Sunday, 25 August 2013

Just when I think I'm out, they pull me back in........

Ah Celtic. My first love. I used to obsess over your ups and downs, even during the difficult teenage years in the early 1990's (when some very different ups and downs competed diligently for my hormone addled attention). In those heady pre-internet days, I'd buy two, sometimes three newspapers in the vain hope that some urine soaked hack would concoct the one rumour (or outright falsehood) that my peer group hadn't yet heard. Finding these nuggets was akin to finding a lump of gold the size of Paul Byrne's arse (ask your father) during the California gold rush. You were immediately conferred with the kind of sagacious status that Yoda took centuries to acquire, and could bask in it until the inevitable denial of said nonsense was published the following day. I even dialled those hellish 'team-talk' style phone lines once or twice. It would have been cheaper to phone a sex line; that said, I did get shafted.

Then came my own flirtation with newspaper journalism, whereupon my innocence was stripped away with the kind of glee that would have made me an internet sensation a few years later (had I been an attractive young lady). Nothing to print? 45 minutes till deadline? No problem. Your source said A would sign for B, no matter that the source was a guy you made small-talk with at a urinal just before closing time the previous Friday. Or, the advanced technique, A will sign for B, resulting in C being moved on (ideally against Cs wishes) to D and so on.

Best case scenario; if you've employed some logical guesswork, you might get lucky, and it might actually happen! Worst case; it doesn't happen, and the same source can buy you another day of gainful employment by explaining why. Winner, winner, chicken dinner. Two by-lines, no-one gets hurt.

Despite this insight, I continued my mild obsession with Celtic by frantically refreshing News-now every three or four minutes in the early Noughties, then progressing to the present day, where, for reasons I can't fully explain, I still follow dozens of Celtic related accounts.

But here's the rub; I don't think I really care anymore. I don't attend matches, nor do I even subscribe to sports packages so I can watch matches from the sofa. And, as someone who used to attend matches, I'm aware that this admission strips a lot of credibility away. I was always suspicious of the part-timers and gave little credibility to their opinions.

For example, there was a book published not long after Fever Pitch created a demand for football themed life stories, entitled 'Not Playing for Celtic'. Now, apart from the fact that the author was an elitist hack, who, among other things, equated the tendency to rape your kids with poverty, he made a statement that immediately caused me to register my disgust in the most primal way possible; I farted in shock. It was along the lines that he had stopped watching Celtic not because of some geographical or financial restriction, but because he had deemed the side to be, well, shite. This blew my mind! You didn't stop going because your team was bad; them being bad, and you still going was a badge of honour! Pumped by Rangers on the Sunday? Hoops on for the Monday. Beaten by Caley on the Wednesday? Ignore all your colleagues at work the next day while loudly making plans to attend Dens park on the coming Saturday.

So, that said, why should you listen to me? Well, for one, I'm not trying to convince you of the relative merits of one player or system versus another, or waxing lyrical about the Green Brigade. I'm simply saying that after years of self imposed apathy, I can't help myself. I still care.

It infuriates me when I see how the support have been reduced to customers. Fergus McCann tried that a few years ago, and was pounced on with the kind of fervour that an E3 attendee gave to Microsoft after the Xbox One unveiling (see, I have contemporary references too). We all went to great lengths to convince Mr McCann that we were special, a community, not to be thought of in terms of a paying customer base, but as contributors to a cause (no, not that cause; sit down Mr Murphy). Now, we sell the spine of our team (Centre Half, Centre Midfield and Centre Forward) and people commend Celtic on their good business strategy.


As Bob Paisley once said, your assets should be on the pitch.

Selling may be inevitable at times, but it shouldn't be the business model of a purportedly big and ambitious club. Buying cheap and selling high is how Aldi operate; not Harrods. And while Celtic may not be at the top table anymore, in no small part due to the Sky generation sending wages and costs obscenely high, nor do they belong in the bargain basement. Peter Lawell is selling Celtic's fans a pig in a poke while collecting an annual bonus that could keep Robbie Savage in spray tan for the rest of his life (or a fortnight, whatever).

Anyway, let this be a salutary lesson to you all; there is no escape. You may drift away for a few years, you may even consider this to be growth, but somewhere, in the darkest recesses of your mind, you're still a supporter. As some daftie opines at the end of Ghost; the love doesn't die, you take it with you.
Y'know, not after death, but if you move to the Central belt and have a couple of weans. Ken.
Bollocks to this; I'm digging out my scarf and going on Wednesday. Up yours Shaktar Handy Mannie, or whoever the hell you are; I'm bringing it old school this week! As long as rebel songs, foul language, smoking, rampant homophobia and sexism are still OK, I'll be sound as a pound!


Sunday, 7 July 2013

Why I'm choosing Xbox One next generation

I read recently that two of the most consistent regrets of the dying are that they should have had more sex, and that they wish they had worked less. This proves two things to me; one, that no-one ever surveys dying prostitutes, and two, that I may become the first person to wish I had played more video games on my deathbed.

It's a kind of bittersweet thing to me that fatherhood has given me great joy, while making me compromise on some of the things I thought I was passionate about in my twenties. Drinking, I don't miss (least of all the days after), smoking, powerful, seductive addiction that it is, still preys on my mind but is largely consigned to the past, football (of the non-US variety) has become little more than an occasional distraction, but video games as a passion and a joy, have endured. This may be a marriage of convenience admittedly; it's easier to grab a 30 minute session with The Last Of Us after the kids are asleep than it would be to, for example, choke down six beers and travel 30 miles to watch a Champions League match, but I think it's more than that.
Convenience, for example, doesn't explain the excitement I feel about the new generation of consoles, nor the fact that I can now more passionately (if not more eloquently) debate the merits of Live versus Plus more readily than I could Bundesliga versus La Liga.

While we're on that subject, let me say this; Xbox Live is a quality, pioneering service (abundance of arseholes aside) which I subscribed to for years. PS Plus strikes me as a very progressive, well thought out reaction to piracy on the Playstation 3. It seems to me that someone at Sony looked at what gamers were getting out of 3.55 piracy, which by and large was the ability to play games diskless from your HDD, and reacted to that with a low cost, legitimate alternative. The love for PS Plus among the console gaming community is unquestionable. I'm not forgetting Linux, nor the attraction to some of no-cost versus low-cost, but let's be realistic, Sony are in the business to make money. They've reacted to the catastrophic security breach by giving us an improved service. Microsoft on the other hand, have spent much of the last decade making Live, and Xbox in general, more restrictive. Is there any reason why Sony can allow movies to be ripped to your console, but MS won't? I've never read a satisfying explanation and it all seems to amount to, MS don't dig it. The recent decision by MS to give games free with Gold is a poor imitation, reminiscent of an 80 year old smoker switching to filter tips; too little, too late.
Then there's the recent Xbox One announcement debacle. Way to make Sony look awesome by virtue of not being you, MS. Because, fundamentally, the conversation could and perhaps should have been about MS taking a bold new direction, legitimising diskless play and future proofing your investment, while highlighting that Sony have just shoved a rocket up the arse of the PS3 to make it bigger, better, faster, more.

Instead, the lack of courage that MS are feeling as a company came to the fore. The subsequent  about turns have repaired some of the PR damage, but to my mind, diminished the credibility of MS. Get the message across better, don't push the panic button and do a volte face when confronted by some (OK, shitloads) of negative opinion. (Incidentally, see also Windows 8 and every tablet MS has produced so far).

But here's the rub; I'm switching from Playstation 3 to Xbox One this November, despite the messy, clunky, contradictory messages from MS. Why? Well I may be unique in this, but I think motion control will be important over the course of the next generation. And I think Sony have blundered by not mandating that the camera is an integral part of their vision. What good is that to developers? It's like first generation Kinect all over again; big hitters will ignore it as they can't be certain that their audience has it, and in an era of huge budgets, no one wants to chance excluding huge chunks of their customer base. Developing for Xbox One is a less risky proposition; you want to include a section in the game where the gamer has to dance around like a drunk ninja in front of the TV? Sure, go nuts.

Let's not forget also that swiping your hand Minority Report style at the TV to navigate menus is, well, awesome. Likewise, landing on my sofa and telling (TELLING!)  my console to turn on, well, that's arguably less awesome, but still pretty cool.

I suspect that MS have a few surprises up their sleeve before November's launch. They've been pretty quiet recently, adopting a few defensive postures, but more or less letting Sony have the ball. But they're too big to fail, and, not that I'm a financial whizz kid or anything, it seems that they have money to throw at their projects, to a far greater extent than their rivals. Sony have made some smart, if conservative choices, but I think they suffer from short termism, and a big helping of schadenfreude post E3.

The long term battle for my living room will be won by Microsoft. Just don't judge me too harshly if you see me dancing in front of my TV at midnight; I can only play after the kids have gone to bed you see.....

Thursday, 2 August 2012

A taste of Hollywood glamour.

So, after being sworn to secrecy for a number of years, I've finally been released from my oath, and can share with you a fantastic anecdote about international movie star, Michael Caine.

This story was given to me in absolute confidence by his (one time) personal assistant, and I know it to be absolutely true.

Ready? Here goes.

So picture the scene. It's the tail end of the swinging sixties. In some glamorous LA location or another, the great, the good and the beautiful have gathered. It's the social event of the season. Stars of TV, film, music and stage rub shoulders, vying for attention, competing to outdo one another.

As the evening develops, things, as they often do, get a little more outrageous. And then a little more. And so on.

Our hero, the ultra cool Mr Caine, at the peak of his state-side pulling power after the success of Zulu and Alfie, has a new starlet on his arm, and is in no mood to look like a shrinking violet. They get into the party with gusto, inventing drinking games, singing, dancing - you get the picture.

But then someone got horny.

And someone, we'll never know who, suggested an orgy. Apparently, this wasn't so unusual in Hollywood prior to the AIDS panic of the eighties. Those who were into the scene found a corner of the house and began setting ground rules. Mr Caine, in exchange for Lord knows what, agrees to his lady companion joining a famous rock band. However, being an English gentleman, he decrees that their encounter should stop short of full, penetrative sex. Disappointed, but accustomed to Mr Caine's foibles, the rockers agree, and everyone adjourns to their own private party.

Now here's where it gets interesting. Michael, having sated his desire, had a couple of drinks, and generally been very polite, eventually grows impatient and goes looking for his girlfriend and the rock band.

Imagine his surprise when he finally located her, happy as Larry, in a room, on her knees, having clearly pleasured not only the band, but a number of other men, and women, from the party.

Michael stood flabbergasted, taking the scene in. No one spoke. The next, and most important line it seemed, would go to Michael.

'Sweetheart' he said. 'I'm very disappointed. After all.................................

You were only supposed to blow the bloody doors off'!!!!!!!!!!!

Ba boom tish.

Sunday, 29 July 2012

Standing in the door of the Pink Flamingo...

So I woke up this morning to something of a personal revelation; the kind of once in a lifetime insight into ourselves that should take years of therapy, or loads of LSD. To wit, rather than being a 38 year old male, double graduate and spectacles wearer, I am in fact, an attractive, drunk and vulnerable woman. In a disco. Let me explain.

After somewhat prematurely terminating a career in journalism to 'find my true calling' (ah, to be young again), I've been on a downward spiral of mediocre employment. This, for the impatient among you, is where I get to my analogy.

Coz it seems to me that, in the context of employability, I'd be a reasonably attractive woman (bear with me). Not a Jolie/Alba perhaps, but an Emma Stone (you know, from Spiderman and Zombieland). Not to everyone's taste, but kept busy, and never short of options. My near decade and a half of entry level work are akin to Emma having some shitty relationships. Shitty relationships have the occasional good moment; maybe just enough to convince you that there's something to be salvaged. Then you wake up, another year older and deeper in debt/fatter/shorter/whatever. Again.

And so we arrive at the disco (told you I was getting to it). Here, Emma has had a 6 month hiatus from the bad boys, but she's painfully fragile and low on confidence. Sure, she's had some tentative offers recently, even spent a couple of days with some interesting prospectives, but it's like the good ones can smell she's damaged, scarred. Maybe she can't even separate the good opportunities from the bad ones any more. So what meagre offers there are get increasingly worse till they dry up altogether, and she hits rock bottom.

But here's the thing. Emma reeks of desperation. She has no sense of her self worth, and it shows. Maybe it's a smudge in the make up, maybe a crack in her heel, but some signal is issued, a signal which repels the noble and good prospects, but excites and intrigues the predators.

And how they circle. Picking their moment with the type of finely honed instinct usually found in elite athletes, they cast aside their own banal, shoddy existence, to enter into a vampiric, parasitic contract with someone who, all other things being equal, would be out of their league. But Emma's radar is off. She's happy with the attention (it's been too long, after all). She's in dire need of some validation, and maybe just to be reminded that she's worth something, to someone. To anyone.

So she makes a mistake. Another shitty one. She blinks, and another year's gone. Maybe it was better than nothing? Maybe if Emma hadn't made a few wrong turns in the past, she'd have retained the courage of her convictions and stuck it out, confident that something better was just round the corner. Maybe.

Who knows. The past is history, tomorrows a mystery, and all that. One thing is certain though, it's time to sharpen up, stop looking for validation anywhere other than in the mirror, and remind myself who I am, and what I am. That starts today, with this painfully laboured analogy, which I hope will make perfect sense to those of you who've taken a wrong turn or two (or club going trans-sexuals I guess - it's not my best analogy).

At Harvard, they say that a Harvard man (patriarchal to the last) makes his own opportunities. My concerns about their disregard for social mobility aside, that kind of makes sense to me. So me and Emma are off to make an opportunity for ourselves. I'll let you know how we do.

(at the risk of contradicting that last statement, job offers welcome!)

Sunday, 15 July 2012

Why Clarke Carlisle is talking shite.

PFA Chairman Clarke Carlisle has said that 'there needs to be a clampdown on foul and abusive language' in football. Red cards for bad words basically. I think he's talking shite, and here's why.

First of all, I've yet to see a universally agreed upon definition of 'foul and abusive' language. Has the nanny state made us so incapable of thinking for ourselves that we need a court to (at the taxpayers expense) decide that 'fuck' is never acceptable but that 'dick' can be used by over 16s, after 9 pm, but not on school nights? A sort of PG12/18/X-rated system for language. And what if some of us disagree? What if I'm grievously offended by being called a 'poltroon', or a 'tadger' but no one else is? And doesn't language evolve? Rhett Butler's use of the word 'damn' at the end of Gone with the Wind was controversial in it's day. Now you could say it on CBeebies and no on would bat an eyelid.

Football could descend to that churlish Parliamentary level. Rather than calling someone a liar, we say that they are 'economical with the truth'. The sentiment remains, but the manner in which it was conveyed is sanitised. So what's the net effect of that? The more eloquent footballer can adapt, venting their spleen at the officials, and their opponents, in a socially acceptable manner, while the Wayne Rooney's of the world become pariah's because they don't own a fucking thesaurus?

Just to be clear; I love language. I love that I know that the word thesaurus comes from the Latin for treasure. I enjoy etymology, and I value my ability to expand my vocabulary. I curse and swear, not as the last resort of a limited vocabulary, but in addition to an extensive one. I don't do it in front of my daughter, but that's not an admission of hypocrisy. I don't urinate in front of my daughter either. That doesn't mean I think pissing is wrong. In short, I know hunners of words, but, as Billy Connolly said, sometimes the best one is still 'fuck'.

I do like Clarke Carlisle. It took real balls for him to appear on Question Time, and he's spoken eloquently on the problem with racism in the game, amongst other things. I suspect however, that his comments on 'bad' language are an indication that he's out of his depth. There are bigger problems facing the game, and society as a whole, than how we express our anger. How's about tackling the root cause of the anger itself? In football, we'd be talking about more consistent and efficient officials for a start.

Clarke's notion that if we use less contentious language we will improve the game is naive to say the least. It reminded me of the Black Report - for those who don't know, this was a study commissioned in the early days of Thatcher's Government, which sought to examine the link between poverty and ill health. At great expense it concluded that there was a definitive, causal link. The poorer you are, the shorter, and sicker, your life will be. It endorsed raising the living standards of all through a minimum wage, a more robust welfare state and so on.

Thatcher's response? Fuck that. Too expensive. And instead they spent a pittance putting up posters extolling the virtues of eating your 5 a day (it probably never occurred to them that most families in the eighties couldn't afford to, or maybe it did and they didn't care).

My point in making the comparison is that Clarke's comments are of the same ilk. There may be a jobby on the floor, but rather than pick it up, let's polish it and get the Fabreze out. As a football fan, I want to see goal-line technology, fairer financial distribution, a better TV deal, Stewart Regan and Neil Doncaster clearing their desks, and a a hundred other things. But stopping players swearing?
Frankly my dear, I don't give a damn.

Saturday, 14 July 2012

Jelly and Ice Cream. Now what?

There's been a great deal of discussion about loss recently. Revenue streams, fanbases, titles, history. Maybe we should also consider what there is to be won? And I promise to do it with zero references to sporting integrity........

History shows us that Celtic tend to cut their cloth, financially speaking, with an eye on Rangers. When they spent big, we've tried to match them (although, in my lifetime at least, with an emphasis on spending smarter rather than bigger). When Rangers have spent less, so have we. It's almost as if the club needed an impetus to spend; like most immigrants who make it big, Celtic find it hard to forget their first, trembling days off the boat, penniless, hungry and filled with trepidation. We've only recently stopped talking about the biscuit tin (funny how that reference disappeared from the MSM recently), and started congratulating ourselves on our frugality. After all, there's a perfect example across the city of what happens when greed, arrogance and profligacy combine.

Now though, the goalposts have shifted, probably forever. Celtic are the only show in town. There is no spectre across the city, defrauding the taxpayer and stealing money while simultaneously sneering at the poor. We are the undisputed giants; the opposition Lilliputian. While financial minnows in the Champions League context, we leave the rest of Scotland in our shadow.

So what will happen? I think the danger is that we canter to the league title year after year, with the only real likelihood of a challenge coming about due to a decline in our own standards. If that's the case, there's little incentive for the board to spend big. We'll stumble into the Champions League on occasion, maybe even threaten the latter stages of the Europa. I've seen absolutely no ambition from other SPL clubs. No desire to close the gap, only a defeatist malaise in which second place is a prize and second from bottom nothing to be ashamed of. Romanov's bluster aside, I can't recall the last time one of the rest showed any self belief. (I put it down to something collective in the Scottish DNA post Ally McLeod - don't be seen to try, and no one will laugh at you when you fail, sorta thing. But that's another blog on another day...........).

Or, there could be a short period of speculate to accumulate. A summer spent buying up talent, and a season in which the club have a real go in Europe, with the fringe benefit of deflecting attention from what may be a fun but dull domestic campaign. MON did something like this, a significant outlay initially, then use the proceeds from that to sustain future outlays. Admittedly, we went from Chris Sutton to Michael Gray in 3 years, but we had a fine side, that would have been more richly decorated if it wasn't for the thugs and thieves at Ibrox.

Well, we haven't seen much transfer speculation so far this summer. Admittedly, Celtic run a tighter ship than they used to, and the MSM have little need to make up their usual nonsense to sell papers; the demise of Rangers gave them enough material and then some (once they shook themselves from their succulent lamb induced stupor). That said, I suspect Celtic are busy looking for Kayal's & Wanyama's. No bad thing admittedly, but I suspect that buys with potential, young guys under the radar who are available for £1m to £2m are going to be our bread and butter.

Neil Lennon has a decent record in the transfer market; we've all picked up a Murphy or Bangura before and no doubt he had his reasons for buying them. I believe he'll have no margin for error in the market. I expect there will be financial backing, but not the kind to get us off our seats. The real excitement will come from discovering a Hooper, or God willing, a Moravcik or two, and, if we're realistic, selling them on for a profit.

Combine some smart buys with opportunities to give young guys like Tony Watt and Paul Slane a chance to shine, and we could lay the foundations of something special. The real crux of it is that the demise of Rangers must be an opportunity for Celtic to show the world why they are special, why they are better, and make sure that when football people the world over think of Glasgow, they see only Hoops. The opportunity is there, and I have faith in the management team. I just hope we don't look back in a decade and see the demise of Rangers as anything other than a good thing.

Tuesday, 10 July 2012

The Catholic Church conundrum

I was raised Catholic in the West of Scotland, a place where denomination is about faith of course, but it's also a political statement. We were, are, unashamedly anti-establishment, suspicious of orthodoxy and authority, demonstratively Republican. We romanticised the Irish battle for independence, and averted our eyes when the glories of the past were tainted by the brutality of the present. I was surprised to learn as a boy that our counterparts in the United States, and the indigenous Irish, could be conservative; this seemed so at odds with the almost Marxist ideals that I saw in my father and his friends. 

In my teens. I realised that there were two facets to our collective identity. We were Catholic, and a part of that worldwide community. But we were also of immigrant stock, defined by our 'otherness', and, let's call a spade a spade, we were poor. Although I thought these things were inextricably linked, as I grew into my twenties, I retained the overall Catholic identity (while shying away from the inconvenient parts like worship, confession and fish on a Friday), but lost my faith. In short, I identified as Catholic more because of my politics than any adherence to the faith.

That said, although I haven't attended a mass in years (weddings & funerals aside), I've always been a vigorous defender of the faith. I construed any challenge to the Church as sectarianism (I'm sure I was right a couple of times), and attached blinkers when I needed them (like when the Church refused to intervene In Rwanda, or declined to advocate the use of condoms in AIDs ravaged third world nations - you stay classy Vatican City..). 

This week, I found the final straw. The one that finally severs my relationship with the Catholic church. It should have been one of the aforementioned incidents, or the well documented hush campaigns on child abuse (which, by the way, take place in other churches and organisations too - the issue is one of trust and opportunity, it's hardly that Catholics are more inclined to child abuse). It was the fact that for the first time in months, nay years, I read a press release from the Catholic Church in Scotland. It wasn't about poverty, or lack of social mobility, or any of the myriad issues which afflict this country.

It was about gay marriage.

That's right. At a time when homelessness is on the rise, the working poor are reliant on food banks, when young men and women are being ritually raped on the streets for just enough cash to buy smack so they can endure another day, the Catholic Church think gay marriage is something to get upset about. And boy, are they upset. They even put a value on it - £100,000! That's how much of the churches money (or, if you still practice, YOUR money) they'll spend in the coming months in an attempt to convince our devolved Government not to go ahead with plans to extend the civil partnerships currently available and just call them what they really are: marriages. 

Isn't that one of the least Christian things you've ever heard? Do you really think Jesus would have been a homophobe? Would he have given out loaves and fishes to everyone, except the ones that looked 'queer'? Of course he wouldn't. He preached love, kindness, forgiveness and understanding. And let's not lose sight of the fact that he was a single man in his thirties - that was extremely unusual at the time Christ lived. He may not have been gay, but he certainly lived an alternative lifestyle.

But I'm not here to bash Jesus - whether you believe the man was the son of God is one thing, but there's no doubting he existed, and a pretty nice fella he must have been. He even makes it into my perfect dinner party invitation list. I am here to bash the Church that preaches and peddles this hate in his name, especially when they so blithely ignore real issues (bankers anyone - remember how Jesus behaved with the money lenders? He kicked their asses).

If two people love each other, they have every right to be as miserable as the rest of us. One of the few truly admirable things the Scottish Parliament has done is to instigate this legislation. The fact that the Church are willing to put their hands in their pockets in a vain attempt to block it turns my stomach. There are many Catholics and Protestants in Scotland. We could use some more Christians.

Which leads me back to my original point. My identity, for better or worse, is indelibly West of Scotland Irish Catholic. I follow Celtic,and  love U2 and the Pogues. But the political animal in me, the one that stems directly from my peculiar brand of Catholicism, will not accept discrimination. I defend minority groups, not only because I am part of a minority group, but because it is the right thing to do. I cannot, and will not accept, that to be Catholic in 21st century Scotland means that we are so assimilated that we can now turn on other minorities. That's not who I am, and it's not who I want my daughter to be.

And for the record, because some people are so twisted, I will go on record here by saying this; I am not homosexual.

Scottish Catholic Media Office Release