Monthly Archives: March 2012

A prayer for Fabrice

Some quite shocking news this week. In France a gunman, over the last nine days, has killed seven people – three soldiers of North African or Caribbean origin and yesterday (March 19) a religious teacher and three children. Another teenager, shot in the same incident, is gravely ill. Whether the perpetrator(s) is an extremist right-wing, racist, anti-Semitic or something else is not much more than speculation at the moment. Hopefully he will have left enough clues to ensure his quick capture.

In England the shock was provided during an FA Cup quarter final. The Bolton midfielder, Fabrice Muamba, without warning and unattended by anyone, suddenly collapsed from a massive coronary attack and stopped breathing. It goes without saying that someone of his profession, especially a “box-to-box” midfielder like Muamba,  would be regarded as fitter than virtually all of his contemporaries, and this made the news more shocking than ever. If nothing else, the event was a salutary reminder of life’s unpredictability. Muamba was on the pitch, unconscious, for six minutes, before being rushed to hospital. The players, officials and spectators couldn’t be fully aware of events, almost unique as they were, but there was a sense that something was deeply wrong. This was one of those “only a game” moments that we don’t see often enough. Continue reading

Duncan’s Ditty of the Day # 4

The 1970s were a strange time. No-one up until then had got used to the pessimism. They were a time of industrial unrest and a general feeling that things were out of control. Only in the 1970s could this person, or his jacket that he was never seen without, have commanded any national attention.

Derek “Red Robbo” Robinson

The early 1970s was also a time when bad taste reigned supreme. Every period has its fashion disasters but the 1970s had nothing else. Musically, things were the same. Although David Bowie produced the peerless Ziggy Stardust album and much more good stuff besides, his bad-taste imitators were legion. This was the time of the not-missed, not-lamented glam rock. For a brief period – not brief enough – the charts were dominated by Gary Glitter, the Sweet and the Bay City Rollers.

On the other hand, those who took their music more seriously (but weren’t listening to Little Feat), could constructively engage with “progressive rock”. At least Gary Glitter only took three minutes of your life away, the prog-rockers couldn’t stop at that. Nowadays there is for some reason some nostalgia for that time and that music, but at the time you couldn’t help wondering what the world was coming to. Unrelenting, turgid and pretentious music it was, the worst offenders being for my money Emerson, Lake and Palmer, who I had the misfortune to see, as an afterthought, at Wembley Arena in 1974. Yes, King Crimson and Genesis get (dis)honourable mentions.

It wasn’t all bad, of course. This was the era of Dark Side of the Moon, Exile on Main Street and Innervisions, as well as the aforementioned Ziggy Stardust. Nevertheless by 1976 it was well beyond time to blow the glam-rockers and the prog-rockers away.

So, punk rock. Music at its best is rich in emotion, and although most of the punks were carefree in admitting that they couldn’t play, a great time was had. For me, I wasn’t a massive fan at the time, and continued to listen to blues and jazz. But I think I missed out on the times and didn’t at the time appreciate the message. Not all of them were good – the Clash, I’d say, were particularly overrated. But the most notorious band still sound good today. Never mind the bollocks, here’s the Sex Pistols.

Ten Years Gone

Yesterday (March 14) marked a significant anniversary in the history of Everton Football Club. It was ten years to the day that David Moyes was appointed manager. Only Alex Ferguson and Arsene Wenger, of all current managers in the Football League, have kept their jobs longer. It’s well-known that being a top manager is one of life’s more precarious existences, and becoming more so. Hereford United recently sacked their manager, and that meant that more than half of the top 92 English clubs have changed this season alone. While Ferguson and Wenger have also been the most successful managers over that period – and therefore there’s a lot to be said for continuity – the general lack of longevity makes Moyes’ achievement all the more remarkable.

Ten years earlier in 1992, of course, Everton were one of the “Big 5”, having won two of the previous five championships. But of these clubs, Everton, through a failure to anticipate media-led changes and act accordingly, had  fallen from their elevated position and by 2002 expectations were lower. This has helped Moyes undoubtedly, as his reputation rests in the main on his teams punching above their weight. Another thing in his favour is his relationship with Chairman “Blue Bill” Kenwright. Kenwright is rich by any standard except of that required for megalomaniac Premier football club owners, and would, I gather, love to sell the club to one of these people so that Everton can once again compete right at the top without having to make silk purses from sows’ ears. But Blue Bill, if nothing else, has the best interests of the club at heart and won’t just sell to anybody. It’s a hard sell, anyway, as the antiquated Goodison Park is a major millstone.

But Blue Bill has invariably kept faith with his managers – Walter Smith, who constantly bought badly for too much then played his team in wrong positions, stayed far, far too long. In the case of Moyes, this faith has clearly been for the better, despite not yet winning any silverware at all. (Although to be fair, I was at the game against Manchester United in 2004 where my namesake, Big Dunc, scored the 85th minute goal that virtually assured us of Champions League qualification, and it was just like winning the league).

Net spending on players has not been that bad – Everton rank 11th since the start of the Premier league, although only a tenth of  that of Chelsea or Manchester City, this is about the same as Stoke, Bolton and Wolves, and about half that of Fulham, Newcastle or Sunderland. Clearly, performance has exceeded all of those clubs, not to mention that in the last ten years they’ve had an average of six managers each, and Newcastle have had eleven, plus caretakers. It’s only in the last three years, since the signing of Fellaini, that belt-tightening has taken over with a vengeance, though.

Moyes hasn’t got everything right by any means – Kroldrup, Beattie, van der Meyde (?!?) – and why he brought McFadden back is a mystery to me, but seems to have a talent for acquiring players thought just below the highest level and getting them to achieve that status, such as Cahill, Jagielka, Baines, Lescott, Arteta. I’m also not sure what striker best fits Moyes’ system, or even if there is such a thing. Hopefully Jelavic will prove me wrong, but apart from a short period of form from Andy Johnson, all Everton strikers since 2002 have ultimately been failures. And it seems that lack of goals have been Moyes’ and Everton’s biggest problem right through the last ten years. Who knows what would have happened had Rooney stayed? Having said that, it makes Moyes’ achievements with the rest of his system even more meritorious. With more prolific goalscorers Everton would surely be a European fixture and his reputation would be even higher.

He obviously has many managerial talents, as this BBC appraisal shows. But I would say his best quality is his determination to approach the game in an honest manner. We saw this only this week, after the disastrous result at Anfield, where he clearly accepted the score as a result of Everton’s own errors. In an occupation noted for excuses, Moyes’ approach has always been refreshing.

Every time one of the “big clubs” has a vacancy, Moyes’ name is in the frame – for good reason. It’s said that he’ll be off to Tottenham in the summer if Harry Redknapp takes the poisoned chalice that is England. I have my doubts that that will happen but the pressure on Moyes to cement his reputation with one of these clubs won’t diminish. I’m not sure what would happen should Tottenham or some other club with money to burn come in for him – there was talk of him going to Newcastle a little while ago, but that was never going to happen, as they’re not as big as they think they are. But I would like to think that he realises how fortunate he’s been, alongside his obvious talent. Everton have been steadfastly loyal to Moyes and he’s repaid it. Long may he continue to do so. Here’s to the next ten years!

2012: February Loose Ends

I did hope that it wouldn’t be March before I got round to this post, but to no avail. Anyway, after a 4600-word post I’ll try to imbue this one with a little conciseness.

February was a good month for my two favourite subjects – football and religion.

First, football. Sarah Palin lookalike Fabio Capello resigned as England football manager. Pure speculation from my part, but my guess is that Capello was looking for a way out. He genuinely believed that the appointment of captain was for him alone, but could have complained bitterly and left it at that. Instead he made it a point of principle worth resigning over, although at £6 million a year and only four months left on his contract, he didn’t lose that much. When the captain John Terry (who already lost the job once on account of his extra-marital activities) is due in court over allegations of racism, but not until after the next big international tournament, it seems that the Football Association are acting under the notion that he is guilty until proven innocent. It’s a difficult one, to be sure. My guess is that nothing will come of it, apart from the hot air already generated. Continue reading

Truth and relativism

Donald Rumsfeld famously said:

There are known knowns; there are things we know we know.
We also know there are known unknowns; that is to say we know there are some things we do not know.
But there are also unknown unknowns – there are things we do not know we don’t know.

But are there also unknown knowns – things we know we can’t know? In practice we don’t know a lot, but does this mean we know nothing in principle?

Believe it or not this blog has a loose theme. I’ve posted on Christianity and  Orwell, because they both represent different facets of this thing we understand as truth. It seemed to me that Christianity was manifestly based on something that just we have no right to believe to be true. Orwell’s writings throughout, and especially the documentary Homage to Catalonia and his later novels, were about the subversion of truth for other ends, and how this would lead, inevitably if unchecked, to man’s descent into ignorance. Whether we’re talking of religion or ideology, there are powerful forces working against truth, and therefore against progress. So I intend to write quite a bit about truth. I have started this post several times, and abandoned it on the basis I changed my mind on exactly how to approach the subject – would it best to approach the subject of truth for what it is or what it isn’t? For now, I chose the latter.

People don’t believe what they don’t think is true, obviously enough. But maybe they don’t have the right reasons for thinking the way they do. But whatever they do, when arguing they make an appeal to truth. Even those that seek to deny the reality of truth argue for the truth that there is no truth, or that truth has varying meanings.

At the very least, truth has elusive qualities. Something ostensibly so simple to comprehend has an extensive history in philosophy. Continue reading