Tour de France 2014 Grand Depart Route Launch

Picture 2

 

So yesterday saw the launch of the Grand Depart stages of the 2014 Tour de France with the great and good of the city jetting off to Paris for the day before returning for the ‘party’ at the Town Hall.  This of course meant that the crucial stage details were known in the early part of the day and they are as follows:

Stage one, Saturday July 5: Leeds – Harrogate, 190km
The stage will start just outside Leeds Town Hall and feature two King of the Mountains climbs, one of which will be Buttertubs Pass. The race will pass through Harewood, Otley, Ilkley, Skipton, Kettlewell, Aysgarth, Hawes, Reeth, Leyburn and Ripon. However, the final 70km will be flat and the stage is designed to be a sprint finish. The final 400 metres in Harrogate are straight and flat.

day1

Stage two, Sunday July 6: York – Sheffield, 200km
The second road stage of the 2014 Tour will be very different from the first and will be loaded with eight climbs in the final 60km – totalling 1400 metres of ascent, and including Holme Moss in the Pennines. The stage will pass through Knaresborough, Silsden, Keighley, Haworth, Hebden Bridge, Elland, Huddersfield and Holmfirth.

TDF14_ET02_HD

 

So much of the day was spent working out where I might position myself over the 2 days before heading down to London for Stage 3.  I suspect in fact that much of the next year will be devoted to planning this.  The route looks great for me but I was a bit surprised that it did not take in the East coast and North York Moors with a visit to Whitby for example.  Anyway I’m sure much debate will rage on the routes but they look good to me and I saw something that said they will pass close to 98% of the Yorkshire population.  Once the route launch was over then it was down to the Town Hall to see what was occurring. Typically the weather was more akin to the top of the Stelvio at the start of the Giro then a balmy summer in July but with good hardy humour a big crowd had taken over the headrow in front of the Town Hall and it was great to feel a sense of excitement and buzz about it all.

I could not help but wonder however why this was taking place on a Thursday night and not say on the weekend ?  Also why, although there was a big shindig inside, very little was going on outside that I could make out.  No team stalls represented, no merchandise, no street food, no bands or music, infact basically nothing other than a screen and a PA system that was not particularly audible.  Room for improvement before 2014 I’d say.  Still despite the sub zero temperatures and the snow the spirits of the cycling fans held up well and we were at least rewarded with a cracking firework display.

We Need To Talk About Brendan

Liverpool

 

I love Kenny Dalglish. Love him with my entire being, like a member of the family, one I truly adore, not just the kind I have to see every Christmas. He means a lot to me does Kenny, and any Liverpool fan will feel likewise. He won us our last league title as manager. He scored the only goal in a European cup final to retain the trophy. He’s witty and you know that he loves Liverpool as much as you do. It’s one happy circle of love, something Nero would have liked to have got himself involved in.

Anyway, at the end of last season, Kenny was given the boot from the new American owners, who confessed that they don’t know much about football. Apparently, they know even less about soccer. Now a lot of people were upset about seeing Dalglish go. I personally felt a little cheated and if I’m being honest, reminded myself of my girlfriend the time Brad Pitt left Jennifer Aniston. You go and ask your girlfriend or wife what she thinks about Jennifer and you’ll hear about how she was treated unjustly, how she was stabbed in the back and betrayed. But you see Brad abandoned her for Angelia Jolie. What Brad Pitt did makes sense. He went out and found someone better. However harsh you may deem his actions, you can’t argue with his logic. So when Dalglish was sacked, there was the thought in the back of my mind that The Americans had Jolie (Mourinho, Guardiola, Del Bosque, Kloop) waiting in the wings. Instead they went and chose Lisa Kudrow. Who I hear you cry? Phoebe from Friends.

Now Kudrow may have a great personality, but she doesn’t attract producers like Aniston and Jolie, and herein lies major issue number one, who is Brendan Rogers? Brendan Rogers managed Watford and took them to the dizzy heights of 13th. He also managed Reading, but left by mutual consent after six months. Then he managed Swansea, taking them into the playoffs and guiding them to 11th in the Premier League. Does this appear like the CV of a manager you want to employ after sacking a manager who won top flight titles with two clubs and your first piece of silverware in five seasons? Twenty-five years ago you could have placed a chicken at the helm of Liverpool and you’d have still attracted an influx of stars. There would have been players willing to share the boss’ pile of grain just to pull on the famous red shirt, but alas now times are different and sadly the name is no longer enough. It isn’t strong enough, which means you have to rely on two other items, money and a big name draw.

Manchester City realised that when they booted out Mark Hughes and replaced him with Mancini. It’s not that Mark Hughes wasn’t doing a decent job when the new owners arrived, it’s just that they were well aware that you need someone with charisma, someone who current players are aware of and respect from around the world, in order to coax them to your club when it’s in the north of England and pissing down with rain all the time. I’m pretty sure if you showed Falcao a picture of Rogers in a game of Guess Who, he’d shrug his shoulders and reply with, kit man? You don’t recognise Dalglish? Here, watch this video and come back in five minutes when you’re ready to sign.

After sacking Dalglish, the excuse from the board was that an 8th place finish wasn’t good enough, and I salute that. They’re right, it’s not good enough, which is why they turfed out Hodgson eighteen months prior to that. But we did win a competition, which took us back into Europe and lose another cup final. We were also on the coat tails of the final Champion’s League slot until a post cup win hangover put paid to the rest of the league season.

Since then, I’ve read a lot about how much money Dalglish wasted on players, and to an extent this is true. The other clubs saw us coming, removed the price tag from the battery section and replaced it from the one below the Faberge range. Henderson, Downing, Enrique, Carroll all should have been reduced by 15-20%, and none are world class, which is, however, what you would label Suarez and at a meagre 22 million. Okay, so those other players aren’t worth that money, but is Boroni? Is Joe Allen? Would you honestly have forked out 12 million pounds for Sturridge, or would you have laughed and insisted Chelsea were missing a decimal point? Rodgers may moan about the squad he inherited, but it reached two cup finals and so, like he said in a paper last week, it’s his job to make the current players even better, so what exactly is he waiting for? The players he has brought in are average. He’s replaced a chipped plate for a one with a crack, thrown out a good bottle of Cava and brought in Lambrini. He’s doing himself no favours. We are in a worse position now than we were this time last year. He has no one to blame, but himself.

I’m not blinded by Dalglish. I’m not like Fritzel’s wife, turning a blind eye to all the bad things despite the yesteryear’s flower and chocolate giving. I would have given him until Christmas (Dalglish, not Fritzel), made an ultimatum and told him to discard before he brought new players in, but admitted that it must have been hard losing Suarez for eight games, missing eight penalties and only having Steven Gerrard available for half the league season. That’s right. You know when commentators say: what would happen if Suarez was to get injured? The answer is Brendan would pack his bags before the P45 reached his office desk, not cope without him like Kenny.

Finally then, let’s get round to what appears to have secured Brendan the hot seat in the first place, passing. Correct me if I’m wrong, but I’m pretty sure I didn’t see Vinnie Jones and Justin Fashanu playing for us last year, and I’m also pretty certain I don’t see Messi, Iniesta and Xavi this time round. Hey, I don’t even see Ljunberg, Hleb and Henry. What I do see is statistics. I see our pass competition and I think ah! that’s why The Americans went for him. They were busy looking at the stats, because that’s all they ever do in their sports, look at stats. Seriously, people don’t even watch the game, they sit and watch the screen showing percentages and put that into fractions and decimals and go for a beer, have a nap and then take a look at the final stats. There’s only one set of statistics that matter in any sport and that’s the final score. You win games you accrue more points, simple. You do this by scoring more goals than you concede, not by passing the ball 7,560,874 times in your own third. Pass completion? Do you think Guardiola or Tito looked at the pass completion after a game? Do you think after losing to Celtic in the Champion’s League, the Barcelona squad went home and said: pass completion 97%, passes thirty times more than Celtic, while sipping Sangria and dancing a salsa?

Passing is important, no doubt about it and if you do it well, it makes you look stylish too. Great teams pass the ball well, but that’s usually because they’re full of great players. Ajax of the 70’s, Brazil 1970, Liverpool 80’s, Ac Milan 90’s, Barcelona present day, all full of world class players who can pass the ball, but most importantly know that it’s about passing with a purpose, threatening the opposition and putting them under pressure. Goals win games. Every time you have the ball, you should be threatening the other team. On Sunday, against Manchester United, Liverpool did not threaten. They were more of a threat to themselves, because they passed it in their own third at times instead of going direct into the strikers or down the flanks. Alex Ferguson isn’t stupid- pompous, tyrannical, related to Rudolph yes, but not stupid. He told his players what we’d do. He told them to press high up the pitch, because we have one game plan and that is to pass the ball for the sake of it. You do something like that, you become predictable and easy to play against. Passes do not win games. Oh and Brendan, a pass can be over fifteen yards, just ask Xavi Alonso.

What isn’t predictable is what the future holds, because if The Americans are working from a strict performance management sheet, then there’s an accountant somewhere already calculating a compensation package, despite all the calls that Brendan needs time. Listen, I don’t want Rogers to go, because it means that the club hasn’t succeeded, but at the same time, sometimes you just know things just aren’t going to work out. The board needs to hold up its hands, admit they made a mistake, turn off ESPN and head over to Madrid, because if someone wants to prove they can live up to their anointed name, now’s the time to do it.

Colours May Vary

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So I’m not exactly much of a shopper, although I’m perfectly happy browsing for Bikes, Books, Records etc, so it seems slightly incongruous that I’m writing a blog post about a shop.  However I was very much taken by the new indie in Leeds – Colours May Vary – which has rocked up in the Munro House complex presumably hoping to attract the hip arty crowd that allegedly knocks about down that end of town :-)

I stumbled across it heading to Cafe164 where I was going to read the paper on a break from moving the kids to various activities in the city.  The new shop looked interesting and I thought a definite possibility for presents, not expecting to find much for me in there as it all looked a bit nice for this unstylish gibbon.  However I was somewhat blown away by the breadth of beautifully produced books, magazines and journals in there covering all sorts of subjects including cycling and football – as you can see from the photo I picked myself up a couple of gems.  Boneshaker I know all about but the Green Soccer Journal was something very new to me (I did contemplate boycotting buying it for the use of the word soccer mind).  There was other cycling stuff in there as well as some beautiful moleskin type cycling diaries, a fantastic book on Punk without even getting started on the art and design bits and bobs.

I’ll definitely be returning as it has things you simply won’t find elsewhere and it’s packed full of little gems (I want the Charlie Brown figure) as well as nicely designed paper and cards and things which is not really for me but I know plenty of people who would love them.  Leeds needs places like this so pop in and have a butchers, I really hope it survives and flourishes

Liverpool vs Anzhi

As a Liverpool season ticket holder (my seat’s currently being kept warm by my sister) you can imagine my delight when I found the Europa League game against Anzhi was going to be staged in my current home of Moscow.
I went out the internet and discovered the game was going to be played at Locomotiv’s stadium, jumped on a train with my trusty teaching assistant/interpreter and off we went. We reached the ground at around five to find all the ticket desks shut and made our way into the club shop instead to enquire when the office would be open.
‘Tickets for the Liverpool game aren’t being sold here,’ the woman told us, pointing to the sign that she had been forced to print and post up on the door.
‘So where can we buy them from?’ I asked.
The reply was a shrug of the shoulders: ‘I guess people will be selling them outside on the ground on the day,’ she apparently replied. ‘But they could be fakes.’
Undeterred by this we arrived back at my flat and online I went again. My assistant suggested going through a ticket agency, which did bring back some results, but they were rather hefty (£150 no less), which was a little out of my budget, especially since according to the Liverpool website the allocated tickets we’d been given for the away end were £20 a pop.
I considered phoning my dad and asking him what he thought about buying them and sending them out via DHL, at the same time as going on the Anzhi website.
In terms of Russian football websites it’s not actually that bad and usually pretty up to date. It has a ticket page, but the information there was only regarding the Russian league games.
I dialled in the contact number and passed the phone to my assistant.
As she was talking, she pulled a couple of strange faces. I understood the word Moscow, tickets and yes. She signalled she needed a pen and wrote down a number, then hung up.
‘Different ticket line?’ I asked.
‘Hmmm,’ she said. ‘They say you cannot buy the tickets on-line through them, but they are sending a man from Dagatsan to Moscow. This is his mobile number and we must call him at midday tomorrow.’
She could see that I most was surprised by this news, but she pointed out that she too had been taken aback by it and had asked if it was all legitimate.
Apparently it was completely above board, but tickets had to be bought in cash. A passport had to be shown and the cost in the main stand was two hundred Roubles (four pounds) and somewhat bizarrely no password was required!
The first time we called him, he told us to phone back at six when he had more details, then at six he didn’t respond and only at eight did he give us a time and a place.
So today we went to a bare room in the lobby of Hotel Moskva, which is a stone’s throw from Red Square. I wore my three-quarter length coat, she a red flower in her breast pocket and from a brown, paper bag, tickets were conjured.

спартак (Spartak)

      Fans on their way in past the imposing statue of Lenin.

I made it to my first football match in Moscow on Tuesday to watch Spartak take on Celtic in the Champion’s League at the Luzhniki. It’s always interesting to go and watch sport in another country and draw comparisons to the heavenly stadium that is Anfield. When I was in Argentina I took a trip to watch Boca play and came away in awe of the zealous support; the ground literally shook from 20 minutes before kick off until ten minutes after the final whistle. The actual standard of play wasn’t much cop since all the best players are snatched at infancy by the Europeans, kind of like Pocahontas, except the majority succumb to booze and women and not smallpox.
That kind of atmosphere isn’t found in English stadia anymore. It’s all too peaceful, respectful. People have to be able to earn a fair amount to watch their team live and they’re too modest to be singing and chanting for nine minutes, let alone ninety, so it’s usually left to the die hard away fans to make the most noise. I know the players are becoming more refined, but they’re not playing at The Globe just yet.
The Spartak fans were in no way as raucous as their Argentinean counterparts, but they still raised the decibels higher than at home (sure there may be 65,000 of them, but the stadium is hardly intimate).
What was most interesting however (apart from the halftime cheerleaders) was the level of security. I doubt there are as many checks for the 0920 Islamabad to New York, and you might as well give yourself the same amount of time as you would going to an airport too. Four times I was frisked between the outer gate and the steps to the stand, and the officers must have been watching a lot of Die Hard too because all of them reached round my back. At what point I was able to stick a weapon there during the twenty meters from check to check I don’t know, especially since there had to be some kind of officer clutching a baton every five paces. They even did the old school stay in the ground for fifteen minutes for the away fans, all 35 of them, and yet there was never any malice shown in their direction even after the Scots grabbed a last minute winner. What was their reaction? To flood out of the gates with five minutes of injury time to play. Seems some things remain the same the world over.

                     The Luzhniki.

The Lone Ranger

I want you to make those darting runs down the flank, no behind the front man…err…

The formation. It’s always about the formation, just ask any journalist who’s covered the England team in the last twenty years.
I was watching Chelsea (who are no doubt some people’s title favourites) play at home against Reading, who though play some decent football, will surely be struggling in the lower realms of the Premier League come the end of the season.

What struck me, as the clock ticked down towards half time with Reading 2-1 to the good with their fans singing loudly about how they now adorned the top of the most coveted league in the world, was that Chelsea were playing with a solitary striker.

Why were they so concerned about packing the midfield, at home, against lesser opposition? Sure they have a forward who when on form (wearing a liverpool shirt) can do the job of two, but why the negativity? What is it with the rise of the lone striker? Just think of the problems this would have caused in ’96, no longer a brave Who Dares Wins, but a signal of distress, and we didn’t require it back then. Why the 4-1-4-1 or 4-5-1 or 4-1-3-1-1? Are modern managers trying to find something as powerful as the fibernacci sequence? Does it boil down to what Johan Cruyff famously said, “if you control the midfield, you control the game”? which anyone who watched the European championships earlier in the summer will have seen taken to the nth degree by the Spanish, who could have played a 3-2-2-2 and still come away with the title. They’d won the previous two major tournaments with different systems after all.

Which means does the formation matter or is it simply the players that count? Is there too much emphasis on the shape of a team, talk of fitting players into positions or buying players to play roles? We could take a specific look at Barcelona, who have dominated European football for the past five years with a fluid formation from midfield to attack, not to mention a tiny central midfielder at centre back and a right back who spends most of his masquerading as a right winger. Yet last season they won neither of the major two trophies and there was talk of this due to them not being willing to change their formation and tactics. Surely it was simply down to percentages and the fact that no team is invincible (alright apart from the Arsenal invincibles that one season)?

The question is then, would the Dutch team of Total Football actually have won silverware if they’d swapped a second striker for a disciplined holding midfielder, or would they have slipped into obscurity like those really short shorts and the sweeper system?

The unbearable Leedsness of being

The Promised Land, Leeds Carriageworks Theatre

The Promised land is a fantastic book by Anthony Clavane plotting the rise and fall of his beloved hometown team Leeds United set against the backdrop of the rise and rise of on of the powerhouse cities of the industrial revolution, Leeds. Clavane is also Jewish and the way he weaves the history of Leeds’ Jewish population (once the largest outside of London) into the rich history of the city and its love hate relationship with its football team.

I was fascinated then to see how it would be translated on to a the stage. Billed as a Northern Love Story, the documentary style of the book had to be fundamentally translated into a narrative that could be told in a theatre and I have to say I thought it was a huge success. The production was by local amateur company Red Ladder and full credit to the company: this was a production of professional standards from the staging, design, direction and acting.

It was a touching, thrilling and at times uncomfortable experience as the starstruck lovers at the centre of the story played out their awkward North Leeds Jewish and South Leeds Beeston relationship against a backdrop of racism, hooliganism and dead-end opportunity of Leeds in 1975. The book told the fascinating story of immigrant jews in Leeds and how they came to dominate the city’s sporting clubs, first with Rugby League and latterly Football – this was very well handled in the stage production using the descendants of the central couple to tell this revealing story.

The title of the post by the way came from the programme notes for the production written by Anthony Clavan and I really quite liked it. He talks a lot about the “Leeds Attitude” that permeates the city – we’re used to being hated (particularly in the context of LUFC) and as such we’ve developed our own coping mechanism, a kind of ‘us against the world’ approach. This phrase kind of summed up my own personal love hate relationship with the city which over the years has provided me personally with a wealth of opportunities (and I am blessed) but also can frustratingly hold us back with a lack of vision and old-fashioned parochialism.

But having said that I still live here and I like to think that in doing so, I’m playing my own small part in The Promised Land.