The return of Suede (and the demise of HMV)

Amidst the hype signalled by David Bowie’s surprise return, many could be forgiven for thinking that nothing else of note is happening on the musical horizon. Indeed, it is a particularly cruel coincidence that Bowie, of all people, should opt to release his comeback single within 24 hours of Suede, also re-emerging after a decade’s silence, unveiling the first taster from their forthcoming album. That said, it must also be noted that Where Are We Now? is perhaps the stronger offering of the 2 but still the decidedly understated reaction to the reformation of arguably the finest band of their generation remains a sadness. Jarring sharply with the euphoric welcome afforded to mid-90s rivals Blur, culminating with a flagship performance at the closing ceremony of last year’s London Olympics, Suede have a right to feel aggrieved at the lack of love elicited by their revival. After all, great as they were, Blur never made a record as seismically, preposterously brilliant as Dog Man Star.

Nevertheless, the band haven’t always helped themselves. Bowing out with the deeply underwhelming A New Morning saw few mourn Suede’s passing, a tarnished legacy which maybe motivated the once insouciantly ingenious partnership of Brett Anderson and Bernard Butler to reunite as The Tears in 2004. Propelled by a promising lead-off single in Refugees, the accompanying Here Come The Tears was by no means a disaster nor even especially disappointing but little appeared left of the old magic. Anderson’s endless gauche similes, although a departure from the doomed provincial romanticism and such lyrical touch-stones as lonely crowds, circle lines and nuclear skies, which would become almost self-parody in Suede’s later efforts, were particularly uninspiring. Consequently, weight was given to the suggestion that his creative well had run sadly dry; that the frenzied urgency of his youth had receded with age. A succession of so-so solo records ensued, scarcely whetting the appetite for a reunion yet now that it has materialised, it should be deemed cause for celebration. Certainly, there is no contemporary band anything like Suede, with ‘Britpop’s’ lack of influence outside of its the more laddish, coarser and infinitely crapper side an ongoing disappointment (though I thought The Boyfriends were alright…), as British music and the sad, dwindling NME could certainly do with the advent of an Anderson or a Jarvis Cocker. And most importantly of course, Barriers is a fine comeback and offers hope that the forthcoming Bloodsports lp will be far from their jaded previous record.

Despite the partially justified claims that the Suede’s best material was produced by its earlier line-up, their period of greatest commercial success followed Butler’s departure and the introduction of then-17 year-old replacement Richard Oakes and Neil Codling. Naturally, chart success is practically never a barometer of artistic merit but post-Butler Suede produced some exceptional material and as a 10 year-old, I was convinced that Coming Up was clearly the greatest record ever made. True, the follow-up, 1999’s Head Music was a more a patchy affair (though I adored it at the time) but the band’s productivity saw that gems still emerged discarded as b-sides. Indeed, the timing of Suede’s return is also notable as it comes framed by the demise of HMV, a retailer which throughout my childhood was synonymous with the Suede flipside.

Although personally, the chain failed to serve any useful purpose some time ago as its diminishing music section stopped catering for my increasingly esoteric tastes, the announcement of its slide into administration still provoked a certain wistful nostalgic sorrow. You see, in the mid-1990s, the announcement of new Suede single was an event and HMV was the venue. Well, I say ‘announcement’ yet really in those pre-internet days, releases were never really announced in my world and instead, I was left to learn of them through flyers plastered across abandoned shops and pubs as my dad drove into Birmingham city centre. The sight of that trademark font would be cause for great excitement as my dad was exuberantly demanded to slow down so that I could catch the release date and plan my route into town after school to pick up the forthcoming single from Mansun, Blur, Pulp, Elastica, The Charlatans or ideally, Suede (I wish I’d had the foresight to be able to include Hefner and Belle & Sebastian in that list but they were much later discoveries).

Back then, a single was effectively an EP, quite literally in Mansun’s case, with exclusive tracks backing each format, which invariably included at least 2 CDs (looking back perhaps the advent of a third disc was a tacit admission of dwindling interest outside of the devotees), each generally priced at the pocket money-friendly fee of £1.99 (Oasis’ were labelled at a rather more prohibitive £3.99). Lean spells between new releases would be filled diligently collecting back catalogues, although Suede, initially somewhat frustratingly, made ownership of those many of those singles obsolete with the wonderful double album compilation Sci Fi Lullabies (which despite being effectively a duplicate tracklist was still feverishly snapped-up on the Monday of issue. From HMV, naturally) but later-career highlights such as God’s Gift or Leaving ensured the single format’s prominence lingered on a little longer.

Lamentably, this practice is effectively dead. Physical singles don’t sell in these digital days, the b-sides culture of the bands of my youth no longer thrives and I’ve most likely not bought a CD single since Attitude, Suede’s limp 2003 farewell. As such, HMV pretty much lost its importance to me that day in a way that Suede never will and I for one welcome their return and look eagerly await the March release of Bloodsports. Shame I’ll have to buy it from Tesco.

DC

The Big Fat Quiz Of The Year

Britain's comedy establishment

Britain’s comedy establishment

My instinct whenever the Daily Mail get on their high horse and start attacking someone for moral degeneracy is to defend the moral degenerate in question. Most of the time they will be in the right.

And I’m sure the foam-flecked piece that has appeared in the Mail regarding the ‘disgraceful’ antics on Channel 4’s Big Fat Quiz Of The Year has been largely motivated by their reactionary politics, fanatical monarchism and sheer prudishness. After all, to these guys multi-coloured spats are akin to the last days of Rome.

But on the other hand, they do kind of have a point. I know its manufactured, politically expedient outrage driven by a bad case of Mary Whitehouse Syndrome but even so, I don’t think BFQOTY is a completely unworthy target of opprobrium.

There’re one or two things one has to bear in mind about BFQOTY.

I haven’t watched this particular one but I think I wouldn’t be sticking my neck out to suggest that it probably didn’t break new comedy ground in relation to the plethora of other laddy, lowest common denominator, get your tackle out and see who has the biggest bollocks panel shows one can spend one’s entire life watching on Channel 4, the BBC and Dave if one so desires, and whose target audience appear to be anyone who watches Fifth Gear, think Chris Moyles is a genius, listens to records by the Darkness and who secretly like slapping women about a bit, if they had the bottle to actually do it, which they don’t.

It is presented as a comedy show, and yet it is about as funny as having a red hot poker shoved up your arse by your worst enemy. That is to say you’d cry, but not with laughter.

The panellists are a menagerie of smug, vastly overpaid twats with rather inflated views of their talent. They seem convinced that by making jokes about cocks and wanking they are ‘edgy’ and it somehow constitutes satire, when in fact they are all establishment arse-kissers par excellence.

The success of Jimmy Carr, Jack Whitehall, Russell Howard and in particular James Corden, along with quite simply the luckiest man in showbusiness, Jonathan Ross, is simply inexplicable to me and serves only to demonstrate the sheer stupidity and self-hatred of the majority of the British population.

The list of targets they witlessly mercilessly satirised are as follows, from what I can glean from the various reports I’ve read:

The Queen’s sex life.

Barack Obama’s cock.

Susan Boyle.

A couple of the jokes:

Whitehall on the Jubilee: “I have a theory, she [The Queen] didn’t sit down for the entirety of that thing, and then people were talking about that. It was the day after the night of her anniversary and Prince Phillip woke up with a urinary infection…I’m just saying what everyone’s thinking, people!”

“I’m just saying what everyone’s thinking, people!” Jack Whitehall the populist. You know us all too well son, don’t you.

Corden – (when asked what Barack Obama was doing in his office while pretending to work): “Put on a condom and had a posh wank.”

Quite simply vaulting in its comedic ambition, although I must confess to being a little surprised that Corden held back a zinger like this from the script of Lesbian Vampire Killers.

I understand that Corden was slightly pissed during filming, but we all know he’d have said something similar sober. Chris Morris he ain’t.

And maybe I am showing my inner Nadine Dorries here but making fun of Susan Boyle seems a little unambitious and, well, unpleasant. Mocking socially awkward middle aged women who struggled with being thrust into limelight, and who were shamelessly exploited by avaricious and utterly amoral TV producers hardly strikes me as comedy gold, or cutting edge satire for that matter. Sure, lots of Tory voters people will find it funny, but those people deserve to be thrown off cliffs so who cares what they think?

Channel 4 defended the show in these terms:

“Big Fat Quiz Of The Year is a well-established comedic and satirical review of the year’s events with well-known guests and is broadcast after the watershed with appropriate warnings.”

To my simple mind, a ‘satirical review’ of 2012’s events would focus on slightly more edgy topics than Barack Obama’s dick. There have been one or two stories that might warrant a mention by any prospective arch-satirist that I can think of, off the top of my head. And the great comedy minds assembled on BFQOTY could I’m sure have come up with some amazing material on those stories there and then that would have the audience in stitches.

So whilst I think the Mail’s outrage is rather misplaced, naturally, I think that it is still worth complaining about the show on the simple basis that its own self-description as ‘comedy’ or ‘satire’ is simply a lie.

The rise of Kelvin MacKenzie begins today

 

“When I published those stories, they were not lies. They were great stories that later turned out to be untrue — and that is different. What am I supposed to feel ashamed about?”

Kelvin MacKenzie

 

 

Those of you of a certain age may remember an infamous tract called The Last Will And Testament Of Fred West, that caused quite a stir upon its appearance in the public domain.

In said document, as well as dividing his huge collection of Ben Elton novels and Richard Curtis films amongst his extended family, notorious serial killer West attempted to commit to print a justification for his sadistic and evil actions. In amongst the predictable barrage of virtually unreadable, self-justifying, narcissistic and frankly banal stream-of-consciousness ranting, he attempts to lay out the rudiments of an overarching political philosophy that drove him to act as he did.

To try and illustrate his wider arguments, West told us who his political heroes were and why.

One passage in particular caught my eye when I first read it all those years ago:

“I love Kelvin MacKenzie. He’s my hero. What a guy. An inspiration to me and others like me. In my moments of doubt it was often only the words and deeds of Kelvin that gave me the strength to carry on exactly as I did.”

Moving stuff. West goes on:

“If I had to pick one person whose ideas summed up the kind of world I want to live in, it would be Kelvin every time. The earthy erudition and sheer common sense of the man is simply awe-inspiring. When Kelvin finally gets round to setting up a political movement, as he surely will, hopefully he’ll allow me the honour of being the first member.”

So in that fascinating context, what are we to make of the fact that MacKenzie has indeed finally committed to forming a political party of his own? A party committed to ‘home rule’ for the South-East of England, he tells us:

“The subsidy from London and the South East to the rest of the country is truly astonishing. While the difference between what London spends and what it earns is 10 per cent on the plus side, you go to Wales and it’s 36 per cent on the minus side.”

An interesting, edgy way of looking at things I’m sure you’ll agree, albeit an odd understanding of capitalism from one of British capitalism’s most ardent defenders. But you know Kelvin. What a character.

Ironically, in his initial planning for the establishment of a separatist South-East political movement MacKenzie has attempted to appropriate a party acronym traditionally associated with the left, although I’m not sure whether the Southern Wankers Party has quite the same ring as the Socialist Workers Party.

Back to Kelvin’s manifesto:

“I have done my bit and I would like the people of Wales, Northern Ireland, Scotland and vast areas of the rest of England to do theirs.”

All very redolent of the Italian Northern League, I’m sure you’ll agree. The only difference being that whilst the Lega Nord has been led by revolting but swarthy and urbane men of apparent sophistication and sartorial elegance, the SWP…….won’t be.

Indeed, a thing one can never dare accuse MacKenzie of is excessive self-awareness. So when he tells you he thinks he’s ‘done….. (his) bit’, you know he thinks he’s done his bit.

His glorious, vaultingly ambitious and high-brow media career has contributed so much to the gaiety of the nation and more importantly (of course, it’s all about the dollars for our Kelvin) our national wealth.

Be it organizing a break-in at the hospital where a dying, dreadfully ill Jeremy Brett was confronted by Sun reporters with accusations over his sexuality. Be it the still unrepentant lies over Hillsborough. Be it the lies about Elton John. Be it the lies about the political left. Be it the hounding of anyone who could be exploited for a headline and an increase in sales figures. Be it the systematic smearing of anyone who didn’t accept his and his proprietor’s crypto-fascist politics. Be it the endless and invariably groundless attacks on the BBC and then going on to make programmes….. for the BBC.

“So, I talk a good game but what have I done? Well, I have paid £9 for the domain name southernparty.co.uk. As Mao almost said: the longest journey starts with the shortest email. Let’s keep in touch.”

Those who will tell you that the pioneering spirit of Icarus has been progressively beaten out of our decadent society need to read these words again and again and then hush their mouths forever.

I’ll conclude with a few more words from Fred West:

“When I look back on my life I hope, everything I’ve done, especially in the realm of the treatment of those around me, that I will be judged by the ‘Kelvin MacKenzie standard’. I’d like to think that posterity will acknowledge that I’ve almost matched this peerless fellow at every turn.

Great Britain, you need this man. Cherish him like I cherished Rose.”

Tally ho, Thrasher!

Before I begin, a quick apology to my fanatical and devoted readership. I have been too busy to write my usual reams of shit about current affairs for the last week or so as I have had far bigger fish to fry. DC wonderfully filled the breach yesterday but I’m aware things have been dashed quiet of late.

Hopefully normal service will now be resumed. You’ve missed me. I’ve missed you. But I’m back and I’m cooking on gas.

Anyway, this Andrew Mitchell stuff. Odd, isn’t it. So are we now to assume that he’s been the victim of a Police Federation instigated cover-up? Oh my golly gosh.

Pretty worrying actually. I mean I don’t like the Tories but there is something just a little unsettling about cops thinking they can concoct a ruse to drive an elected politician out of office. Surely it is not a good sign when the forces of law and order think they can act with such impunity. And you know, break the law. And quite so brazenly (and amateurishly….)

Some of us have been arguing for a while that the police, or at least sections of them, are out of control. This story is grist to that particular mill.

It would be no bad thing if this growing scandal is used to clip their wings, but I can’t see that happening in any meaningful sense. The ‘reforms’ that have exercised the Police Federation so much are not designed to do anything about the inglorious traditions of institutionalised corruption, insanely reactionary politics and wanton thuggery that have bedevilled the force over the years.

And yet, although there is something just a little bit troubling about this whole episode, there is also something perversely entertaining about it. I do rather like it when two things I hate do self-destructive battle with each other.

The Police Federation is the closest thing the Tories have to an affiliated trade union. During the key industrial battle of recent British history, the miners strike, the police were the loyal errand boys of the Conservatives as they eviscerated the NUM.

The Conservatives have traditionally been the staunchest defenders of the police and have ensured that they are some of the best paid and looked-after ‘public servants’ and have routinely turned a blind eye to their worst excesses. Sections of the police, in particular the Met, have gone feral and that has suited the Tories just fine up until now. As pointed out elsewhere, the police are no strangers to generalised naughtiness and the only thing different about Plebgate is that the targets of their ire can and will fight back.

Watching them hack lumps out of each other is great larks.

The relationship of seemingly mutual hatred is a startling development however, and although partly explained by the government’s proposed ‘reforms’ (read cuts and privatizations), is largely explained by the fact that many people in the force cannot abide being under even rudimentary democratic control. They do not want to play by the rules that they wrongly expected everyone else to play by when they were Thatcher’s loyal shock-troops.

The sort of changes being inflicted upon them right now are those that much of the labour movement had inflicted on it a generation ago. Changes that the police played their part in making a reality. It is thus difficult to have much sympathy for their predicament.

So, to finish, one side is clearly lying through their teeth right now over what happened that day. At the moment at least, my money’s on the pigs telling porkies. They do have a habit of making things up, the little buggers.

And if they are, to be honest the Tories are perfectly within their rights to be more than a little upset, and to be arguing that this is an issue of the utmost significance. A scandal in fact.

But it is they that largely created this monster.

Patrick Moore

Astronomer Patrick Moore

Far be it for me to speak ill of the dead but I’m afraid I have to sound a discordant note regarding the death of star-gazer Patrick Moore. Maybe it’s because I’m writing this on a cold Monday morning but I feel the need to stick the boot in. I’m certainly not rejoicing at his death, far from it, but neither am I comfortable with the virtually unanimous gushing praise he has received.  

An early childhood memory I have is whenever he came on TV everything he said being drowned out by a tirade of abuse directed at the box by my father. At the time I wasn’t sure what the problem and I bought into the narrative of him being a lovable old man. That was what I was being fed by the picture box.

Indeed, the obituaries and tributes are making constant reference to his ‘eccentricity’ and idiosyncrasies.

What they really mean is that he was a nasty right-wing bigot.

His wikipedia entry suffices to expose his politics:

Moore was noted for his conservative political views. In the 1970s, he was Chairman of the anti-immigration United Country Party, a position he held until the party was absorbed by the New Britain Party in 1980. He campaigned for Edmund Iremonger in 1979, as both men agreed that the French and Germans were not to be trusted.[57] Iremonger and Moore gave up political campaigning after deciding that they were Thatcherites.[57] Moore later campaigned on behalf of Douglas Denny (UKIP) for the Chichester constituency in 2001.[58] A Tory voter for many years, he remained a supporter and patron of the eurosceptic UK Independence Party until his death.[59] He briefly supported the Liberal Party in the 1950s, though condemned the Liberal Democrats, stating that he believed that they could alter their position radically and “would happily join up with the BNP or the Socialist Workers Party … if [by doing so] they could win a few extra votes.”[58] He also stated his admiration for the Official Monster Raving Loony Party,[60] and wrote in his autobiography that Liechtenstein – a constitutional monarchy headed by a prince – had the best political system in the world.[61] Moore was a critic of George W. Bush‘s Iraq War,[62] and stated that “the world was a safer place when Ronald Reagan was in the White House”.[63] He was a Patron, too, of the British Weights and Measures Association.

Proudly declaring himself to be English (rather than British) with “not the slightest wish to integrate with anybody”,[60] he stated his admiration for controversial former MP Enoch Powell.[64] Moore devoted an entire chapter (“The Weak Arm of the Law”) of his autobiography to denouncing modern British society, particularly “motorist-hunting” policemen, sentencing policy, as well as the Race Relations Act, Sex Discrimination Act and the “Thought Police/Politically Correct Brigade“.[65] He later wrote that “homosexuals are mainly responsible for the spreading of AIDS (the Garden of Eden is home of Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve)”.[66] He cited his opposition to blood sports and capital punishment to dispute claims that he had radical ultra right-wing views.[60]

In an interview with Radio Times, he provocatively asserted that the BBC was being “ruined by women”, commenting that: “The trouble is that the BBC now is run by women and it shows: soap operas, cooking, quizzes, kitchen-sink plays. You wouldn’t have had that in the golden days.” In response, a BBC spokeswoman described Moore as being one of TV’s best-loved figures and remarked that his “forthright” views were “what we all love about him”.[67] In his June 2002 appearance on Room 101 he banished female news readers into Room 101.[68]

So a racist (The United Country Party that he chaired are way to the right of the modern day UKIP and the pro-Apartheid and overtly white supremacist New Britain Party were arguably even worse, although its unclear from my reading exactly what role Moore played in the NBP), rabid homophobe, a sexist (lets get rid of female newsreaders- how hilarious), social authoritarian (although ironically all these people claim to be great defenders of ‘freedom’) and he had an obsession with the tyranny of ‘political correctness’.

Delightful.

Lovable.

And not all clichéd…..

Would we be describing him as an ‘eccentric’ if he had been an avowed Marxist and not an admirer of Enoch Powell? Somehow, I doubt it. Terms like “eccentric” and “a bit of a character” are euphemisms used by people who in their heart of hearts know his views were appalling but haven’t the courage to defend or criticise them.

The defence used by the BBC is very similar to that used to defend Jeremy Clarkson. The fact that he was ‘forthright’ apparently makes it somehow more justifiable. Not sure how that works (would it have been less tolerable had he kept his views to himself? Why?) and why is it only ever applied to people on the extreme right of the political spectrum? However I’m sure the indulgence of Moore is just another example of the institutional left-wing bias at the BBC, isn’t it.  

So Patrick Moore, not a lovable old eccentric. Simply Alf Garnett with a posh accent. I’m sure he understood the stars but he had no understanding of the human race.

The tragedy of Jacintha Saldanha

Nurse Jacintha Saldanha and DJs composite

When I first heard that the nurse at the centre of the prank call ‘scandal’ had been found dead I was pretty taken aback. I was shocked and saddened that someone had been driven to such extremes over something so self-evidently trivial.

Until Jacintha Saldanha took her own life over the issue of a prank call (as far as we know so far anyway) I’m sure the Australian radio station, 2DayFM 104.1, and their owners, would have been rubbing their hands with glee at all the publicity it was giving them.

The ‘pranksters’, Mel Greig and Michael Christian, appear to be a couple of witless no-marks but blaming them entirely for this is to make them scapegoats when in reality there are broader questions we need to ask right now. I’m sure they are genuinely racked with guilt and remorse at what their actions have led to and I’m sure if they had had any inkling it would have come to this they wouldn’t have done it.

Prank calls are part of our radio landscape here in Britain and internationally as lots and lots of people find them entertaining. Simple pleasures for simple minds. A quite deliberate media strategy exists where this kind of thing is seen as the way to get listeners/viewers. Lowest common denominator bollocks. Cheap celebrity shit. Tittle tattle. And the lode mother of gossip and tittle tattle is the royal family. We love it.

And in broad terms it’s a fair assumption. This kind of stuff does get people tuning in. And that increases advertising revenue. The morality or breach of privacy involved is of no concern to the people making decisions about content. All that matters is the bottom line

Greig and Christian are part of a culture. And that culture should be on trial, not them as individuals. Other people enabled them; they haven’t acted in a vacuum. Listen to commercial radio in the UK and you hear stuff like this all the time. It just doesn’t normally end in an apparent suicide.

The other thing I want to say about this is that we cannot ignore the institution at the heart of this: the monarchy. Things like this are the inevitable consequence of placing the royal family on a pedestal. Their actions are an obsession of the media here in the UK and abroad. It’s a giant circus. Can you imagine any other patient getting this kind of attention right now? Can you imagine the Daily Mail sent into paroxysms of rage at anyone else having their privacy breached like this (although one suspects their real anger is that someone else beat them to this information…….)?

I mention the Daily Mail quite pointedly. They had started ratcheting up the pressure and sharpening their knives for the nurses involved before this tragedy struck. They were feeding the anger of the lynch mob. Making those involved feel as if they had done something unforgivable and borderline treasonous. That they had in some way harmed the one institution that is now almost untouchable.

Any slight committed against the royal family condemns the slighter to a torrent of abuse. Any prominent politician who criticises them faces a hammering. Anything less than gushing enthusiasm is seen as unforgivable in the eyes of our foam-flecked media.  Even an innocent mistake like this was initially greeted with self-righteous fury.

Now imagine if a simple mistake that had embarrassed an institution we are told every day is vital to our nation you had made was front page news and the first item on the TV bulletins.

The trial by media, feelings of isolation and overwhelming sense guilt looks like it may have been too much Jacintha Saldanha. She shouldn’t have been made to feel like that. The people who did so have a lot of explaining to do.

As a society we need to have a hard look at ourselves for collectively fostering a culture where she felt driven to this tragic act. We could start by just treating the royal family like normal people.

Does Arséne still know?

After years of delivering the ‘trophy’ of Champions’ League qualification, Arsenal’s alarming recent form has seen fans fear that such relative success may this season be under threat. Indeed, a listless draw with a deeply ordinary Aston Villa followed by a similarly anaemic showing in a home defeat against an admittedly impressive Swansea provide performances of an insipidity it is difficult to recall in any successive showings during Arséne Wenger’s reign. Praised, even if sometimes grudgingly, for the fluency of their football and wedded to a purist’s philosophy, Arsenal have been many things under Wenger but never boring. Such impotence could of course be merely transient and little more than faltering form but a perceived lack of forward quality could undermine their efforts this term.

Indeed, the Premier League’s changing landscape and Wenger’s contempt for what he perceives as rivals’ ‘financial doping’ has seen Arsenal’s supporters’ expectations realistically re-aligned to the extent where thoughts of a genuine title-challenge are forlornly fanciful but few would have envisaged the club languishing halfway down the league table following 15 rounds of fixtures. Certain comfort can be taken from the club’s reasonably assured passage into the knock-out stages of European competition; a phase Arsenal have reached with a consistency that shames some of their economically incontinent rivals. That said, Arsenal will not lift the Champions’ League trophy this season. Again, despite a final appearance in 2006, there is a wistful recognition that the current squad lacks the quality to challenge at the tournament’s latter stages. In early December, it seems that only comparatively paltry domestic cups can appease fans growing impatience to secure the club’s first silverware since 2005.

Of course, the moronic minority calling Wenger’s stewardship into question do so through a fog of graceless entitlement displaying startling ingratitude for the Frenchman’s wonderful achievements in North London. Although currently residing in an alien, disappointing 10th place, Arsenal remain only 5 points off the much-coveted 4th place which would ensure entry into the Europe’s elite competition. Given that a Manchester United squad flagrantly flawed in every area aside from attack and already defeated by Norwich lead the league, it is not especially difficult to foresee other sides suffering errant results. Certainly, the enduring, lurid farce that afflicts Chelsea, Gareth Bale’s injury at Tottenham (and the suspicion that Jermain Defoe lacks the quality to maintain his form) and Everton’s deluge of draws alongside a feeling that for all their virtues, the likes of West Brom and West Ham will ultimately finish beneath Arsenal should all offer comfort to Wenger, whilst the possibility that Stoke can claim a higher league placing is frankly far too cataclysmic to contemplate. Besides, it clearly can’t happen.

More encouragement can be sought from the defensive fortitude that underpinned Arsenal’s impressive early season form. Engendering widespread praise for Steve Bould’s assumed training ground authority, the club’s subsequent sloppiness suggested a certain truth in Wenger’s keenness not to over-state Bould’s input although key injuries at full-back and the resultant lack of continuity in selection surely didn’t help matters. Still, with key personnel returning, optimism must abound of imminent improvement. Further forward, Mikel Arteta, Jack Wilshere and Santi Cazorla could potentially prove the Premier League’s classiest triumvirate. Still, caveats reside in the fact that Wilshere is returning from long-term injury which has placed a huge creative burden on the gloriously gifted Cazorla, whose initial seamless transition to English football has understandably been tempered by less influential inputs of late. Arteta meanwhile has adapted with admirable intelligence to a deeper midfield role, though aged 30 and not the most robust athlete, he too has perhaps been placed under excessive pressure. With only the inexperienced Francis Coquelin and Aaron Ramsey, whose promise has stalled following a horrific double leg fracture suffered at Stoke in 2010, offering back-up, it is surprising that the squad was not bolstered with another midfielder following Alex Song’s departure to Barcelona. Perhaps Wenger was relying on Abou Diaby’s return but the occasionally brilliant and infuriatingly brittle Frenchman looks set once again to spend large swathes of the season on the sidelines.

It is in attack however, where Arsenal’s squad compares less favourably. Where once fans could count on the inventiveness and incision of Dennis Bergkamp, Robert Pires and Thierry Henry, today’s team offers Gervinho, Lukas Podolski and Olivier Giroud. The latter may prove himself a shrewd signing with his presence, finishing and awareness, even if his sometimes cumbersome gait makes him a somewhat atypical Wenger signing. The German offers pace, directness and a fearsome left-footed strike but virtually nothing else and cannot be expected to provide a creative outlet whilst the Ivorian, in his 8th season as a professional, seemingly remains unsure of a football pitch’s dimensions and has looked frequently out of his depth. The classier, more refined Tomas Rosicky and Andrey Arshavin remain on the club’s books but lamentably, whilst both may retain the technique that once made them hugely exciting players, injuries and (especially in Arshavin’s case) motivation have dimmed the edge that made them dangerous ones. Even collectively, it is doubtful they will match the 37 goals contributed by Robin van Persie last term. The Dutchman’s departure, like that of Cesc Fábregas the previous summer (and Nicólas Anelka, Samir Nasri and Gael Clichy hitherto), spoke of Arsenal’s inability to match the ambitions of the stars they nurture, which along with the disappointing development of the likes of Carlos Vela, Fran Mérida, Johann Djourou, Nicklas Bendtner and Theo Walcott has perhaps precipitated a shift in policy with the club now seeking more mature players.

Sadly, Cazorla excepted, Arsenal’s noble unwillingness to descend into the financial squalor of their rivals dictates that they are unable to compete in the market for top-class established players and instead must settle for Gervinhos, Per Mertesackers and Marouane Chamakhs. Naturally, given such resources, a drop-off in performance is unavoidable. Former Barcelona prospects Ignasi Miquel and Jon Toral may be on the club’s books but neither seem set to follow the Fábregas route to stardom whilst for all the hype and precocious first-team involvement, German winger Serge Gnapry, even at 17 looks destined for the Gervinho/Walcott trajectory of frustration punctuated by false-dawning hope as the club’s junior ranks and scouting network are no longer the envy of the division.

With the headline signings disappointing and the promise of a golden generation of wonderkids emerging a thing of the past, it is understandable for Arsenal fans to question what return they are getting for the league’s costliest matchday tickets. Less understandable however, are questions being raised of Wenger’s tenure, as for all the ridicule that greeted his assertion of 4th place being akin to silverware, the consistency of such an achievement given the resources at his disposal remains hugely impressive. The squad retains great quality with the likes of Wojciech Szczesny, Thomas Vermaelen, Laurent Koscielny, Arteta, Wilshere, Cazorla and Giroud forming an enviable spine. Given Wenger’s famous reticence in the transfer market, January arrivals should not be treated as a foregone conclusion yet 1 or 2 astute arrivals could place the club in a strong position but the manager has earned the trust of fans irrespective of any activity; a position surely acknowledged by most supporters. Now 63 and with his future in question, Wenger may not have too much longer left at The Emirates but given his outstanding success, loyalty, dignity and service to the club, the timing and circumstance of his departure should surely be his choice alone.

DC

The vindication of Mark Clattenburg

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I must confess to be being more than a little irritated by the whole Mark Clattenburg/Chelsea/is Clattenburg a racist? imbroglio. There seems to be something deliberately cynical about the way that Chelsea approached the issue and they seemed willing to destroy the reputation of a referee in what with the benefit of hindsight looks like little more than a PR powerplay.

There have now been statements of contrition and ‘clear the air talks’ now that Clattenburg has been completely exonerated.

But to be honest that isn’t good enough.

This whole affair has to be viewed through the prism of the fact that Chelsea have taken no action against proven racist John Terry and in fact have backed him at every turn. Their concern about racism must therefore be taken with a pinch of salt big enough to cover one of internationally renowned chubber Frank Lampard’s plates of chips.

An allegation was made by John Obi Mikel and Ramires on the flimsiest evidence. Now of course, if there was the slightest suspicion that he had made the comments alleged were made it was right to raise them, but it was handled by the club in such a way to give the impression that an someone at CFC saw this as a glorious opportunity to cheaply bolster the club’s right-on and anti-racist credentials in the light of the John Terry case and the well-known propensity for a section of the club’s fanbase to indulge in a spot of racist chanting.

As it was based on the word of only one man, Ramires, who has a poor command of English, no one else was claiming to have heard it and the referee in question has as far as I can ascertain a totally unblemished record when it comes to his views on matters of race and ethnicity, wouldn’t it have been wise to pursue the matter away from the public gaze and the inevitably sensationalist response that such allegations would prompt, and only make the matter public when there was something concrete to bring to all of our attention? You know, like the slightest proof of any kind?

Did no one at Chelsea Football Club consider this at any point, or the fact (that they knew full well) that this could completely destroy Clattenburg’s career? And if they did, why did they act as they did?

And whilst Chelsea’a allegations have turned out to be a demonstrable work of fiction, mud has a habit of sticking.  Clattenburg may never live this down, in a similar way to Dave Jones not being able to fully banish the (completely false) allegations against him. Referees are end of the end of endless abuse. Do we really think this episode will never again enter the conversation next time he makes a decision that upsets a powerful club?

It is also doing a profound service to the cause of anti-racism in the game, an issue we have tried to give some attention to here at the Mambo. Genuine future allegations may be dismissed on “the boy who cried wolf” principle and in fact many on the right will use this as a stick to the beat the “politically correct” with. Take a couple of the comments underneath Dan Hodges’ (actually very good) take on the issue over at the Telegraph:

Dan – this is exactly what your beloved “progressives” do everytime someone tries to say that maybe we should control our borders – scream RACISM!
Lock up the Labour Party starting with Rotherham council.

Yes the pc mob have worn the race card to death – it just doesn’t register any longer.

Racism is stick used to beat us all into silence.

I could go on and on but hey-black lawyers association, black footballers association, black policeman’s association-and it’s supposed to be whites that are racist! BIN all racism laws now as its one rule for us and not for others!

Directly underneath the last one is a comment that was removed by the moderator. Heaven knows how bad that one must have been if these all made the cut.

There have also been suggestions that Chelsea quite deliberately did all this to ‘get back’ at Clattenburg for sending off two of their players during the defeat against Manchester United that prompted the whole controversy, thus sending out a message to other referees to think twice before punishing Chelsea players during matches in future.  Interestingly, there are reports of a post-match bust-up between Chelsea players and Clattenburg with it being suggested that he was on the end of some rather intimidating behaviour from a club not exactly averse to such bully-boy tactics.

This might be a conspiracy theory. It might not be.

In any case, this whole affair goes to the heart of the disgusting, amoral administration of a graceless, classless club that is now one of the most contemptible in the Premier League. And that is saying something.

Brian Laws: raving anti-semite?

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So, Brian Laws. Managerial mediocrity. A man constantly in work although no one actually knows why. A living, breathing testament to the imagination bypass of most club owners and the lack of coaching and managerial talent in this country.

But Brian Laws has finally done something noteworthy. After his Scunthorpe team (he’s the Northern Harry Redknapp when it comes to the fairly narrow geographical spread of his managerial roles) lost 4-0 to Doncaster Rovers he described his side’s defending as

“as bad as the Holocaust”

This prompted criticism over his insensitive choice of words and immediate apologies were issued by all involved.

And I would happily concede that it was a very silly thing to say. A rather crass and hyperbolic choice of words and more appropriate for obscure, attention-seeking blogs like Representing the Mambo rather than in post-match interviews that will be heard by many of his club’s fans.

However I think the criticism, or at least the slightly hysterical tone of it, and the attempts being made by some to place it in a wider context of football having a serious problem with anti-semitism, is slightly misplaced. I can’t defend Laws’ words at all, but I do think there has been a slight over-reaction.

In the first instance, would we have had the same response if he had described his teams defending (I’ve seen the highlights by the way, and the defending is appalling) as “as bad as the gulags” or “as bad as the killing fields in Cambodia” or “as bad as the slaughter in Rwanda”? Although of course the chances of him doing so are miniscule (unless Laws has a hitherto unrevealed interest in 20th century history) it is fair to say that he would have been in a lot less trouble had he referred to his team’s defending in such terms. Yet all of these events led to a similar scale of human suffering and in many respects were equally systematic.

It bothers me that one event in human history is given precedence (not because of any mythical ‘Jewish lobby’ incidentally) simply because it took place in mainland Europe and has had entered the popular consciousness if westerners to a greater extent. I think we need to be careful to place one event at the expense of others on a pedestal, not because it is unimportant, but because the victims of other barbaric crimes should not have their suffering forgotten at the expense of others.   

And secondly, whether we like it or not the meaning of language evolves over time and we invariably desensitize to events that in a previous generation elicited only responses of horror.

Many of us (i.e. me) use absurd, often brutally graphic language to make a point in our day to day lives. Many’s the time that I have likened myself to an emaciated famine victim when I’ve had to wait an extra half hour for a meal or described Birmingham City managers or prominent celebrities in terms that may appear to some to be rather tasteless and disproportionate.

For example, I happily advocated a terrorist attack on any venue hosting a leg of the Chris Moyles Live tour as long as the attackers ensured that Moyles was present at the time of the bombing. Now of course I wasn’t actually saying that Moyles should be blown to smithereens but I used that language to communicate my unrelenting hatred for a revolting, poisonous, utterly witless, sub-human borderline sociopath whose spiteful bigotry warrants a ferocious rhetorical response.    

Thirdly, I think that picking on examples such as this, and bracketing them (as the statement I have linked to above does) with the repellent anti-semitic abuse at the recent West Ham-Spurs fixture ends up confusing the issues around the question of racism and specifically anti-semitism in football.

Laws had his foot in the mouth but he wasn’t being racist. The two situations were admittedly chronologically close but completely unrelated. His comments were daft, but not anti-semitic. It is unfair and a slur to associate him with the jellied-eel eating shits who thought it would be funny to race-bait Tottenham Hotspur.

In defence of James McClean

The poppy-less James McClean. Right on brother.

Sunderland’s James McClean’s refusal to wear a poppy in today’s game with Everton has prompted the usual frothing at the mouth from the poppy fascists, a group (only a minority I should add) who seem to think it is compulsory for us all to wear one.

The irony of their stance of demanding we all wear one or else is seemingly lost on them.

The Daily Mail was quick off the blocks with a nauseating hatchet job, also labelling him as ‘controversial’ for choosing to play for the Republic rather than the North a couple of years ago. And having opinions. Including a few political ones. And expressing them. How dare he! Doesn’t he know his only function is to be a ball-kicker?

Go on Twitter and search McClean’s name and you will find amongst the many messages of support some absolute corkers containing words of wisdom such as “disgrace” “go back to Ireland then” and “ban him”

This from someone called Ian Greer:

Note to James McClean: 226 men died from your beloved Derry during WW1 to give you your freedom of speech. Worth remembering them?

WW1 was fought over issues of freedom of speech? Must have missed that bit then……..

This from a guy called Adam Cunliffe:

Sorry James McClean if you’re so anti British go and sign for Sligo Rovers or someone. Bell end.

Brilliant. Only ‘anti-British’ people don’t wear poppies don’t they Adam. Bell end. Actually Adam, I’ll go further than Bell end. You’re a complete fucking wanker and the biggest prick I’ve ever encountered anywhere in the world.

And this little gem from a DUP councillor Guy Spence:

Real Sectarianism on display with James McClean refusing to wear a poppy on his shirt, can someone remind him he plays for a British club!

Yes he does play for a British club, Guy, well spotted. What of it? And glad to see the DUP now taking a tough stance on sectarianism…….have you changed your minds on Catholics being “vermin” then? Ian Paisley’s words, not mine, Guy.

Oh and Guy, in Britain we are allowed to exercise the freedom to choose whether or not we want to wear a poppy.

It’s quite a simple concept. It’s McClean’s choice. It isn’t for others to impose their political views on another him or anyone else. And like it or not, boys and girls of the Twittersphere, the Poppy is a political symbol, and wearing one is a political choice. It isn’t just about “supporting the troops” and “remembering the fallen”. Every war British soldiers have fought in was political, and many of those wars were fought for less than noble reasons. Some of us like to examine the issues around those wars rather than just blithely going along with the establishment narrative and falling in behind British troops simply because they were born closer to us than the people they were and are being ordered to kill.

I respect the choice of people who choose to wear a poppy. I disagree, and would try and explain to them it’s highly questionable symbolism as an emblem of militarism and pointless slaughter. We had an interesting exchange of views on the subject this time last year with the much-missed KA taking issue with my point of view.

As has been pointed out already, if I was James McClean I would also want to point out what the British army did in Derry not that long ago……….. His reasons for not wishing to wear a symbol of what he perceives to be British imperialism and brutality are perfectly justified. The British army’s role in Northern Ireland was frequently a vicious, blood-soaked one. We can’t just ignore that. James McClean is refusing to ignore that.

And I agree with him. It’s good to see footballers with political views and brains. He should be saluted for having the courage to take a stand and deal with the predictable and odious abuse that was bound to follow.

And even if I didn’t agree with him, it’s still his fucking choice whether he wears one or not.

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