Thursday, 19 January 2017

Best golf comments of 2016

I have enjoyed playing golf over the last year though, as usual, the results have been mixed. Which has actually made it one of my most successful seasons as the mixture was nearly as much (relatively) good as (absolutely) bad. However, you will not be surprised to hear that, for me, much of the fun is in the social contact, as people of varying abilities and temperaments pit themselves against the golf course in what is a relatively difficult, technique-heavy sport, in which the course nearly always wins. It's said you have to know how to suffer to play golf: I'm very much still learning this after more than a decade playing the game. Your playing partners can be eminent people in their field or everyday folk, but they all have stories to tell, so there is always some light relief. Here are a couple of moments from my 2016 golf year.

I've been told by experienced golfers since I started playing about the importance of having a fixed and repeatable pre- shot routine. I've never heard this said about taking football penalties by the way - why should it be different? Part of my problem with golf is that, if you ask me to do anything once, I might not get it right; half a dozen times and I might well start nailing it; fifty times and I'll start to make a hash of it after the first dozen attempts or so. Which tells you something about my ability to focus and concentrate. So it was not a surprise when, having a lesson with a pro who hadn't taught me previously and, after I'd hit half a dozen shots and helpfully reproduced some of my worst faults, he said "Right. Well, Phil, the first obvious thing is that you don't have a pre-shot routine". He wasn't very impressed with my reply: "But Richard, I have lots of them". Nevertheless I resolved to try to put right this obvious problem. And out on the course shortly after, while walking along a fairway, I was telling a fellow player about that conversation. His response (which you have to imagine spoken in a rather morose, deadpan voice) was "I've got a post-shot routine - after I've hit the ball, I say 'oh f***!'".

One of the important points of safety and etiquette on a golf course is to shout "fore" if your ball might strike or land near another golfer. And to apologise if practicable if you pass within range of a word or gesture. However, if you can see your ball will roll harmlessly past it's sometimes judged better not to shout as that can cause more concern than necessary. So when a ball rolled between me and another golfer as I walked from a green to the next tee on my home course I wasn't surprised or perturbed. Especially as we knew the group playing behind us very well. As he walked up towards us the player who had struck the shot politely inquired if his ball had come near to us. I said "no worries, it went between us" producing the response (this time you have to imagine a broad smile) "Well stand f***in' still next time will you, I can't hit a  moving target!"

Well, both comments made me smile anyway. Which is important every time you go out on the course, as most golfers will only infrequently achieve a score that they are really happy with.

Tuesday, 17 January 2017

Just like it says on the tin

I've written before about things in nature that have names which tell you exactly what they are (A Weed By Any Other Name, 28 June 2016).  And I've learned a couple more of theses while out walking in the last year (I know, there's a lot of scope). We spotted this flower near Lyn Idwal in Snowdonia. It looks remarkably like cotton:


Turns out it's called, er - cotton grass.

And these dramatic flat rock platforms, formed by the action of the waves and which are exposed at low tide:


It turns out they are called wave cut platforms. They are formed by wave erosion removing the upper rock layers and occur where sedimentary rocks (in this case limestone) retain their original horizontal layering. The photo shows one of the largest examples on the north Anglesey coast, at Traeth Bychan ("little beach") between Benllech and Moelfre.

Hopefully I will learn many more obvious things as we stumble our way up hills and along coastal paths in 2017.

Sunday, 15 January 2017

In A League Of Their Own

Everton are back. Well, back to where they often were in the latter part of the Moyes era, that being a league of their own.

When you look at most league tables, after the leading group there is an extended mid table area, with a lot of teams bunched together covered by relatively few points. In that part of the table a team can move up or down several positions by having a couple of good, or bad, results.

But the current Premier table has a top 6 and then a huge gap of 11 points before the top of the mid-table teams starts with West Brom in 8th, followed by 7 teams spread over the next 8 points. In that gap of 11 points sit Everton in 7th, miles off the top 6 and a European place, but well ahead of everyone else. In a league of their own. They would need at least 3 wins (and the teams above them to lose all 3) to move up. And at least 2 defeats to move down.

So they are the best of the rest, after the teams in contention. It was 5th in Moyes's day, but since then Man City and Tottenham have spent enough to make the big 4 a big 6.

But, just as Moyes's best Everton sides sometimes did, Koeman's version showed they could turn over one of the current "big" teams in their 4-0 win against Manchester City. Everton's players looked relaxed and confident beforehand and they went on to remind us of some football truisms: possession isn't everything, the name on the back of the shirt isn't a guarantee of performance and teams have to be able to handle adversity.

In his post match interview, a haunted looking Pep Guardiola lamented the fact that, after City had had the majority of the play, made several chances and arguably could have been awarded a penalty, when Everton eventually got a chance, they took it. And then, straight after half time, they got another and took that. Which Pep thought was mentally very tough for his poor dears, who "got punished". Hmmm. There was nearly half the game left when Everton went 2 up and Pep's team folded to a weak 4 goal defeat. The biggest league defeat in Guardiola's managerial career.

In his gilded career as a player and manager, Guardiola will have had to deal with plenty of  defeats. But not as many in such a short period against theoretically weaker teams. I don't know if Pep has enough bottle to succeed in the Premier League, especially after his strange comments about retiring after this job, when he has only just arrived. Like a few other managers (Arsene Wenger, for example) he seems to think that ultimately "quality" will always show through. But I subscribe to the view that you have to earn the right to show your quality, by battling and scrapping if necessary; by working harder than your opponents. And then having the composure to use your "quality" when you have earned the chance. Like 18 year old Tom Davies, who worked his socks off in his man of the match performance for Everton today. Davies had played a key part in the first goal and put in a real shift in midfield, heading the ball off Everton's goal line when the score was 1-0. Towards the end of normal time, with the game not quite dead at 2-0, Davies got the ball half way inside Everton's half with only Lukaku ahead of him. He set off on a 50 yard run, the ambition of which initially seemed to be to ease pressure, perhaps by winning a free kick. But half way into City's half  he pulled a nice trick to turn inside two City players and pass inside. Though barged over he got back to his feet to receive a diagonal through pass from Ross Barkley. His first touch wasn't great, but gave him a shooting opportunity against the onrushing goalkeeper. He kept his composure to dink the ball over the keeper, as one of the pundits said, in Kenny Dalglish 1978 European Cup Final style.

Davies may not keep his place in the team every week but the England Under 19 captain is looking like another tremendous graduate from the Everton academy.

It's a grand old team to play for......

Saturday, 14 January 2017

Wayne Rooney's teammate

Going about my business recently I met a pleasant young man. He was very enthusiastic in carrying out his job, working at a care hire company. He noticed that I didn't have a local accent and asked where we were from. As he had a noticeable Liverpudlian accent, I said "not far from you", though of course he was a proper scouser from Old Swan, whereas I was born in what was, at the time, Lancashire. Towards the end of our interaction, I asked what I sometimes term "the inevitable question", i.e. "Red or Blue?". More often than not the groan inducing answer is "Red". However on this occasion  the answer was rather more interesting: "I was at the Everton academy and played in the same team as Wayne Rooney".

It turned out that Wayne Rooney's teammate had been a left winger and they played together as teenagers. But of course, one went on to become England captain and Manchester United's all time record goalscorer, while the other works in an everyday job.

Wayne's Manchester United salary is quoted as being £260,000 a week. Afterwards I couldn't help thinking that Wayne's former team mate would have to work for at least 10 years to earn as much as Wayne does in one week. And that doesn't count Wayne's other income, from endorsements etc.

Now I've always said that the big earners in sport and the arts get what they get because they provide us with a very special level of entertainment, which people can develop a huge attachment to and, by definition, they earn what they get paid because their income comes entirely from revenues that they directly generate or help to generate.

And, of course, Wayne will pay a lot more tax. But even I was left dumbfounded by the implications of this comparison, which I guess most of us would find impossible to justify quantitatively.

As it happened I didn't get the feeling that Wayne would be any happier. His mate had long since given up playing football, probably because he would be far too good for any of the local teams, but presumably not good enough to get paid for doing it. And there would be the ever present risk of him getting hoofed up in the air by some galoot with a level of skill like mine, who'd had enough of trying to keep up with him.

But, wow. Ten years work......


Friday, 13 January 2017

Is this really what freedom of movement supporters want?

The news outlets carried a story earlier this week which shows how freedom of movement purists lost the plot and proves that David Cameron's attempt at renegotiation was pathetic.

Afghan-born Jamshid Piruz was convicted of assaulting two police officers with a claw hammer as they investigated a burglary. One officer sustained head injuries. Piruz had travelled to Britain from Holland only a few days earlier, though he'd already had time to assault a member of staff at Gatwick, only to be freed by magistrates. Piruz, a permanent Dutch resident who could travel under freedom of movement, was released from prison in Holland in 2014 after serving seven years of a 12 year sentence for decapitating his female tenant at a house near Amsterdam. He had apparently been inspired by Taliban beheading videos.

WTF?

While EU nationals arriving here are checked against watchlists of suspected terrorists and criminals compiled by the Border Agency, it seems that our EU "partners" have no obligation to alert us about convictions of murders or sex offences. Offenders have to be high profile, known to have committed a crime in several countries, or on the Interpol wanted list.

This is not an isolated case. Latvian builder Arnis Zalkains came into the UK in  2007 despite having served 7 years for killing his wife. Police here didn't know about that conviction when he was questioned about a sexual assault on a girl. He went on to murder 14 year old Alice Gross in 2014.

Now I rather doubt France, Germany or Spain want to have our pond life so you would have thought that tightening up on how people with criminal records are monitored and dealt with if they re-offend in another EU country would be a shared objective. I don't know whether Merkel and co think there are more important things than protecting their people, though you would expect them to think otherwise after the terrorist outrages in Berlin, Paris and Nice. We can but wonder if this is incomperence or the attachment of the Brussels bureaucrats to some kind of pure freedom of movement concept. Cameron doesn't really seem to have tried to tighten things up in his sham of a renegotiation before plunging his promising career over the edge and leaving no doubt as to what his legacy will be.

There is a practical issue for us in terms of post Brexit immigration controls which the more rabid parts of the press don't seem to have thought about. (Of course I read about these cases in the Mail, you don't think it was in the Guardian, do you?!) If other EU countries don't tell us now about these people, why will they in the future? What documentation and evidence will we require people wanting to come here to provide so we can weed out the undesirables? Will we be able to do it in practice?

And I can imagine the Guardianistas saying that, if someone has served their sentence, they should be free to come and work anywhere in their beloved single market. Well, to a point, yes. I agree with the concept of rehabilitation of offenders. But in the case of sex offenders we put them on a list, sometimes permanently. Surely processes can be designed which distinguish between common criminals and folk like the two egregious criminals above? Well it wouldn't surprise me if this issue had been firmly put in the too difficult tray by Cameron's government in which, of course, Teresa May was Home Secretary.

Or maybe, dazzled by the huge inflow of people, our politicians think that a small number of cases each year in hundreds of thousands is neither here nor there. Which leaves me feeling that they are just focussed on getting the number down rather than on letting in all the people we want and keeping out all of the ones we don't, which would seem to be a simple enough explanation of an objective that a majority could agree on.

Meanwhile Jamshid Piruz is on remand awaiting his trial. When he is eventually released, don't bet on our chances of sending him back whence he came to be very high given the abysmal record we have on this, given the data in my post The EU and Immigration (15 June 2016). These systems are broken and I don't know if the will or nous to fix them exists, in or out of the EU.

Saturday, 7 January 2017

Hope springs eternal

When Farhad Moshiri bought a 49.9% stake in Everton FC early last year there was an understandable degree of excitement amongst the fans. Compared with Bill Kenwright, who everyone in football whose opinion matters thinks has done a fantastic job as chairman and major shareholder of the club for 12 years, Moshiri is rich. But, give or take, Moshiri is worth a billion quid. Big bucks but, when the new stadium Everton need could easily cost a third to a half a billion, then the limitations of his big bazooka become apparent. So I was pleased the club's stability would be maintained, but not too carried away.

I think many of the fans are unrealistically impatient when this sort of change happens. They understand that new players can only be obtained during transfer windows but I don't think they get how much planning and work is necessary to move that type of business forward. But, at Everton's AGM this week, Moshiri and the board made some important announcements.

They weren't able to say anything concrete about the new stadium, though confirming that a waterfront site is under consideration. And it's clear that the city mayor is now fully engaged, at last. Public funding can't help with the ground itself (bar a Man City/West Ham style windfall from a major sporting event) but they are looking at transport links and, I would hope, enabling works, for perhaps the last large area of Liverpool which has not had any redevelopment, the northern docks area, one of the few locations left in the city where a big stadium could be built.

But one piece of news is tantalising: Alisher Usmanov's USM Holdings has sponsored Everton's training ground. Together with a (separate) new shirt sponsorship deal the two commercial deals announced at Everton's AGM are worth £75M.

This certainly made me sit up. Moshiri is rich, but not in the league of Abramovich or Manchester City's Arabian backers. But Usmanov is Russia's richest man, worth around $15 billion and the world's 58th richest man. He could buy out Abramovich with $6 billion to spare. But, wait a minute, isn't he the main man in Red and White Holdings, which owns over 30% of Arsenal? Indeed he is, and he's an old buddy of Moshiri, who was a partner in Red and White Holdings until he sold out, as he had to under F.A. rules to buy into Everton.

Now there's nothing (I know of) in the rules that says Usmanov's company can't sponsor another club. But this clearly isn't some random act of corporate sponsorship. USM Holdings doesn't need publicity and, if it did, this would be an odd way of trying to achieve it. Moshiri clearly got frustrated at Arsenal. In 2009 when Red and White Holdings owned about 25% of Arsenal - and were the largest shareholder group - it seemed that the Arsenal board contrived to prevent the Usmanov-Moshiri-David Dein group taking over control of the club, with a "lock-down agreement" on who shares could be sold to until two other major shareholders, Danny Fiszman and Lady Nina-Bracewell Smith, were persuaded to sell out to the American, Stan Kroenke, which led to him acquiring 62% of the club. Despite owning over 30% of the club, Usmanov has never had a seat on Arsenal's board, or had any real control or influence over the club.

In contrast Moshiri has been welcomed at Everton. Although he isn't on the board, his close colleague Alexander Ryazantsev, Moshiri's "finance man", is. And at Everton's AGM, normally so fractious that the club found a way of not holding one for 5 years from 2008, Moshiri got two spontaneous rounds of applause following comments he made.

This plot might be thickening. It suited both Bill Kenwright and Moshiri to take things steadily and get to know each other. But we'll just have to wait and see if Moshiri was the advance party to look at things from the inside and his old buddy is keeping his options open about following him from Arsenal if they continue to treat him like a pariah.

Money is no guarantee of success but Everton's need for capital to resolve the stadium issue is acute. Goodison Park is arguably the country's most historically significant sporting venue. It was England's first specifically designed football stadium and its list of firsts (first club ground to host an FA Cup final - in 1894, first visit by a reigning monarch in 1913, first dugouts in 1931, first to have seating on all four sides as part of the first all round double decker stands - in 1938, the first to have undersoil heating - 1958 and the only British club ground to have hosted a World Cup semi-final in 1966. Etc etc). It should probably be a listed building, though thankfully for the club it isn't, if not an ancient monument. I will be very sad if and when Everton leave to go to their third home (the first, of course, was Anfield). But for the club ever to compete at the very top again it is essential.

And maybe now possible. As Moshiri pointed out, of the current top 6 only 3 clubs - Man Utd, Arsenal and Liverpool - are historically big clubs. Chelsea and Man City have bankrolled their way there in recent times and Tottenham - who despite a significant history have rarely actually won anything - are flirting with the top group through having some key players like Harry Kane come through and benefiting from London ticket prices. Of the rest, West Ham could benefit from their nearly free stadium and make a challenge. And Everton, who had won the league as many times as any other club in history when I was a student (Everton, Arsenal, Liverpool and Man Utd all had 7 wins as of 1970) is the classic sleeping giant.

The financial fair play rules, brought in by Platini's UEFA and designed to ensure that the richest clubs like Bayern Munich and Real Madrid can never be challenged (golly how Leicester must have terrified this particular elite) do not prevent capital investment in a stadium. Everton had seemed to be in a catch 22 situation, desperate for investment but why would anyone buy a club that needed so much spending on infrastructure? Maybe Bill Kenwright has found a way. Alisher Usmanov's dosh would make our new home and everything else possible.

A spokesman for Usmanov has denied that he has any plan to sell his Arsenal shares. But even if he's just hedging his bets by supplementing Moshiri's financial power, then that's helpful.

Nil Satis but Fontes Spem Aeternae - hope springs eternal.


http://www.espnfc.co.uk/club/arsenal/359/blog/post/2844866/alisher-usmanov-biding-his-time-at-arsenal

Friday, 6 January 2017

UK economy is top of the league!

So, against all the dire predictions, Britain's economy grew the most of any G7 nation in 2016. We are top of the league for growth despite all the Brexit uncertainty. Indeed, growth accelerated after the referendum, contrary to Treasury forecasts and the economy hit a 17 month high. Remarkable and enough to make Andy Haldane, the Bank of England's chief economist, suggest that forecasters were facing a "Michael Fish moment" over their mistaken projections. Except that in this case it was the other way round: the storm didn't come and so they look more like the boy who cried wolf.

It is quite remarkable that the UK economy proved so resilient through the post-referendum uncertainty. The strength and momentum in the economy is encouraging. But going "half empty" for a moment, we all assume that many businesses have deferred investments while they wait to see how things are going to pan out, which will hit future growth. This may be a bit pessimistic as Nissan and other large businesses have maintained their commitment and I can imagine many others deciding that they can't wait for the government to eventually get round to negotiating with Brussels and that they need to get on with it and can't leave decisions hanging. I'm sure part of the post-referendum boom (a slight exaggeration maybe, but remember the figures get adjusted upwards more often than downwards in the fullness of time) has been due to businesses deciding that they have to make hay while the sun shines and go for it while the going remains good. And EU migrants seeking work have continued to use freedom of movement to come here, ensuring our companies aren't constrained for labour despite our high level of employment. Indeed, companies may well have pushed to get people in while they can do so without having to leap over hurdles of red tape.

So nothing has actually changed yet. We are still in the single market and can take advantage of trade deals the EU has with other countries. London remains a financial powerhouse - and probably will whatever is negotiated with Brussels because of the expertise that resides there.

But of course in Aesop's fable, the wolf did eventually come.....

Data from the Times: http://www.thetimes.co.uk/edition/news/britain-has-worlds-top-economy-after-brexit-rt7j9lccb