- Adapted from Fingerprints of a Football Rascal. Amazon Kindle. £2.56
Tuesday, 29 April 2014
WHENEVER I see that supercilious look on Alan Hansen’s face, I’m tempted to dismember the old flat screen television.
There was a maniacal urge to do so on Saturday, when Hansen made an unfortunate appearance on Football Focus, together with the relative newcomer, Martin Keown.
A rather diffident Dan Walker was obliged to function as referee rather than presenter in a show that for once divested itself of its inherent predictability and produced some spirited debate.
Sometimes it promised to become over animated as a conflict of opinions developed between the pundits. “I’ve got to take control of this programme,” Walker admitted nervously.
Hansen reckoned the Premier League was firmly in Liverpool’s hands. Keown intimated that the fat lady had not even pulled her corset strings together, far less test-driven her vocal chords. The Scot opined that Fulham could survive the relegation battle; the Englishman professed himself far from confident of this occurring.
But it was the divergence of opinion over whom should next pick up the pieces of Manchester United that declared them to be polar opposites - and perhaps emphasised the fact that they belong to different generations.
Now, in 1995, Hansen was once ridiculed for insisting that a team wins nothing with kids. Manchester United, Alex Ferguson’s squad of adolescent brilliance, duly went on to win the league and FA Cup double.
On Saturday, he offered himself up for further derision - again on the altar of Old Trafford. Supporting Ryan Giggs’ claims for the preferment, he pointed out that Kenny Dalglish had once done something similar with Liverpool almost 30 years ago.
“What if he wins his last four matches in a style Man Utd supporters are used to?” Hansen asked rhetorically. “How do they turn around and say he’s not getting the job then?”
The naivety of that statement was seized upon by a remorseless Keown. Recognising and understanding the pragmatic and unromantic world inhabited by the Glazers, he stressed: “Giggs is for the future. United now need a safe pair of hands.”
This is Hansen’s 22nd season as an occasionally dyspeptic and sometimes despotic pundit for the BBC. It’s also his last. It’s said he’s about to retire, possibly to devote further attention to the golf courses of the universe. The time may be ripe for a departure.
The scars of football management have not inflicted themselves on him as they have many others. He had the chance to lead Manchester City out of their mid Nineties wilderness. Instead, he pledged himself to the punditry game.
Consequently, he is a fine advertisement of a man of 58 years: handsome and unlined. And rich into the bargain. But punditry, like most things, is changing. And if Hansen is seeking a comfortable ride before delivering his last sermon at the World Cup, he may have to reconsider his options.
Broadly speaking, Mark Lawrenson, his old oppo, has been removed from centre stage. Increasingly, this now belongs to the young, ambitious thrusters such as Keown, Alan Shearer, Robbie Savage and Danny Murphy.
To adopt an American colloquialism, they take s*** from no man. Not even Hansen.
Now, though there have been times I’ve saluted his professionalism and his critiques, I cannot say I’m unhappy with this situation. We all have our favourites and betes noir in this very subjective business. I find Hansen crosses that line between self assurance and arrogance.
There again, I must admit to a bit of previous with him. Some sportsmen can surprise you with their generosity of spirit. I cannot recall being overwhelmed by Hansen’s on the two occasions we met.
Our first, essentially brief, encounter occurred in the Wembley tunnel in the Eighties. Hansen was talking to family and friends after one of Liverpool’s regular FC Cup final appearances.
There were no mixed zones back then to inhibit the media’s lust for adventure, but nevertheless this was not the time for ignorant behaviour on my part. Thus, I maintained a respectable distance from the Hansen entourage and, like a jungle predator, waited patiently, poised to strike as soon as their exchanges ended.
When they did, I politely asked whether I might have a word with him. His response was unambiguous, if not downright rude. “No!” he announced, before turning his back on me. I observed that this negativity was accompanied by a rather superior smirk that would become familiar to millions of television viewers.
It’s difficult to forget these things when you are treated so disrespectfully
Our second meeting, in 1991, was comprehensively longer and infinitely more rewarding by comparison: plus it had the bonus (for me) of a positive ending. Hansen agreed to an audience at Anfield early one Friday morning, our interview having been brokered by a Liverpool colleague of mine.
I expected no effusion from him and indeed found none. Our conversation centred on his manager and friend, Kenny Dalglish. The fact that Liverpool players were never renowned from divulging state secrets meant that Hansen’s words were necessarily routine and clichéd.
We ended on Dalglish’s future. “When do you think Kenny might have had enough of this managerial game?” I asked. Hansen said he didn’t know but insisted it would not be for a while.
Leaving the ground, I prepared to drive to the house of the guy who had arranged the interview. But when I telephoned his home, I was told he was on his way to Anfield as an emergency press conference had been convened.
I redirected myself and was back at the stadium a few minutes later and the whisper was that Dalglish was quitting. Confirmation of this fact was soon provided when the latter swept into a packed room and made the announcement.
The reason was speedily downloaded: Hillsborough and its ramifications of death and disaster had finally caught up with him. His head was ready to explode.
A few minutes later, Dalglish had left the room and also the building. It transpired he’d broken the news to his players before he had entered the press conference. None, I imagine, would have been more stunned than Hansen. He was one of Dalglish’s closest confidants and yet on this day the limitations to that friendship had been exposed.
It had been a rather surreal day. I retreated from Anfield, soon after Dalglish, to write about it all. I was informed later that Hansen had been searching frantically for me.
I could only conclude that he was thinking of asking me to forget our conversation of that morning. If he had found me, however, he’d have been wasting his breath.
My answer would have been “no” - just like that day at Wembley. Mind you, common courtesy would have dictated that this would have been preceded by one five-lettered word of apology.
Thursday, 24 April 2014
WATCHING Davie Moyes being hung out to dry on the Man Utd washing line wasn’t a pretty or pleasant spectator sport.
But the resident cynic in me admits that the wee bit of compassion I felt for him in his moment of humiliation has evaporated already.
He was never the right man for the job in the first place.
And I’d go as far as to say that the timing of his sacking was wrong - he should have been away by last Christmas!
Someone once told me that it pays to be a failure in football. Well, in that case, Moyes has been a spectacular flop.
So, think of the situation not so much as a man picking up his P45 but of a man winning the Lottery. He’s a wealthy guy already, but he’ll soon be spectacularly richer.
He’s just bought a £5million ticket that nobody else in the country will buy.
Save your compassion for those who really need it: there’ll be plenty of wee souls around Britain who’ll be losing their jobs - and will only have a week’s money with which to feed the family.
The fact is Moyes will take his big pay-off, attempt to bury his disappointment in the white sands of Mauritius or somewhere similarly exotic, and move on to another football address, if not such a fancy one as Old Trafford.
Someone else, perhaps the imperious looking Louis Van Gaal, will come in as a replacement. And life will move on.
Well, it may not move on quite so peacefully if, as reports suggest, the combative Roy Keane enters the equation as his assistant. But that potential Punch and Judy Show is reserved for future viewing.
What I’m still trying to figure out is why Moyes came to be at Old Trafford in the first place. When he was at Goodison, he had good sides and he had not so good sides. He did spend some time avoiding relegation a little while back, but he had time in abundance.
There were negatives: some wag labelled him “Dave the Ditherer” for an alleged failure to make up his mind about the recruitment of playing staff.
Aside from that, he had always been a defensive manager and any time Everton did anything was by sheer weight of numbers.
Sure, they were hard to beat; they went to places and sneaked goals - but this was a completely foreign ethic to Manchester United. They never played like that; they never were like that.
So, hereabouts, we should turn our attentions to Sir Alex Ferguson, who picked his fellow Scot out as the Chosen One.
I’d imagine Fergie is suffering deep disappointment right now, not to say embarrassment.
Oh, nothing will ever take away his achievements as a Manchester United manager, nor what he did for the game as a whole in the process. But this move turned into a barely watchable reality show.
Surprise, Surprise could be renamed Astounding, Astounding.
Look, if Fergie never handled failure very well as a manager, the important thing was he could always put things right the next week.
Unfortunately, the appointment of David Moyes is now a stain on Ferguson’s curricula vitae that will never be erased - it’s resistant to all known detergents.
Nobody knows, or maybe is unlikely to know, the exact nature of the relationship shared by the two men. Until Fergie comes out with another book, of course. But I imagine there’ll be a bit of him that says: “I shouldn’t have got involved in this - I should have left it to somebody else.”
What we do know is that the appointment equalled a catastrophic mistake. And it was a catastrophic mistake to imagine that the Man Utd way of playing would have been continued by Moyes.
If I remember correctly, it was mooted in some quarters some years ago that Martin O’Neill would be the one to replace Fergie, but it was blown out of the water by the suggestion that O’Neill’s style would be incompatible with United’s.
Yet that was conveniently forgotten when Moyes was appointed.
Oh, to have been a fly on the wall and witnessed their relationship over the last few months.
Maybe Fergie thought if he had a fellow Glaswegian on board, then he could influence things. But, obviously, with the way the new arrival went about it - sacking Fergie’s backroom staff and alienating his squad by talking openly about making six or seven signings - suggests he didn’t want that influence.
I remember coming across something similar when I went back to Celtic Park as a scout under Tommy Burns. We were sitting having a cup of tea and Jaffa cakes and there had been a suggestion that Billy McNeill should come in and oversee things with Tommy.
Tommy shook his head and I asked him why.
“’Cos Big Billy would have been asking the washer woman which soap powder she was using to wash the strips,” he replied.
“And maybe the groundsman wouldn’t have been cutting the grass the right way. At the start, Billy’s input might have been 20 or 30 per cent; by the time his feet were under the table, you’d find it was 60 or 70 per cent. I couldn’t have that.”
Hey, who knows in this daft game of ours, maybe Fergie thought that Moyes could adapt himself and grow into the job. But the truth is that everything he touched in those ten months in charge has turned to dust.
I remember one match early on when the camera panned in on Fergie and his face was set to fizz. You could almost see steam coming out of his ears.
There was no width on the park, everything was concentrated in the middle of the park. But that was Big Davy’s way of playing: narrow everything down, sit back for 70 minutes away from home until opportunity presented itself.
I mean, there was a time when going to Hull and winning 1-0 was a great result for Everton. But this was Manchester United. A bit of style and class was demanded.
It was apparent that the majority of players were not singing from the same hymn sheet. How did Patrice Evra and the boy Buttner feel when they knew the manager was trying to sign Leighton Baines?
They weren’t going to get the toolboxes out if noises were being made that they weren’t going to be there long. He kept making it known in public that some players weren’t good enough.
So Fergie, whatever the input he has in the next appointment, has to live with the memory of this fiasco. If he‘d gone into proper retirement and let them get on with running United, perhaps voiced his opinion if and when it was asked for, it would perhaps be a very different story,
But he seems to like being the doyen of managers - the Godfather, giver of gifts.
Well, this one's come back to haunt him. He‘s a racing man is Sir Alex and, in racing terms, he backed the wrong horse.
Well, this one's come back to haunt him. He‘s a racing man is Sir Alex and, in racing terms, he backed the wrong horse.
Monday, 21 April 2014
By Jim Black
I do not profess to know with any degree of certainty whether Oscar Pistorius is innocent, or guilty of the charge of murdering his girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp.
But I am certain in my own mind of one thing - the almost daily televised circus transmitted by BBC from the Pretoria High Court is tasteless, tacky and utterly demeaning to the man dubbed “The Blade Runner.”
It is bad enough viewing newspaper photographs of Pistorius looking haunted without also listening to the sounds of his sobs, retching and general despair. Mercifully, so far we are spared the sight of the accused, given that he remains off camera.
But I cannot understand why the world at large lusts after the sounds of the man’s misery, for none of this does anything to serve the cause of justice in a dignified fashion.
This is not some TV Soap, or an excuse for yet another helping of reality TV. A young woman died in the most appalling circumstances and it is right that Pistorius should have to answer for shooting her.
But is it right that the principals in this case – the accused, judge, jury, prosecution and defence teams - should be afforded an opportunity to become actors, if, indeed, they have a mind to?
I think not. The chief prosecutor, Gerrie Nel certainly does not need any make-up artist to improve his appearance before the director shouts “lights, camera and action”. He already appears to be enjoying his new celebrity hugely.
I had the good fortune to interview Pistorius three years ago during the Dunhill Links Championship at St Andrews and he came across as pleasant, articulate and quick-witted. He also somehow manages to largely disguise the fact that he is physically challenged to such an extent.
Appearing to be a “nice guy” does not, of course, testify to innocence or guilt. That is for the jury to decide.
But Pistorius is entitled to a trial without the rest of the world looking on as if it were some sort of unsightly peep show.
Whatever the verdict, Pistorius will have to live every second of every day for the reminder for his life with the knowledge that he ended the life of a woman he professed to love and that is punishment enough, surely.
Is there really a need to share his despair purely to satisfy the ghoulish desire of the public at large?
WE Brits pride ourselves on fair play. So, why is it that the Crown Prosecution Service appears to feel a need to indulge in a witch hunt against Dave Lee Travis?
The CPS is behaving in a manner reminiscent of Senator Joseph McCarthy and his anti-homosexual and communist purges of the 1940s and 50s.
As in the case of Oscar Pistorius, I have no certain knowledge of DLT’s innocence, or guilt.
But the stench of McCarthyism is rife. One is almost tempted to suggest that certain individuals are engaged in a drive to “get” the former disc jockey at all costs.
The fall-out from the odious goings on of the late and unlamented Jimmy Savile have been far reaching and it is right and proper that each incident related to alleged sex attacks should be investigated thoroughly and the perpetrators called to account.
But I cannot help worrying that for some it may also an opportunity to settle old scores.
As recently as February, Travis, now 68, was cleared by a jury of 12 indecent assaults.
He claimed at the time his life had been ruined at great financial and moral cost to him and his wife, adding that he now wished to simply get on with what remained of his time on earth.
But barely two months on, he faces trial again on two charges that saw deliberations fail to reach a verdict.
Those two alleged indecent assaults happened in 2008 and in the early 1990s. So the nightmare continues for DLT.
Personally, I feel a deep sense of unease that traditional British justice is being hijacked in the wake of Savile to appease the accusers of those who were complicit in covering up for the monster and his kind in the first instance.
TRAIN operators First ScotRail, the organisation I love to hate for its incompetence and flagrant disregard for the comfort and safety of its passengers, has done it again.
Part of the main line from Dundee and Perth to Glasgow is being closed on May 17 – the day Dundee United play St Johnstone in the Scottish Cup final.
Engineering works between Perth and Larbert mean the line can’t be used. Fans will either have to use trains re-routed through Fife and suffer delays, or take to the roads instead.
Network Rail has issued an apology, but insists there is nothing it can do as these engineering works have been planned for two years.
ScotRail, meanwhile, is keen to discuss with the competing clubs how they can help fans travel to and from Glasgow.
I have a much simpler suggestion: Postpone the work for 24 hours - like you do services without prior warning, consideration or care for your valued (?) and regularly inconvenienced customers that you don’t give a damn about.
No, here’s an even better idea: Hand over the rail franchise to a competent body that does give a damn!
Friday, 18 April 2014
I’m referring to the most important man at the club, the manager, Neil Lennon.
If Lennon has sense, and he’s got plenty as far as I can judge, he’ll have reached the conclusion some time ago that he has very likely achieved just about as much as he can at Celtic Park and that it’s time for a fresh challenge.
In fact, Lennon may even be regretting not having made a move a year ago when his stock was trading higher following the team’s Champions League successes.
There hasn’t been a queue of club chairmen from England battering down the doors to entice Scottish managers south in recent years, which is a sad indictment of what they think about the general state of our game, and Lennon is clearly aware that he will have to sell himself to an extent.
So it didn’t surprise me to see him appear on Match if the Day 11 the other week, when he gave a polished performance talking purely about the playing side rather than about all the other aspects that come with being an Old Firm manager.
He managed to sound astute and appeared more at ease discussing tactics, formations and playing styles, so if Lennon’s ploy was to try and advance his case, it worked a treat.
The timing was spot on and those chairmen and owners contemplating managerial change over the course of the next few weeks cannot help but have been impressed at the way Lennon came over.
I imagine there is going to be a bit of movement in the Premiership before the World Cup kicks-off.
The dogs in the street are already barking out that there has been at least a degree of contact between Norwich and Lennon, but the Canaries won’t be the only club in the market for a new manager.
Newcastle cannot possibly be happy with Alan Pardew after everything that has gone off on Tyneside and all is clearly far from well in the Aston Villa camp.
Not only have you got the situation with two members of the senior coaching staff under investigation for alleged bullying, results under Paul Lambert haven’t been great either.
The most attractive option is a Premiership club where Lennon’s personal terms would be far more lucrative than if he was managing a Championship side, so much may depend on which teams are relegated.
But I believe that whatever is eventually on offer to him, Lennon has reached the stage where he feels he’s done enough at Celtic Park and that the grass is greener on the other side.
And I’m prepared to stick my neck out and predict that Neil Lennon will no longer be the Celtic manager come August.
But I believe Griffiths will still be with my old club when Celtic begin their defence of the SPFL title.
Contrary to the apparently widely held belief that Griffiths is facing the axe, I don’t think he is even close to being sacked - at least for the time being.
Yes, Griffiths is an idiot. No, chanting racist abuse is not acceptable.
But he is clearly not the sharpest cookie. He also appears easily led when drink is involved.
But a Hibee having a pop at the Jambos and vice-versa is nothing new, and calling someone a refugee hardly constitutes a hanging offence.
I’ve had 50,000 calling me a lazy, fat bastard, so does that mean if I am able to identify the guilt I am free to sue them? I’ll better put in a call to Donald Findlay, just in case.
The SFA has done its best to inflate the situation while Celtic have thrown a fire blanket over what was a drink-fuelled outburst deserving of a heavy slap on the wrist, a club fine, and a warning to Griffiths as to his future conduct.
But if there is a next time that might turn out to be a very different matter as he would be judged to have thumbed his nose at those who are trying to help save him from himself.
Others, players and managers, have committed worse acts and escaped relatively unscathed, but the SFA looks to have turned the Griffiths affair into something of a crusade.
They should have left it up to his club to deal with Griffiths and Celtic, in turn, should order him to find suitable accommodation in the west away from the temptations of life in the capital and the influence of his mates.
If Griffiths can screw the nut, he’s good enough at domestic level to score 25 goals a season. But the real testing ground is Europe and whether he’s good enough to do it at the next level.
Meanwhile, I wasn’t one of those surprised by St Johnstone’s achievement in reaching their first ever Scottish Cup final.
I had a sneaking feeling beforehand that they would dump the Dons due to Aberdeen’s a lack of youth and energy in the middle of the park.
St Johnstone is a team who keep snapping away at the opposition and in Steve May they have some who is always liable to score.
Barry Robson and Willo Flood were running on empty after an hour and as soon as Saints equalised there was only one team going to win, in my mind.
It’s good that we have two teams from the Tayside region in the final for a change and it should turn out to be a decent enough spectacle.
Dundee United beating Rangers in the other semi-final was no surprise either. Even playing at only 50 per cent capacity, United were able to turn over the opposition with relative ease.
And I am sure that didn’t come as a shock to anyone who had watched Rangers the week before in the Ramsdens Cup final.
Wednesday, 16 April 2014
By Mark Cooney
And, in February, the Council was fined £8,000 after a pupil received serious injuries when she fell down a lift shaft at the same school.
* At the time of publication, no one from Edinburgh City Council was available to comment, but we will publish any replies when we receive them.
Friday, 11 April 2014
BY JIM BLACK
IT is official...the inmates have taken over the running of the asylum!
In a scene reminiscent of “One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest” those responsible for planning the opening ceremony for this summer’s Commonwealth Games proudly announced that it will cost a mere £21million to show Glasgow off to the world.
That’s just seven million pounds more than the original estimate – a measly 50 per cent increase!
Given that the Games are still fully four months away and certain individuals involved in the overall planning would not recognise the truth if it jumped up and bit them on the backside, we can be assured that £21million will become twenty-something million before Celtic Park hosts a show the likes of which has never been witnessed in the east end of the city.
Perhaps by July 23 they will also have thrown in several more buildings to add to the five Red Road towerblocks that are to be demolished as part of the spectacular.
Apparently billions of TV viewers are already perched on the edge of their seats salivating in anticipation of a never-to-be-forgotten experience!
At least that’s the figure being trotted out by Dr Bridget McConnell – she didn’t actually earn the title. She was given honorary doctorates by Aberdeen and St Andrews Universities – Chief Executive Culture & Sport Glasgow.
In that role, which she has held for 10 years, Dr McConnell leads a staff of 2,600 with an annual budget approaching £100million, in the delivery of cultural and sports activities on behalf of the city.
She was also an integral part of the Bid team which won Glasgow the Commonwealth Games and is charge with delivering a substantive legacy for the Games.
In case you weren’t already aware of exactly who she is – and you could certainly be forgiven for not knowing – Dr McConnell is also the wife of Jack McConnell, formerly the country’s First Minister. No nepotism there, then? Perish the thought.
Wee Jack incidentally has the title Baron McConnell of Glenscorrodale. Maybe once his wife is finished splashing the cash it will be changed to “Baron Hardup!”
After listening to Dr McConnell twittering and simpering to John Beattie on Radio Scotland’s lunchtime news and debate programme the other day I was forced to change stations part the way through the broadcast for fear that I would suddenly develop a new type of Road Rage!
What little I could bear to listen to, I learned from Dr McConnell that the cost of Glasgow’s opening ceremony will be only a fraction of the obscene amount spent by London’s Olympic chiefs. Cheap at twice the price, she seemed to be suggesting in an arrogant, patronising fashion.
She omitted to add that the population of London is roughly twenty times that of Glasgow’s and the Olympic Games are 50 times bigger than the Commonwealth Games in terms of their worldwide appeal.
Still, you can’t keep a good ego down and while the watching world – at least those parts that can be bothered – sits agog at the sight of demolition squads at work, Dr McConnell and her cronies will be preening themselves like never before.
Self aggrandisement, smug smiles and condescending clap-trap all round before they no doubt head off for a slap-up banquet at the council taxpayers’ expense, as a reward for their sterling services to the city.
Poor old Glasgow, meanwhile, risks being a laughing stock.
What the hell’s wrong with the participating teams marching into the stadium, as used to be the case at such sporting occasions, and marching out again? It is supposed to be about sportsmen and sportswomen, after all.
If Dr McConnell felt an overpowering need to spend £21million, why didn’t she suggest it was given to the poor and needy, the homeless and the pensioners who risk hypothermia every winter through lack of heating?
And If the Red Road flats are such a blight on the city’s image, could they not have spent the cash on major renovations and housed some of those who have lived in virtual squalor for years instead of handing them over in such a rundown condition to asylum seekers?
And when it comes to sensitivity, Eileen Gallagher, independent director on the Glasgow 2014 board, wouldn’t know how to spell the word.
“Audacious and very Glasgow,” she crowed in reference to the flats being razed to the ground as part of the bizarre curtain-raiser.
“This bold image will create an unforgettable moment in time to mark how Glasgow continues to strive for better,” she added.
Try telling that to Margaret Jaconelli, evicted from her home to make way for the bulldozers.
But to hell with Margaret and the other “small” people who are not privileged to inhabit McConnell’s or Gallagher’s worlds.
When you’ve got a party to go to and somebody else is footing the bill, the feelings of others are inconsequential.
TALKING about having fun spending other people’s money, BBC Scotland has invested a wedge of the licence fee on the riveting spectacle that is the Queen’s Baton Relay around the Commonwealth.
Fronted by a chap called Mark Beaumont, whom, I confess, I had never heard of prior to watching occasional glimpses of newsreel brought to us exclusively and at no small cost by the Beeb, it must be the most expensive, most pointless lump of wood in history!
But I have been cheered by one piece of news concerning the forthcoming Games. Apparently ScotRail or is it FirstRail –no matter they come down to the same thing; largely incompetent and disinterested in the public’s wellbeing – are going to be ferrying commuters in their thousands to the Games’ venues free of charge, apparently.
Good luck, travellers. It’s been my experience several times of late that our Rail Network struggles to ensure the smooth running of one Saturday evening train from Edinburgh to Inverness!
Does all of this give the impression that I am anti-Commonwealth Games? I hope not.
I truly hope they are a major success as a sporting spectacle and that those who embrace the occasion for it’s true worth enjoy every moment.
But I have no time whatsoever for the fat-cats, the freeloaders. and the arrogant, self-important bureaucrats who know what’s best for the rest of us – whatever the cost.
Wednesday, 9 April 2014
IN some human beings there lurks a sometimes a worrying capacity for acts of flagrant stupidity. This week I was reminded of my tendency towards such behaviour.
BBC 2 had launched their hybrid programme, Escape to the Continent, and there stood Nicki Chapman looking inordinately pleased with herself whilst expounding the myriad benefits of living in Poitou Charente.
In one moment of malice, I considered TV companies’ remarkable propensity for reinventing so-called celebrities, and wondered how the hell Nicki Chapman had effected the transition from pop music aficionado to homes guru in such a modest passage of time.
Unjust? Possibly. But, by presenting this particular programme, Ms Chapman was belabouring me with a metaphorical baseball bat, and I was inexpertly attempting to cauterise the wounds she seemed intent on inflicting.
To proceed to this sorry tale: in 2004, after much vacillation, my wife Margaret and I decided to buy a second home in France.
We had moved house on 23 occasions in our 29 years of marriage, survived countless renovations and counted fingers fatigued by dirt, dust and disaster. We imagined we’d built up an immunity to reckless behaviour, so we agreed on a prerequisite for our de facto holiday home. It needed to be in pristine condition.
Oh, yeah? Typical of two people occasionally driven by impulse and irrationality, we bought a beautiful, if dilapidated, agricultural barn in the Vienne sector of Poitou Charente. There were no windows, an earthen floor and enough holes in the roof to satisfy the exacting requirements of a latter-day Galileo.
Worse, it was situated four feet from a busy D road at one end of a deserted hamlet that advertised decay and the occasional flight of tumbleweed. The one factor in its favour was a countryside view for which a man might have volunteered his life. Few barns in France have the luxury of such vistas.
Anyway, did we attempt anything approaching due diligence? Did we consider the noise or danger factor generated by drivers who obviously believed that one day they might be equipped to compete at Le Mans?
Did we investigate the somewhat depressed local area, its strengths and frailties, none withstanding its capacity for regeneration?
Did we indeed investigate the locals, who had an endless fascination with the Euro?
Did we for one moment wonder if integration into this rather reactionary piece of real estate was feasible?
The sorry answer to all these questions merits a two-lettered response. No, we were comprehensively seduced by the aroma of rural France and the view that stretched to the south east.
Why Poitou Charente? We were in fact searching the vast acreage of Normandy when one of the owners we visited told us he was moving 300 kilometres south because of the microclimate. He had, in reality, just applied a shotgun to his right foot and talked himself out of a certain sale.
The Poitou sounded like an even more inspired bet, so off we went, all cylinders firing in the old Mercedes, brains decidedly disengaged. How bloody stupid can a couple get?
This, however, was only the genesis of our folly. Within a couple of days, we had purchased a barn for 30 grand. Our agent, taking ten per cent of the proceedings, recommended an architect who looked antiquated and indeed thought antiquated. His plans, which incorporated walk-through bedrooms, were necessarily jettisoned on our return, but not before they had cost us plenty.
The insanity continued apace with the proposed renovation works which, I’m afraid, bore the stamp of our own inadequacy. We’d taken three quotations from builders and these all hovered around the six-figure mark and beyond. We believed we could do better.
On the last day of a three-week trip, having failed to reach an accommodation with anyone, we lunched at a local restaurant and decided to shed the calories by walking through the main thoroughfare of the nearby town.
Suddenly, I became aware of Margaret talking to someone in a doorway. It was an English voice, a helpful voice, a builder’s voice, damnit! My uplifted spirits flagged temporarily on seeing him, however: here was Fred Flintstone come to life; an Anglo Saxon John Goodman.
But when he accompanied us to the barn and estimated it would take £50,000 to complete the work, those spirits were restored. Now, knowing that the authorities insisted on foreign workers being registered, we quizzed him about this and he claimed he was in the process of securing his registration. Deal done.
And thus our 200-year relic came to life, piecemeal, over the next six months. There were additional tariffs: a new roof; extensive electrical work; the kitchen and bathroom units; the application of cream cement to the exterior stone walls; double glazed windows for the gargantuan doors; and the installation of a septic tank - all of which drove costs towards the skyline.
The latter bill caused particular consternation because the nearby town council had agreed to extend the mains water system to our hamlet, charging our new neighbours roughly £400 each. Incredibly, this offer was refused.
The £50,000 promised to “John Goodman” had grown exponentially and we’d arrived at a figure considerably north of that. But the more encouraging news came when we were summoned by our builder/project manager and told that the barn was finished and fit for inspection.
We touched base on Friday night when the light was fading. We were sorely fatigued, but this had no longevity. Maggie’s Barn, as it had been christened, was a sight for eyes made sore by over a thousand miles of driving.
It had cost the best part of £150,000, but it represented itself as a million dollars, with one room flowing freely into another, chic floor tiles from Provence, a fireplace anchored by an oak bressumer, countless ceiling beams, and an expansive entrance hall and feature mezzanine.
But, being a serial mover - remember the 23 homes we’d owned - you are rarely satisfied with the end product unless it has a price tag. Some time later, we asked the local estate agents to give us his best estimate.
He was a man of few words, but the one word of encouragement I picked up was“superbe!” Less encouraging was his final fiscal analysis. Eighty-five grand. Sacre bloody bleu! With our chins dropping towards the exquisite tiling, he reminded us that we were in a relatively poor area.
I don’t know whether it was at this precise moment that my vision of Poitou Charente began to colour. I do know that little things multiplied my frustrations: those auditioning for Le Mans were starting to pound in my brain, for starters.
There were 50 kilometre per hour signs at either end of the hamlet, and yet these were summarily ignored as drivers thundered by. Perhaps irrationally, I would race into the road, screaming “cinquante!” at the miscreants.
With our grandchildren arriving on holiday, this obsession with the reckless intensified, and I began to take pictures of number plates. It lasted only for one morning. Then I was visited by two gendarmes, who had responded to a complaint.
In France, you are apparently violating a person’s privacy by doing this. I told the police that I had in fact been capturing the extremely photogenic countryside, Was there a law against this, I asked? They smiled conspiratorially.
While this good humour was still in place, my fractured French permitted me another rejoinder. “Why are people allowed to drive like devils through this place? Is it normal?” They failed to answer.
My concern over aberrant driving strayed, I confess, into other wider areas, and gradually the joy of French living began to dissipate.
I objected to the infernal bureaucracy of the nation and the copious amounts of forms for inconsequentialities; the exorbitant charges of tradesmen when they suspected (wrongly in my case) a rich foreigner was on their doorstep; the insouciance of shopkeepers who’d totally ignore you while they exchanged small talk with locals; the utter arrogance of the belief that the only way is the French way.
Leaving such negativity aside for a moment, we loved the weather, the scenery, the fastidious maintenance of major roads. We further enjoyed the good restaurants that provided value for money (finding them is not always easy, in spite of French propaganda); and delighted at meeting some really nice locals away from our hamlet of doom, where only one neighbour talked to us on a regular basis.
There is inevitably a coup de grace in any fraught situation, and ours arrived in 2013 when three caravans, two cars and a Dormobile, a squad of young men, women and children, two dogs and a goat took possession of a disused house and over grown garden to the rear of our property.
Our wondrous view was speedily compromised by the new backdrop. Then, the side access to our barn was blocked by a six-foot wall. I reminded one of the new owners - he sported a hairstyle which a Mohican would have gladly endorsed - that we had the right of passage. Our heated exchange proved unproductive.
Indeed, it was counter productive. The minatory dogs, a Boxer and a Jack Russell, arrived each morning snapping and snarling at the boundary fence 15 feet short of our front door. Such intimidation only abated when I visited the gendarmerie and registered a strong protest.
We are all subject to inevitability. The trick is identifying that inevitability. It was time to leave Maggie’s Barn and the land of our holiday dreams.
Over there, house sellers can employ more estate agents than you can shake a French stick at. We settled on four agencies and eventually such a concentration of manpower worked: a French couple seemed willing to put up with the veritable circus that had moved in next door.
The price in Euros had not improved, but the currency’s strength against the pound meant that we would receive approximately £105,000. An initial elation was quickly cancelled with the revelation that fairly draconian tax deductions were on the way.
Consequently, we left Poitou with just over 90 grand - some 60 grand less than our initial outlay. This was partially the responsibility of “John Goodman”, who had failed to register his credentials. There was no recourse: well, would you argue with John Goodman?
Please don’t interpret the message here as a recommendation for people to ignore Poitou Charente, or indeed the highly seductive tones of Nicky Chapman. We simply urge them to be prudent - in the fervent hope that no-one repeats our stupidity.
Meanwhile, I have a message for the BBC who, judging by the lack of variety in their programming, rarely lead the field as regards innovation. May I suggest another property programme, one perhaps with a bit of caustic bite?
So how about Escape from the Continent?
Friday, 4 April 2014
By Andy Ritchie
WE - meaning Scotland’s youth team - were about to go off to sunny, sunny Spain and I was having multiple orgasms at the very thought of it.
Hey, I was only 16 and therefore full of fun and devilment. A round-robin youth tournament lay ahead, but first I was intent on basking in the imaginary limelight.
So, when a photographer from the Scottish Daily Express approached those of us who played with Celtic and Rangers, asking if he could snap us with our reading material, we were up for the cup.
A couple of the guys had chosen Shoot magazine to accompany them on the trip. Me? As we were having a bit of a carry-on, I’d gone straight for the top shelf and got myself a copy of Playboy.
Just when the photographer was about to go to work, an SFA official called Ernie Walker arrived on the scene and called me over. He asked me how my parents would feel if they saw me reading a lads’ magazine. Just as important, he asked me how Celtic FC would feel.
He reminded me that I was representing not only them but the Scottish nation. You could call it an impact talk. He uttered only about three sentences, but the message hit home immediately like a bolt from a crossbow.
I hate to imagine what would have happened if Ernie hadn’t been on the scene at Glasgow Airport that day. There I’d have been, back page on the Express, making an absolute backside of myself.
But I was lucky enough to come across an administrator who knew his way around potentially embarrassing situations.
The question that ought to be asked now is this: where are such like-minded administrators in today’s world?
Press the fast forward button and pinpoint one of today’s embarrassing situations. Stop at Leigh Griffiths, a few long-necked Budweisers on a none too lazy Sunday afternoon and you’re on the money.
When he received his summons to appear at the SFA for that video, I immediately thought of Ernie Walker.
Ernie, of course, went on to become secretary of the SFA for 13 years. How would he have handled that situation with Leigh and his singing Hibs supporting pals? Somewhat better, I would suggest, than Vincent Lunny. Ernie certainly wouldn’t have needed a compliance officer to bring people to order.
Lunny is the c.o. of the ruling body. Here’s a guy who seems to appear every time something like this happens. He must spend hours trawling the websites to find out things about fitba players.
What’s this man doing? Is it a real job? Couldn’t he be doing something better and more constructive than picking through the bones of a lot of nonsense.
Don’t for one moment think I’m attempting to vindicate Griffiths. I’m not. He should get the proverbial boot up the backside for what he did - there are no two ways about that.
But this officious rigmarole seems OTT. I think the SFA are just being petty. It does smack of someone trying to justify their existence.
The punishment should have come from within the player’s club. Hopefully, getting rapped over the knuckles by his own hierarchy would mean a lot more to him - well, it should mean a lot more - than being savaged by an SFA sheep called Vincent Lunny.
Which brings me back to my point about this chap’s role: jobs like this take money out of the game and we struggle at times to provide things that would be beneficial either to the top end of the professional gig or the amateur end.
But the SFA inevitably provide money for some things that are trivial, But we shouldn’t be surprised, for they are trivial people.
Look, I don’t know a lot about Stewart Regan, but I don’t see a lot happening within the game that I could congratulate him for. No, I can’t say I go to sleep counting the accomplishments of Stewart Regan.
Anyway, these punishments seem to be selective, rather than across the board. Morton’s Rowan Vine apparently made uncomplimentary signs to Cowdenbeath supporters when he was sent off the other night.
I didn’t see Lunny sending a letter to the club asking Vine to come up and see him. Is it only because there were 500 people there and really nobody gives diddly squat about it?
I don’t remember, either, Paul McGowan being lettered by the SFA for being drunk and assaulting policemen. No, it’s my belief that Lunny looks for nonsense and is getting his 50-60 grand a year and Vauxhall car for absolutely nothing.
He should only be getting involved if the club involved don’t do anything, if indeed they thumb their nose at the situation. That’s the time the shadow of Vincent Lunny should fall over proceedings.
Hey, I know times have changed, but one phone call from Ernie Walker would have diffused this situation. I can hear what he would have said: “It’s not in the best possible taste,”
As a result, the morals would have been improved, and it would have made a better impact on the individuals who were causing the situation.
This current SFA hoopla was all so unnecessary . It needed someone just to stop guys like Leigh Griffiths in their tracks with some sensible advice, rather than putting them on the back page.
Maybe Griffiths thinks it’s smart because it’s on the back page. But it’s not smart and he should know that. But I still contend that it was up to Celtic, not Lunny, to deliver the sermon.