Sunday, 29 May 2022

Holden's Law

I've been waiting in vain to see much holistic thinking when it comes to how we progress towards net zero. For example, the UK's headlong rush to announce the end of new fossil fuelled vehicles and gas boilers in new houses without appearing to have much of a roadmap on how to make it work in practice is striking. Somebody in what Keith Waterhouse used to call the Ministry of Guesswork has presumably projected how many vehicle charging points we need and had a look at the impact on electricity demand. But ministers seem to have accepted hand waving arguments about future energy production demand management - at least until the PM announced lots of new nukes. Without appearing to recognise the timescale mismatches, given the lead time for such projects.

In the meantime we have all but given up on fracking (which could potentially have usefully bridged some gaps) and, at least until the Russians invaded Ukraine, have implicity continued the line on energy strategy which has flowed through since Mrs Thatcher's days - we can just buy it in. I know fracking is controversial but I find it hypocritical to be dogmatically anti-fracking while consuming gas which has been transported around the world, in some cases from countries the anti-frackers would not want us to trade with. Thinking we can click our fingers and stop consuming oil and gas, like the Just Stop Oil protesters, is  wishful thinking. We need a robust and affordable plan.

However, my bigger problem is that I've become very gloomy about the prospect of protecting environment in the round.  What if, in some perverse Parkinson's law of unintended consequences, whatever we do we always end up doing some harm? This of course is redolent of the second law of thermodynamics, which says the entropy of a system must always increase. I've seen this law, which I found almost beautiful as an engineering student, described as the only definitively true scientific law*. What if, whatever we do to protect the environment, the best we can ever do is to theoretically break even on environmental damage - but in practice we won't do that. Entropy always increases and every human activity probably has some environmental disbenefit.

Take wind turbines. Yes they can produce electricity without burning fossil fuel, though only once they are made by mining and making the raw materials and fabricating the turbines using green energy. And finding a way of disposing of them at end of life which I understand is not available yet. And covering for them with no fossil sources when the wind doesn't blow, or blows too strongly. But even then there are impacts on wild life - unless Boris Johnson's question "can't the birds learn to fly higher?" is less daft than it sounds. I suspect there may always be some small environmental disbenefit from wind turbines however smartly they can be made.

Or take electric motor cars: their batteries need cobalt. 70% of the world's cobalt supply comes from the Democratic Republic of Congo. Which is, according to Christina Lamb "one of the most violent and corrupt places on earth", where child labour is common and working conditions appalling. Safety standards are non-existent as many of the mines are so-called "artisan" mines, operated by private individuals. Fatal accidents are covered up for fear that mines (if you can call holes and shallow tunnels in the ground mines) could be closed. Exposure to cobalt can cause long term health problems. It is ironic that the place we need to help clean up the planet is one of the most polluted in the world. "Without DR Congo there is no electric car industry and no green revolution" says the head of a UK based campaign group.

Most of the cobalt is sent to China, where 80% of the world's cobalt supply is refined. Not all of the mines are operated by the artisans. China itself operates many of the Congolese mines - in some cases, allegedly, after paying minimal compensation and using aggressive tactics to buy the land. Once processed there is no way of  telling how the cobalt was sourced. It is sold to battery component manufacturers in China and South Korea, who supply corporations such as Apple who, after and Amnesty report in 2016 now track the supply sources to check child labour or unsafe conditions are not involved. However, according to Seema Joshi, head of business and human rights at Amnesty International, "some of the richest companies in the world are still making excuses for not investigating their supply chains". Think of that when you hold your smartphone.

And reflect also on the fact that the UK's target of phasing out fossil-fuelled vehicles in the next 20 years requires the number of electric vehicles on our roads to increase by a factor of 40. (Er, only 40?) Extrapolate that across the world and one wonders about the viability of electric vehicles as a large scale transport solution. Meanwhile Bill Gates is putting money into finding new sources of cobalt in the earth's crust.

Or maybe we can make better batteries that don't need cobalt. Or go the hydrogen fuel cell route, as often advocated by Jeremy Clarkson. I'm a great believer in the utility of the idea generating method where you ask "what if we could....?" Sure, clever people working on battery development will be thinking about how we do it without cobalt. But the next step in that process is to stay "what you do is..." and come up with a plan. One that works. I believe we don't yet have those plans to get us to net zero. We have a target but not what the financiers would call a "bridge": a clear route to deliver the strategy which can be planned in detail and against which progress can be monitored.

Meanwhile we are bombarded by contradictory information about what we as individuals should be doing. For example, the canard that driving to the shops uses less energy than walking, as some have claimed. This is because the energy cost of producing the extra calories you need to eat exceeds the energy cost of the drive. (I've seen the calculation). It's nonsense of course as it ignores the fact that we need exercise for our health - and we don't necessarily eat fewer calories sitting on the couch. So it's more than a bit theoretical, but it shows how some of these "decisions" aren't as obvious as they seem.
The author Michael Schellenburger is more specifically downbeat on some things than I am, while arguing that the environmental apocalypse is a myth. He says most forms of renewable energy such as solar and wind power are impracticable for large scale use in much of the world as they require huge amounts of land and damage wildlife and that becoming a vegetarian reduces one's emissions by less than 4%. However, he also claims man made climate change is not causing mass extinction, as only 0.001% of the planet's species go extinct annually and carbon emissions are declining in most countries (though maybe not fast enough). 

However, I also read that 40% of the invertebrate life on the planet is under threat. That sounds ominously serious for food chains and our ability to feed ourselves.

In an interview in the Irish press in March 2019 Roy Harper said there are just too many of us. The need for population control was much debated when I was a schoolboy but it's not fashionable to say it these days. Indeed one runs the risk of being called an advocate of eugenics. But it's true. There are too many of us and there will be a lot more yet. When there were fewer of us and we didn't do as much harm the earth could compensate and recover. If Holden's gloomy Law of the Environment is right and we inevitably end up doing some damage then we can minimise that damage but there will always be some. Multiplied by a lot of people, who have come to totally dominate the natural world.

Entropy always increases and maybe the modern human lifestyle always does some environmental harm.

This need not be a definitively gloomy prognosis if we find ways of making the harm so small that the planet remains sustainable in the long term.  After all one day the sun will become a red giant and Earth will be incinerated. I just don't see the route map to sustainability in the meantime at the moment.

* To be more specific, Carlo Rovelli argues in his fascinating book The Order of Time, that the second law is the only basic law of physics that implies the existence of time. None of the other basic laws (Newton's mechanics, Maxwell's electricity and magnetism, Einstein's relativity, the Schrodinger/Heisenberg/Dirac quantum mechanics or the laws of elementary particle physics) distinguish the past from the future. The book is intended for a lay audience and I highly recommend it, though I would accept it is somewhat challenging for non-physicists, like me.

**Congo's miners dying to feed world's hunger for electric cars, Christina Lamb, Sunday Times 10 March 2019

The argument that walking to the shops does more harm than driving dates back a long time, for example The Times, 4 August 2007 ( credited the argument to a Green party candidate and author, Chris Goodall, who wrote a book called How To Live A Low Carbon Life, though the story has been repeatedly picked up since

Shellenburger's book "Apocalypse Never: Why Environmental Alarmism Hurts Us All", is summarised in "On Behalf Of Environmentalists, I Apologise For The Climate Scare", in Forbes magazine. However some reviews say the book is full of "bad science" e.g. see

Wednesday, 25 May 2022

Safe - for now


Everton avoided relegation after their remarkable win over Crystal Palace, coming from 2-0 down to win 3-2 just as they did on the last day of the season in 1994 against Wimbledon (although this time without being awarded a dodgy penalty).

When I spotted an LFC crest on one of my golf club's juniors yesterday I said to the young lad, who is about 10 years old, "I didn't know you were a Liverpool fan". "Who do you support?" he asked. When I whispered "Everton" in his ear a slightly disainful smile spread across his face and he responded "you lot were celebrating just because you didn't get chucked out".

Out of the mouths of babes and sucklings and all that but he wasn't the only one to point it out. I've been at Goodison on the day we have won the league title and on another occasion in a different season when we clinched it away from home but were presented with the trophy. I've been present when they have won and lost F.A. Cup finals. I've experienced us winning a European trophy. There is a great feeling of satisfaction at winning a trophy and a feeling of emptiness when a final is lost. I haven't experienced relegation as it last happened to Everton in 1951, before I was born. But relegation from the top flight must be far worse than losing a cup final. (OK, some Burnley fans I know have taken it phlegmatically, but they are a yo yo team). So yes were were celebrating, with huge relief, about not getting chucked out.

There was also a feeling of optimism and many comments on the lines of "we mustn't let this happen again". Just like in 1994. Everton did trend upwards then, winning the F.A. Cup two years later. Though only after being bottom of the table the following October and changing the manager. And then experiencing another last day survival in 1998 before the relative stability of the Walter Smith years and the comparative success of the David Moyes era (when we were just about as successful as you can be without actually winning a trophy. A bit like Tottenham now).

So what awaits Everton now? Well I say "safe - for now" for two reasons. The first is the threat of legal action by Burnley over whether Everton's immense losses have breached the Premier League's financial fair play rules. Everton's latest accounts published in March showed a loss of £120 million bringing the total over three years to £381 million against an FFP limit of £105 million for "adjusted losses". There are two significant get outs, sorry adjstments: covid related losses and investment in facilities and academies are to be excluded from this number.  Everton only had £200k of gate receipts in the financial year, though broadcasting revenue was up. The Guardian reported that "independent calculations" showed that the pandemic had affected Everton to the tune of £103 million in the most recent 12 month reporting period and £170 million since the start of the outbreak, potentially increasing to £220 million. 

These figures raised some eyebrows at other clubs: Arsenal reported covid related losses of £85 million but have a bigger stadium. It's worth remembering that Everton got a lot of praise during the lockdowns for continuing to pay all their casual employees (stewards, etc) as if the matches were proceeding normally, while Arsenal got a lot of criticism for cutting back non-playing staff and sacking the chap who dressed up as the mascot. Mind I don't imagine the mascot got paid all that much! Everton also have the biggest community programme of any British club and decided that the pandemic was not the time to cut it back.

But even if £220 million is allowable against covid that still leaves an adjusted loss of £160 million. There has been spend of tens of millions on the new stadium - work on the ground only started this year but there will have been large costs for design, planning and possibly advance ordering of materials in order to fix prices. But in the most recent two years of the three in question Everton's recently published accounts show spend of only £20 million. I've gone back to the 2019 accounts and, over the relevant three years, the total spend on the stadium project is about £27 million, with a further £11 million spent in the previous financial year, ending in July 2018. There will be other costs which can be offset, for example on the existing ground and the academy, but even so it seems a feat of smoke and mirrors to come up to the numbers Everton are claiming.

Nevertheless, Everton are confident they are clean: they say they have worked with the league over two years to ensure rules have been followed, including consulting with the league’s lawyers over their January transfer business. I would note that the transfer business in the current season, certainly in the January window, while arguably relevant to the club avoiding relegation, falls after the three year period in question, the most recent set of published accounts running to July 2021, though Burnley would make the case that Everton should have been subject to a transfer ban and unable to do any business this season. I also note that the Premier League, not surprisingly, have stayed silent on the matter.

What chance do Burnley have of overturning their relegation by getting a points deduction enforced on Everton before the new season starts? Remote I would say. I expect covid will be a get out of jail card for Everton (clearly not get out of jail "free" though). A precedent was set by Sheffield United's action against West Ham over the Carlos Tevez third party rights affair in 2007. It took two years to resolve before West Ham paid an out of court settlement to the Blades after Lord Griffiths, overseeing the independent tribunal that had been established, made negative comments about West Ham's conduct. The wheels of justice will grind too slowly to save Burnley I'm sure. Similarly the cases Middlesbrough and Wycombe have taken which have delayed Derby's change of ownership have gone on and on. In these cases the the Leagues (Premier or EFL) have stayed pretty much out of it, very unhelpfully as far as Derby are concerned. Martin Samuel has written about how the Sheffield United, Middlesbrough and Wycombe cases are all tenuous and without sporting merit if you look at the likely impact on the results of matches. I expect that would also be true of Everton. Yes they have spent profligately for it but got so little in return! 

It is notable that Burnley are not suing Everton but the Premier League for not enforcing its own rules. The case, such as it is, is driven by Burnley's own precarious financal arrangements after its own change of ownership and I feel it is more about money than points.

But there is a second reason why I say safe for now: clubs that flirt with relegation in one season often do so over several seasons. They were there for a reason. Lampard tried to get Everton playing more football but pretty quickly turned to direct play to drag Everton out of the mire. There was an improvement. Their 38 game season can be broken into three periods. In the first 7 matches they gained a creditable 14 points, after which they had a truly awful run of 23 games for only 11 points. This run covered the termination of the hapless Rafa Benitez and the frst 5 games of Lampard's reign. In their last 8 matches they got a creditable return of 14 points, with critical wins over Manchester United, Chelsea, a precious away win at Leicester and the decisive victory over Palace. Which of these runs of form is the "true" current Everton?

They were lacking Dominic Calvert-Lewin for a large part of the season. But even so I am struggling to see more than half a dozen teams that Everton are likely to finish ahead of next year: the promoted three; Brentford (who I expect to struggle in their second premier season); Southampton, who have some good players but go on some very poor runs; and Leeds, about whom all the same comments apply as Everton. On the bright side Everton's issues might mainly be discerned by noting that they performed relatively well against the top sides, getting four points off both United and Chelsea and only losing narrowly to Manchester City at home. Indeed if referee Paul Tierney had given the obvious penalty for handball against Rodri it could have been better. Everton fell to a lot of soft defeats in games they could have at least drawn. An improvement in morale and determination could work wonders.

But not if they sell their best players, as one news report advocated, claiming Lampard could rebuild his squad by selling DCL, Jordan Pickford and Richarlison. It would not be a shock if Richarlison wanted to move on but unless he can land a very good move there would seem little point. His goals and attitude were critical in Everton's survival.  Personally I wouldn't take a risk on buying DCL until he proves his fitness. Pickford's performances were critical in the run in. Sell those three and, with Everton's recent track record of signing players, they are dead

But for now I can remember the amazing scenes at Goodison last week. The dye from a smoke canister let off behind me is still visible in my hair (it takes several washes apparently). And of course DCL leaping like a salmon (or an Andy Gray) to score the winning goal (picture from Sky Sports below)

Everton lose more than £100 million for third successive year but avoid sanctions. The Guardian, 29 March 2022 

Crisis deepens for Everton as they face biggest finacial loss in football. The Times 14 March 2022

Everton insist they have followed financial fair play rules but Burnley and Leeds threaten legal action. inews 23 May 2022

Sheffield United and West Ham agree £20 million compensation over Carlos Tevez affair. The Guardian, 16 March 2009.

Everton's published accounts are available on the club website. Good luck in trying to reconcile them to some of the figures quoted in the newspapers!

Tuesday, 17 May 2022

The Rat, Hammers fans and One Man Went To Mow

@Mikey47's comment on my last blog (My First Match) reminded me of his first match (a 4-0 win over West Ham for an Everton team containing Peter Beardsley, who scored on the day). A match that didn't stop him becoming a Liverpool fan. Oh well.

But it got me thinking about other Everton - West Ham matches I've seen. I've had a lot of time for West Ham since watching the heroics of Billy Bonds on the ITV highlights programme back in the Gerald Sinstadt day. But I have mixed memories of West Ham fans. Here’s the bad and the good.

I blogged a long while back about watching Everton play West Ham in the match that decided 2nd place in the 1985/86 season. Yes, the "Lineker" season Everton when should have won the double – and looked nailed on to do it at Easter – but Liverpool did it, reeling off a 10 game winning streak in the League and overturning a 1-0 deficit in the cup final. Me, bitter?

The Everton captain in the 1986 game was Kevin Ratcliffe nicknamed, unsurprisingly, The Rat. The Rat was Everton’s most successful ever captain, lifting two league championships, one FA Cup and the club’s only European trophy, the European Cup-Winners’ Cup, long since amalgamated with the UEFA Cup in what is now the Europa League. In my previous blog I referred to the Hammers knocking channel balls for their two strikers, Frank McAvennie and Tony Cottee. A chap in the crowd behind me kept saying “you’re not faster than him” as The Rat beat them to the ball every time. McAvennie in particular was lightning quick, but The Rat was very quick too and read the game very well.

I was with my father-in-law, but 65 year at the time, which I remember thinking was quite old! Even then his knee wasn't that great, albeit it got a lot worse. So, at the end of the match we stayed in our seats in the top balcony, towards the Park End, waiting for the crowd to disperse. Well, actually, until the police came and moved asked us to leave as we had unwittingly become targets for coin throwing Hammers fans, cooped up behind the Park End goal until the police would let them out. We hadn’t noticed but indeed there were pinging noises as the coins hit the steel work above our heads. Sadly his was football in the 1980s.

 A better recollection of the Hammers fans at Goodison was in the premier league era, in May 1999. A fond memory as Everton won 6-0, “super” Kevin Campbell bagging a hat-trick. But what I remember most is the entertainment the away supporters gave us. It didn’t seem like that at first, as the Hammers fans set to singing “One Man Went To Mow”. On and on and on. I had always found that song intensely irritating. But eventually it got past boring and began to get funny. Meanwhile the Everton goals were steadily going in. Quite late in the match, with the score at 5 or 6 nil, the Hammers fans finally went quiet for a while. Then they let out a crescendo of noise. And then went quiet again. After half a minute or so, another crescendo of noise and then quiet again. There were puzzled looks around the home fans as a third crescendo built up. It dawned on us that the away supporters were watching a fantasy version of the match, in which their team were scoring goals and getting back in the game. When the final and loudest crescendo, noting that West Ham were now in the imaginary lead, died down, the home fans gave the West Ham fans an enormous round of applause. Everyone around me was smiling. The West Ham fans that day contributed to a memorable match on a sunny day and, despite a heavy defeat, they had a ball.

Didn't realise till grabbing the image that they have "London" on their badge.....

Saturday, 14 May 2022

My First Match

A football story for cup final day. Back in the day there was a super Everton fans' website called Bluekipper which published news, posts from the editors and posts from fans. I spent many a lunchtime browsing it in my last job. It had a regular feature called "My First Match". With the demise of the printed version of the fanzine When Skies Are Grey, in which I had pieces published a number of times, I thought many times about writing a piece for Bluekipper about my first match. But there just weren't enough relaxed lunchtimes and eventually the editors called time on their labour of love and Bluekipper was no more. Ages ago I got round to drafting a piece for the blog, but didn't quite finish it. I came across it yesterday. So tidied up and at long last finished, in fond memory of Bluekipper and my uncle Roy, here is My First Match.

My First Match was Everton 4 Manchester United 0 in the FA Charity Shield, played Goodison Park on 17 August 1963.

The online EFC history says the scorers were Gabriel, Stevens, Temple and Vernon and the attendance was 54,844. Two of them were me and my Uncle Roy. Wikipedia notes Vernon’s goal was a penalty – which is how I remember it….

My Dad was brought up just off Walton Hall Avenue in LIverpool. Born in 1925 he was of an age when he could have seen Dean and Lawton play. But he didn’t go to a football match in his life. He was never much interested in football, though I can remember him teaching me to kick the ball in the back garden. For a while I thought football was a one a side game! He wasn't too cross when I broke the largest window at the back of the house kicking the ball... 

So no Everton link with my dad, though much later he told me that one of his uncles had lived in Gwladys Street. Aged about 7 I decided I Everton was my team, influenced by a lad called Dave Parry who lived up the road. No surprise at the time – about 1960 – Everton were the big club, the other lot were in the second division. Just think, if I’d been influenced by a red, what would have been different? I guess my first match might have been at Anfield in about 1966 with my buddy and redshite fanatic, Pete Rankin. What else? Well I would probably have met and married the same girl, but we might have been an all red household, instead of half red, half blue. Half the fun? Hmmm.

Anyway, by 1962 Catterick's Toffees were on the march. I lapped up everything I could read about them. I started to ask if I could go to a match and, while he wouldn't have dreamed of taking me, Dad said he’d see what he could do. He ran a small business and one of the apprentices went to matches and said he could get a ticket. I was asked to pick a game. I looked at the fixture list, picked one several weeks ahead in early 1963 and ambitiously said “Tottenham”. This was the great Danny Blanchflower/Jimmy Greaves team and they were neck and neck with us in the title race. The week before the game a ticket appeared on the kitchen worktop and my hopes soared. Dad said “sorry Phil, it’s the wrong ticket. You’re not going in the crowd”. It was for Goodison Road, on the huge open terrace. Now that was a famous game: 1-0 to the Blues, which set us up to win the league. But it wasn’t to be my first.

 My mother’s family lived in St Helens and my Uncle Roy was a big Saints rugby league fan. I had no interest in rugby – but he did take me to what seemed a long and boring landslide win at Knowsley Road one day. But I hadn’t realised he was a blue and sometimes went to the match. Younger readers might not be aware that before 1974 the curtain raiser match between the previous season’s league and F.A. Cup winners, then known as the Charity Shield, was held at the ground of the league winners. So it was that my uncle took me to my first match and it was the 1963 Charity Shield game between league winners Everton and F.A. Cup winners Manchester United at Goodison Park. Roy advised me not to wear my school cap (not that I would have done – do they even exist now?) “in case it gets thrown in the air when they score”.

 We sat in the Upper Bullens stand, towards the Park End. The massed hordes on the Gwladys Street and Goodison road terraces were a significant distraction from the game for me. The big names for us were Vernon and Young, while it was Law and Charlton for United. But the player who took my eye was Everton's right half Jimmy Gabriel. (Both teams would have been playing in the traditional WM formation. For younger readers, think 3-2-2-3 and you'll have the idea, Gabriel being one of the two more defensive midfielders). I’d read the word “swashbuckling”, probably referring to pirates and now I knew what it looked like.  Gabby was a big favourite of the crowd and I could see why as he tussled with Paddy Crerand in United's midfield. Goalless at half time, Gabby scored (the first, the history books say) and we ran out clear 4-0 winners. The only specific incident I really remember was us getting a penalty at the Park End and Roy Vernon dummying the United goalie, Gaskell, who dived one way. Before Vernon could knock the ball in the other corner the ref stopped him and insisted on a retake. I’ve heard debate over the years about whether you can dummy a penalty and I’ve always said “I’ve seen it – you can’t – then or now”. Though the Pogba, Fernandes, Jorginho prance I’m not fond of pushes the limits on this with a significant pause before the kick. Either way I thought Roy Vernon was dead cool.

 Alex Young, "The Golden Vision", was the crowd’s big hero but Gabriel and Vernon were my first football heroes. 

When Everton came from behind to win the 1966 F.A. Cup final against Sheffield Wednesday (3-2, a classic final) I watched on TV and remember Gabby, in the closing minutes, taking the ball into the corner and holding off Wednesday players for several seconds before turning, arms aloft to acknowledge the roar of approval from the Everton fans, even though the game was still going on. It's a routine tactic now but wasn't so common then and it was the first time I'd seen it done. Gabby was a heart on sleeve player and the enforcer in that side to boot - an appropriate phrase actually.

Before long my hero would be Alan Ball, then Dobson and Latchford, Peter Reid and Trevor Steven, then Kevin Campbell and Mikel Arteta. Now (if you can have heroes at my age) it's Richarlison and the up and coming Anthony “Flash” Gordon. But Gabby was the first, which came from My First Match.

The photo is from the celebrations after the1966 final, the year Everton won the cup, Liverpool the League and England the World Cup.

PS Dad was quite right of course. The old Goodison Road terrace probably held about 20,000 people and there were enormous crushes for big matches. I wouldn't have seen a thing.

You can see most of the 1963 Charity Shield on youtube at Unfortunately it's not highlights - it's nearly the full match. The person who posted it says: "A very feisty game at Goodison Park between League Champions Everton and Cup winners United. Virtually the whole match is shown, apart from the opening minute and Everton's second goal (a twice taken penalty from Roy Vernon) which is missing from the coverage"

D'oh! But at least that confirms the penalty was "twice taken"! Gabby's goal is 35m30s in