How Villa Didn’t Ruin My Life After All But………..

The triple whammy I feared didn’t happen. Villa’s defeat to Bradford City over two legs was a huge surprise, and a delight!,and has provided the season with its big story. For the first time a fourth tier team will play in a major final at Wembley. The last one to get close was Chester in 1975 and they lost in the semi-final to…..Aston Villa.

I am not going to gloat though. As a supporter you, of course, take pleasure in your rivals’ failings but ultimately all that matters is what your team does. Albion have not been doing well. A draw against the men from Witton salvaged some pride but for 45 minutes the Baggies were outplayed by a team everyone else, including Bradford, has made look poor. It is the FA Cup I am most disappointed about. At Loftus Road we had the game won but, not for the first time, conceded a last minute goal. Then, on a bitterly cold night at The Hawthorns, we watched two strange looking line ups, play a match that had all the intensity of a pre-season friendly. We’ve gone out of both cups early  despite the Head Coach’s promise to take them seriously and no longer have a lot to play for. 1968 is now nearly half a century ago.

Not a triple whammy then but half a triple whammy. That really isn’t good enough.

Fifty Shades of Stupidity

Last July ITV’s This Morning programme featured a debate on Fifty Shades of Grey. Samantha Brick, who once claimed she is hated for being beautiful, argued that it was essentially smut that shouldn’t be stocked on places like Smiths and the supermarkets while Emily Dubberley, the sex writer and founder of the Cliterati website, defended the book. On the viewers’ poll Dubberley won a crushing victory. This was no surprise. For a professional journalist Brick was worryingly inarticulate, spouting a stream of ers, you knows and non-sequiturs such as ‘I’m not a prude, I live in France’.This comment should have prompted the question of why she is so worried about her young daughter seeing the book in supermarkets since, presumably, she doesn’t.

I rather suspect Dubberley was defending a principle rather than the book about which few writers of erotica have a good word. I could go on about its improbable plot, shallow characterisation, lack of understanding of the dynamics of dominant/submissive relationships,  etc etc. Then there’s the length. Don’t they have editors these days? With three books published there are nearly 2,000 pages of this drivel.

Drivel it may be but surely harmless? Well today a man was acquitted at Ipswich Crown Court of causing actual bodily harm to a woman with whom he was involved in a Fifty Shades style relationship including a slave contract signed by the woman. I make no judgement on the relationship but for two people with no experience to engage in activities such as tying up and whipping seems to me  unbelievably stupid.The man can count himself lucky he wasn’t facing a manslaughter charge.

I’nm no prude even though I don’t live in France and I am happy to see it stocked in Sainsbury’s . Perhaps though it should have a health warning?

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Appleton on the Move Again

Early in 1982 it was agreed at a meeting of Football League Chairmen that clubs would not poach each other’s managers during the season.  Within days Wolves had poached Ian Greaves from Oxford United, a move that Oxford’s new owner, a certain Robert Maxwell, described as “an unprovoked act of aggression against a struggling club.”  Greaves himself showed his disdain for his former employer by commenting that “there seems to have been a bit of a hoo-ha down there.” Many felt that justice was served at the end of the season when Wolves were relegated to the Second Division and Greaves was sacked and faded into obscurity.

There is a warning here for Michael Appleton who, after just eight weeks at Blackpool, has moved to Blackburn. Appleton is a Salford lad who began at the club he supported, Manchester United, before moving to Preston from where Gary Megson signed him for the Albion. He played relatively few games for the Baggies as a knee injury ended his career at the age of just 27.  Appleton was held in such high regard that he remained on the payroll joining the coaching staff. He did his badges and rose to become First Team coach and eventually assistant to Roy Hodgson.  It was inevitable that he would leave at some point to further his career and last year he was appointed to his first managerial job at Portsmouth. Even Hercules would have struggled to stop Pompey’s kamikaze descent into non-league football and local derbies against Havant and Waterlooville and Appy was generally reckoned to have done a decent job in impossible circumstances. There was no long term future for him at Fratton Park  and his move to Blackpool following Ian Holloway’s move to Crystal Palace seemed a logical one. Blackpool were reasonably well placed in the Championship and still receiving parachute money even if Holloway was always going to be a hard act to follow.

What he might have achieved at Bloomfield Road will never be known as he has now gone. While Blackburn are better resourced than Blackpool and may have mote potential they are owned by the Venkys who have turned a well-run club into a circus. What if he falls foul of the Global advisor Sebby Singh? What if it all goes pear shaped? Who will then employ a manager with a reputation as an opportunist with no loyalty?   If he were to drive a couple of junctions down the M65 and talk to people in Burnley he might appreciate the risk he runs. Owen Coyle went from hero to zero in January 2010 when he abandoned the Clarets to move to Bolton. Having taken Bolton down and been sacked he finds himself out in the cold, his reputation seriously damaged. Burnley folk might also tell him about Coyle’s immediate predecessor  at Turf Moor, (and his own predecessor at Portsmouth)Steve Cotterill, whose reputation has never really recovered from his walking out in Stoke City ten years ago. Still, if the chickens are to come home to roost, the Venkys will make sure there are plenty available.

Another Great Planning Disaster

Many years ago, in 1978 to be precise, I found a book in our school library entitled Great Planning Disasters. Written in an accessible and entertaining style by Peter Hall, the then Professor of Geography at Reading University it contains accounts of large scale construction and infrastructure projects that went badly wrong, principally in terms of cost and adherence to timetable. He wrote about schemes as diverse as London’s Orbital Motorway (originally proposed in 1905!), the British Library Extension, Sydney opera House and the Channel Tunnel. Some of these schemes had been abandoned by 1975 although only after significant sunk costs had been incurred. Even when completed they had been subject to mind-boggling delays and cost overruns, of which Hall examines the causes. Last year I fancied rereading it only to find that Birmingham Library Service’s only copy went walkabout from King’s Heath several years ago.

Or is there something more sinister here? The point is that we have seemingly learnt nothing from past experience. If Professor Hall was to revisit his work he could add the new Wembley Stadium. He should also add the Library of Birmingham. This is not just a matter of the retention or not of the Ziggurat or whether an overpriced pile of mattresses dwarfing the splendid Baskerville House is a better option but of the whole project going back to the decision in the 1990s to build a new library at Eastside. If this plan had gonee ahead the Ziggurat would already have been gone eight years. It would have been pulled down only thirty years after being built with, presumably, much of the money borrowed to pay for it still owing. As it was, a piece of land was acquired and a competition held to find a design. The architects invited to enter were given a wide band of acceptable cost and, no surprise here, the best design was at the top end. The Council realised they couldn’t afford it. So the planned Eastside Library was moth balled and the Library of Birmingham kicked into the long grass until former Council Leader Mike Whitby, a man whose ego is in inverse proportion to his intellect,decided he needed a legacy project. So Mecanoo from Holland designed a thing looking like a pile of mattresses with metal rings all round it, which will surely be a maintenance nightmare in years to come. Two questions remain unanswered by the Council. Firstly how is this affordable in the current climate of cuts and a decade of austerity? Secondly what is the sense of freeing up land for development in the middle of a slump?

We might ask a further question; what is wrong with the current central library, a building that is only forty years old? It may look forbidding from the outside but inside is light and airy, with a real feeling of space. It is clearly a building designed for the user and not to make an aesthetic statement to the passer-by. What is wrong with that?

So we are going to get a new Library the Council can’t afford delivered ten years late (if we look at the project as a whole) with significant abortive costs incurred while an interesting and usable and still relatively new building is pulled down to make way for bland corporate architecture, if indeed it is replaced by anything at all in the near future. I can already see the weeds sprouting on the ruins. A planning disaster indeed and one for which, as ever, no-one will be called to account.