Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Dog Days Are Over

Summer has gone (on holiday?). Rain, wind and cooler days are the order now. Expect a reprise of halcyon days in September...

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As much as I hate the go compare dot com adverts, I have to admire the tenacity of the producers and the company to constantly subject us to them. However, one insurance themed promotion that has begun to really grate on me are the current spate of Directline ads. It's this No Comparison series that has tinkered with my anger button.

For starters, it has both Stephen Fry and Paul Merson, who, I would have hoped, had more scruples than that (and probably no real need for the money). More importantly, it's a thinly veiled attack at places like the above mentioned GoCompare.com. "We don't use comparison websites, etc" is the motto. The cynic in me reckons this stinks of desperation and the experienced shopper in me knows this refusal to be drawn into a price war with the comparison websites is mainly because of the specific sales technique that Directline use. Once they have you on the phone it's difficult to get off of it. You have to give them loads of details before they'll give you a quote and they're not always cheaper. They just get the business from those who can't be bothered to see if there's a better deal.

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Howard Webb's main problem with refereeing the World Cup Final was his lenience. At least two extra Dutchmen - Nigel De Jong and Marc Van Bommel - should have joined Johnny Heitinga for an early bath. If anything, a couple of his Spanish yellow cards were a bit harsh, but one can't help feeling that he was just trying to even things up.
My prediction came 2nd, my other 3 semi-finalist tips finished - bottom of their group (Italy), 3rd in their group (Serbia, despite beating Germany, couldn't beat anyone else) and 1st knockout stage buffoons England, who we have agonised over in perpetuity.

My feeling about the World cup is that it again flattered to deceive. I'm beginning to think the best World Cup finals ever were in Mexico in 1970, because so many subsequent tournaments have been largely dreary apart from the odd stand-out moments. Forget the vuvuzelas, the real talking point was playing the entire world cup finals with a ball that resembled the 99p footballs you could buy in seaside tat shops. The Jabulani proved that footballers had to have skill or they'd just look like England.

In 1970 there were 4 groups of 4 teams, the top two went through to a quarter final, etc. The WC now has 32 teams, 8 groups and a first knockout stage; some people inside FIFA would like to see that number increased to 40 teams; having five teams in 8 groups with the top two qualifying and adding an extra week to the competition. This idea must surely be driven by greed?

When I was a kid, I wanted to see the World Cup equivalent to the FA Cup. There are currently 207 'countries' playing competitive football, so Anguilla, Montserrat, American Samoa, Central African Republic and Papua New Guinea - the five lowest ranked teams would then draw lots and the two losers would then play each other in the qualifying round. The winner would go into the main 1st round draw of 28 lowest ranked teams. The 14 qualifiers would then join the next 114 world ranked teams to make a total of 128 teams playing for 64 places - the 3rd round. These minnows would then go into a drawn with the top 64 ranked teams in the world and like the old European Cup, these teams would them play over two legs, the winner would go back into the pot until there are two teams left who would play a big one-off final. No seeding at all - when the top 64 teams go into the hat, you could get Spain versus Brazil as a 3rd round match.

There are many calling for the lower ranked team to be annexed from world football. Purists who believe that teams like England, Germany and Italy shouldn't be playing teams like Andorra, the Faroe Islands or San Marino, but how else are these small countries ever going to improve if they don't get exposure from the world's top players? 40 years ago, the whipping boys of world football were Iceland; now they might not be qualifying for major competitions, but the football has improved to the stage where the country narrowly missed out for qualifying for Euro 2008. A host of Icelandic footballers ply their trades on the world stage - Eider Gudjohnsen has played for Chelsea, Barcelona, Monaco and Spurs! India is a massive country with an even greater population; consider how improved both the USA and China are at football? USA regularly play in the World Cup and if the country embraced the game like they do their own mickey mouse sports then there's a good argument that they'd be world champions sooner rather than later. If Indians fell in love with football, who can say how they could influence football in the late 21st century?

Football is a global game; minnows need exposure because that helps generate interest, which generates money and community and may well lead to the discovery of hidden talents and eventually world peace. Well, maybe not the last one, but you get the message. Personally I'd love to see Brazil versus American Samoa; if Australia can put 36 goals past the Samoans, can you imagine what a good team could do? It would be no more humiliating than your average reality TV show.

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Two examples of exercises in futility:
Recently I made the error of announcing I'd be writing an essay on a famous TV show that recently finished. 8,000+ words later and I decided it was going nowhere, read like a lurching corpse of a blog entry and probably wouldn't have interested many people.
I also re-read The Stand (mentioned in an earlier entry) and decided to write my definitive take on this masterpiece of a book and the subsequent bollocks that happened after it - namely the Dark Tower. The thing was after nearly twice as many words as my epitaph to Lost, I realised that I'd written everything I'd just written about three years ago for my Comics village column. On re-reading that I realised it was actually better, more precise and wittier.
There's nothing wrong with writing anything; it's practice.
That's my story and I'm sticking to it.

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I went to Leighton Buzzard on Sunday evening. I know there are some strange names for towns all over the country, but I reckon we're blessed with some really eccentric village names in this region. We might not have names that compete with places in Somerset or Devon and Cornwall, but with place names like: Newton Blossomville, Yardley Hastings, Yardley Gobion, Preston Deanery, Marston Trussle, Milton Malsor, Mears Ashby, Clay Coton, and the wonderfully named Clifton Reynes, Grafton Regis and Moreton Pinkney, I think we do ourselves proud.
When I was younger, working in London and driving back and forth almost daily, I let my imagination wander and I'd conjure up scenarios where all these village names were actually people and I'd imagine what kind of people they were with names like that. Mears Ashby had an entire family, including Castle Ashby, Canons Ashby and cold Ashby, plus a distant cousin called Ashby St Ledgers. I always saw Clifton Reynes as some Shakespearian actor from the 30s; Grafton Regis as some tenacious boxer and Moreton Pinkney as a suave Edwardian private detective.
Look, driving 130 miles a day took it's toll. I had to keep myself amused somehow...

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I now have two days off and a weekend to look forward to. The golf will take up a large part of this, but I will find time for beer, more beer and possibly even more beer. I have to go to the post office too. My life can be just so exciting at times...

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