The Sports Press

white_sports_journalism_world-111-thumb-640xauto-1846Sports journalism in the US is a respected and full-time job (though it is a curiously white profession). In the UK, we have hacks, TV journalists and the odd, very few, real sportswriters. Generally it comes across as a job for limited wankers.

Most are hacks, churning out terrace talk or gossip fed to them by agents. Following their stories and cues are the TV journalists who did very little actual research but happily comment on what the papers are saying. The real writers, talented men and women who could possibly work in many fields of writing inhabit the broadsheets and websites, writing the occasional pieces across the broad spectrum of sport often using historical analysis. Think of it as your grandfather telling you a few stories from back in the day while reflecting on present events. They know nothing really changes too much in human psychology.

Last week Mancini, the manager of Manchester City swore at a press conference when asked for the zenith time if his job was under threat. It really might be. But its unlikely right now. Yet his exasperation was fuelled by lazy hack journalism and lit by the final question. Finishing second in the league and ejected from the Champions League is a poor season for Man City. With the players at their disposal, they should be challenging for everything. Yet what they and their manager lack is nouse and experience, something Ferguson across the city passes onto his players every week. But more significantly, Ferguson’s players come to the club to win, knowing anything less will see changes. These players are well-paid but that isn’t what draws them to the club. Its Ferguson and his drive to win.

Mancini has made mistakes this season. This tactics are suspect at times especially his rotating system at the back. Its simply unnecessary. He has also bought some relatively average players for phenomenal amounts of money.  Wenger at Arsenal is also under media pressure. The fans, while a little disenchanted, are sticking by him. He is Wenger after all and the issues at the club reflect a different financial reality. His magic does seem to be waning and again his transfers upfront and in defence are often poor or simply not good enough. Earlier last week Wenger snapped at a female journalist who asked if he has anything to say to the fans after their FA Cup exit. His irritable reaction didn’t look good but the question was inane and Wenger took the bait and then provided the story than a simply call the question inane and move onto another question.

Managers give press conferences to attempt to manage the media and get their side across. Yet today with the rolling 24 hour news and the internet rumour mill, very little can be achieved. Ferguson takes note of questions and refuses to speak to certain journalists until their organisations send a replacement journalist. He knows how to use his influence and understands these journalists are looking for an easy story rather than a dedicated piece. They have half a page to fill too. Wenger and Mancini let their irritation out in public and feed the machine who then sell the story onto the fans.

The media would argue when the managers win they take the plaudits and must take the blame when they lose. Managers like Wenger and Mancini need to take a page from a different book and let the machine do the work. Initially sensationalist and made-up stories would fill the gaps but the public won’t stomach that for long. Ultimately it might lead journalists remembering their roots or pack it in all together and leave it to the on-line and dedicated fans to provide the depth.

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Argo gets the Oscar?

_66052330_affleck_gettySo Argo wins the Oscar for Best Film. I’m not denying it’s a well-crafted movie with good attention to periodic detail and an interesting, gripping story but there seems a slight misconception at hand. Part of the fascination with Argo (and the plaudits that went with it) revolves around the retelling of a tense and inventive escape from a revolutionary Iran finally throwing the shackles of Western interference and a despotic monarch.

Yet Argo is so loose with the truth it should be classified as fiction. Almost all the moments of tension and fear (the trip to the market, the woman at the gate, the inability to go outside, the conversations in the embassy and the chase at the end) are completely made up. The directorial ability to recreate events here is total bullshit and I’d question the accolades it gets. He should get a Michael Mann award!

Seriously though its a very well-made film and it only has to be better than its competitors and generally I’d say it is only a film. But a film that plays so loosely with the term ‘based on a true story’ is ingeniousness. The praise concerns its recreation of past events. That is conceptually true but factually redundant.

NHS

I am sat in A & E listening to the chime of the 10 second bell. Despite it continuing throughout the day it hasn’t irritated me yet. Its 7pm on a friday and I’m waiting for Alex to finish work. I’m sat in the waiting chairs, the chairs patients patiently wait to be called. The ward seems to be ticking along nicely. The chairs empty regularly as they are filled.

The patients sit quietly, probably apprenhensive over their fate. But its not quiet. Here in A & E Majors there is a constant chatter at the nurses station. Doctors and nurses process the patients constantly. The doctors spent time on the phone, writing up notes or staring at computer screens deciding what to write or to diagnose.

The staff are an example of multicultural Britain. Anyone who thinks its not a success here needs to see this. If we really feel underthreat and overrun by immigrants, the NHS would collapse. Accents and colours abound. The chief organising nurse must be of Chinese descent. She stands in front of her screen calling for doctors and assigning beds.

The patients are all white and old or overweight or both. They all look pale. The porter, a staple comedian nice guy in TV soaps is tattooed, overweight and jolly. His Essex accent rings across the ward as he castigises a work colleague for paying too much. The nurses are all dressed formally or in surgical slacks. The doctors are dressed casually as if hoping to insist they are still young and spontaneous. The hierachy is unclear. Everyone is busy deciding. But no one hurries. They exists a quiet but consistent flow.

I don’t look at the patients. Their sensitivity and vulnerability doesn’t need to be highlighted. Some are wheeled past in their beds and smocks. The statistics say some of these patients won’t leave the hospital. That is their last pillow. I don’t want to speculate.

A nurse comes over holding a sheet if paper and asks my name. I tell her I’m not a patient but instead waiting for Alex. They’ve lost a patient or a relative. Possibly I look pale. I need some sun.

Films seen recently

Silver Linings Playbook

It’s 3am and I’ve just finished watching. I’m wide awake and happy I stayed up to watch this (though she might not be!). Bradley Cooper plays against type, moving away from the smarmy smile to play a mentally-ill man trying to get his life together. He meets Jennifer Lawrence’s and a slow dysfunctional friendship develops. The movie is edgey and intense. Two broken people trying to get it together. The happy ending seems to forget the illness for a bit but a bi-polar friend told me there are no happy endings, just got to be prepared for bumps on the road.  The pace for a serious subject is right. The ideas and ending can be justified. And Jennifer Lawrence is really very good in this. 9/10

Warm Bodies

With a few twists on the zombie genre, this reverse post-zombie apocalypse tells us that love can save zombies. After eating their victim’s brains, the zombies gain their deceased’s memories, regain their heartbeat and slowly return to life. Its cute, sometimes funny and closes with The National. I’m gonna like that. 7/10

The Taste of Others

A French class comedy on cultural indicators, full of humiliations, snobbery and regrets as a businessman seeks to broaden his understanding of the ‘high’ culture of literature, plays and art. Its a modest piece, full of spot-on moments. 7/10

Cloud Atlas

I took my friend’s recommendation on this film, turned it on at 2am and finished it at 5am. At that moment, wide awake, I thought about watching it again. Its a grand opera where its strengths of imagination and technique out-weigh the slower moments, mostly because the film is adapted from a broad book. Tom Hanks, Halle Berry and Hugh Grant take on numerous roles across time and dimensions, all having that nagging feeling they’ve met each other before. Its not perfect but it make you sit back in wonder. 9/10

The Namesake

A tale of marriage and migration from India to the US as a newly-married wife struggles to ‘fit in’ and raises her children in big city America. Its intelligently written and acted with some quiet moments of reflection on migration and how much we can adapt to a different culture. 6/10

The Last Stand

Arnie’s comeback film confirms many assumptions. Arnie could never really act and yes he is looking very old these days. But I’d say this is a brave film for him to take on. He actually tries to act and does better than he did years ago. The story line of a small-town sheriff trying to stop a drug lord fleeing to Mexico is simple but its done fairly well, there are plenty of jokes thrown in there which are real jokes rather than puns. Its not a classic but those days are over now for Arnie. His old strengths have left him but this slightly bizarre, whimsical action thriller has more depth than your average Jason Statham crap and Arnie plays a truly sympathetic small town hero. 6/10

Hannah and Gretel Get Baked

Ludicrous, dead-pan and sometimes funny, I don’t know if you need to be stoned to watch but it would help. Apart the gore, the cartoon slaughter and the stereotypes are munched on by the wicked witch with a tongue firmly lodged. 5/10

Lincoln

The biography of Abraham Lincoln looks great with its authentic reproduction of the US Civil War era and its well-acted. However its so earnest to be near unwatchable in one sitting. It doesn’t drag; its simply so dense and historical focused on the man himself to be overwhelming and underwhleming at the same time. 5/10

Les Miserables

I’ve never seen the musical or read the book but this film rendition is grandiose and moving. The numbers sung with varying ability by Hugh Jackman, Russell Crowe and Anne Hathaway hold the attention. Hathaway is especially good. The detail of the direction really makes what is likely to be an impossible task (to please all) work. 7/10

Zero Dark Thirty

This is great film-making. The opening 30 minutes focusing on the use of torture is intense and feels unnecessary. The slow and meticulous hunt for Osama Bin Laden is incredibly well-done, highlighting the difficulties of espionage in tribal areas when you have no access to modern methods and require a return to methods often left behind; having men on the ground. The slow, methodical closing scenes are brilliant realised. 8/10

Django Unchained

Tarantino is back killing horses and dozens of people, with his usual conversational techniques, the macarbe jokes, outlandishly bad and detailed villians and some first-class set-pieces. Its all here and all very well-executed (pun intended). I actually found myself impressed by all the characters and hence actors. Even Jaime Foxx. 9/10

Hitchcock

This short film is odd. It’s the story of Hitchcock and his wife during the making of Psycho. I’ve heard the blurb why Hitchcock’s wife was deemed vital by the screenwriter but as half the plot, it really takes away from the more interesting elements of Hitchcock’s life. The making of the Psycho is now in the background when Hitchcock and his obsessions should have been ‘the film’ rather than simply part of it.  The rest of the film seems a distraction. Possibly this may lead to a critical portrait of the man but focusing on this would be far more enthralling. Hopkins is good in a slight caricature role as is Scarlett Johansson as Janet Leigh. 5/10

Dan’s Awards 2012

DSCF7883Person of the Year

Gabriel Almonacid for being a great mate in Colombia providing me with a bed, a guide in Bogota and the ‘nearby’ old towns and staying with his great family in Armenia. I even heard he and Claudia tried to call me the other night!

Comeback of the Year

Christine Leclerc. After living together for a year many years ago, I can say I have missed that big laugh and smiley face a lot.

DSCF1214Newcomer of the Year

Jan Thomas Ødegaard, the slightly eccentric Norwegian gets the nod.

My Christ Its Been a Long Time

Bobbi Coombs met me at the airport in Winnipeg after not seeing each other for about 3500 days (aka 9.5 years) and then had me to stay for a few days. We ate Easter dinner with her family, watched hockey together and I got well and truly plastered with her brother Doug.

DSCF8918Meal of the Year

Eating the freshly-caught fish in Colombia with Jenni and Kati.

Sushi with Ronnie and Debs in Ontario

Tapas and red wine with Gabrielle in Bilbao.

What the hell happened Last Night drunk night

3. The Sarajevo dancing night.

2. Post presentation with Oli Bigland in Oxford

1. Waking up in the morning in a Ukrainian mental hospital. I still don’t know what happened.

PANO_20120516_183803Sight of the Year

Kotor in Montenegro blew me away. Waking up in our house in Salento in Colombia. The sight of Venice from the train station. Its everything you’ve heard about.

Random Moment Award

Jumping off the NY subway to be with Bora.

The house gig with Em in Bavaria

Cultural Event of the Year

Taking part in the La Merce festival in Barcelona with Ilo. Fireworks, burns and dancing masks.

DSC_0392-1Sports event of the Year

Big year for games. I saw maybe 10 and 5 or 6 were football derbies, the Yankees and the Knicks play in New York but it has to go to the Belgrade derby. Red Star against Partizan Belgrade.

Films of the Year

Moonrise Kingdom or Cloud Atlas

Favourite album of the year

Japandroids

Moment of Violence Moment

Getting chased and hit with a truncheon by a rabid Bosnian policeman before the Sarajevo derby was pretty exciting.

Bar of the Year

Tijuana bar in Belgrade, the night of the French music with Mirjana and Jan.

Hospital Bar in Kiev with the flaming helmet

Scariest moment of the Year

Seeing Emmi somersault off her bike and land on her head in Bavaria. Luckily she was wearing a helmet and only broke two neck vertebrates.

Big Balls Moment

Heading back in a taxi from the beach with Jenni and Marioka in Santa Cruz, Colombia, we saw a neighbourhood street party. We changed in the hostel and walked there. the police were outside telling us not to go in as it was a cartel party. We looked at each other and walked over. After some drinks and flour thrown over us, we ended drinking the local firewater outside the convenience store with some truckers until the early hours.

Standing up to another huge, sneering policeman before the Sarajevo derby was fairly scary.

Would I do it all again?

Hell yeah. I’d like to thank everyone for helping me along the way 🙂

Muscat

PANO_20130201_172821In all my travelling days, I’ve rarely been more excited about a trip and then satisfied by it. Muscat was as fantastic as they say.

From hearing at the airport that I didn’t need to pay for a short-term visa by the flat, turban-wearing immigration to being greeted by Ajit at his flat with a beer, I knew I’d be happy here. I applied to work in Muscat a few years ago on a whim after seeing an advertisement. I never really followed it up. I should have.

IMG_20130201_150037Muscat is essentially three towns strung along the coast making it a long city. The reason for the trio is clear enough as I hailed a shared minibus from the Grand Mosque area to Ruwi, the Indian business area and the middle town. The tree-lined highways have wide grassed central reservations than curl between huge rocky outcrops that divide up the towns. Or huge sand dunes with young Omanis surfing down. No building can be higher than 6 storeys and can be only certain light colours giving the city a colonial-era feel.

shot_1359730800163The first day I took the minibuses through Ruwi to Murat, the corniche area and then walked around the numerous small bays to Old Muscat. The pavement was accompanied by grassy verges and beds of flowers. Curious, nautical statues dedicated to the sea marked the route. Old Muscat is littered with trees and grand government building but above it all, on every outcrop sits a fort built to ward off invaders from inland and as a look-out to sea. Being Friday it was very peaceful. That afternoon I ate Omani bread with honey and cream and drank some beers with Ajit. We ended up in an Indian dance bar, a weird, weird place about which I talk about more later.

IMG_20130202_115604

The next day I went to the Grand Mosque, the third largest in the world and again a model of restrain from the outside. Being only 8 years old and tended to by a legions of cleaners, it looks immaculate. I caught another minibus into the centre and searched out the souq which as usual is just a tourist trap selling the usual trinkets and crap. The colonial merchant houses on the promenade give clues to the trading history of the city.

IMG_20130202_123852That night I took in more beers with Ajit and swapped travelling stories. I talk of him as an old friend when in fact I was couchsurfing there. But he made the stay so comfortable from the off and had enough stories himself from his days as a surgeon in the Indian Army, I did feel like I’d known him for a while. The last day I met another couchsurfer Qu who showed me round some of the old ruins on the outskirts of the city. I am not sure how good company I was. My head ached from the booze but it was insightful.

Ajit gave me a lift to the airport late that afternoon and I flew back in for work the next day. The old Middle East of Baghdad and Samarkland, Persia and Muscat never seemed so real as those few days in Oman. The grandness of the views are awe-inspiring. I’ll be back for sure and will be trying for at least two of the three above this year. Another adventure begins.