior police officers in the country - was not taken lightly. Indeed, I'm absolutely sure that the lawyer responsible for deciding in favour of his prosecution, Gaon Hart, will have agonised over it endlessly. Only time and due process will show whether that decision was justified and we must await the final result of the prosecution to make that assessment.

Secondly, if I were Nick Hardwick, the Chair(man) of the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC), I would have sought the most cast-iron assurances possible from the team which investigated the case against Dizaei that they had left no stone unturned in their search for evidence. Because, and make no mistake about it, if the IPCC investigation comes up short, the resulting enquiry will be very uncomfortable indeed for Hardwick, who might even find his position untenable if the enquiry is severely criticised.

Thirdly, of course, this is a high-stakes case for the Metropolitan Police; a fact which will not have been lost on its Commissioner, Sir Paul Stephenson and the entirety of his command team, because not only was Dizaei acquitted the last time the Met investigated him, but as a consequnce of that acquittal, they agreed to pay him several tens of thousands of pounds and promote him to the rank of Chief Superintendent in order to persuade him not to sue them and to smooth his way back into the force.

If he were to be acquitted a second time, I shudder to think what the settlement 'price' would be; I just hope Her Majesty the Queen is still enjoying her normal, robust good health at the time, or his eyes might even alight on her position.

More seriously, though, I'm sure that the attitude of the BPA, as expressed by Alfred John, the Chair(man) of the London branch, who described the decision to prosecute Dizaei as 'outrageous' and 'the result of personal vendettas' is already causing Sir Paul more than a little concern, for reasons so obvious that I needn't waste my time by recording them here.

All in all, then, a game of high stakes for all involved; from Dizaei himself, who will face professional ruin if convicted, to the IPCC and CPS, who will face severe (and potentially career-ending) criticism if their work is found to be of a less than excellent standard and to the BPA which faces the potential embarrassment of the conviction of a man who is not only their national president and legal advisor, but in many ways the 'face' of their organisation and finally, the Metropolitan Police who will have a significant issue on their hands, whatever the verdict.

A game of high stakes indeed.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Self indulgent stat pron...

Quite astonishingly, on 14th May 2009, the Throne welcomed a reader from the Lebanon, making that benighted land the one hundredth country to host a visitor.

Just as astonishing (to me, anyway) is the fact that only slightly over 55% of my visitors are from the 'U'K, with visitors from the US accounting for over 22% of readers.

As traditionalists say in this part of England, "Who'd o' thowt it!"

(Rough translation for the uninitiated: "Who would have thought it?" or "They are a somewhat unexpected set of statistics.")

The true face of Ireland's theocracy...

The more I see and read about stories such as this and this, the more I go down on bended knee and thank God that I was not brought up in an Irish orphanage run by tyrannical and all-too-frequently sexually depraved Catholic priests.

Or, had I been born both female and Irish, that I was not judged to be a ‘fallen woman’ on what appears in many cases to have been the flimsiest of pretexts and as a consequence of that judgement, to have been incarcerated by vicious nuns for the remainder of my life and used as slave labour in one of the Catholic church’s Magdalen laundries.

Please do not misinterpret my first two paragraphs as an attack on Ireland as a whole, the Irish, or on the wider Catholic Church, because they aren’t meant to be any of those things.

What they are intended to be is an attack on the unaccountable Catholic theocracy which, it seems to me, had the whip hand in the governance of the twenty-six counties from the time of the partition, until as recently as twenty years or so ago.

And unless any of my Irish (or indeed any other) readers can tell me differently, this was a uniquely Irish phenomenon, because I am not aware that the Church was similarly powerful, or of any similar allegations being made about Church-run institutions in other predominantly Catholic countries, such as Spain, Portugal, Poland or Italy, or for that matter, the entirety of Latin America or the Philippines.

Of course an unacceptable proportion of children brought up in institution settings in this country and probably every other country in the world were subjected to abuse, both physical and sexual, by their so-called 'carers'.

But those carers were not priests, nuns or monks and none of them were able, with the tacit support of their senior hierarchy, to imprison and enslave women for the rest of their lives on the mere suspicion of moral turpitude.

None of them set themselves up as moral exemplars and demanded such grovelling deference from lay people that it all but smothered any opposition, labelling their few (and morally courageous) detractors as lunatics or heretics.

I am glad to see that the final traces of those theocratic shackles are now being removed from the people of Ireland and the publication of the report into that sixty-year catalogue of abuse and cover-ups prepared by the Commission to Inquire Into Child Abuse, is another important step along that long and often painful path.

The final step, though, has to be the prosecution of those responsible for carrying out the abuse. Only then will the outrageous injustices, compounded by their being committed by the so-called Godly, finally be put to bed and seeing the reaction of some of their victims on the news today, I rather get the impression that they will not rest until their assailants and jailers are brought to justice.

And more power to their collective elbow, I say.

Thursday, May 07, 2009

I wish to register a complaint...

A friend of mine emailed me the following gems yesterday evening and I thought they were worth sharing with a wider audience...

This was sent from Thomas Cook Holidays - listing some of the guests' complaints during the season.

(Survey by Thos Cook and ABTA)

"I think it should be explained in the brochure that the local store does not sell proper biscuits like custard creams or ginger nuts."

"It's lazy of the local shopkeepers to close in the afternoons. I often needed to buy things during 'siesta' time - this should be banned."

"On my holiday to Goa in India , I was disgusted to find that almost every restaurant served curry. I don't like spicy food at all."

"We booked an excursion to a water park but no-one told us we had to bring our swimming costumes and towels."

A tourist at a top African game lodge overlooking a waterhole, who spotted a visibly aroused elephant, complained that the sight of this rampant beast ruined his honeymoon by making him feel "inadequate".

A woman threatened to call police after claiming that she'd been locked in by staff. When in fact, she had mistaken the "do not disturb" sign on the back of the door as a warning to remain in the room.

"The beach was too sandy."

"We found the sand was not like the sand in the brochure. Your brochure shows the sand as yellow but it was white."

A guest at a Novotel in Australia complained his soup was too thick and strong. He was inadvertently slurping the gravy at the time.

"Topless sunbathing on the beach should be banned. The holiday w as ruined as my husband spent all day looking at other women."

"We bought 'Ray-Ban' sunglasses for five Euros (£3.50) from a street trader, only to find out they were fake."

"No-one told us there would be fish in the sea. The children were startled."

"It took us nine hours to fly home from Jamaica to England it only took the Americans three hours to get home."

"I compared the size of our one-bedroom apartment to our friends' three-bedroom apartment and ours was significantly smaller."

"The brochure stated: 'No hairdressers at the accommodation'. We're trainee hairdressers - will we be OK staying here?"

"There are too many Spanish people. The receptionist speaks Spanish. The food is Spanish. Too many foreigners."

"We had to queue outside with no air conditioning."

"It is your duty as a tour operator to advise us of noisy or unruly guests before we travel."

"I was bitten by a mosquito - no-one said they could bite."

"My fiancé and I booked a twin-bedded room but we were placed in a double-bedded room. We now hold you responsible for the fact that I find myself pregnant. This would not have happened if you had put us in the room that we booked."

Heaven help us!