Friday, 19 February 2021

And if you know your history

 It's the Merseyside derby tomorrow. This is the 236th edition of the derby according to Wikipedia, though according to a Liverpool fans site I found** it is the 239th. While it's tempting to say they obviously can't count, it may be that the difference is due to whether things like Liverpool FA Senior Cup matches count as well as League, FA Cup, Charity Shield etc. However I did note that the site says the next derby will be played at 6.30am Central Time, which confirms everything us Blues say about how local a club Liverpool really is. Whereas not many years ago Everton was identified as the premier league club for which the highest proportion of fans walk to the ground.

Be that as it may, it is one of football's most historic rivalries. One site I found*** lists the top 10 around the world. It started with the Merseyside derby as it is believed the first time a football match was called a "derby" in print was a reference to the 'local derby between Liverpool and Everton' in the Daily Express in October 1914, when the match had already been going for 20 years. The other nine so-called derbies were Milan, Rome, Moscow, Glasgow, north London, Lisbon, Istanbul, Manchester and Madrid.

All of these qualify as proper derby matches for me in that they are intense rivalries that are local. I squirm when I see the grudge Crystal Palace-Brighton match, which has only been a "thing" since 1976, called the "M23 derby". The clubs are 50 miles apart! If you have to go on the motorway, chum, it ain't a derby.

You may say that begs the question of what a "derby" match is. There is no definitive answer, but proximity and deep rivalry are the main criteria. Separated by a short walk of less than 0.6 miles across Stanley Park, Everton and Liverpool's grounds are closer together than any English league grounds apart from Nottingham Forest and Notts County. (At least until Everton relocate to their planned new stadium in the north Liverpool docklands). The Nottingham grounds are officially just under a quarter of a mile apart, but there's a river in the way and, unless you're the proverbial flying crow, they are more like half a mile apart across the Trent bridge. I've known many people who have expressed surprise when they see a photograph* of just how close the Everton and Liverpool grounds are to each other:

A common version of the "derby match" tale is that it comes from the annual Royal Shrovetide football match played between the Uppers and the Downers in Ashbourne played on Shrove Tuesday and Ash Wednesday (yes, it goes on overnight). This year's version of the medieval football (or "hugball") game was understandably a victim of the coronavirus restrictions. I think you can see why when you see this photo taken by a friend (must have been Graham or Suzanne) in 2016:

Trust me it gets a lot messier once the ball gets out into the fields (the goals are some 3 miles apart). When I worked in Derby some colleagues would book several days leave to play or watch (and drink). Shops are boarded up and the town goes into a Shrovetide lockdown for the event.

While some sources say Shrovetide dates back to the 12th Century, available records go back 'only' to 1667 (a fire in the Royal Shrovetide Commission offices in the 1890s destroyed the earliest records) and it is the survivor of many such sports. Shrovetide is a unique and very special event but the fact that it's played in Derbyshire seems to me a flimsy reason for why local sports rivalries are called "derbies". 

A story I prefer is that the use of the word "derby" for a sporting match came from the Earl of Derby, who organised a rugby match between the two ends of his Knowsley estate, St Helens and Wigan. In time the phrase came to be used for all games between local rivals. The 19th Earl of Derby has been quoted as saying that his family gave the name only to the horse race (founded by the 12th earl in 1780) and the Saints v Woolly Backs rugby game. (I may just have betrayed my allegiance there. Our first two houses were in St Helens and the second one looked out over fields belonging to the earl's estate). I've seen mangled versions of this in print where the 19th earl, born in 1962 supposedly created the term "derby", when the rugby match in question would have occurred in the 19th century and presumably quite some time before the Rugby League was founded in 1895. The Wikipedia page on the St Helens - Wigan rugby rivalry proudly claims the derby phrase without saying when exactly it dates from.

However, the story I like the best**** says calling these games "derbies" comes from the Daily Express use of the phrase for Everton and Liverpool in 1914, the grounds being separated by Stanley Park, which the source says is owned by the Earl of Derby (maybe once, I thought it was owned by the city council). Which still begs the question: why did the Express journalist call it a "derby"? Presumably the phrase was in local use in south west Lancashire. So the strongest argument for "derbies" must be the Earl of Derby one.

And the first football match referred to as a "derby" is between the two teams from either side of Stanley Park, where Everton's predecessors and the source of top flight football on Merseyside, played - St Domingo FC named after a local Methodist chapel. After becoming Everton, the club subsequently split into the two modern day clubs.

Which leaves one final question. When will Everton, so long the bigger, older brother of Liverpool, win a derby match again? The last one was in 2010 and the last one at their original home, Anfield of course, was in 1999 when Kevin Campbell scored in a 1-0 victory.

The following graph of cumulative wins in derby league matches since they started in the 1890s shows the extent of Everton's relative decline since the 1990s (red and blue are self explanatory, the grey line is draws):

The odd thing about it is that Liverpool have hardly been a dominant overpowering force most of the time since 2000, until last season and the one before. But nevertheless Everton seem to go into these matches with an inferiority complex. 

Go on, someone, make a name for yourself on Saturday. Add your name to the list of players who have scored famous winning goals in derby matches, including Alan Ball (when I was a schoolboy), through Andy King, Imre Varadi and Graeme Sharp, to Wayne Clark, Duncan Ferguson, Danny Cadamarteri, Andrei Kanchelskis, Kevin Campbell, Lee Carsley, Andy Johnson and Mikel Arteta. And become immortal.

Normally I would always settle for a goalless draw before kick off but it's about time Everton won.

PS most sources (including the definitive have decided it's the 238th derby

* From Wikipedia, but I need to attribute the author: By TurboGUY - Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0,




Other sources included:,and%2019%20Challenge%20Cup%20titles.&text=In%20total%2C%20Wigan%20have%20defeated,in%20matches%20between%20the%20clubs.

Saturday, 13 February 2021

Shhh, you can't get rid of her

Ursula von der Leyen remains under criticism for the performance of the EU vaccines programme but has rejected calls to resign saying the time to make a "final assessment" is at the end of her term as president of the EU Commission in 2024.

So, EU Parliament, chuck her out then, why don't you? Er, well they can't. The parliament can only dismiss the entire commission not just the president. Very democratic.

And member states are rallying behind her, at least in public, because they agreed to the pan-European approach to vaccine procurement. 

Von der Leyen says a country such as Britain acting alone can perform more like a speedboat compared to the EU tanker when organising such a programme.

Angela Merkel says the basic decision to order together as the European Union was right, but her vice chancellor, Olaf Scholz (pictured below) was more succinct about the Commission's performance. He said he stood by his comments leaked from a cabinet meeting, that von der Leyen's performance had been "scheisse".

Which was one of my father in law's favourite German words. Couldn't have put it better myself.

Friday, 12 February 2021

The Year of the Goat

It's Chinese New Year today and Mrs H is celebrating. No, she doesn't believe a word of the WTO theory about frozen food imports to China and hasn't relaxed her sanctions against Xi Jingping's regime. (Actually it's a bit broader than that, she's still iffy on Chinese restaurants here). She is celebrating us getting our covid inoculations. When the pleasant RAF dentist who administered our jabs confirmed that it was the Pfizer vaccine we were receiving I said "ah, the one that has a Bill Gates chip in it rather than the one that makes you as uninhibited as a monkey". She gave me a knowing smile and said she could see I was well read, with a scientific mind. 

For the Chinese we are moving from the year of the rat to the year of the ox. Ha, shows how much they know, it's clearly the year of the goat. I hadn't realised that, for the Chinese, goats and sheep are interchangeable. When I was moved to a job at the United Kingdom Atomic Energy Authority's corporate headquarters in the 1980s my old boss cautioned me that CHQ was populated with sheep and goats. What he meant was that there was a mix of technical (scientific, engineering, accounting etc) folk and administrative folk, the latter often fiercely bright Oxbridge graduates with degrees in subjects like Classics, which at the time I didn't even realise was a subject. 

"And you're a goat" he said firmly (i.e. technical, in my case an engineer. He was a Professor of  economics, I'm still not sure which category that falls into). The implication was that sheep and goats don't necessarily mix. I think this was meant to be a cautionary warning that I might not fit in. Indeed when I was invited to meet the latest Jesus entrant I wondered what religion had to do with it until I realised that they meant Jesus College, where they recruited from every year. Whether Oxford or Cambridge I never found out at the time, as it made not one whit of difference to me, a graduate from a redbrick. But it's probably Oxford as two of my former colleagues, a husband and wife team with the surname Preston went there. They now write books individually and also together under the pseudonym Alex Rutherford*.

I recall one of the board members noting with some apparent surprise that I seemed to be a fairly competent planner and administrator - "for an engineer" was left unstated. When he left the Authority he became head of the BBC World Service. Though I wasn't able to contribute much to the discussions on the finer points of etymology which preceeded meetings I had with the company secretary (a Rhodes scholar) and Head of Finance on whether the ageing Harwell Materials Testing Reactors were sustainable (they weren't, I pretty well took the decision to close them) my time there went well so perhaps sheep and goats are interchangeable. 

But not in sport where a GOAT is a GOAT. And this was the year of one particular Greatest Of All Time, Tom Brady.

It was a surprise when the BBC ran a story about the Super Bowl on last Saturday's evening news. A surprise because they ran the story at all, as evidenced by the fact that on Monday evening they didn't cover the result. But also a surprise because they said that, if Brady's Tampa Bay Buccaneers won, he would be regarded as the greatest quarterback of all time, rather than it cementing that position and making it unlikely his records will be surpassed in many decades, if ever.

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers did indeed win their second ever Super Bowl, beating the Kansas City Chiefs 31-9. This means 43 year old Brady, with seven wins, has now won more Super Bowls than any team has. (The Pittsburgh Steelers and his old bunch the New England Patriots have the most wins with six). A slew of other records were broken. They included the fact that Brady was the oldest player to feature in a Super Bowl, let alone win one or be the MVP (Most Valuable Player), while the Bucs head coach Bruce Arians is the oldest winner at 68. 

Although the scoreline was ultimately quite one-sided the result in was doubt until the fourth quarter. I watched the first half live but decided not to risk falling asleep during the half time show and turned in with the Bucs leading 21-6. Waking Mrs H up (I didn't mean to....) she asked how it was going and I said Brady was on track but the Chiefs ability to score quickly made me feel the result was definitely still in doubt. In the end it wasn't at all close and the drama came more from the complete Tampa Bay performance than any uncertainty about the outcome. I had wondered just how the Bucs could hold off the inventiveness of the Kansas offense, which seemed so mobile and dynamic in their Conference Championship match against the Buffalo Bills. It seemed to me that the question was how could Tom Brady outscore his rival quarterback Patrick Mahomes. This was the wrong question, even though Arians thought the Bucs would have to score 40 points to win. 

The Bucs were able to exert huge pressure on Mahomes and one of the lasting impressions of the match was seeing Mahomes scurrying back many times from the line of scrimmage pursued by the Bucs rampaging defence. The fact that the Chiefs were fielding their second choice and third choice in the two key tackle positions, which protect either end of the defensive line, was material. The Bucs were able to brush aside blocks at the defensive line and run at Mahomes almost at will, effectively running blitz defensive plays without having to commit blitz numbers, so retaining plenty of cover in the deep against Mahomes's throws. 

One even began to wonder why the bookies had the Chiefs as such strong pre-match favourites. After all, one Sky pundit had said the Bucs defensive line, linebackers, defensive backs and running backs were all better than the Chiefs and the Bucs offensive line was "way better".   That pretty much only leaves quarterback and wide receivers and, on the day, the Bucs players in those positions returned far better statistics than their opposite numbers because, as usual, the team which provides its quarterback with the best protection wins. And that quarterback gets the MVP.

But Brady still had to earn it and, as I expected, Brady threw a touchdown pass to his old buddy Gronkowski.  Though not, as I expected, late in the game: the surprise was that this was in the first quarter, Brady not having thrown a touchdown pass in the first quarter in nine previous Super Bowl appearances. That catch set another record, taking the pair past the Montana-Rice combination for the record number of post-season play off touchdowns. By the second quarter Brady had fed Gronkowski again. So the quarterback known at college as the "comeback kid" didn't need to stage a comeback this time, his team leading pretty much throughout.

While Brady's achievement will live in the mind, the picture I will see when thinking of this match was of Patrick Mahomes, struggling with an injured toe, being hunted down early in the 4th quarter when there was still a tiny gimmer of hope left for the Chiefs. On two plays in succession Mahomes bravely attempted outrageous passes. The first, when being spun round and yanked to the ground. The second having been tripped and falling, was thrown with his body horizontal and about a foot above the floor. The first pass just overshot a receiver in the corner of the end zone, the second hit the intended receiver, standing on the edge of the end zone, in the face mask. Both passes travelled about 30 yards - just how you throw the football that far in those circumstances I find amazing. 

So Patrick Mahomes didn't lack for spirit even though his team was crushed. Mahomes has been touted as a future quarterback GOAT. Wow, only seven more Super Bowl wins to add to last season's win to surpass Brady now!

The other lasting image for me will be Gronkowski, lumbering 9 yards into the end zone in the first quarter to put Tampa into a lead they never lost. Gronkowski has a credible case to be the GOAT of tight ends but what he showed here was something I demonstrated to my sons while they were still at primary school: that over a short distance a player already sprinting can comfortably beat much quicker players who are jogging. Gronk's sprint didn't look much like a sprint but it was more than fast enough with the space he found.

Last week's sport fix included England's win in the cricket against India, the start of the rugby Six Nations, the Premier League and the F A Cup. In the cricket England capitalised on a good toss to win by batting long and then bowling pretty well with contributions from all the front line bowlers, even if those bowlers were also sometimes patchy. Archer looked at times hostile then friendly. Anderson - with a strong claim as England's GOAT bowler - kept it tight but didn't look like getting wickets until an important and devastating spell on the last morning. Pant got after Leach in the first innings but otherwise he bowled well. I watched Bess bowl a succession of full tosses in one spell but he has a happy knack of taking wickets with poor balls as well as his occasional really good ones. I'm glad to see Moeen Ali back in the side but whether him for Bess is a sound call we'll see. I'd been worried about our ability to bowl India out twice without a definitively world class spinner and we could yet be tested when we have to bowl first. Ali has a lot of test wickets but not much match practice. However, it looks like the main issue will be whether the other batsman can fill the void if Joe Root ever gets out cheaply. And on the subject of GOATs, in just three innings Root has passed Boycott, Pietersen, Gower and Stewart to go from seventh to third on the England all time test match run scorers list. Although he's only two-thirds of the way to Alistair Cook's total he has played proportionally fewer matches and is still young for a cricketer at 30. Some think he has a shot at passing not just Cook as England's GOAT but the all time test batting GOAT, Sachin Tendulkar, who scored 15,921 runs in 200 tests. At 8507 in 100 tests Root is on track. He is the highest scorer still currently playing. Steve Smith is less than 1000 runs behind him from 23 fewer matches. But, as England play more test matches than anyone, my money would be on Root to end up on a higher total, though I wouldn't have said that before the last three test matches.

Not so many GOAT candidates in the rugby, apart perhaps from the Wales lock and most capped ever rugby union international, Alun Wyn Jones. However, unexpectedly the rugby gladdened my heart a little, especially since it involved England losing. But while England were awful, Scotland were awesome. The unfancied Jocks played with invention and spirit, controlling possession and territory. I only had one eye on the second half but whenever I looked the play was in England's half. Many commentators noted the oddity that it took over an hour for England rookie Ollie Lawrence in the centre to get his one touch of the ball before being substituted. It's not clear to me that England can play a more enterprising style with Eddie Jones as coach. Jones improved England's results hugely after taking over but rugby seems to have moved on. Thankfully, given the excruciating nature of most England performances since that exhilarating World Cup semi against New Zealand less than 18 months ago. Blaming England's play on the Saracens players' lack of top class action, as some have, doesn't seem right to me. I suspect the decision making under question for the turgid play is down to Jones not Farrell. But Farrell's chances of English rugby GOAT status seem to be receding fast.

No current GOATs at Everton, though they have continued to do ok, with an entertaining if nerve wracking 3-3 draw at Manchester United followed by a nerve shredding 5-4 FA Cup win over Spurs. Everton's results, apart from the odd lapse like the Newcastle game, are probably running a bit ahead of the performance level, whereas Liverpool seem to have forgotten how to get results. Their 4-1 dismantling by Manchester City was disappointing for me (yes, even as an Everton fan) as it now seems what was shaping up to be a very competitive Premier League has been killed by City's 10 game winning streak. Still I'll console myself with the thought that Everton, three points behind Liverpool with two games in hand, have a real opportunity to finish ahead of their rivals for the first time since 2005. I thought Everton's run of games from Spurs, with Fulham, Man City and, in ten days time, Liverpool in the Premier League would be season defining. That has now been deferred to the sixth round tie against City in five weeks' time. 

But back on Tom Brady. We heard many remarkable things about him in the run up to and during the game. In the match commentary they noted that when Brady signed for Tampa he had the highest game winning percentage in the four American major sports. And Tampa Bay had the lowest winning percentage in those sports. (I'm not sure what time period that was over; I hadn't thought Tampa was quite that much of a basket case; after all they were the the 19th ranked team out of 32 at the end of the previous season). But that's still a monster improvement. Joel Glazer's victory speech was notable (yes, the Glazers owned Tampa Bay Bucs before adding Manchester United to their family business and yes, the owner makes the first speech after a Super Bowl, not the winning coach or MVP) He said that if you want to know how to get somewhere ask a guy who's been there before. 

But that four sports stat isn't the one that gets me most. I'm still trying to get my mind round Brady's consumption of around 25 glasses of water a day (some 5 litres) compared with my 6 or 7 glasses. Of course, I exclude other beverages from that - tea, coffee, fruit juice, alcohol. Whereas Tom just excludes most of those completely. The sacrifices you have to make to be a GOAT.

* "Alex Rutherford" has published a six book historical fiction series Empire of the Moghul. The pen name Rutherford is a nod to their earlier careers, the Nobel Laureate Ernest Rutherford being known as the Father of Nuclear Physics. Diana and Mike have published dozens of books together and individually, with Diana's oeuvre including books on the Yalta conference, the Boxer Rebellion, Scott's south pole attempt and Before The Fallout - From Marie Curie to Hiroshima, which won the Los Angeles Times prize for Science and Technology. I remember Diana being a pretty and quietly spoken lady who was in a very senior position in UKAEA when I left the nuclear industry, while Mike had darker coloured but a very Boris Johnsonesque hairstyle and the untidiest desk you ever saw in your life.

Monday, 8 February 2021

Psychogenic Movement Disorder

As usual I'm a few days after the event here but I can't resist pointing out exactly what was happening ten days ago when the EU blew a fuse over covid vaccines. Having lectured the UK on the importance and significance of the various Anglo-Irish agreements during the Brexit negotiations it clearly had heard little and understood less of the briefings by Ireland at that time as it peremptorily announced it was going to make the Irish reimpose a hard border between the south and north of Ireland. Without even forewarning the Irish government. Or consulting their point man on Brexit, Michel Barnier,  the Commission's Head of Task Force for relations with the UK. And then retracting within 24 hours. All the time trying to wage a futile campaign against its supplier, Astrazeneca, by pronouncements from podiums and by Twitter.

I've written before that the EU has sado-masochistic tendencies, deliberately harming its population, for example through excessive austerity caused by its failure to establish the euro properly*. Amongst other things this has condemned much of southern Europe to monumental levels of unemployment amongst young people. To add to its existing structural and psychological problems, the EU has become  paranoid about the UK.  And now we aren't just seeing psychological traits, we are seeing physical manifestations of them. Under pressure from the German press (particularly Die Zeit, a heavyweight not a tabloid) saying that the vaccines fiasco is "the best advert for Brexit....and if something goes wrong, it's everyone else's fault" the EU  exhibited psychogenic movement disorders. What are they? Involuntary spasms caused by stress and psychological conditions. It seems the only explanation for the bizarre behaviour we observed.

It was all reminiscent of the excellent 1991 Alan Bleasdale drama series on Channel 4, GBH, in which Robert Lindsay played a hard left council leader who becomes paranoid and unstable, developing an expanding repertoire of involuntary tics and spasms which become increasingly difficult to conceal.

The EU's twitch on the Irish border was spectacularly ill judged - could it really have thought there was an imminent risk of vaccines intended for EU countries going to mainland Britain via the Republic and Northern Ireland? But the funniest twitch probably belonged to Stella Kyriakides, European Commissioner for health and food safety, who said “We reject the logic of first come, first served." (She was actually quoted as saying "first come, first serve" but that would be gibberish....) She continued "That may work in a butcher’s shop but not in contracts and not in our advanced purchase agreements.” Well, the concept of queueing and waiting your turn is so peculiarly British, isn't it? Still, if I'm ever in a queue when the goods are running out, I can't wait to use the argument that I reject the pathetic "first come first served" concept, especially if people in front of me have be so daft as to bother pre-order. Come to think of it the butcher's shop next Christmas could be a perfect opportunity. In the EU's world you don't need to plan in advance, just barge to the front and exert your "rights", even if you aren't right.

The EU was driven to blind fury when Astrazeneca (abbreviated to AZ from here) owned up that there were production "glitches" in their Belgian and Dutch plants. I've been there before when customers try to "hold the contractor's feet to the fire" and insist that you "must" deliver when there is a technical problem you are doing your damndest to overcome. The EU rejected that it was a "best reasonable efforts" contract and then published a lightly redacted version which showed that was exactly what it was. Yes, sadly, of course I've downloaded and studied the 42 pages. 

Having seen many quite similar contracts, some of them with the EU (or EEC as it was then) I realise that you can't necessarily take clauses out of context. But the phrase "best reasonable efforts" is mentioned only a few times. Importantly in the preamble of "Whereas" statements it is noted that AZ has partnered with Oxford University to rapidly clinically evaluate and scale-up global manufacturing of the vaccine. Subsequently it says as part of that scale-up, AZ "has committed to use its Best Reasonable Efforts to build capacity to manufacture 300 million doses of the vaccine... for distribution within the EU" going on to reserve an option for the Commission to purchase a further 100 million doses. The implication of that wording to me is that AZ were committing to build capacity specifically for the EU to draw on for their initial order. I'm not surprised this isn't totally explicit as neither party would want the EU to end up owning the plants, but it does matter for what comes later.

Subsequently, in clause 5.1, the contract says "AZ shall use its Best reasonable Efforts to manufacture the Initial Europe Doses within the EU for distribution...." going on to state how many doses AZ would try to deliver in 2020 and in Q1 of 2021, these details being redacted. 

I was often cautioned not to agree to offer "best endeavours" in a contract, as traditionally this is taken in British law to mean that you must do everything you possibly can, leaving no stone unturned and without any test for reasonableness or the other problems it might cause you**. Commercial managers were always more comfortable with "reasonable endeavours". So I was wondering exactly what "best reasonable efforts" means. Especially under the law of Belgium. But of course the contract defines it in the section on definition of terms. In this case "Best reasonable Efforts" means:

"..the activities and degree of effort that a company of a similar size and with similar-sized infrastructure and similar resources to Astrazeneca would undertake or use in the development and manufacture of a Vaccine at the relevant stage of development or commercialization having regard to the urgent need for a Vaccine to end a global pandemic which is resulting in serious public health issues, restrictions on personal freedoms and economic impact across the world, but taking into account efficacy and safety..."

So all AZ need to do is what any similar company would have done. It is unfortunate that the plants in the EU don't appear to have worked at full capacity instantly but, for these type of plants and processes  it's not exactly a surprise when they don't and unforeseen glitches have to be resolved. (The AZ process involves growing host cells in a series of bioreactors which are then infected by a virus seed). That's a long way from suggesting that AZ haven't used "best reasonable efforts". Which is why the EU tried to say it wasn't a best efforts contract, AZ had a contractual commitment to deliver. Which gets you nowhere if the plants still need de-glitching, a process I spent much of the first three years of my career as a newly qualified chemical engineer doing. 

So it is entirely relevant that the EU placed its order 3 months later than the UK did. And it is also why the EU sought to argue that  AZ should divert product from AZ's UK plants. 

In clause 5.4, Manufacturing Sites, the contract says AZ will use its Best Reasonable Efforts to manufacture the Vaccine at "manufacturing sites within the EU (which, for the purposes of this section 5.4 only shall include the United Kingdom)" which would appear to muddy the waters at least a little. Is that relevant though? It is presumably why the EU thought it could grab some of the UK production. Whether the UK plant has capacity to fulfill AZ's obligations to the UK and EU in parallel right now we can only wonder about, but it seems likely from the exhibited behaviours that the answer to that is "no".

The clause goes on to say that AZ can use sites outside the EU (and UK) but only if it tells the Commission and explains why it needs to do so. It then goes on to say that if AZ cannot manufacture the initial doses for the EU within the EU, the Commission may present to AZ Contract Manufacturing Organisations (CMOs) within the EU capable of manufacturing the doses and AZ will use Best Reasonable Efforts to get into contract with said CMOs. So why didn't they do that? Presumably because that capability isn't just sitting there to be switched on at a moment's notice. And would need quite a bit of tweaking to adapt to the specific AZ process.

I expect much of the available capacity is already engaged in the complex supply chains the various manufacturers have established. For example, I read that the raw materials for the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine are made in Mainz, Germany. Rentschler, a German contract manufacturer, then performs the purification steps before the stuff is sent to Pfizer's site at Purrs in Belgium where it is thawed and formulated and filled into vials. And then presumably refrozen to -80C. Moderna is reliant on at least three other companies for elements of its process. AZ has built more than a dozen regional supply chains to meet anticipated demand, all before the vaccine was approved anywhere. In total AZ is working with more than 20 supply partners in more than 15 countries.***

The full implications of clause 5.4 are not entirely clear to me. But the fact that the EU anticipated that AZ might not be able to deliver to its obligations weakens their already flimsy case.

At the time the BBC said AZ's UK plants were described as "primary" and mainland European plants "secondary". I'm not sure who told them that as there is no such terminology that I can see in the contract. 

It is no great surprise that a contract to develop a brand new vaccine, test it, secure regulatory approvals and scale up the manufacturing process for something never made outside a lab before should be caveated by "best reasonable efforts". I've been associated with many contracts where the supplier (i.e. the company I worked for) wanted to convince the prospective customer that they could do the task without wanting to commit that they absolutely would do it because of technical uncertainties. The EU-AZ contract has no penalties in the form of liquidated damages for failure to deliver on time. Indeed, it anticipates that AZ might fail to successfully develop the vaccine or be able to obtain regulatory approvals and spells out what costs AZ could claim if it decided to abandon the project. It is extremely hard to see how Ms Kyriakides sees this contract as spelling out a definitive requirement to deliver a certain number of doses by March 2021. It seems likely to me that she hasn't read or understood the contract. Or didn't want to.

Which is why the EU presumably resorted to futile Trumpian tweeting rather than talking sensibly with its supplier. Although, as they cannot have thought this would make any difference whatsoever to the gremlins in the AZ plant, it is likely this was to appear to be doing something and to deflect the attention of the press in their recalcitrant member states like Germany, who are unlikely to trust the EU with such important and urgent ever stuff again.

Futile because, if AZ could supply the doses they said they would try to deliver by March, they surely would.  And yet the EU contract with AZ clearly brigades the UK plants with the EU ones. That may have made the EU feel they could insist on vaccines made in UK being diverted. But the UK is not a party to the EU contract. So AZ's contract with the UK cannot take into account any obligations to the EU as there were no such obligations at the time the UK-AZ contract was entered into. In principle AZ could be in the uncomfortable position where it ends up in breach of either one contract or the other. However, as I don't think the EU contract can be read as a binding commitment on AZ to deliver the initial EU doses on time, they probably aren't between that rock and hard place. 

Just how the EU thought it could force AZ to allocate a proportion of the UK production to the EU is not clear, though presumably it did not intend to launch the first successful invasion of England since 1066, unless you count William of Orange in 1688 as an invasion (some do). Maybe the French were planning to reprise their failed attempt at the Battle of Fishguard in 1797, which would at least have been entertaining.

However, I do think there was a real threat to UK supplies of not just the Pfizer but also the Astrazeneca vaccines in the EU's planned export ban. Apparently the capacity of the Wockhardt**** plant at Wrexham is nowhere near enough to package the bulk manufactured vaccine into vials so bulk quantities of the AZ vaccine are exported to Germany, which has a large glassware industry, for finishing, packaging into vials and re-exporting to the UK. It's not clear that the EU understood this when it had its hissy fit and mooted the export ban, but one can imagine the hoo-ha if the EU had blocked the re-export of these vaccines, something they appear to have backed off from.

The fact that the EU has gone quiet on AZ's obligations and has stopped talking about export bans, which evoked pretty universal condemnation, pretty well proves that the EU had no case whatsoever. Whether or not Brexit has damaged the UK's standing in the world, these events will have harmed the EU's reputation just as much. Nevertheless, all of this shows just how wise the UK was to go its own way on vaccines. Don't forget Labour and the LibDems would have gone into the EU's bureaucratic scheme. Last summer Catherine West, Labour's shadow Europe minister, labelled our decision not to participate in the EU's vaccine scheme as "dumb and dumber" while her colleague Bell Ribeiro-Addy accused the government of "putting ideology before lives". The LibDems Layla Moran said the Tories were favouring Brexit over vaccines and wrote to Matt Hancock urging him to join in with the EU and put "lives ahead of ideology" (I think you'll find that last point is exactly what they did, Layla). The party's health spokesperson Munira Wilson said the Tories "stubborn unwillingness to work with the EU was unforgivable".

In practice, the UK might arguably have got lucky in so far as the first three vaccines to come through (I'm excluding vaccines from China and Russia here) were all on our pools coupon. But the way that coupon was put together, spreading the bets with a variety of vaccine types, companies and production locations showed good judgements were made. And rapidly too. The instruction to go out and get supplies and not haggle too much on price and the decision to indemnify the pharma companies from legal action as a result of vaccine problems to enable the roll out to start quickly also look to have been good calls. (Don't worry, the government has added the coronavirus vaccine to the list of vaccinations covered by the Vaccine Damages Payments Act, which pays out a one-off £120,000 payment to people who are permanently disabled or harmed as a result of a listed vaccination).

The UK government's decision to encourage Oxford to team with a UK based pharma company - apparently Oxford were originally considering teaming with the American company Merck - has also proved to be wise. That's a lot of sound decisions that have come together. And while there has been some justified criticism of government by chumocracy, Kate Bingham clearly did a good job in charge of the vaccines task force and unpaid at that.

I've seen a few comments, on social media mainly, decrying "vaccines nationalism". None of them has explained quite what is meant by that phrase. We all accept that the virus won't be properly contained until as much of the world as possible has been covered. I guess in some kind of utopia the available supplies could theoretically be rolled out across the world in priority group order. I suspect that, in addition to that being political suicide for governments in the producing countries, it's not clear any such plan would be the optimal way to proceed as the virus would continue to circulate widely at high levels in all countries for longer and we would only gather information slowly about how best to exit the pandemic era. I think we can set aside such idealism as impractical - and it certainly wasn't what the EU had in mind. The producer countries will look after their own and then help other countries. 

And guess what? If the EU had succeeded in diverting any UK production I think we can deduce that it would be supplies intended for any third party countries that signed up with AZ before the EU that would get delayed. So we can see this grand, compassionate, munificent edifice that the remainers were always telling us about for what it really is.

In case you though it was just the Commission, with its recycled failed national politicians who aren't up to the job, like von der Leyen, President Micron joined in the act by pronouncing the AZ vaccine "quasi-effective" for over 65s. Given the high level of anti-vacc sentiment in France this seemed a spectacularly foolish thing to say. Later in the year when they get some sort of act together the French will no doubt be trying to get their citizens to have jabs. Maybe Micron was hoping his people will wait for the Sanofi vaccine, which he can wrap in the French flag. Good luck with that mate, you might need it. (Of course Micron is worried about his own skin, the French election and Marine Le Pen). I don't think this cartoon was aimed specifically at Micron:

The EU's use of Twitter for diplomacy and the preposterous statement by Micron were both quite redolent of Trump. And, perhaps surprisingly, it was in stark contrast to the calm behaviour of the UK, in particular Boris Johnson. I'm not sure would have expected this but, having read Dominic Lawson's column last Sunday it's clear that the government has a strategy of being courteous to the EU, at least in public. Although Katya Alder reported on the BBC that the government had "berated" the EU (it hadn't), Johnson declined invitations from his backbenchers in the Commons to tell the EU "hands off our vaccine" and, according to Lawson's source, the order has gone out from the PM that we are not to compare our vaccine inoculation performance with that of the EU and certainly never to make a point of it. "The line we get from Downing Street is show, don't tell". All this despite the provocations of  comments such as the EU justice commissioner, who accused the UK of wanting to start a vaccines "war" and and the Belgian deputy PM saying the UK was "vaccinating people with vaccines that do not have the same standard as the ones we use". On the contrary, when the EU threw its wobbly, Johnson and Gove worked the phones with calls to the Irish PM and foreign minister, Gove spoke to Maros Sefcovik, the Slovak vice-president of the Commission (his opposite number on Brexit implementation in Northern Ireland) before Johnson phoned Von der Leyen and emphasised that, if it undermined contract law, the EU would ruin its credibility. He said the Pfizer vaccines "have to be allowed to leave the EU". According to the Sunday Times the same evening Von der Leyen had spoken to the Irish, called Johnson back with an assurance that the Pfizer vaccine supply to the UK would not be interrupted and tweeted that 

"we agreed on the principle that there should not be restrictions on the export of vaccines by companies where they are fulfilling contractual responsibilities"

almost word for word what Johnson had said to her. Nevertheless there was embarrassment at the Commssion's inept performance in Brussels. An official involved in the Brexit negotiations on the EU side said if Von der Leyen had not changed course "I think I would have resigned".

All this led Dominic Lawson to conclude that, at the moment, the separation is too raw for the EU to forgive.  The UK has decided to be polite and patient and "wait for them to get over it".

After all that's the best way to deal with the situation when faced with psychogenic movement disorder: stay calm, maintain composure, be polite and helpful. And don't smirk.

* Wolfgang Munchau sees a parallel between the EU's mismanagement of financial union and now vaccines. See Overloading: the EU used to do a few things well, now it does a lot of things badly. Eurointelligence blog, 29 January 2021. The entire item is worth reading but on this point he says:
"I see a parallel with how the EU ended up mismanaging the monetary union. The eurozone is the shared responsibility of several commissioners, the Ecofin, the eurogroup, the European stability mechanism, 19 governments and various quangos set up around them. It lacks the legal and institutional ingredients of an economic union: a finance minister, tax raising powers and the right to issue debt. Austerity, probably the gravest economic policy error of our time, is what happens when you leave 19 small-to-mid-sized countries on a rules-based fiscal auto-pilot."

** Some experts now say this traditional view was overly burdensome and not actually justified by case law in the UK (and also the US) and should be limited by what is reasonable. They say that "reasonable" efforts (or endeavours) implies taking one course of action, whereas "best" efforts requires all reasonable courses to be taken.  So a requirement to undertake "all reasonable efforts" is essentially the same as "best efforts". They don't consider the EU contract phrase "best reasonable efforts" though I would argue that falls short of "all reasonable efforts", you just have to assess what the best options for success are. See,the%20reasonable%20courses%20he%20can.

*** This was in an interesting article "Attention turns to vaccine production following successful trials" in The Chemical Engineer, Issue 954/955 December 2020/January 2021. This article predicted that the bottleneck in supply would be in supply chains including packaging into vials, which is likely to become more so when the vaccines  are being made in quantities to export around the world. It also quoted a member of the IChemE's Covid-19 Response Team saying he was confident Pfizer, AZ and Moderna would meet their production targets. (He didn't say specifically which production targets, we are still very early in this game).

**** The Wockhardt plant has nothing to do with Germany. Apparently the British-Indian owner called the business this because it sounded like "work hard".
Dominic Lawson's column "Brexit is done. We don't need to bait Brussels" was in the Sunday Times on 31 Jan 2021.

Panicked calls, hasty tweets: how the vaccine crisis unfolded, Sunday Times 31 Jan 2021

You can view and download the redacted EU-Astrazeneca Advance Purchase Agreement at

Monday, 1 February 2021

It was right for elite sport to continue - at least for me

Although most of us expected there would be a second wave (what was there to stop it?) and so further lockdowns as we headed into winter, many folk seem to be finding the winter of restrictions harder than the first lockdown, in those long, light days of spring 2020. I certainly am. The weather was so pleasant first time round that, with walking and gardening, I barely missed seeing live sport on TV. However this time around I've found it a much more important ingredient of some kind of lifestyle. I think the government has been right to allow elite sport, the modern day opium of the masses, to continue, though most of the legwork (and cost) has correctly been borne by the sports themselves. For all the publicity about the odd misbehaving Premier League footballer, elite sports with their bubbles and testing have shown that, with some modest level of risk, it is possible to operate safely. I had some sympathy with Sam Allardyce and especially Steve Bruce, who said premier league football shouldn't continue. After all, a couple of Newcastle players got quite ill with covid, albeit short of hospitalisation. But I didn't agree with them. I could understand Big Sam, at 66, thinking he was at risk but not the players.

There has been some great sport on offer for armchair viewers (I know, there are no other types currently). The pickings were a bit thin this weekend - well they would be for an Everton fan after their disappointing performance against Newcastle, blowing a chance against one of the division's weakest form teams to move to 3 points off second place with a game in hand. As my nephew said "how Everton was that?" But I enjoyed seeing Paul Casey win in Dubai, Casey being one of several Brits in the "good enough to win a major, but haven't/didn't" along with Monty, Luke Donald and Lee Westwood. Casey and Westwood could still just conceivably take a leaf out of Darren Clarke's book and do it when the time seems to have passed, though I think Casey's game is more suited to American courses rather than links and the sheer quantity of strong opposition for the US Open and PGA tournaments is against him. 

The previous weekend offered much more entertainment, at least to me. Mrs H wasn't that impressed on the Sunday when, after I'd been watching the golf in Abu Dhabi on the tablet with the cricket in Sri Lanka on the TV (who says men can't multi-task - and I was on my phone as well!) I soon moved on to the F A Cup and then, in the evening, the American Football.

Tyrell Hatton, who Mrs H affectionately says looks like a garden gnome, was imperious in the golf and is in a sustained run of good form. Let's hope he (and Casey) can maintain it and play as well in the Ryder Cup. England's win in Sri Lanka was their 5th overseas test win in a row, something not achieved for over 100 years. In a series that was tighter than the 2-0 scoreline suggests, England were flaky but there were some outstanding performances, from Joe Root and Jimmy Anderson in particular. Although England won both tests by apparently comfortable margins neither Root nor Sri Lankan spinner Lasith Embuldeniya deserved to be on the losing side in either match.

This made for a morning of very high quality entertainment. Manchester United's cup win against Liverpool, maintaining their good form until it evaporated in the League against Sheffield United, made good viewing as well. But the NFC Conference Championship game between the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and the Green Bay Packers stole the show.

Some folk are puzzled by my long standing fondness for the gridiron game. I'm not sure why as the game is almost designed to produce drama. Yes, it's stop start but then cricket is also a series of discrete "plays". Tense finishes are frequent and, rather like football over here, the current generations of coaches and players take much more risk than three decades ago. The fashion in football for short goal kicks and the appetite of players (or rather their coaches) for risk in their own half seems insatiable but it just tends to look amateurish when it doesn't come off. But in American football it has become routine to see adventurous plays called throughout matches and it has made a visually entertaining sport even better to watch.

Routine that is until the number one seeded Green Bay Packers, trailing Tampa Bay 31-23 going into the closing stages lost their bottle and made what I've seen described as "the worst coaching decision ever seen", settling for kicking a field goal, bringing the score to 31-26 but giving the ball back to Tampa Bay's quarterback Tom Brady. That would be like a rugby union team settling for kicking a penalty rather than kicking to the corner and trying to force the try when trailing by 7 points in the closing stages. And that would be the Tom Brady who is arguably the most successful sports person on the planet in the last two decades. Brady just had to keep possession through a series of half a dozen or so plays to get to his tenth Superbowl in 20 seasons. Which, of course, he did. Yes, incredibly he'll have played in half of all the NFL season climaxes in two decades. Trust me this is at least as incredible as it would be for a soccer player to play in half of all the FA Cup finals over the same period.

American Football is perhaps the ultimate sport for statistics, though I can look at cricket stats for longer. Brady's career stats  are outstanding but not unique in the modern game. His career passer average, which is a bit like a cricket batting average for comparing players at different stages in their careers, puts him 7th equal on the all time NFL list. His long and successful career gives him a lot of yards gained passing (the equivalent of the batsman's runs or the bowler's wickets). But another veteran quarterback, Drew Brees of the New Orleans Saints, edges him off the top of that list. Where Brady is outstanding is his record in the end of season play offs. Brady has now won more than twice as many play off matches than any other quarterback in history: 33 to Joe Montana's 16.  I was fortunate enough to see Montana haul San Francisco over the line in the 1988 season superbowl. (I won the tickets with flights and accommodation. Mrs H got a week in Miami Beach and, at the match, sat next to an American from Chicago who was coaching the sport in England and who was living in the next street to where her dad was born in Birkenhead. We got to see what was regarded at the time as one of the classic Superbowls). Montana was the best of his or most preceeding generations at winning big matches in tight finishes. Brady is in a league of his own.

That's why Brady has six superbowl winner's rings from his 9 appearances to date. Brees may match him for career passing yards but has one ring. Montana won 4 as did Terry Bradshaw back in the 1970s before I started watching the game. That's it. 52 superbowls to date, Brady has won 6 and no other quarterback besides those three has won more than three times.

If Brady had any points left to prove he has already done that this season, playing for a new team under a new head coach. Aged 43, this is Brady's first season with Tampa Bay. He won his superbowl rings in his long career with the New England Patriots all under the same coach, Bill Belichick. In the first of his play off games this year, Brady took his team to meet his all time stats rival Brees and the New Orleans Saints. In a hard fought game Brady's team came out on top 30-20. 

Some say Brady is a hard man to warm to. Well he does have more than $100 million in the bank, is married to Brazilian Gisele Bundchen, since 2001 one of the highest paid supermodels in the world and still has his clean, college graduate looks. Clean partly because of his fanatical meditation, yoga, resistance training and diet regime which involves drinking some 200 oz of water (25 glasses) a day and avoiding most fruits, mushrooms, tomatoes, peppers, coffee, white sugar, flour, gluten, dairy, cereal, white rice, potatoes, bread and, not surprisingly fizzy drinks including Gatorade. OK so maybe he can invoke just a little envy and resentment. Not that he's always had it easy. He wasn't highly fancied as a college player and wasn't selected until the sixth round of the 2000 college draft, which means all the teams passed over him at least five times. He was picked in 199th place, with 6 quarterbacks selected ahead of him.

However, after a season as back up quarterback he then held the starting role for the Patriots for 20 seasons, the most for an NFL quarterback with one franchise. Other than missing the entire 2008 season with a knee injury he has remained almost injury free.

When his team went to Green Bay for last week's NFC Conference Championship match many thought it was a game too far for the old stager. For a start, while Brady is used to playing in the cold after his time in Massachusetts, his Tampa team are used to warmer climes than Wisconsin in January. As it turned out, although the Bucs lead from start to finish, Brady didn't actually have that great a match. He threw three touchdown passes but was also intercepted three times, turning over possession. Maybe that's why The Tampa defence (remember that's pronounced Dee-fence and often shortened to just  "D") played a big role in the win.

But Brady's record speaks for itself. Can he go one further and win a seventh Superbowl on 7 February? Again most experts think not. He's up against last season's winners, Kansas City, with their outstanding young quarterback Patrick Mahomes. At 25 Mahomes is currently top of that all time career passer average list I mentioned earlier. On other stats Mahomes also leads Brady, for example pass completion percentage. As you might expect given their ages Mahomes is far more dynamic and Kansas currently run a bewildering array of plays with lots of players in motion to confuse the D. They also have two of the quickest players in a league where there are some genuine sprinters in Tyreek Hill (called "the cheetah" for a reason) and Mecole Hardman, though the latter is very young, very raw and sometimes error prone. Perhaps more significantly the Kansas D also look very dynamic.

But Tampa have some good players of their own, one Superbowl preview I've read giving them the edge at both wide receiver and running back. If it comes down to a tight match it might be decided by a pass to one of the tight ends. Kansas have Travis Kelce, currently the best tight end in the league. Tampa have the veteran Rob Gronkowski, one of the best tight ends to ever play the game. "Gronk" was with Brady at the Patriots for 9 years but, citing impact on his mental health from the pain and injuries suffered through his career, retired in 2018 at the age of 29. After a year out Brady persuaded the Bucs to trade a fourth round draft pick for a seventh round pick and the rights to his old buddy's signature. Gronk had a decent season but had hardly caught a pass in the play offs until, critically, near the death in last week's match.

                                 Gronkowski and Brady after the Bucs Conference Championship win

One of the great things for me about American Football is I have no nerves or expectation when watching. Although I had a fair degree of fondness for the the San Francisco 49ers and the Washington Football Team, then called the Redskins, back in the day I don't really follow a particular team, so I can watch all the games as a neutral. So I won't be rooting for either team next weekend when the match starts at 11.30pm (you can see it live on BBC1 as well as Sky), I'll just be hoping for a close, exciting match. And no, I won't watch all of it live though I used to in the days when we had Superbowl parties. Though maybe I can persuade Mrs H that the two of us should have a Superbowl party this year stay up till 3am....

The bookies odds are against Brady and the Bucs even though, for the first time ever, they are the team that gets to play at home in the stadium long since designated to hold the match. But, if it is a tight finish, it wouldn't be a huge shock if a last minute Brady pass to his old buddy Gronk settled the game, though that would take an outstanding performance by the Tampa D to constrain Mahomes. Either way, I can't wait to see what happens, but Brady's place in history is secure. 

Oh, there are some tasty football fixtures next week as well, notably the match in which Liverpool try to stop Man City turning the Premier League into a procession (so despite being a Blue I'll be shouting for them, as I'd like it to stay competitive). And the rugby Six Nations starts so I'll be keen to see how England and Wales fare. But unless something is done to tilt the balance back towards passing from kicking, especially the monotony of box kicking, I'm not expecting great entertainment. So it's the Superbowl I'm looking forward to most. Just don't text me the result on Monday morning if I'm watching most of the game on catch up!