Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Madness, Haydock Park, 20 July 2013

I've always had a soft spot for Madness. Back at Raeburn Primary School in the late 1970s, you were either a mod (you liked The Specials, The Jam and Madness) or a trogg (you liked Rainbow and Status Quo - we were all a bit too young for really heavy stuff).

I was the former, which I proved by wearing a Harrington jacket every day, no matter the weather.

We weren't really old enough to be into LPs, but I had a load of singles.Someone bought me Start by The Jam for my 11th birthday and I picked up Do Nothing/Maggie's Farm by The Specials from the record stall in Birkenhead Market that sold ex-juke box discs with the middle bit popped out.

And Embarrassment by Madness was the first record I ever queued up to buy. I can remember waiting at the door of Damar records in Bromborough, brimming with ridiculous excitement at the prospect of getting my hands on the follow up to Baggy Trousers.

So I was made up on Saturday night when, straight from their trademark One Step Beyond opener, Suggs & Co launched straight into their ode to the pregnant teenager. It sounded as good as it did 30 years ago.

It's amazing that this is the first time I have ever seen the band live, given that I've liked them all these years. I suppose it's that I 'like' them, not worship them in the creepy way I've followed The Waterboys and a few others over time.They're neither in fashion, nor out of fashion. They're just Madness - or so I thought.

I had to revise that opinion on Saturday. Live, they are just magnificent. There were nine band members on stage, creating a kind of  Ska Pop hybrid supported by 20,000 backing singers. By the time the Madness/Night Boat to Cairo double-headed encore was done, you could feel a mad, jubilant energy fizzing around the racecourse. I've been to Haydock many, many times - mostly to see the racing but also to see bands occasionally - I honestly don't believe the old course has ever been bouncing in the same way it was this weekend.

It was a different crowd too. Haydock has hosted big names in the past few years. They're not my cup of tea but I'm sure Simply Red and Tom Jones pulled the punters in - just not these ones. Most of the people there were blokes, about my age, about my weight and about my waist size. There were a few baldies, a few skinheads and a few crewcuts. There were lots of pork pie hats and, most certainly, not a hippy in sight.

For most of them - and it includes me - the whole night was a chance to forget you were a 40 something bloke with a paunch - and jump around to Bed and Breakfast Man like you were still a teenager. The main reminder of what a rash decision that was came the next morning, when I could hardly walk.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Tranmere Rovers 1 Swindon Town 3, League One, 19 February 2013

A couple of months ago I was lucky enough to be given a ticket to attend the North West Football Awards. It's a great event where, among other things I shook hands and had a brief chat with Fabrice Muamba. What a nice man he is, honestly.

On my table I was wedged between Dennis Tueart on my left and Tony Barrett on my right. Dennis was nice enough to me, putting up with my inane chit chat, but Tony was ace. I apologised to him at one point for virtually pinning him to the floor with football conversation but he was having none of it. He loves it and can't think of a better way of spending an evening than talking about the game.

He told me he was due to write a piece on Tranmere and wondered what I thought his angle might be. I suggested he might look at how the loan system makes the lower leagues a very strange place to follow football sometimes. Sometimes even season ticket holders can't name all the players on the pitch, such are the irregular comings and goings.

That thought sprung to mind on Tuesday when, despite lots of huffing and puffing, our defeat to Swindon had a sense of inevitability about it.

Let's remember, Tranmere went until late October without losing a game. I remember us being nine points clear at the top at one point, yet the Swindon game saw us lose our third successive home fixture.

It's hardly surprising though. The team that shone so brightly at the start of the season has been decimated. Our most effective players have all vanished. Wallace, who is brilliant, is out until the end of the season. Akpo Akpro has been injured too and then got himself suspended almost as soon as he came back. Bell Baggie, who I really like, shone for ten minutes when he came on as a sub on Tuesday but has been injured too.

But the biggest gaps have clearly been at centre back and centre forward. Jake Cassidy was brilliant at the start of the season and scored for fun. Being on a half season loan deal meant we had to send him back to Wolves in January though, because he was playing too well.

And, Wallace aside, the best player in the team for me was centre back Ben Gibson, who we had on a half season loan deal from Middlesbrough. He was superb for us and made Ash Taylor up his game. He too got injured though and has ended up back at Boro.

So in my mind it's no surprise we've fallen off the pace. The spine of our team has disappeared for one reason or another. Fon Williams in goal is off form. Gibson (loan) at centre back was sitting at home in Middlesbrough. Central midfielder Palmer (another on loan signing, this time from Sheff Weds) was suspended and Cassidy (loan) was back at Wolves.

My thinking is fuzzy over the whole thing really. The loan system certainly served us well in the first half of the year, but it's easy to see how it can leave you a shadow of a team later in the season. When you think how precarious it is to rely on loan players in so many key positions, which we have done, it's hardly surprising that a team that was miles clear at the end of October can now look as if they've got a real struggle on to even make the play-offs.

At the time of writing it looks like Gibson is on his way back to us for a second loan spell and we've also got some lad from Stoke City on a temporary basis. Hopefully it works out, but it's not how things used to be.

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Kingsway - Voodoo

One of the lads in work plays guitar in a band called The Kingsway. He sent me a link to their Soundcloud page last week but I've only just got round to listening to it. I like them, although I think I might be getting a bit old for all that noisy guitar music stuff these days. Voodoo is my favourite track of the three that have been uploaded so far.

Guitarist Tom is from Warrington (although he supports Arsenal for some strange reason). I had a chat with him on a work night out the other week and it turns out that one of his close mates is Mrs H's cousin.It really is a small world.

The singer out of Starsailor is managing the band I believe. Have a listen.

Tranmere Rovers 0, Shrewsbury 2, League One, 15th February 2013

Message to Sky TV. Please keep away from Prenton Park. Every time you turn up, we lose. It's nice to have the money but you're not helping, honestly.

Message to Tranmere Rovers. Entry for a fiver is a lovely gesture but please don't do it again. Every time you do, we play really poorly (Yeovil last year? MK Dons?). The 'new' 'fans' we manage to pull through the turnstiles with this promotion are probably put off for life.

Message to me: What on earth were you doing thinking Tranmere might get promoted? And, even if you thought it, why the hell did you have to go and say so? That tempting fate has probably secured us seventh place at the end of the season. It is all your fault.


Sunday, February 10, 2013

So many Skylander Giants, so little time

Do you remember having money as a kid and being totally free to spend it exactly as you wanted, without any input from your mum and dad? It felt like unbelievable freedom, but choosing what to blow your cash on was truly painful - even more painful than actually handing the money over.

That was kid 3 (a.k.a. Adam) today. Somehow, and I really don't know how, he's ended up with a ten pound note of his own. My guess is that he must have saved up his tooth fairy stash, having lost all his front teeth recently.

Skylander Giants are his thing at the moment and he decided he was going to spend his cash on a new figure. The trouble was, there were so many to choose from. I swear we could have spent all day in the toy shop today, waiting for him to make his mind up.

He got there in the end and came away with Stealth Elf and £1.01 change from his tenner. Of course, just to prove he takes after his dad, the ones he could afford, weren't really the ones that he wanted. He wanted something more expensive. The Skylander Giants he was really after were £20 and grumpy old dad wouldn't stump up the difference.


Hey, doesn't make me a bad person, OK?

Tuesday, February 05, 2013

Subbuteo Art

This blog called Subbuteo Art is quite funny. The bloke behind it uses Subbuteo figures to illustrate different events in football history.

This week he seems to have been occupied keeping up with events in the transfer window, creating new designs of Beckham in a PSG kit and Mad Mario as an AC Milan player.

I'm a little bit more taken with some of his more controversial designs though. I think he's done one of Cantona jumping into the crowd at Crystal Palace back in the mid 90s, which is quite funny, but I laughed out loud when I saw this one of Edin Hazard getting all tangled up with a Swansea ballboy. As a concession to Pat Nevin, you can even see the incident from all sides.

Sunday, February 03, 2013

Strike a Pose: The Fashion of Football

The ex-NME writer Paolo Hewitt and his sometime writing partner Mark Baxter were at the National Football Museum this week to give a talk as part of the museum's Strike a Pose season. The talk was to coincide with a new exhibition, looking back on 50 years of football and fashion.

Quite a few people turned up to listen to the two blokes talk about a book called The Fashion of Football: From Best to Beckham, from mod to label slave, which they wrote together ten years ago.

The talk focused a bit more on the snappily dressed players of the past few decades rather than terrace fashion, but it was interesting all the same. The two speakers conjured up some great tales about the likes of Bobby Moore and Alan Hudson dressing to impress in a 1960s London that was the fashion centre of the world at that time.

The authors dated players' increased interest in looking good back to the abolition of the maximum wage. For the best of them, Saville Row suits were no longer out of reach as wages began to climb. What started with Dougie Hayward ended up with Beckham in a sari.

The talk did turn eventually to the clothes worn by fans on the terraces and there are some great displays in the Museum's own exhibition to jog your memory about some of the 'must have' clobber young men were desperate to get their hands on in the 1980s.

One point that was discussed was where music fitted into the equation over the years. Paolo Hewitt thought that the 'casuals' (his term) was the first post-war fashion movement among young men that wasn't associated with music. Unlike teddy boys, punks, skinheads etc, casuals didn't have a type of music as part of their DNA.

I wasn't persuaded of that. Kevin Sampson's Away Days book would contradict that view and I'm pretty sure there was a massive crossover between the Saturday afternoon football crowd of the 1980s and rave culture, in the North West of England at least.

During the Q&A, someone asked the inevitable question about which modern day footballers have style and which were the biggest fashion boobs of the past. Chris Waddle's mullet came in for a fair amount of stick, as did the half-baked Miami Vice look he and Glenn Hoddle adopted for Diamond Lights.

Naming a modern day footballer who looks the part off the pitch proved to be a bit harder though.Aside from the ubiquitous Beckham, they really struggled to come up with  someone who might match the style icons of yesteryear. Scott Parker was the only current player they could name.