International football is dying a death – let’s put it out of its misery

These games take a real toll on elite players, and for what?

So here we go again. An international break during the run in of the domestic season. Not to contend any trophies or fight fierce rivalries, no no no. This one exists purely to injure Liverpool players just in time for the next round of the Champions League.

Jaded much, Mark? Well yes, frankly, I am. I’m fully sick of elite players going thousands of miles to play meaningless games on stupid surfaces against farmers and builders where anything less than an 8-0 win is considered a crisis. This particular one is coming just before a major summer tournament (so I’m told), and is therefore massively important. The last chance to see whether players will gel together. Spoiler alert…

This nonsense happens whether there is a tournament upcoming or not. Several times a season, top level athletes take a break from the serious demands of domestic football to go and play what are essentially a bunch of friendlies designed to make money. Many will get injured. Some will miss the rest of the season (and thus won’t be able to help win the title, get a Champions League place, avoid relegation or win a trophy). A lot will travel and not even play.

All this for a load of football matches that most people don’t care about, don’t matter and are being watched by fewer and fewer people.

I realise some people still like international football. I don’t understand why, but to each, their own. The appeal is completely lost on me. I haven’t supported England since I was at school, couldn’t care less what their results are and just cross my fingers every time they play that any Liverpool players that travel either don’t play or get subbed off before they get hurt.

The European Championships is a bore fest, the African Cup of Nations is a joke (played as it is in the middle of the season, although I hear that may be changing) and the World Cup can frankly do one. Even putting corruption, Russia and Qatar aside, it is a seriously dull affair, played between teams that have had a matter of weeks to play together. Yet we all expect to see fluent, tactical football like we see week in week out in the top European leagues, played by teams that spend every single day with each other. Why do we do this to ourselves?

If given the choice between winning the league in England, Spain, Germany, France or Italy, winning the Champions League with any team, or winning the World Cup, why on earth would you choose the World Cup? It simply isn’t the pinnacle of elite football.

Domestic football just gets stronger and stronger every year. Even watching clips from 2005, never mind the 80’s or 90’s, looks slow and clunky compared to the speed and skill of today’s players. The level of international football in comparison is appallingly bad, indeed for me, unwatchable. I’d easily rather watch Wycombe vs Port Vale in a League Two fixture than England vs Moldova. In England, you can go as far as the fifth tier and still pretty much guarantee you’re watching professionals. In internationals,  you’re far too often playing some part timers.

The whole system is broken, and all efforts to try and fix it just make it worse. If I had things my way, I’d get rid of the whole thing. No World Cup, no Euro’s, no friendlies. But I realise this is an extreme position, and I can’t have things my way. Yet…

Instead, I’ll just wait for everyone else to get as bored as I am, and then perhaps things will change. One thing’s for certain; it can’t carry on as it is.

The best thing about the EU? GDPR

The General Data Protection Regulation is an important step in the right direction

In that ridiculous, stupid, constitutionally redundant, binary, idiotic Cameron referendum, I voted Leave. I’m no fan of the EU or its institutions, but that was never to say that everything it does is wrong. I firmly believe that the UK should leave it, and I have never wavered on that enough to change my mind, but there are doubtless some good things about it.

I’ve no intention to rerun the arguments, or provide a defence of my position here – I did all that at the time and it’s become intensely boring. Being attacked for it is no fun, especially from the side of the political divide that is supposed to be nice, tolerant and espousing a ‘kinder, gentler politics’. But that’s what happens. You learn to live with it.

This post is to praise one of the truly great things the EU has pursued – the ‘General Data Protection Regulation‘, or ‘GDPR’.

GDPR has been variously described as ‘the Data Protection Act on steroids‘, ‘severe‘ and ‘the biggest change to the regulatory landscape of data privacy’. It is a behemoth of a piece of legislation and has put the proverbial willies up everyone who does anything with personal data.

Ironically, the one thing that I think is great about the EU is the one thing that my lefty, Remainer friends are much more flustered about. It hasn’t gone down too well in my industry, where it is causing quite the headache for all involved or affected. It means a huge change in thinking, a completely different approach to data collection and retention and, most importantly of all, puts control of personal data firmly back in the hands of individuals.

To give a quick overview to what is an enormous, technically complex law, it allows individuals to gain control over their data and what happens with it. It may sound dry and boring, but I can assure you, it is an important step in the right direction.

Here is a list of some of the key points:

  • It applies to all companies processing the personal data of data subjects residing in the European Union, regardless of the company’s location.
  • Under GDPR, organisations in breach of GDPR can be fined up to 4% of annual global turnover or €20million (whichever is greater).
  • Consent must be clear and distinguishable from other matters and provided in an intelligible and easily accessible form, using clear and plain language. It must be as easy to withdraw consent as it is to give it.​
  • Breach notification will become mandatory in all member states where a data breach is likely to “result in a risk for the rights and freedoms of individuals”. This must be done within 72 hours of first having become aware of the breach.
  • Data subjects will have the right to obtain from the data controller confirmation as to whether or not personal data concerning them is being processed, where and for what purpose. Further, the controller shall provide a copy of the personal data, free of charge, in an electronic format.
  • The right to be forgotten – this entitles the data subject to have the data controller erase his/her personal data, cease further dissemination of the data, and potentially have third parties halt processing of the data.

That’s right – these guys aren’t messing around.

As I mentioned before, most people working in my industry (digital) are in a right flap about this. There are so many practices that are either going to have to stop, or be changed radically. Retro-fitting of websites, apps and online portals with new tools to ensure compliance with GDPR is happening at the moment (and if it isn’t, they’ll be in trouble).

But to be honest, whilst everyone loses their heads, I’m absolutely loving it. This is what needs to start happening. It has been 4 years in the making and, in my opinion, it’s all been worth it. Yes, we’re all going to have to make some changes. But these changes are intended to level the playing field and tip the balance back away from large, powerful, secretive (not any of my clients, obviously), companies and towards individuals. We simply cannot continue the way we have been – technological advancement has outstripped legislation at a pace that has allowed all of us to be swept up by it all, without adequate protection.

We have just had the result of a Guardian investigation that has provided revelations into ‘Cambridge Analytica’ – it’s still going, and it looks like it will be one of the biggest scandals the digital world has ever seen. This should make people wake up and realise just what happens with their data. That old adage ‘if you’re getting something for free, then you’re the product’ has never been more true. We’ve all known that our data is being used, but the extent of it should worry us.

Credit where it is due – the EU deserves a lot of praise for this legislation. It is comprehensive, meaningful and serious. It will be in force before we officially withdraw from the Union, and frankly it won’t make much difference anyway as the regulations cover any data held about EU citizens. America and Japan will have to abide by this as much as we do if they’re holding or processing personal data about EU citizens.

If you think it sounds draconian, consider this – you will be put in the driving seat, and large companies are scared of it. That alone should give you an indication that we’re finally heading in the right direction.

Gambling advertising is reaching ridiculous levels

This is becoming obscene. Surely we can rein it in a bit?

Do you ever watch old clips of football matches, snooker games, or even classic F1 races? If you do, one thing that will probably look quite jarring and strange is the adverts for cigarette companies and alcohol. Plastered all over their chests, shoulders, waistcoats, cars, helmets and shirts. It’s amazing to think that this was once normal.

This is how our kids will look back on sport from our age – only it will be the obscene level of gambling advertising that will look dated and crass.

I watch a lot of football, most of which is now on Sky and BT Sport. In every break, there are at least 3 adverts for gambling companies. And there are a lot of breaks. Some of them talk about ‘gambling responsibly‘ – that might hit home a little more if they advertised responsibly.

There are scores of them. Sky Bet, Bet365, Ladbrokes, William Hill, Betfair, BetFred, StanleyBet, Coral, Intercasino, and that’s just off the top of my head. There’s bookmakers, online bookies, online casinos, the lot. All constantly, furiously, relentlessly pushed on sports fans. Clubs are affiliated with them. Players and managers endorse them. The commentators and “analysts” advertise them. It is becoming grotesque.

I’m not saying people shouldn’t gamble, much though I would prefer it if they didn’t. It’s up to each individual to do whatever they like with their money. I personally think gambling is scary and unsatisfying, that’s not to say others do. But how can it be ethical to have the sheer volume of advertising that we have now?

The enticing tactics are becoming sinister as well. Enhanced odds, introductory offers (40/1 for a goal to be scored in a game between Liverpool and Man City? I wonder what that would be if you were already tangled up in the web. I doubt they’d even offer anything on such a dead cert) and ‘free’ money. I already know what the likes of Virgin and BT do to you once you get past the first 3 months of a broadband contract, I shudder to think what a company as unscrupulous as a bookie would do once those enhanced odds disappear and you’re an existing customer.

I’ve got plenty of friends who gamble, and have a lovely time doing it. People who will budget for it, and see it as a controlled bit of fun. Again, I’m not saying gambling should be outlawed.

But at a time when FOBTs are in the news for all the wrong reasons, and government is scrambling to do something about bookies popping up in all the poorest areas of the country, this seems like an issue that could do with being addressed. How can we have strict rules against advertising tobacco and alcohol and yet allow these awful companies virtually free rein on the airwaves?

One click onto the Sky Sports website home page shows 4 advert slots – all of which are for gambling when I click it. Through to football, there are 6 slots – 4 are for gambling. The level of exposure sports fans get to this stuff is a joke.

I hate to come across all nanny state – I always despair at the rush to legislate and ban things, always looking to the government to fix all of our problems. But this just seems like it’s getting out of hand. And it also doesn’t line up with our strictness in other areas.

This feels like a growing problem that needs to be talked about and debated calmly. I don’t know the answer, but we really ought to have the conversation.

The Leader of the Opposition has got a point on Russia – In Defence of Jeremy Corbyn

Any moves towards a conflict with Russia must be resisted at every step

Last week, I was laid up with a horrible bug for about 5 days. It was not pleasant and I am still getting my energy back. I’m afraid I just didn’t have the capacity to be writing, hence the lack of new posts last week, but it did give me a chance to reflect on some new ideas, which hopefully I can bring you soon. This is a short one to get back into the swing of things.

One of the things I did on Wednesday, whilst lying on the couch, all wrapped up feeling sorry for myself, was watch PMQs. It was due to be followed by the Salisbury Statement, and so I watched it all the way through, from Corbyn’s questions (usually a dull affair), through the questions from Ian Blackford of the SNP (usually sharper and more pointed, but he only gets two), to the backbenchers’ questions, asking about everything from foreign policy to local village fêtes. It was typically rather dull.

Once this had finished (strangely promptly – amazing how much quicker things go when you don’t keep interrupting to tell members to be succinct, isn’t it Mr. Speaker?), it was on to the Salisbury Statement.

I didn’t find much to disagree with from the Prime Minister’s statement. The assumptions that have been made seem reasonable – it was either direct involvement from the Russian state, or negligence on its part – the response was on the harsher end of fairly standard and she delivered it with strength and finesse. I’m not a fan of the Prime Minister, but she did her job.

The response came from Mr. Corbyn. It was clunky and delivered poorly – unnecessarily partisan in places for me, but he is the Leader of the Opposition, so you can’t exactly say he isn’t doing his job. He has an unfortunate tone about him, comes across as aggressive when he needn’t be, and timid where he should be pushing. I personally wouldn’t like to see him as Prime Minister, and based on sessions like this, I think I’m vindicated.

But the gist of his message was that we shouldn’t be pushing hard and getting ourselves on the path to conflict. Which is absolutely right. Whilst I would support the initial round of sanctions and expulsions (which is proportionate), we shouldn’t be getting ourselves into a tangle with Russia. They are a heck of a lot more ruthless and dirty than we would be prepared to openly be, so an open ended dispute would only lead to our humiliation.

I felt really sorry for Mr. Corbyn, as he had to sit there whilst the opposing benches looked upon him with anger and the benches behind him looked upon him with scorn and contempt. Labour MP after Labour MP rose to agree with the PM, some reading out questions that contained active hostility to their own leader. This is, of course, up to them, and I’m certainly not calling for them to simply all fall in line behind a leader that most of them obviously hate. But it isn’t like he’d just opposed everything the PM had said – he was broadly in agreement, with a note of caution.

Comparisons with Iraq are inevitable, sometimes fair and sometimes not. The lesson of Iraq has got to be learned by politicians – we won’t put up with this call to war with manipulation and grandiose threats. But we also can’t just judge every potential military action by the same standard – some wars will be worth fighting. We can’t just write off any PM who comes to the House with a plan for military action, even if Iraq, Afghanistan and Libya are all unmitigated disasters. They each need to be judged on their own merits.

But Corbyn has been right on these things more often than not. And if anyone is agitating for anything remotely resembling a war with Russia, they must be resisted at every turn. This is foolish nonsense that would continue our policy of extreme folly towards Russia that we’ve followed for decades. He has more of a right to hold his head high in the Commons than any of the MPs who stood to defy him, many of whom sidled proudly into the lobbies to back stupid and disastrous wars.

We have been antagonising Russia for too long, and it is fighting back. What possible reason could we have for a conflict with Russia? What national interest could it possibly serve to do so? Our policy towards it is ludicrous, and the sooner we realise that the better.

I may come back to this in greater depth at some point, but the likes of Peter Hitchens, Melanie McDonagh and others have already written about this subject far more eloquently than I could, so I’ll leave it there for now. Suffice to say that Corbyn is being attacked in a way that is completely over the top and worrying for a functioning democracy. I’m glad he’s not the Prime Minister, but he’s not wrong about this.

Introducing the ‘Headlines Game’

Something to make the news a little less depressing…

Before we start, I’m saying it up front. This is meant to be light-hearted and not to be taken seriously. So please don’t.

Many people find the news depressing, often to the point of giving up on it. Reading opinion pieces in particular, especially in this modern age of viciousness and bile, can be overwhelming. It’s understandable.

I read them a lot, sometimes agreeing, sometimes disagreeing, but generally trying to get a breadth of opinion is, I find, good for me. I like to seek out those who I know will wind me up, simply to keep on top of the current arguments of my opponents. It is only by understanding the other side that you can fully understand yours. That in mind, the Guardian and the Telegraph are good places to start.

But I get it, it can get heavy. So I’ve been playing a game recently, just for my own entertainment, that you’re welcome to try.

You’ll have heard the term ‘never judge a book by its cover’. Well, a similar adage could be applied to articles and columns – ‘never judge a piece by its headline’. It’s often sensationalised and strips the nuance out of what the writer is trying to say, particularly with opinion pieces. So the game is as follows: just react instantly, and without much thought, to each headline, as though that’s the whole article. Be sarcastic, be funny, don’t be nuanced, go against your own beliefs even, but act like that’s the whole piece. I’ve taken the top Guardian opinion pieces as of this evening (even though I won’t post this until tomorrow midday) and done the same with the Telegraph. It should go without saying (but let’s be honest, this is the internet), that the reactions are not supposed to reflect your own views 100%, it’s just a bit of fun.

My results are below.

 

Guardian

Killer cyclists? Let’s not forget the real threat on our roads

Let me guess? Straight white males, Guardian writer?

Steve Bell on Stormy Daniels’ lawsuit – cartoon

Not sure I want to see that in cartoon form…oh her ‘lawsuit’, my apologies.

Has the UK become a country that really doesn’t like children?

Nope. Next.

Jeremy Corbyn should offer pro-EU hope, not more fears about Brexit

HAHAHAHAHAHA. You put the terms ‘Jeremy Corbyn’ and ‘pro-EU’ in the same sentence. You still haven’t spotted it have you? Bless your little cottons.

We understand the solar system, so why do people still struggle with gender?

No we don’t, and these seem to be two quite different things, mate. Maybe you should deal with them separately?

The far right hates vaginas. Why doesn’t this anger the left more?

Does it really? Questionable. Maybe as much as the Left hates penises I suppose…

Feminists have slowly shifted power. There’s no going back

Dun. Dun… DUUUUUUUUUUN.

‘Elite’ is now a meaningless insult that’s used to silence criticism

You’re probably right. Bit like ‘fascist’ isn’t it? Or ‘racist’. Or ‘sexist’. Or ‘homophobe’. Or ‘transphobe’. Or ‘Islamophobe’ There’s loads isn’t there? Both sides can play this game if you want to.

How populist uprisings could bring down liberal democracy

Ooo do tell, I’d love to know.

 

 

Telegraph

Britain cant prove that Putin was behind the Skripal poisoning – but we must act nevertheless

Sounds like a plan, Fraser me old mate. Guilty until proven innocent, how very Soviet of you.

Why the TPP has allure for US and post-Brexit Britain

Does it though? We’re not even in the Pacific. We are in Europe though…

Ruling out greenbelt removes a key lever to resolving our housing crisis

Doubt people want to live at a music festival anyway.

Let’s not focus solely on the downsides of being female, but celebrate what women can bring to the table

Like the dinner? AM I RIGHT GUYS??? Oh come on, you served that to me on a plate…NO I DIDN’T MEAN…never mind.

Who wouldn’t want their grown-up children living with them again?

Me. Next.

Civilisations shows the Greeks were as image obsessed as we are – but should we judge them?

Yeh, sure. Why not?

Here’s what men need to do to tackle gender inequality and injustice

William Hague, you’re a straight white male and therefore disqualified from speaking, albeit helpfully, on the subject. Check your jolly privilege, sunshine. Gosh. Go cycling or something…

Labour reaps with Munroe Bergdorf what it sowed with Toby Young

Do we really want to play this game? Trawling our social media histories can’t end well for anybody.

There’s a storyline in the TV show ‘The Thick Of It” in which the main characters are subject to an independent inquiry on the subject of ‘leaking’. Leaking had become one of those practices that everyone did, everyone knew was going on and just got on with it. Whether it was a genuine scandal, or just the way the government worked, everybody knew that it wouldn’t look good with a full media glare shining on it, despite the fact that this was exactly how the media got their stories.

So when one of the parties (the party of government at the time) announces an inquiry in order to gain some political leverage, the whole thing looks like it’s going to collapse. Ollie, a special adviser almost crumbles at the news. “An inquiry into all of leaking – all of leaking! We are so…! We are so screwed.”

To which Alastair Campb…sorry, Malcolm Tucker replies, “He’s done it. That chinless horse-fiddler. Our f***lustrious PM has opened Pandora’s f***ing Box and curled a massive steamer right into it.”

Which is to say, well done mate. We’re all going down now. And if I am, I’ll be dragging you down with me.

Both parties are constantly trying to one-up each other, looking for any tiny crack in the armour to ram a sword into and prise power. But they both know there are some roads that they can never start down, because they know the whole house of cards will come tumbling down and take them all out.

It’s starting to feel like the modern day version of this is what the Spectator have started calling ‘The Digital Inquisition’. And Labour and the Left generally must be starting to regret opening this particular Pandora’s box and curling a…well, you get the gist.

Only recently, the journalist and director of the New Schools Network, Toby Young stepped down from a new advisory position that he taken up in the Office for Students following an unprecedented campaign against him that was based on a trawl of his social media history. It turned out that he had said some unpleasant and shocking things in the past, and this was brought into the full media spotlight for all to pick over.

He was jumped on – Angela Rayner, Jess Phillips, Owen Jones, all took chunks out of him and the government for this apparently unwise appointment. I saw plenty of it from my own friends and connections on social media. Petitions, campaigns and reposting of his old tweets were paraded around for all to sign, join and despise.

Now, I’m not (here, anyway) taking a position on this. You’re welcome to make your own mind up on whether Mr Young was an appropriate choice for this post. My point here is that this tactic is not something that will only hit one side of the political divide. This has been proven in the last week, as Labour found themselves caught in their own net.

The transgender model and campaigner Munroe Bergdorf had been appointed to the Labour party’s LGBT advisory board, but stepped down after a similar campaign showed some highly unpleasant comments that she had made in the past on social media.

I’ll be completely honest, in my opinion this person is a deeply unpleasant individual with some shocking, awful opinions. I’ve heard her speak where she can give as much context as she like to her views, and I find her to be ill-informed and spiteful. She is, as far as I’m concerned, an idiot.

What I don’t like, and will defend her as much as I will defend anyone on this point, is the stripping of context around something that someone has said and presenting it as the whole truth. This is something I will come back to in a future piece, but for now let’s just say that whenever you see a small quote, especially when used to attack or smear someone, ALWAYS look for the context around it. I’ve lost count of the amount of times I’ve read something, thought “well there’s no amount of context that could give that any credence”, only to click the link and find it more understandable. So please, when you read anything about what Munroe has said, read it in its full context. And do yourself a favour and do the same for Toby Young, Jeremy Corbyn or anyone else you’ve taken a dislike to.

I really don’t want to play this game where any appointment is followed by a trawl of their history. We will have to get to the point where we’re going to have to see our past selves in the context in which they were said, and give each other a break. Can any of us really admit that we’d be happy for anyone to trawl back into our archives before we’d had a chance to do so ourselves?

It doesn’t help that everything we have ever said on social media is presented (if you search for it now) in the modern UI (user interface) – that is, whatever Twitter or Facebook looks like now. Imagine we could see a post from 2010 in the UI that 2010 Facebook had. It would already put it into its context effectively. Old photographs and videos are black and white – it gives them context immediately. If we could put them all into full HD colour, we’d subconsciously be applying our modern biases and culture to an age that didn’t have them.

If you want to do this, then fine, but it’s going to take us all down. I promise you, though, it isn’t a fight worth having, and it’s up to all of us to take responsibility as individuals to start giving people a break. This starts with your enemies. Because I can assure you, if you don’t apply the same rules to those on your side as you do to your enemies, you will be open to justifiable attack.

And you can’t say you weren’t warned.

The ‘Nando’s Principle’ – a lesson in overhype

If something has to be hyped to oblivion, it will inevitably disappoint.

I have, for some time now, lived by the ‘Nando’s Principle’. It’s a simple principle, but one that can save a lot of boredom and irritation. It goes something like this…

If something has been overhyped to the point where you’re expecting something that is probably too good to be true, just don’t bother. It won’t live up to the expectations. So why is this called the Nando’s Principle?

You may or may not remember a time in British history where the chicken chain restaurant Nando’s wasn’t a thing. I know, unthinkable. Dark times indeed. But it wasn’t, and we lived in blissful ignorance. Then suddenly, out of nowhere, it was everywhere. It was also all that anyone could talk about.

“Oh you just have to go”, they would say. “It’s incredible”.

On and on and on and on. I knew that at some point I would have to try out this amazing place. How could all these people be wrong?

So I went. And it was chicken.

What on earth have you all been going on about? It’s just reasonably nice chicken. And I had to pay extra for chips. Where was this Nirvana that I was assured of? Where was the succulence that would have me drooling for days afterwards?

Now, here’s where the principle kicks in. If I’d just gone to Nando’s, I probably would have liked it. The food is nice. I’m not saying it’s horrible food. But it had been built up so much that the end result was disappointing, and I’ve barely been back. Twice, maybe three times in my life. Every time – ‘meh’.

It’s a code that I now live by. I still haven’t seen Les Mis, and never will. I won’t watch the Superbowl.

“Oh, but Mark, you’re missing out on all these wonderful things for a silly rule.” Can you honestly tell me that hyped things are ever as good as they promise? Isn’t life that much sweeter when you have a surprisingly good time?

I feel very much like the comedian Jon Richardson. I like to keep my life happiness curve fairly shallow. “Ooh that was a nice KitKat, Ooh bloody hell…” I don’t feel like I’m missing out. I’m having a smashing old time, thank you very much.

I should be clear – I’m not against hype per se. It’s perfectly ok to get excited about something, or evangelise about something you like. But you’d better make sure it is genuinely amazing.

If something needs to be hyped to oblivion, it must be insecure in itself. And that’s ok too. But I won’t be going.