Thoughts 2.21 to 3.07

Thought 3.07: 12 September 2005: Cricketing Heroes, One and All

Today saw history being made. It was the first time that England had won an Ashes series against Australia for far too long. It was the first time in ages that cricket had captured the imagination of not just the fans, like me, but the whole general public, swept along with the tide of the emotions and the whole passion that came with the most eagerly awaited cricket series for some time. And not just because of England's prominence again as a cricketing force over the last few years, but with the recognition of world class players like Shane Warne who would be the ultimate test for England, the scene was set for a summer which will live long in the memories of many people.

After the first Test where England were thrashed, it was all looking doom and gloom, but it's great credit to the English spirit instilled into the whole team that the team stuck together with a real never say die attitude, and it was that attitude, even when the Second Test almost went away from them and the Third despairingly went into a draw, that drove everyone on. It would be too easy to single people out, because all the team really did pull together as one. If someone didn't perform, someone else would do the job, and that was borne out over the five Tests.

And if it was passion you wanted - it was all here, from bowling Australia out for 190 at Lord's, to the hundreds and fifties hit throughout the Tests, to the sheer grit of Andrew Flintoff taking wickets and smashing the ball around with the bat, and even today, Kevin Pietersen's swashbuckling 158 that made the draw more than safe. Every time any England player got a wicket it was as if their life depended on it, every four and six hit with the bat was met with geeing up and keeping each other going at the crease.

I can't begin to describe the pride I feel once again to be English - in a time when the football team have let the side down badly, the cricket team not only have restored the Ashes to their home, but also given people an incentive to go out there, play the game, maybe even watch the players at county level, get more involved, and what's more their down to earth level headedness, the sporting gestures shown by both nations have given the game of cricket a very good reputation as a fair and true spirited game. If only everything was like this - passionate but honest, determined yet never over-aggressive, and fair play to them all. And to the England team, well if they don't get Team of the Year in the BBC Sports Personality Awards this year, I want to know why. Start sending the nominations now folks, because the team have put cricket back on the map.

Thought 3.06: 07 September 2005: Sven Boring Eriksson - It's Time to Sack The Swede

After Wednesday's night despicable performance from all the players who did not demonstrate what it meant to wear the England shirt, questions had to be asked. Yes, there were some awful performances but you can't blame the whole thing on the player, for example being out of their customary position doesn't help and playing in a formation that relies far too much on one lone striker doing the job and losing your potency up front. However, also having far too much attitude of "oh, these are no-ones, we're going to beat them easily" - which you can pinpoint at the players pretty squarely - beggars belief.

Suffice to say of course that I've been extremely unhappy with Sven for some time, but Satuday's game against Wales set the tone. No one knew what they were doing, the game was utterly boring to watch, so much so that I actually turned the television over and watched something else instead. For the avid sports fan I am to do that must tell you just how boring and predictable the tactics were - and something should have changed for Wednesday. But it didn't, and just because it worked with a flukey 1-0 win doesn't mean you can get away with being so lucky twice. And I wouldn't have even brought Michael Owen back into the side either.

I've been saying for over a year or so now, pretty much since Euro 2004, that Sven has been severely over-rated and that it's about time we sacked him. He looked like he didn't have a clue what was going on tonight: and neither did the players. And that for me was the worrying part, he's really really lost it. Hark back to Euro 2004 and it was clear even then that the gameplan relied on Rooney: when he went off injured against Portugal, the substitutions beggared belief and for me it was no surprise that we eventually lost (albeit on penalties).

Eriksson has no idea of what it means to play for England, and what it means to play against your local nations like Wales and Northern Ireland. Ian Wright on BBC1 had it exactly right when he said after the game: "Look what it means to the players, the management and the fans to beat us. That's how passionate we should be and that's how much it should mean to us to beat them!" Never a truer word was spoken. Whilst Eriksson cried in the corner on the touchline (well it seemed like it to me) it was Steve McLaren who was shouting the instructions out. Like, shouldn't that be the other way around?

Sven is passionless, spineless and more interested in chasing women than making the England football team any good. Maybe after the Ashes he should spend a week seeing the England cricket team together, then he'd know what passion and teamwork actually means. Sven will he ever learn? Never, most likely. . I could go on and on, but you get the idea. He doesn't care, he has no idea how to handle players (how many times should he have been brave and dropped Beckham in the last two years I ask you?) and it's clear he's keeping his friends at Chelsea, Arsenal and Manchester United happy - and no one else.

You also pick the best players Sven you clot, not the ones who are necessarily at the so-called big teams. If you actually looked around the Premiership you'll have seen how well Darren Bent is doing at Charlton, no wonder they're having such a great start to the season with him around. I'd have personally put him on up front against Northern Ireland - he looked hungry for desire and actually wants it. And that's the sort of player you want. I'd even take a punt (biased I might be) at Manchester City's Joey Barton in midfield - him and Gerrard, who are good friends, would be a rather tasty hard tackling duo who'd let the flair players get on with it. And he wouldn't lack any passion either, then again you only have to look at his manager, Stuart Pearce for proof of that. Under Kevin Keegan, the team had gone stale and was heading nowhere. After an unlucky first game defeat, Man City went unbeaten in the Premiership for the final 8 games of the season, and pretty much the same bunch of players have got them to second in the Premiership - and now unbeaten for 4 games this season, making it a 12 game run, our best performance in 28 years. Where is the passion that Pearce has and Sven lacks?

Sack Sven now before too much damage is done to the England team, please!

Thought 3.05: 18 June 2005: That annoying frog is a travesty to music

It's been three weeks at number one in the UK with advertising for it reaching total saturation point across every television channel I choose to watch. It's had children humming a tune that they wouldn't have otherwise heard of (and suffice to say that they probably don't even know or care what the original is.) and it's downright annoying. Yes, it's that Crazy Frog with that rendition of Harold Faltermeyer's über-classic "Axel F".

So why is it a travesty to music? Pure and simple: marketing wins over talent. I might not be the most ardent Coldplay fan, but their tune "Speed of Sound" is an excellent track, and one that people seem to like and enjoy. Even the number of units sold that first week for their song just wasn't enough, despite it having all the important things a good tune should have: people playing their own instruments and not miming, proper vocals, an original song, and a composition that smacks of quality. On other hand, a ringtone based on an old tune with the vocals of possibly the most irritating advertised charcter in television history (even the creator of the frog himself is now sick of it, to give you an idea) mashed together in about five minutes and aimed purely at kids who don't realise they're paying three quid plus a week for ringtones they don't want and can't unsubscribe from and so on, just doesn't cut it for me whatsoever.

What's even more upsetting is that it's bringing up kids on believing that the phone ringtone is the next big thing in turns of music and chart success. Well sorry Jamster et al, this doesn't cut it for me. Anyone can create an electronic piece of music in their bedroom if they have enough talent, and someone can easily make a piece which makes a ringtone sound exactly what it is: a pale imitation of the real thing. Ever listened to a "real music" tone on a phone and compared it to a proper recording on a hi-fi rig? There's such a difference, and that difference is explored to the full by those who fully appreciate the effort gone into making proper music, especially if you have a high end DVD-Audio or Super Audio CD recording of the source as well.

I don't care how well a piece of music is marketed, and in a strange way often the amount of hype and saturation is inversely proportional to the quality of the end product. I can see it now in months to come: Nessie the dragon and those bloody annoying chicks coming out with a pop single just for those that are sad enough: it's bad enough with some of the music in today's chart being bland rehashes of old classics (and ruined for the most part) without having companies rip off people paying for the ringtone and then the single based on it. It's just commercialism at its most extortionate and a real insult to the thousands of people who work bloody hard to create music that inspires us.

Thought 3.04: 28 April 2005: The Winner of the General Election Is Apathy

To be brutally honest, I'm already bored of the General Election. Broken promises everywhere, points scoring off the political leaders rather than concentrate on the issues that matter and what they don't seem to focus on for some reason is the unheralded but well worth pointing out issue of candidates standing in your local area that aren't even from the area, so how do they know what you actually want to see happen? Hmm. It's all a bit in your face too, with the UK media in such a frenzy that the news has been taken over with so much coverage it's reached saturation point and the televisions everywhere are being switched off or turned over accordingly. Hell, we're not America and I don't want us to be, with endless debate, smear campaigns and allegations of vote fixing (although the shambolic excuse for a postal vote system might just so that anyway).

But there's not yet been any good reason for me why I should really stick my neck out and vote for one political party over another - simply because apathy reigns and the general member of the public by this point in time just can't be bothered: "They're as bad as each other" you'll hear them say, or that who they voted for last time has let their area down so much that they have no idea who to vote for and will probably not vote at all. Or for that matter they've lost trust for the party leaders of the party they once supported. Who can trust Tony Blair after the whole Iraq thing? Well, I'm not for one, and I'm sure there's plenty of others like me who feels the same. Hence apathy. And hence people just are not bothered any more. They just want the election over with and whoever wins to at least try and make their daily lives a bit more happier.

If I needed to stick my neck out and was asked which party leader I'd consider was the most trustworthy, only one name would spring to mind: Charles Kennedy. Simply because when the whole Iraq thing was going on, he opposed the war and not just that: he actually went to Hyde Park and spoke at the massive anti-war rally, because it was something he and his party believed in. That springs to mind especially with all the smears of trust (or not) that's flying around between the camps of red and blue at the moment. Something you don't need. All you want to know is if your local candidate actually knows the area, knows the people who live there, and is prepared to make life better for you. Local decisions for local people and all that.

So on May 5th, don't be surprised if the polling stations aren't as busy as you think. Everyone's doing something else, escaping the media frenzy, the politicans' lies and what's more, the obsession with everything political at the moment. No one cares anymore!

Thought 3.03: 16 February 2005: Climate Change Finally Begins Here

Today, although you might not realise it, is a very important day in modern history. A day when certain countries of the World are starting to keep their promises and make a start on being much more energy efficient, helping to save the environment, reduce their emissions accordingly, and ensure that it's a better world for future generations. The Kyoto treaty became official for the 141 countries that have pledged to it.

Now you may think that although the treaty's been around for so long, that it was already underway - not so. And it was in part due to Russia signing up that it finally could take off and become just a first step in the fight against global warming and the world becoming a much more hot and less comfortable to live place. And that's what Kyoto is - a first step. But nonetheless let's not underestimate what an important step it is - it's a beginning, a framework, and something that can be built upon and developed so that as time goes by and the needs of the environment grow, so does the commitment of the countries concerned.

While the United States of America's politicans live in a dream world where global warming doesn't exist and where Bush's presidency is partially funded by the oil companies who most pollute and destroy our planet, the rest of the world in most part know the nightmare that's becoming - and by Kyoto becoming live, it basically shows America that the world carries on without them, and that the world's had enough of America claiming it's the world when clearly it's not. Morrissey never spoke a truer word.

But there's hope. Inside America, the views of the general public are not those shared with the major politicians, thankfully. Take the example I read on the BBC website where an 11 year old boy talks about he and his friends' mission to reduce e-waste (ie: old PCs being thrown away in landfill) by recycling them for people who need a computer. Examples like that put the Bush administration to utter shame and show how out of touch some politicians are - although some more are realising now that the threat is real. I can only hope that as the UK hosts the presidency of the G8 nations that Tony Blair gets his head out of George Bush's ass and actually demands that he takes action on his country's immense pollution problem. If Blair's statements about the environment are really going to mean something, he has to make that a priority. Here. And now.

Thought 3.02: 05 January 2005: Real Beauty Is Within, Not A Size 8

Last year, one advertising campaign for me really hit home and hit in the right places. The skin care products made by Dove were being advertised on the likes of buses not by skinny thin models, but by every day women in just white underwear. A few of them really stood out as attractive and beautiful in their own individual way (as beauty should be, of course) and the underlying message of using your woman next door was a refreshing change for beauty products.

It's the end of 2004, and Dove have now gone full on and launched their Campaign for Real Beauty. Using four very different models, they challenge people's perceptions on who models should be, by using a curvy woman, an older woman, an ageing woman with grey hair and a woman with freckles on most of her skin. All of the women's personas really come out in the advertisements, with their smiles emnating their own individual beauty from within. The curvy woman looks particularly sexy, I have to say, and it's good to see again that real women are being used in advertisements, and not stick thin waifs.

There is also a much more positive thing to come out of this. Some people cynically may think it's a front by the owners of the Dove brand to make money on their beauty products, but any advertisement showing a woman as an individual and not a stick has to be praised. There's also much longer term benefits. So many women (especially teenagers, I should add) are size obsessed and seem to have it drummed into them by the media that you have to be a size 8 or 10 to have the nicest clothes, the best looks, the best modelling jobs. If the likes of Dove and those that run the Simply Be catalogue (they do clothes for women of larger sizes, and have three very nice women on the advert) are bucking the trend and showing these teenage girls that size doesn't matter, it's the person that counts, then that has to be a positive.

I think we blokes have something to say here too: for me personally, a woman is beautiful because of the person she is, and how she projects herself. I've dated curvier and older women, and I know when I've dated them, I've always had a nice time with them because their beauty shows radiant from their smiles, how they've made me laugh, how they've made me feel special. And that's beauty too. Let's not forget that. I think also as teenage boys grow up, although their mind is partially focussed on getting a girl and having a nice time with them and forging a first relationship, it doesn't mean we all have to slobber over the skinny thin Kate Moss lookalike does it? Maybe the parents out there can help their children realise that, and if the likes of Dove are setting a new trend, then I'm all for it. Join their campaign, and see just how our perceptions are those run by media.

Thought 3.01: 06 December 2004: Goodbye Anelka

Well, another day, another interview by Manchester City's Nicolas Anelka in the French press, and another load of quotes which basically say that he wants to play for a bigger team and play in the Champions League. Now in the past he's had to defend himself against such comments, but to be honest, this latest episode is just one that broke the camel's back for some fans. Yes, there's nothing wrong with stating that you're ambitious and you want to play at the highest level. And there isn't anything wrong with saying you'd like to be there sooner rather than later. However, this comment: "My objective is to give my maximum for City in order to find a big club." really hits home. Basically he only wants to play well to act as a shop window for himself to end up at the likes of Barcelona.

Well, if that's your view, Nicolas, fine. You need to apologise to the Manchester City fans and reassure us all that all the statements were taken out of context, that you didn't mean it, and that you want to achieve things with City. Because at the moment that's not how it seems - not to anyone who's read between the lines of your comments. You wouldn't see the same behaviour from those players who know what it means to pull on the sky blue shirt with pride - you'd see them give 110% every game and really show the fans that they mean business. Shaun Wright-Phillips I'm sure could have gone to the likes of Arsenal, but his commitment to the City cause has always been first class, he's wanted to stay and he's wanted to play, so much so that even Manchester United fans are saying he should be playing for England. And when Shaun Goater was playing for City, he didn't want to leave until Keegan basically bought the likes of Robbie Fowler and basically forced him out. Shaun was also 110% committed, hence he's still regarded by many as a bona fide City legend.

The same cannot be said of Anelka - it's now clear what his motives are, and I'm sure that the board and Kevin Keegan will be looking to offload him in January and raise some funds to buy some players who actually want to come to City and play for the team. Yes, Nicolas, note that sentence. Because you don't. And your latest episode has only shown your true colours - they're not sky blue, as much as we'd have liked them to be.

Thought 2.26: 18 November 2004: Aragonés, be gone!

Last night I was subject to an appalling display of racism by a section of the Spanish football fans during the Spain-England friendly, a game that was anything but. Every time the likes of Ashley Cole got the ball, there was constant chanting in the background. This was made even worse when Shaun Wright-Phillips came on as substitute, where I was utterly appalled to hear the likes of monkey noises made constantly every time he touched the ball. To be fair to Shaun (and Jermaine Jenas, who also took a fair bit of flak) they carried on and ignored it, and showed a lot of maturity. However, it's a sign of the times when there are still people out there who haven't yet realised that we've moved on from the dark ages. As Mark Lawrenson excellently put in the BBC commentary: "exactly what year are we in, again?"

And although racism is still a problem in football across the world (and I'll be the first to admit that although in England we've made good progress, more needs to be done) - the problem in Spain is only aggravated further by their current manager, Luis Aragonés, who quite clearly has the habit of either saying the wrong thing at the wrong time, or not saying anything at all to fuel the fire. Back in October he apparently used certain language to motivate Jose Antonio Reyes to get the better of his Arsenal team mate, Thierry Henry (Spain were playing France) by calling Henry a somewhat racist name that I really don't want to repeat here. Suffice to say, and rightly, the world media were somewhat outraged and demanded an apology from Aragonés. Although the Spanish authorities apologised, Aragonés never perosnally apologised to Henry, which was sickening, and England even considered withdrawing from the friendly last night in protest.

However, in training on Tuesday, England wore their "let's kick racism out of football" t-shirts that you'll have seen most players wear up and down the country, to make their point but make it in a fair way. Indeed before Wednesday's game there was a banner clearly showing a positive message that racism isn't welcome. Shame the so-called "fans" didn't respect that and really laid into certin players with their pathetic excuses for a chant. And the under 21 team also faced the same abuse too the night before, which was bang out of order. And what does Aragonés do? Accuse England and bring up the past (which to be honest, I'm not proud of - colonisation et al). However, why didn't he just say that he didn't condone any of the chants and say how appalled he was? No, instead he's inflamed the situation. He's made it worse.

For that reason, I hope the Spanish FA, when they have their re-elections later this month, elect people who are commited to the cause of football, and not racism, and who will not give free tickets out to right wing "Ultra" fans who are racists, and indeed who will not condone a manager who refuses to refute the indefensible. He should be gone, and that would help alleviate the problem a little.

Thought 2.25: 27 October 2004: RIP John Peel, The Real Music Man

Yesterday 26th October was a sad day for all of us who believe in music and who also believe that an alternatie exists to the mainstream droll and bland stuff that dominates the charts. John Peel, was to put it bluntly, one of the most important musical figures who wasn't in a band. His DJing career spanned a very long time indeed, and he was always championing bands whom deserved recognition and praise for their work. In the 60s, he gave the Jimi Hendrix Experience a session. They blew the place off. Then they got big. And they never forgot John either - he was immortalised with the band on the famous and rare "puppet" sleeve of the Band of Gypsys album. He even played on Top of the Pops doing the mandolin when Rod Stewart sang Maggie May, and he was always at the forefront.

Yet despite that, he was always a man of his own rules, always defying convention and in some strange ways, also defining it. When he incessantly played the Undertones' "Teenage Kicks" (which led to be his favourite song of all time) people started to notice, the record charted and the band were on their way. Punk was also being championed a lot, but not just punk. He believed in then a small Manchester band by the name of Joy Division. The rest is history - Joy Division became a classic band, their Unknown Pleasures album possibly one of the best debut albums ever, and Peel was the first to announce to the world the very sad loss of Ian Curtis from the band. When the remaining members formed New Order, he gave them sessions and so that their new sound could be projected to the newer audiences, and the rest is history. New Order became massive in their own right, and for Peel's 60th birthday the band recorded Joy Division's "Transmission" especially for his birthday show, which showed their gratitude enormously. Think where Morrissey would be now without Peel Sessions of the Smiths, and so on and so on.

I can't describe enough how much he meant to people all around the world who cared about music and really gave two fingers to the establishment at the same time. The perfect voice over for BBC2's "Grumpy Old Men" (not least as one himself in the nicest possible way) and branching out into Radio 4 territory and winning awards, he was a man of many talents and a man who'd listen to every demo he received just in case the next big thing was out there. The world is a much sadder place without him.

Thought 2.24: 21 October 2004: The Great Concert Ticket Booking Fee Robbery

I've always been an advocate of booking your concert tickets direct at the venue if possible. Why? Well from early on I realised that by doing that, going to the University, the Apollo, or the Arena, you paid face value for the ticket, and no booking fee. None. At all. Certainly it at least makes you feel that you've paid what it says for, and nothing else. Unfortunately, many concerts these days go by sale on the phone only, and usually the band's management have licenced tickets out to one or two agencies, which means that they can charge whatever booking fees they like on top for arrangement, processing, postage etc etc. Fine to a point, but there's a point where it should really stop in terms of cost.

To give you an example, the tickets for Morrissey's MEN Arena concert date went on sale. I had the phone plugged in by the PC and I was ringing up ticket agencies as well as visiting ticketing web sites to see what the state of play was. Eventually, I got through to Ticketmaster on the web and managed to locate two tickets. The tickets were £27-50 each. But then when I added up the remaining booking fees etc that they were charging, the ticket costs were almost £10 more in total, making a whacking £65 instead of £55 for the ticket costs. Now that's £5 per ticket, around 18% extra on top of the ticket price. Not very good really. But it's also the fact that for some high profile events, you just have to do that, or miss out, which is bad.

And recently I was notified that tickets would go on sale early for Pop Will Eat Itself fans and subscribers to the Clint at the Controls mailing lists. Anyway, they went on sale and I almost hit the roof at the costs. The ticket was £15, very reasonable. But the ticket agency wanted a grand total of £7-75 booking fees - just for the one ticket! That's a cost of some 50% extra on top. Now I thought that was bloody scandalous and way out of order, so I bided my time and waited till the venue themselves sold it through Ticketweb, which meant a lower fee of £3-30, still not great at some 22% on top, but much better than it could be.

The question is: should this not be regulated in some way? For those people who attend concerts who are most likely going to sell out, sometimes phone and Internet is their only option, especially if they can't go to the booking office directly. And why should they be so disadvantaged by paying such rip off prices for booking fees? Surely the admission charge itself reflects the artist that you're going to see, without such extra pricing on top to make it much more expensive as well. I think it definitely needs regulating so that only a maximum percentage per ticket can be charged as a booking fee, which would include postage costs as well for the ticket so that it makes things fair for everyone involved. Then you know straight and up front what the maximum is and you can budget for that. I would say, bearing in mind that some credit card companies charge the agencies for processing their transactions, that around 10-12% maximum should be sufficient. It would be fair, and it also wouldn't then matter which agency you used if they all charged roughly the same, would it?

I think that if any Government decided to include this in legislation, a lot of music fans up and down the country would be very thankful indeed, and that they may even be able to afford to go to more concerts because of it, making live music both enjoyable and affordable. Maybe it's only a small thing, but little things mean a lot to different people and as a regular concert goer, I know that no matter how good a band plays, things like pricing always make you consider if you really want to see them, and that you have to take into account the great British booking fee rip off.

Thought 2.23: 15 September 2004: Boddington's - The Cream of Manchester, Nowhere Else

As you may have heard in the press recently, the unique brewery in Manchester that brews the perfect pint of proper cask conditioned, no press a button shite Boddingtons, is being closed down by the company that owns it, Interbrew. In a quite incredulous interview, the American chief of Interbrew explained the usual PR spiel, financial sense and all that. More like profit before consumer choice and the wishes of the people, that's what I reckon. A promise made by Interbrew two years ago that production of Boddington's cask ales would remain in Manchester at the Strangeways brewery has been proven to be nothing more than a lie.

Boddington's is a brew made in Manchester, drunk by people all over the world who know it as The Cream of Manchester. If you've ever been to one side of the city centre the brewery is a landmark all of its own, and has been there since 1778. Do Interbrew not consider the history, the popularity, the taste of this ale? Of course they don't. They'd rather you drunk a horrible global brand like Stella Artois or other lager rubbish that simply doesn't compare to the taste of proper real ale. They'd also like to eliminate the production of cask as they see the brewery as a waste of their money. So why the hell did they buy it then?

One thing's for sure: like last time, we real ale drinkers aren't taking this one lying down. If you care about a piece of Mancunian history and indeed a proper drink, then head over to the Save The Cream website and sign the petition. Do your bit too and avoid the likes of Stella and Beck's, a) cos they're made by Interbrew, and b) cos they're horrible anyway. You've got to get your Boddies down you, you know where it's at!

Thought 2.22: 16 August 2004: Where's Everybody Gone?

The Olympic Games are on television and a world watches athletes being supreme in the sports that they're in and trying their best, beating their personal bests, national records and even World records as nations compete and everyone is friendly for two weeks. What makes it a very nice occasion is all the cameraderie, all the competition and the atmosphere and the crowd and..

.. crowd? What crowd? Having watched the first few days coverage, one thing stood out for me. The complete lack of people there. Everyone was expecting bumper crowds, stadia full to capacity with masses of crowds cheering on the athletes. But whether it be apathy or whatever, ticket sales have been around 40-50% maximum, and in a 11,000 seater tennis arena, only a mere 300 saw Tim Henman lose his first round match. That's utterly appalling, and it makes you woder what the cause of it could be. Tickets too expensive? Lack of interest in some sports? Maybe.

But (and here's the but) we have two yard sticks of comparison: the Sydney Olympics in 2000, and the Commonwealth Games in Manchester in 2002. Both used a similar approach in terms of getting volunteers to help out and really feel part of the event and give the nation that pride and feeling. Both also pegged their ticket prices at sensible levels so that everyone could reasonably afford them, which also made it so that the public might check out sports they might not otherwise have had a passing interest in. The result? Full capacity venues up and down the sports concerned, and a full stadium means plenty of support and encouragement all round for the athletes. I went to a few different sports at the Commonwealth Games - and all were full. The Manchester Evening News arena was surprisingly full for the netball early group stages - which goes to show that interest can be gained if tickets are cheap. People will maybe be inquisitve and try it out (and there's also the fact you can cheer on your home nations of course). Australia too embraced the Olympics with efficiency and also friendliness, and they were rightly proud of their achievements in that the atmosphere was excellent, it came across to the viewer, and not only that - it had moments to be truly a great occasion.

Olympics coming home - says the Athens banner. To an empty crowd, says me. Be interesting to see if the athletics (which is considered the major sport at the Games) actually sells out or not. Might be the only one that does. Still for now there's the "spot the face in the crowd" game you can play when watching the television. It is worrying, all that emptiness, and it needs to be looked at. How can a sportsman or woman achieve their ultimate best with no encouragement?

Thought 2.21: 26 July 2004: Move over, Darling

Well there was one thing that caught my eye in the news that week, and it's something that has angered a high majority of the Manchester population. And with good reason. The Transport Secretary, Alistair Darling, announced that any funding for the expansion of Manchester's Metrolink tram system would be scrapped, thereby basically sounding the death knell for the expansion plans of the system (possible cost: up to £800m-£1bn), amid claims of increased costs way beyond projection and such like.

Yet (and this is one thing that upset people who wanted trams in Liverpool and Leeds too) the Government sees it fit to promise a massive £10 billion for the Cross Rail rail link, which would link the West and East of London. Yes, I didn't make a typo. Ten billion pounds. While public transport in London maybe isn't perfect, it's better than most of the country, and the Central Line underground railway actually serves most of the purpose that Cross Rail would do, and serves it well. While London is very large and people do need transportation, the one word of caution is that £10 billion is only the projected cost now. However if it spirals out of control no doubt in some people's eyes that the Government will bail it out.

These sort of statements from a Government who lost my vote many years ago only serves to show how much it is out of touch with the rest of the country, and indeed the needs of public transport users across the country. Yes, people do want more environmentally friendly ways of getting around, and yes they do want to be able to access them regardless of disability (a key note: all Metrolink tram stations are always accessible for disabled people) and no, they don't want to rely on the car for everything and pump more pollution left, right and centre. The schemes in Liverpool and Leeds to get their trams up and running, although ambitious, were well thought out, and would serve the citizens of those cities with another transportation option too.

Manchester's expansion has been planned for years, and when the Government promised money would be available to fund the expansion, the work got underway. Houses that would be along the lines were compulsarily purchased by the local council, inconveniencing some residents, but for some of them there were also the benefits it'd bring eventually. Tunnels and bridges were built to facilitate the new line. Manchester Airport's train and bus station had a major facelift so that it would also be acting as a tram interchange as well in the future years, and in total an intiail £200million or so was spent getting everything ready to lay the track and the stations, and get on with the job of providing top quality transport for many suburban areas. The expansion would have served the towns of Oldham, Rochdale and Ashton-under-Lyne, as well as many South Manchester suburbs like Chorlton, Didsbury, and (much needed for this area) Wythenshawe. It would have also served the Sportcity complex and the City of Manchester Stadium. When you think how many fans Metrolink would have carried to and from Manchester City's home games, concerts at the stadium, and other events like the UK Athletics Trials, it's clear to see that from just that one example economically it would have not only been sound but a lot of common sense, easing congestion and assuring safe transport for many people.

What now? Well, in one misguided swoop, after many promises from certain ministers, including John Prescott, who only in 2002 re-assured Manchester City Council that it would be getting £520 million, as promised, to finish the job off) all those promises have proven false and counted for nothing. A Government that is supposed to care about the environment and public transport have eliminated the chances to prove its mettle in one stroke, not just affecting Manchester, but people in Sheffield, Leeds, Liverpool and Blackpool, whose historic trams could well close within the next five years due to funding for new trams also being refused by Darling. And yet the money is available for London - and Cross Rail isn't even going to be ready if London were awarded the 2012 Olympic Games!

Frankly, it's an utter disgrace. We, the public, are sick of being lied to. We are sick of false promises of a better tomorrow being given. We are sick and tired of claiming that public transport is better than ever. We are sick of the politicans saying that supposed North/South divide doesn't exist as much anymore. And we are sick to the back teeth of that puppet for Bush, Tony Blair, and his cronies, deciding what will score them the most points rather than answering the needs of the people. As for Alistair Darling? He lives in Edinburgh and approved a tram project in Edinburgh that will benefit him but not most of the local people, who don't want or need a service there. Double standards? You bet. And I have a funny feeling at the next local election, people will vote with their feet. Be warned, Blair. We want you out. And Darling? Move over. Resign or be sacked for your actions. The people of Manchester will not rest until the expansion takes place.