Sunday, 28 April 2019

A Grim Fairy Tale

The Easter sunshine, combined with the Article 50 extension so generously granted by the EU (I'm being sarcastic on the latter of course) seemed to have lifted the spirits of many. With Parliament in recess Brexit has been out of the headlines and everyone seems in a much better mood, for now at least.

Not quite everyone, though - Thursday's edition of Question Time was one of the most fractious I've ever seen, with Brexiteers and Remainers shouting at each other and climate change worriers shouting at both of them for being preoccupied with a parochial issue rather than global warming.

This in the week that the Extinction Rebellion protesters continued to make a nuisance of themselves in London, contributing to pollution by bringing traffic to a standstill in their bid to have the climate treated as an "emergency" without ever making clear what they meant. I couldn't help thinking that they all looked rather comfortably upper middle class, as well as apparently 100% white. (I think "hideously" is the adjective, unless Greg Dyke copyrighted it). And what did I find in last week's Sunday Times Home section? A two page feature on the house in a village near St Albans owned by Emily Spry, an Extinction Rebellion campaigner arrested in London the previous week. It's a "passivhaus", a home that meets the highest global standards of energy efficiency and uses about 10% of the normal energy required for heating due to extremely high insulation and airtightness standards. Emily and her husband had been looking for 10 years to find a suitable site for their first home of their own for them and their two children. Not the average first time buyers, mind - the 10 acre site cost £1.15 million to buy in 2014. They demolished the existing 1960s prefab bungalow (eh? on a ten acre site!) and built their house for a cost of £800,000. To be fair this is described as the "total project cost" so might include the planting of 1700 trees around the edges of the property. While Spry obviously practices at least some of what she preaches, I suspect only some aspects of her project are relevant to folk with less resources at their disposal.

Meanwhile a 16 year old Swedish girl had leading British politicians grovelling in apology, though for what I wasn't quite sure given the UK's record in emissions reduction compared with most countries. Greta Thumbling (I might not have that name quite right, but climate change is a grim story and almost certainly not a fairy tale) seemed to feel even more entitled than the London street protesters, to the extent of "empty chairing" the prime minister for being so discourteous as to not  come hot-foot in response to her presumptious summons. Wee Greta "wouldn't accept" a stand-in for her chat with party leaders Corbyn, Cable and Lucas. (Good grief, what a sorry bunch!)

Unfortunately there is something about Greta that has me desperately trying to repress an unseemly desire to - and I'm sorry but I can't think of a more subtle way to put this - punch her lights out. Not literally of course, but it's the only figure of speech that comes to mind, however inappropriate. When I guiltily confessed this to Mrs H she admitted Greta made her feel exactly the same way. Though probably I should actually make Michael Gove the target of my ire for his obsequious response to the self-appointed generation Z empress.

I'm not the only one to dissent from all the fawning over Greta. Stephen Glover, writing in Thursday's Daily Mail, also felt it unfair to call the UK's achievements in reducing carbon emissions "beyond absurd" when we have reduced our 1990 level of emissions by 44% while even Germany, let alone China, has continued to build coal fired power stations. The UK burns hardly any coal and will phase out coal for electricity by 2025. Germany got 35% of its electricity from coal in 2018 and has set a target of 2038. Glover also thought it ludicrous to blame Britain for it's "mind blowing historical carbon debt" when the potential for harm was not known. Glover remarked that Greta's policies, like those of Extinction Rebellion, would inevitably lead to job losses and a diminution of wealth. Besides quibbling that, other than being against things, I'm not sure Greta or her ilk have anything that could be called "policies", I would only add that the job losses would be, to borrow a phrase, on an industrial scale. As Glover says, the world is far more complex than the Extinction Rebellion mob and the well-intentioned though naive Ms Thunberg appear to believe.

Iain Martin, in the Times, also didn't care for being lectured by Greta, in particular her suggestion that our switch from coal was driven by a 2001 EU clean air directive rather than climate policies, accusing her of "bad history" and making misleading absolutist statements as do many Green populists, prone to presenting complex problems as having simple solutions. He criticised one of Thunberg's excitable supporters for calling for the instant destruction of capitalism as the only way to save the planet - an "epically terrible idea" as it is capitalism that has lifted humanity out of poverty. "Concern for the environment should not mean we cease to think critically and calmly. Our descendants will not thank us if we wreck the economy and reverse prosperity. The panic recommended by Thunberg — and the kneejerk policy that would follow — is an irresponsible way to approach a complex problem. We should be alert. We should take action. We are" said Martin. Hmm. We probably aren't doing enough and we are doing much more than most of the rest of the world.

At least, unlike Emma Thomson who flew from  Los Angeles to join the London protests, Greta Thunberg travels around by train, though that is not always cleaner than by air. An eminence grise of the rail industry once said to me "Phil, a full train is an environmental miracle but an empty train is an environmental catastrophe", a comment I often reflect on when I see empty train after empty train trundling past on our local branch line.

What none of these commentators on either side of the argument - Greta, her stroppy Extinction Rebellion chums or any of those criticising her (at least that I have read) - have done is to offer any opinion on what we should do differently, at least in any detail. One of this week's panel on Question Time did - and it contributed to the row. I don't know why they have folk like actors on QT - this week they had John Rhys-Davies whose claim to have sound opinions is that he appeared in Lord of the Rings and Indiana Jones films. He speaks gratingly slowly and comes across as a dinosaur who doesn't care about trendy niceties such as gender appropriate terms. However, he said two things that I believe are axiomatically true: we won't halt global warming if the world's population continues to grow and we won't reduce carbon emissions drastically while enabling the world to achieve western style living standards without large scale deployment of nuclear power.

These views caused an unholy row with accusations that Rhys-Davies wanted some kind of people cull which was not what he said. The population of Africa is projected to quadruple to more than 4 billion by the end of the century. The Virunga National Park in the Democratic Republic of Congo is twice the size of Cornwall and more than half the terrestrial species of Africa can be found in it. It's difficult to see how such areas can remain protected and the world's biodiversity can be maintained if that population growth occurs. But why should African countries forgo expansion and improvement in living standards?

The population issue is an inconvenient truth and so, despite the growth in deployment of renewables, is the case for nuclear power. Renewables cannot be harvested without limit and, until and unless batteries (which have their own environmental issues) make huge leaps in capability, their intermittency remains a limit on what can be achieved. One day perhaps nuclear fusion will provide the answer, though I fear it is a technology that will remain a few decades away for many more decades yet. Until it does renewables combined with nuclear fission is the most effective solution.

Rhys-Davies's suggestion left Caroline Lucas shaking her head, but then I take it as virtually read that anything Caroline Lucas espouses is questionable at best. The disappointing thing is that none of this is new. I first read up about what was then known as the "Greenhouse effect" in the mid 1980s. Admittedly I was working in a nuclear industry that was making the case that coal was expensive and polluting and that nuclear and renewables, combined with energy efficiency were complementary options for clean, cost-effective and secure electricity supplies. In wanting to reduce the coal burn we were pushing on an open door even then with the UK government, though that also had a lot to do with Arthur Scargill and the recent miners' strikes. At the time onshore wind power was seen as the likeliest and by far the most cost-effective of the renewables and so it has proved. The UK, having pioneered nuclear power but got hung up on ensuring competition in the 1960s (the result of which was a plethora of designs, no standardisation and no economies of scale) got it right in the 1980s, opting to build the water reactor at Sizewell B which was meant to be the first in a series of of four identical power stations. But in the 1990s the Conservatives got hung up on privatising the industry and, just as Sizewell B came on stream successfully, the nuclear industry slid into the limbo that it is still in, with Hinkley Point C proceeding only with a remarkably generous contract for the electricity price and the projects in Cumbria and Anglesey on hold because of the financial risk to the stakeholders. The reason is primarily because we have lost the ability to bring in large construction projects to any kind of budget and so the financial risk is too great. Not just nuclear - look at Crossrail, HS2 and even Tottenham Hotspur's stadium. The Spurs ground was meant to cost £400 million and take 3 years to build. Half way through costs had escalated to £750 million. It ended up overrunning by nearly a year and costing probably £1 billion. Which isn't a surprise - the rebuild of Wembley Stadium cost £830 million against a budget of £450 million. This is an issue we have to get to grips with if we are going ever going to have first class infrastructure in the UK.

The fairy tale is to believe that emissions can be reduced as quickly as Thunberg and the Greens want without plummeting living standards and to do it on any sensible timescale without using nuclear power, the one large scale, proven technology that, combined with battery technology for vehicles, could actually make the most difference in a reasonable timescale.

To be fair to Greta Thunberg she doesn't pretend to have the solutions, she is putting pressure on politicians to do that. The problem is that it needs a high degree of international co-operation, as Vince Cable said on Question Time: so much easier to say than to achieve, of course.

I would ague that Greta is doing it in the wrong way. After all, Greta, your own country, Sweden, emits more CO2 per capita than the world average and only 10% less than the UK. The largest CO2 emitters are China and the United States, responsible for over 40% of global emissions. You aren't going to get anywhere without them. And, in terms of setting an example, many of the highest per capita countries are, not surprisingly, in the Gulf. But Germany's total emissions are more than double the UK's and a massive 70% higher per head of population. Here are some examples***:

2017 Total Fossil CO2 emissions,  
M tonnes/yr
2017 Fossil CO2 per capita
United States
World total/average

You will see that, despite Greta's precious 2001 EU Clean Air directive, EU countries like Germany, The Netherlands and Luxembourg set a very bad example. Admittedly, as Greta pointed out, these stats exclude aviation and shipping but guess what - the relative rankings might not change that much.

The UK has made huge progress in reducing CO2 and is talking about the next steps while other countries, notably China, are still building new coal fired plants and other large countries, like Germany are still talking of how to wean themselves off coal. Germany's utility RWE  had plans for more coal power stations but in the last few days it seems to have been sufficiently embarrassed to change that policy. Germany had a very successful nuclear industry which it has all but extinguished, relying too much on coal and Russian gas. Without nuclear they will be frighteningly reliant on the latter as they finally ditch coal.

So Greta, why are you badgering lickspittle Michael Gove? Why aren't you and your Extinction Rebellion chums protesting outside the embassies of China, the US, the Gulf countries and Germany? Xi Jingping might not see you but go and harangue Angela Merkel. If you campaigned for nuclear power and a debate on population control, together with how the developed countries could help developing countries improve living standards while protecting the environment, I would find it much easier to have sympathy with your cause.

I suspect that the degree of international co-operation required to make the co-ordinated changes needed will be impossible to achieve. Unless there are some compensatory mechanisms we don't yet know about CO2, global temperatures and the acidification of the oceans will continue to increase. But that shouldn't stop us doing the practical and cost effective things we can. Greta's contribution to awareness doesn't actually seem to me to take us any further forward towards that. Grim.

* I admire young Greta's idealism - but why do our fawning politicians lose all reason over climate change? Stephen Glover, Daily Mail 25 April 2019.
** We don't need climate lectures from Greta. Iain Martin, The Times 25 April 2019
*** For the full summary by country of data by country from the EU EDGAR database see Wikipedia at

Wednesday, 24 April 2019

Ole's right - City did kick players

Manchester City clearly deserved their win at Manchester United tonight which moves them to within touching distance of retaining the Premier League title. But not just with pure skill. Vincent Kompany, who I've often described as a red card waiting to happen, was a red card that could easily have happened in the first half. And David Silva, who I facetiously said earlier today had become the "complete team player" by adding, shall we say, cynicism to his game, should certainly have been sent off, kicking an opponent with some force and apparently deliberately in an aerial challenge that Gary Neville assumed the referee could not have seen clearly.

None of this matters too much, just don't try to tell me City are somehow fundamentally different from great teams of the past, or Guardiola's approach is some radically purer form of football.

United held City well in the first half but lost control early in the second when Bernardo Silva briefly showed, with quick feet far too good for Luke Shaw, why some pundits (though not this one) think he's been City's best player this season. Leroy Sane made it safe with a firm shot that embarrassed David de Gea, who seemed to hesitate over whether to try to make the save with hand or foot, confirming again that his standing has slipped a long way from the "possibly the best goalkeeper in the world" status of a couple of years ago. The match showed conclusively that he's not the best keeper in Manchester at the moment.

The runs that City and Liverpool have been on have been remarkable. City have reeled off eleven straight wins in the league. Liverpool have won 10 and drawn 4 since they lost at Manchester City on 3 January. If City do retain the league those draws would prove expensive, though equally the results in the head to head games (a draw and a win for City) could be argued to have been the key factor.

Whatever happens both teams must certainly pass the total of 89 points that has always hitherto been enough to win the Premier League (City have 89, Liverpool 88, both with 3 matches to play). Leaving the question of when and how the gulf in class between these two teams and the rest can be bridged. It wouldn't be a surprise if we were in for a few years of duopoly, such as we had in the 1990s with Manchester United and Arsenal.

Fortunately these things never last forever. At least until UEFA refine their ludicrous FFP rules so as to guarantee the outcome permanently, thus killing the game.

Ole's right - City do kick players

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer warmed up the atmosphere for tonight's crucial Manchester derby, which could easily decide the destination of the Premier League title between Anfield and the Etihad, by saying that City "snap at your heels and kick you". This has produced a degree of disbelief from many commentators and a hurt response from Pep Guardiola, saying he "didn't like" Solskjaer's comments and his team "is not built for that, not at all".

Now the stats clearly show that City commit fewer fouls and get fewer yellow cards than just about anyone. But the stats only tell part of the story. Over a year ago I noted that City are masters of all aspects of the game, including gamesmanship and the dark arts (see The Most Cynical Team In The Premier League? 3 April 2018).  I'd picked up that Jonathan Norcroft of the Sunday Times had reported that the chairman of another Premier League club noted that his team had so little possession against City that their opportunities came down to eight or nine counter-attacks "but they fouled us on six of them, so what did we have left?" As I said at the time "Fouls at three-quarters of the dangerous transitions in possession - wow".

So I watched Everton's game against Manchester City at Goodison in early April last year with that point specifically in mind. City had an embarrassing 82% of the possession and scored after only four minutes. But soon after that Kyle Walker deliberately (and painfully) clipped Leighton Baines's ankle near Everton's box to prevent a quick break. Before City scored their second goal, after only 12 minutes, Leroy Sane interrupted Everton's best passing spell with a deliberate handball just inside his own half. Neither foul led to a yellow card. So this was in the first 12 minutes of a game City dominated. On other occasions I've noticed the silky skilled David Silva stopping a quick break with a cynical professional foul, remarking that he had made himself the complete team player. 

Of course Solskjaer was trying to influence the referee for tonight's match. And quite right too, I've commented many times that the top teams get preferential treatment, probably subconciously, from referees. But don't try to tell me that City don't get up to these things, don't cite their low number of cards as evidence and pull the other one, Pep.

Solskjaer knows that United will need to get some breaks to get a result tonight. Breaks in terms of good fortune, rub of the green etc and probably breaks in terms of counter attacks. United are equipped to score goals on the break with Rashford, Martial and yes, Lukaku (well he used to do it at Everton). It may come down to a few occasions in the match when United could really harm City. But if City stop them at source  - and are allowed to get away with it by the ref - United's chances will be much smaller.  Though don't rule out United's chances of a goal from a set piece - after all Chris Smalling won the derby at City last year that way, United have a team with quite a few big lads and any team, including City, can be vulnerable especially the way defences line up with suicidally high defensive lines at free kicks these days.

The title race is one of the most dramatic in many years, with City and Liverpool on remarkable runs as they battle it out. The "race" for the last top four slot (looking at the fixtures I'd already given third place to Tottenham before last night's win against Brighton, haven't they coped well without Kane?) is close but the contenders - Arsenal, Chelsea and United - all seem to have been bidding for the Europa League slot, so weak has been their form. Nevertheless a very interesting Premier League season, however it pans out. 

Whoever triumphs between City and Liverpool will clearly have deserved it, even if Liverpool have possibly had more luck at key moments with their late and fortunate winners at home against Everton and Tottenham. Even I, for whom City is my least favourite club (I hold a grudge about a hooliganism incident at Maine Road in 1972) and Liverpool - well they are essentially the anti-Christ - would have to hold my hands up and grudgingly offer respect.

Even if it hurts. Just like having your ankle clipped does, Pep.

Like a Virgin?

sang Madonna and, as I continue my steady slide away from the BBC, I find that I do like Virgin radio.

I tuned my nifty wireless speaker to stream Virgin Radio soon after the much hyped launch of the Chris Evans breakfast show in January. Now I've always liked Evans, especially when I was regularly driving at that time of day. I find his enthusiasm infectious. But listening at home is different. His Virgin show has too many guests, too much chat and so, despite the lack of adverts on his programme (it's sponsored by Sky) not enough music to hold my attention when I'm at home. Its a drivetime experience for me and I'm not frequently making  other than short car journeys at that time of day now.

I compared Evans's new show (like The Who's  boss in Won't Get Fooled Again - much like the old one) with the slightly manic and occasionally desperate sounding Zoe Ball on Radio 2. I quite like Zoe on TV, not so much on Radio. In the first few days Evans was on Virgin the music he played was more to my taste, but the Radio 2 producers seemed to respond promptly to feedback as Zoe's show's playlist seemed to rapidly evolve closer to that of Evans. Nothing to choose between them.

Of course the reason the breakfast slot is considered so important on radio and TV is that, in theory, once folk have tuned in to a station they are more likely to stay with it through the day. Until we see audience stats hearsay indicates that might not be happening with Virgin and one can infer from the recent slew of full page newspaper ads for the Chris Evans show that listeners aren't steadily building for Virgin. Despite the growth of internet radio it seems a lot of radio listeners don't have or won't find the means to tune in to a station that isn't on the traditional FM/AM wavelengths.

However, when I tried out the Evans show I did stay tuned to Virgin for the following show, by Eddy Temple-Morris - and I'm hooked, permanently tuned to Virgin in the house. Unfortunately in my car the DAB signal keeps dropping out (and Mrs H's newer car mysteriously only has FM, must have been part of a ripoff expensive option). One can see why the powers that be have had to extend the life of FM radio -  it's not just us laggard oldies, DAB just isn't reliable enough.

The reason I like Virgin - and Temple-Morris in particular - is simple: the music. There's a very playlist feel, with some songs and artists coming up fairly frequently. But if they're things you like that's not a problem.

I've listened loyally to Radio 2 since gradually shifting from Radio 1 some 20-30 years ago. I think it was the arrival of Chris Moyles at Radio 1 that finally made me complete the shift. Doing a fair amount of daytime driving at the time with my job I was quite surprised to find I loved the R2 Terry Wogan and Ken Bruce shows. The music choice, heavily biased to golden oldies from the 50s onwards (a typical example would be Dionne Warwick's Walk On By) appealed, though the treatment of the punk/new wave era (as classic as 50s American Diner and 60s Britpop for me) as some kind of black hole always grated. The exception that proved that rule was The Stranglers admittedly mellow Golden Brown, an R2 staple over the decades that had been their record of the week on its release and which Wogan frequently played. The "features" in the two shows, particularly the gloriously smutty Janet and John yarns on Wogan and Bruce's Popmaster quiz were addictive.

R2 clearly couldn't stay in a 60s to 80s focussed time warp for ever, the playlist had to evolve. For some years now I've disliked that evolution. I'm not at all sure what audience demographic they are trying to appeal to. Younger than me - fair enough, though I'm not that much above their average listener age. While Ball's playlist has gone a bit rockier, Bruce plays a lot of pallid, sugary disco music which doesn't hit any kind of spot at 1030am whether you're driving around or in your kitchen.

In contrast Temple Morris plays rock music - admittedly middle of the road rock music - with a smattering of current and recent chart material. Much more beat and he has me singing (well, shouting) along in the car to Oasis or bopping around my kitchen, for example trying to demonstrate that you can do a quickstep to The Pretenders Don't Get Me Wrong. (Don't try this at home. Aljaz from Strictly can do it that fast, I can't).

While doing some domestic tasks a few weeks ago I noted what Temple Morris played to identify the range and median release date of his playlist. Over a 25 song sample the spread was 1973 (Credence's Bad Moon Rising) to 2019 (three songs including Lewis Capaldi's Someone You Loved) with a median date of 1993.  This featured 15 songs that I know well and 10 that I didn't know much or at all; quite a pleasing mix. The songs I know and like included classic tracks by Fleetwood Mac, Keane, U2, Eurythmics, Toploader, Nirvana and Joan Jett topped off with Oasis's Look Back In Anger (but you couldn't possibly listen for many hours without hearing an Oasis classic), Thin Lizzy's The Boys Are Back In Town and The Clash's London Calling. There was Linkin Park, Aerosmith, Coldplay, Spin Doctors and the Stereophonics Dakota, which I've heard played several times since and is a very Virgin track. Now some of that list could pop up on R2 - as does ELO's Mr Blue Sky which Eddy also played in this particular sample - but even if a lot of it could be heard on R2 at some time, the mix is very different.

And checking against R2, while Bruce was playing George Harrison's My Sweet Lord, a worthy song I can hear about once a year without boredom setting in, Temple Morris was playing the Spin Doctors Two Princes, one of my favourite singalongs and one that I can hear with pleasure at least once a week. And if you listen all week I imagine it would indeed come up more than once, such is the Virgin playlist, though still much more varied than my beloved 60s pirate stations where the hot tracks would come round once an hour.

The other great thing about Eddy TM's show - and all the Virgin shows other than the discursive Evans - is that chat is generally minimal and, while there are ads they are brief, much shorter than on most other commercial stations.

There are three Virgin radio stations - Virgin Radio, Virgin Radio Anthems and Virgin Radio Chilled. At some times of day (e.g. while Evans is on) all three broadcast the same programme. From what I've heard the Anthems (what they anyway?) and Chilled flavours don't hit the spot for me.

I thought the name Temple-Morris rang a bell - and it does. Eddy has had a long career as a DJ and record producer with a lot of radio and some TV on his CV. His full name is The Honourable Edward Owen Kayvan Temple-Morris. How so? His dad was Baron Temple-Morris, before his enoblement Peter Temple-Morris MP. And that's what rings the bell: Temple-Morris senior was famous for crossing the floor of the House. He was MP for Leominster from 1974 to 2001, standing for the Tories at every election. However, he quit the Tory whip in 1997 after being suspended for questioning his own committment to the Conservatives. He crossed the floor and joined Labour in 1998, stood down as an MP in 2001 and was made a life peer where he sat on the Labour benches. Eddy and his dad come from Cardiff. Why the esoteric Kayvan middle name? Well it's a Persian name meaning Saturn. Temple-Morris senior's wife and Eddy's mum was Iranian.

Anyway, Eddy might well be the only radio DJ with his own family coat of arms. Whatever, his show rocks. The only part of the Ken Bruce show I sometimes listen to now is Popmaster.

P.S. Apart from Zoe Ball most of this is about male DJs. While I also quite like Sara Cox, I have a problem with women broadcasters and I don't think it's sexist. Until and unless I get hearing aids (and even then, probably) I just can't hear them as well, especially in the car. It's also why I'm not fond of female sports presenters on the radio. Sorry, ladies, none of you can penetrate the ether quite like Ken Bruce, whose dulcet tones I can hear with clarity. The reason I know this is age releated and not  subliminal sexism is that 1) I used to like listening to Annie Nightingale back in the day and 2) Mrs H agrees with me

Monday, 22 April 2019

Time Machine

The time has come at last
Let's go explore the past
We'll build a time machine
To see the bygone dreams
We dreamed but never thought
The time would ever come
When we would see the past

sang Del Bromham's Stray in 1970. Everton won the league in 1970 and, just for an hour and a half, it was like I had a time machine at Goodison Park on Sunday as Everton crushed Manchester United 4-0. The game has been well covered in the media so for once I doubt I'll be accused of exaggeration by saying "crushed". As Ole Gunnar Solskjaer said afterwards, Everton were better at everything on the day. This wasn't a "steal it on the break" victory or an outplayed but got the better of the scoring win. It was comprehensive. 

A smartly dressed old geezer (even older than me) said after the game "that was like Kendall's teams in the 1980s" which was, of course, the last time Everton won the league. Indeed it was. But it also reminded me of two matches from the 60s I attended: Everton 4 Manchester United 0 in the 1963 F.A. Charity Shield (my first match at Goodison Park) and Everton 3 Manchester United 1 in 1967 when Alan Ball, Howard Kendall and Colin Harvey swarmed all over the then European Cup holders featuring the Best-Law-Charlton triumvirate of admittedly even greater fame in a more one-sided game than the scoreline suggests. Bobby Charlton did not even celebrate his excellent shot for United's late consolation. In my mind's eye I can still see the Golden Vision, Alex Young, dancing between two United defenders and then slamming the ball past Alex Stepney. Oh, sure, time and age can play tricks but, until today, I don't think I'd realised the Match of The Day highlights are available on youtube*. Watching Young's goal, pretty much as I remembered it, brought a very large smile to my face. But what the highlights show was a huge similarity in aggressive running between the Everton team of 1967 and Easter Sunday. Harvey, in particular was a dynamo, hugely under-rated outside of Merseyside and lacking only a better shot to be the complete player.

Such comprehensive wins for Everton over Manchester United are not that common and are to be relished. Kendall's Everton smashed United 5-0 in October 1984, a harbinger for that season's run to the title. The most recent wins that were anything similar were in February 2010 when an Everton side featuring the then promising youngster Jack "the lad" Rodwell beat a United team including ex-Evertonian Wayne Rooney 3-1 and Everton's 2-0 win in April 2014 which prompted United to sack David Moyes 2 days later. The latter win was more comprehensive than the scoreline suggested. That Everton team featured Romelu Lukaku, who's return to Goodison this week was no more pleasurable than Moyes's 5 years ago, with Gwladys Street singing "fatty, fatty, what's the score?"

The remarkable thing about this week's game was that, well though Everton played, they played perhaps only marginally better than in the 1-0 win against Arsenal a fortnight earlier, which I was also fortunate to attend. In both games they harried the opposition mercilessly, played the ball forward briskly and intelligently and competed all over the pitch. Each time the diminutive Bernard was a delight, intercepting countless times against Arsenal by good positioning and anticipation and producing some neat play on the ball in both matches. United, mind, also made him look fast when a recent newspaper report had branded him "slow". Mind, they also said Dominic Calvert-Lewin lacked pace, which I think is risible. DCL is easily quick enough for his position, though his strength is a never say die attitude backed up with strong running throughout the game; he always puts in a shift. He has also got much better at winning possession in aerial duels. He has learned the centre forward's knack of jumping early. I'm not sure I appreciated this while I was playing, but centre forwards, not needing usually to get much distance on their headers, can jump early and head the ball on their way down, appearing almost to "hang in the air". In contrast centre halves (my position from my late 20s) need to get distance on the ball and do this by heading it upwards, which means they can't jump early, they need to move into the ball rather than letting it hit them and just redirect it. Watching DCL leap across in front of Chris Smalling  on several occasions on Sunday to cushion the ball on his head or chest to another blue shirt was fascinating and just what I'd seen him do against the Arsenal defenders. The lad has real promise - the question is whether he can start scoring goals with the frequency his position requires. Unless the opportunity emerges in the summer to sign a genuinely top class centre forward (unlikely I'd strongly suspect) I'd certainly be happy to give him another year to develop, especially while Richarlison and Sigurdsson are scoring well. 

Talking of Sigurdsson, I wrote when Everton signed him that losing Barkley and £25M to get Sigurdsson seemed a questionable deal. His stats showed most of his goals came from set pieces. I'm happy to have been proven wrong about Gylfi: his shooting skill is immense, picking out the corners of the goal whether he's hitting it hard or passing it into the net. His goal on Sunday was top drawer. You can blame the United defenders for standing off him but not the goalkeeper, even though the shot was hit from some 30 yards. Sigurdsson also works hard and makes life difficult for the opposition's holding players, impairing their ability to recycle the ball quickly. I'd still prefer to have Barkley, but as well as,not instead of, Sigurdsson.

Everton's last four home games have produced a draw with Liverpool and wins over Chelsea, Arsenal and Man United, with seven goals scored an none conceded. Maybe the top 6 aren't that far ahead of the next group in terms of class. The only puzzle is where the lacklustre performance at Fulham, beaten 2-0 by a team demob happy from relegation. Also in that sequence was a very competent away win at West Ham. 

Hopefully Silva has realised Everton teams, from the 60s and probably earlier, have to play with passion, aggression and tempo. It gets the fans behind them for a start: Goodison was raucous on Sunday.

Either way, I've been fortunate to see those last two home matches. Maybe I don't need a time machine to see Everton have success again. Young's super goal is at 11m 30s followed by what passed for a replay in those days - a section edited into the VT and commentated from the studio.

Thursday, 18 April 2019

Tiger, Tiger, burning bright

Blake's famous poem - nearly as famous as Jerusalem, with the opening line described as "amongst the most famous in English poetry"- continues:

What immortal hand or eye,
Could frame thy fearful symmetry.....

On what wings dare he aspire?
What the hand, dare seize the fire?...

And what shoulder, & what art,
Could twist the sinews of thy heart?
And when thy heart began to beat,
What dread hand? & what dread feet?

Of course, I'm drawing a parallel with Tiger Woods after his remarkable achievement winning the Masters last weekend. He certainly had his game face back on the last 9 holes of the 72, where legend has it the Masters starts in earnest and high drama so often unfolds.  The sinews of Woods's heart looked pretty tough again and he seemed to induce dread hands and feet into his closest opponents, just like in the old days. I'd rather thought Francesco Molinari might be immune, but no. Molinari, Finau, Poulter and Koepka all made a mess of the par 3 12th finding Rae's Creek rather than the green. Indeed four of the two final groups of three found the creek. This was exactly the way Jordan Spieth had crashed and burned three years ago when he let in England's unheralded Danny Willett for his Masters win. Woods played it exactly as Jack Nicklaus said it should be played, "between the front and rear bunkers, wherever the pin is". Molinari had a brain fade, going straight at the flag against that decades old advice of Nicklaus. In his post round interview he still thought it had been the "right shot"!

And that wasn't all of it as Molinari's lay up on 15 - not shown on TV because it was considered such an easy shot - outran the fairway leaving him a tricky pitch over the ditch to the shallow green. His attempt clattered into the tree branches and fell into the ditch in front of the green. I know this shot, I've done it many times myself where you concentrate so much on where the ball is going to land you forget to allow for it's trajectory hitting overhanging branches. But I'm a modest category 3 golfer, not the Open Champion, so I'm expected to do things like that, though I still beat myself up when I do it.

Woods's win after an eleven year gap since his previous Major was immediately described as the greatest comeback in the history of sport by some before one or two commentators reminded everyone that it wasn't a slam dunk for the greatest comeback in golf, Ben Hogan recovering after a he and his wife survived a head on crash with a Greyhound bus in 1949.  The accident left Hogan, then 36, with a double-fracture of the pelvis, a fractured collar bone, a left ankle fracture, a chipped rib, and near-fatal blood clots. He would suffer lifelong circulation problems and other physical limitations. His doctors said he might never walk again, let alone play golf competitively. Hogan left the hospital on 59 days after the accident. He was back on the PGA tour at the start of the following year and went on to win that year's US Open before delivering one of the greatest single seasons in the history of golf in 1953, winning a "triple crown" of three majors in a calendar year, not achieved again until Woods did it in 2000. Indeed, we'll never know if Hogan could have won all four because that year the US PGA overlapped with the Open at Carnoustie, which Hogan prioritised and won. Hogan didn't like the US PGA matchplay format, which required golfers to play 36 holes in a day, as he struggled towards the end of 18 holes with pain brought on by his injuries from the RTA. As it panned out, Hogan stands fourth, tied with Gary Player in the all-time list of major-winners, despite also having a two year break in his career while he served in the US Army Air Force. One suspects his career must have been more disrupted by the war than those two years. 

Woods of course has benefited from modern medical methods in recovering from his injuries. It's great that he is now pain free, having aspired just to get healthy again, even playing golf being beyond his hopes. But Hogan won 6 of his 9 majors in pain.... so I'd describe that as an even greater comeback myself.

Once the question "Woods clearly could win another major, but will he?" had been conclusively answered, speculation immediately turned to whether Woods would beat Jack Nicklaus's record of 18 majors (Woods is now on 15). I recall, shortly after I had started playing golf around 2004, reading a golf magazine article posing that question then, when Woods had won 8 majors. Half the page was occupied by a pundit saying "Yes, Tiger will pass the Nicklaus total". His argument ran: he's young, he's outstandingly the best golfer of his generation if not ever, he's got so much time, what can stop him? Another pundit wrote "No, he won't", arguing Woods would probably still have to be winning majors in his 40s, as Nicklaus did, but Woods's swing put so much strain on his body that his back in particular would not allow him continue playing the with the same brutal power. That second opinion turned out to be both right and wrong, but only because of the success of the back operation, fusing together vertebrae that was only the most recent of the medical interventions needed by the Tiger. Woods of course had to have immense fortitude, belief and dedication to get fit again, the credit doesn't all go to the surgeon by any means.

I felt a bit cheated by the final round on Sunday, though not because Woods, who I've only ever had time for as a golfer rather than a person, won. It was because the competition looked like being a classic, with 5 golfers sharing the lead when the last group had only half a dozen holes to go. As it turned out the Woods victory will live long in the mind  but the Man City-Tottenham Champions League tie this week beat it for pure sporting excitement in terms of doubt about the result, if you can somehow leave the Woods historical drama out of it.

In the end Woods was able to close it out quite comfortably, though if Koepka's birdie putt had gone in on the last hole Woods wouldn't have had the comfortable two shot lead he held on the final tee. I still suspect Woods would have won, though in that case had he played the 18th as he did he would have found himself in a play off with Koepka.

It strikes me that Woods's approach shot to the last hole was Nicklaus-esque. Tiger had pushed his drive a little right, with those pesky tree branches potentially interfering. While the Woods of his golden years was an awesome sight he wasn't always best known for course management even though he demonstrated frequently in the Open that he could play patiently, managing risk. The Woods of old would probably have unleashed his "stinger" shot that would have taken the tree branches out of play by keeping the ball low, but with risk that it could overshoot the green. This version of Woods played a shot that fell short to the right but left him an easy chip and two putt, sacrificing par and consuming just one of his two shots margin. Our star young club professional asked me the next day whether I thought that was what Woods had meant, or whether it was a mis-hit: neither of us were sure. But on reflection I'm certain it was a percentage shot: might make the front of the green for the preferred uphill putt but, if not, it'll end up in a safe spot.

Nicklaus was almost notorious for his bail out shot to the right and even got castigated for designing golf courses including the bail out zones he favoured. The irony of Woods playing a Nicklaus-esque bail out shot to close out his win seems to have escaped most commentators, but I find it an amusing aspect to what remains a great unfolding story in the history of sport.

Our club's star golf coach had started a group lesson on Monday with a group of grizzled old seniors by asking "who's the greatest, Tiger or Jack?" "Jack" came the low grumble of a near unanimous reply. Said coach pointed out that Tiger had faced much more competition than Jack, so surely his achievements were greater. At the end of the lesson, after some reflection, I agreed with him that Tiger has faced more depth of competition, with greater numbers of players with the potential to win majors on the tour. But I argued that Jack faced stronger competitors.  In his peak yearsTiger's main opponents, other than Phil Mickelson, were the likes of Ernie Els, Retief Goosen, Padraig Harringtom and Davis Love III. Jack's main competitors included Tom Watson, Gary Player, Lee Trevino, Peter Thomson (who won the Open 5 times), Johnny Miller and Seve Ballesteros. Comparisons across the ages are always problematic matters of opinion but, in my view, Ernie Els appeared to be a great bloke and a very good golfer but he was no Gary Player.

On Sunday evening Butch Harmon, for me the best ever golf commentator/pundit, was asked who was the greatest, Woods or Nicklaus? His reply ran along the lines that Nicklaus was the greatest ever champion, Woods was the greatest ever player. An elegant fudge which I think would get overtaken if Tiger were to pass Nicklaus's record and become palpably both of those things.

Friday, 12 April 2019

More dis-honour

I've written quite a few times about how daft our honours system is, most recently about how Bob Paisley only got the OBE rather than the knighthood given to Alex Ferguson and the lack of any honour for the last English manager to win a European trophy, Howard Kendall (A Time of Giants -even if they weren't honoured 27 January).

Both Kendall and Paisley are dead so that can't be rectified. But an equally egregious example has come to my attention. The player who has scored more goals than anyone else in the history of top flight English football is still alive and has no honour at all. Not even a miserable MBE. That of course is Jimmy Greaves, who scored 357 goals in the old English First Division, for Chelsea, Tottenham and West Ham between 1959 and 1969. Greaves played 12 games for AC Milan in 1961 en route between Spurs and Chelsea, scoring 9 goals.

Greaves also holds the record for the most times as leading goalscorer in English top flight season: 6. In the modern era Thierry Henry achieved that feat 4 times and Gary Lineker and Alan Shearer 3 times. Shearer doesn't have an MBE or an OBE - he has a CBE. And Lineker an OBE (er, why a lower honour than Shearer??) But then they are TV personalities. Oops, so was Greavsie.

One can only wonder how the brains of the people who operate the honours system work. What did Greaves ever do to be overlooked? Well, he didn't have much luck with the 1966 World Cup.  He had hepatitis before the tournament but recovered to claim his starting place as England's number one striker for the tournament. But he  lost his place in the team during the run to the 1966 World Cup win. Greaves played in all three group matches but, in the third, had his shin raked by a French player, needing 14 stitches in the wound. Geoff Hurst came in and did well. Greaves was fit again for the final, giving Alf Ramsey a decision to make. Ramsey understandably stuck with Hurst and the rest is history. Greaves, the outstanding English striker of his generation, played only three more times for England.

Mind, if Greaves had played in the final he probably would have had to wait until 2000 for a Miserable Bl**dy Emblem, as did Alan Ball and four other members of the 1966 winning team. Ball, after all, was only the man of the match. Greaves, a squad player who had played three times in the finals and only missed one game when fit, wasn't included in this belated sweep up.

Greaves had problems with alcohol after his playing career ended but overcame that. And anyway such things have never stopped politicians getting to the House of Lords.

Plenty of folk have turned down honours but that presumably does not apply to Greaves, who had a stroke in 2015 and is now in poor health, as his family have recently publicly lobbied for him to be honoured before it is too late, hoping that a recently published biography will underline his contribution to English football.

That contribution was immense. I don't remember Greaves playing for Chelsea , but when he joined Spurs they were the most glamorous football club in the country. In the early 1960s, when I began paying attention, their glory, glory hallelujah nights in early European football are a black and white TV childhood memory of mine. They got to the semi-final of the European Cup in 1962 and  became the first British club to win a major European trophy, winning the Cup Winners' Cup in 1963, though the memory of their 1962 F A Cup final win against Burnley is clearer for me. Greaves scored of course. I can also remember watching enthralled as Greaves battled with another hero of mine, Everton's World Cup winner Ray Wilson, in a match at Goodison in the mid 1960s.

I've made my position clear on our risible honours system: I'd scrap it without a second thought.  In principle it could be retained for public service but I don't see how one could stop the jobs for the boys (and girls) brigade getting in on the act along with worthy unsung citizens. So get rid. But if not, at least do the job properly and recognise Jimmy Greaves now.

If I was Alan Shearer or Gary Lineker I don't think I could keep my gong knowing Greaves hadn't got one.

Monday, 8 April 2019

So what are MPs for?

The latest set of indicative votes in the Commons last week confirmed that MPs know what they are against but not what they are for. Yes, of course I intended that double meaning.

It seemed a bizarre spectacle to see MPs voting on soft Brexit options which mainly require a withdrawal agreement for them to work having voted down the only such agreement they are ever likely to get.

It was also irritating, but not surprising, to hear J Corbyn claiming that agreement is "bad for jobs... etc" in the debate on the third meaningful vote when the political declaration had been uncoupled. As the withdrawal agreement only covers the divorce bill, citizen rights and the Irish border, precisely what did Corbyn think was bad for jobs in it? Labour's nakedly opportunistic stance on Brexit was never more stark.

It must stick in May's craw to have to "reach out" to Labour in such circumstances, especially since it could turn the Tories internal stand off into outright civil (or not so civil) war.

But as Labour's stance is nonsensical (just go back and read what Barry Gardiner, the Shadow International Trade secretary, said about staying in a customs union with the EU before it became Labour party policy) it's hard to see how this latest move by May can bear any fruit, other than buying time as the EU may take it as evidence of political progress in the UK and therefore justifying a further extension. Or, God forbid, a flex-tension which keeps us in indefinite stasis. How would that be any better than being locked into the backstop?

I rather hope the talks with Labour don't bear fruit as the various soft Brexit options are, for me, the worst of all worlds leaving us paying in without influencing the EU rules or budget, subject to freedom of movement and unable to do our own trade deals. It would be, as Yanis Varoufakis mistakenly said about May's deal when he appeared on Question Time, the kind of deal you would only sign after being defeated in war.

But back to the indicative votes. It's worth remembering that more MPs voted for May's withdrawal agreement (minus the political declaration) than voted for any of the options put forward by MPs. 286 if you were wondering, Ken Clarke's daft permanent customs union got 273. The second referendum 'confirmatory vote' (which of course isn't a solution) got 280. But I admit, with trepidation, that Clarke's proposal could gain more backing from MPs.

But am I right in being implacably opposed to the customs union solution? In this week's Sunday Times David Smith, who I normally assume to be correct on everything, challenged the view that a customs union would restrict our ability to negotiate independent trade deals with third party countries. He quoted "trade expert" Sam Lowe of the Centre for European Reform saying that he is "tired of pointing out" that being in a customs union does not require the UK to sign up to the EU's common commercial policy under which it negotiates trade deals with other countries. The common external tariff would restrict our room for manoeuvre - we couldn't offer tariff concessions - but it wouldn't prevent trade deals being negotiated, particularly for services, the dominant part of Britain's economy. Now I accept that non-tariff barriers are as important as tariffs in international trade. Ah, but, David and Sam, what would prevent the EU changing their rules? And why should a country that doesn't export services do a deal with us when we can't attractively trade goods in return? I am more than sceptical.

Smith notes there are other disadvantages in a customs union. For a start it's "trade diversionary", favouring inefficient domestic producers over more efficient ones overseas, which applies particularly to agriculture. However, an increasing amount of even agricultural products are tariff free these days.

However, my real nightmare is a second "confirmatory" referendum which some MPs are arguing would be needed as they are second guessing what the public wants. That might be ok if we were offered various forms of Brexit but please don't make me choose between my two least favoured options, a very soft Brexit or Remain. For me these come a long way behind May's deal and no deal.

No deal may be daft isn't totally daft. It would reset the negotiation. After all the real problem is that the negotiation was badly handled, May overplaying her hand in the Commons having long since thrown it away with the EU. According to David Davis she over-ruled him in acquiescing to the EU's order of play, with trade deferred until after their priority items were agreed. As the Irish border can't be fixed without knowing the trading arrangements this was always set up to fail. It also conceded our most important bargaining chip - the money. She then practically threw away another of our more valuable chips, co-operation on security. A prompt no deal exit would clear that slate and it would be as urgent for them as us to discuss trade. Despite the Commons votes against no deal, redolent of King Canute, it could yet happen even though May has tried to throw that last negotiating card away as well. Has she ever played poker? (No need to answer that!)

I had lost most of any sympathy I had for the Tory ultra Brexiteers some time ago, as their stance has threatened to lose for good the thing they want most. So on balance I am still opposed to no deal, but not if the alternative is Common Market 2.0 when we voted to get out. May's deal isn't perfect but it is so much better than any of the other leave options that could be available. 

As a final point of whimsy, it's been mooted that May's team would have to take a Labour spokesperson with them to convince the EU that any agreement would hold. They haven't reached agreement so it looks like it won't come to that tomorrow when May goes to Brussels to beg for - what exactly? But who would it have been I wonder?  Jez would be unlikely to go himself but he'd be sure to confuse them. Sir Keir is the party Brexit spokesman but his startled rabbit in the headlights demeanour would surely not give the EU side any confidence about what was being said. How did this chap ever get to be a senior lawyer? If May really wants to get us out she should try to get them to send Diane Abbott.....