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 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.

Syria, Tomahawks and Red Ken

Let’s just take a step back

One of the running jokes on Have I Got News For You is Ian Hislop sarcastically inserting the word ‘allegedly’ in front of outrageous or salacious claims (often true). A nod to ‘the lawyers’ is never too far behind. It’s a running joke because of the face he will pull, or the tone he will employ. However, the joke is based on the very real risk of stating outright on the BBC something which is, or could be, false. This would open them up to quite serious libel charges, and be a strict violation of BBC rules.

I mention this only because there has been a distinct lack of this word appearing recently, particularly in relation to this ‘alleged’ gas attack in Syria. I was amazed to awaken this morning to the hosts of the Today programme stating that Assad has ‘gassed his own people’ as though it was a verifiable fact. Is it? When was this confirmed? And by whom? How did they obtain this information?

If this sounds like an odd thing to say, then we may have hit upon the problem. Forgive me for sounding overly sceptical…but where have all the sceptics gone? Has anyone stopped to question whether this is true or not? Or have we just taken it as gospel?

Before I am reprimanded, I should state outright that I am NOT saying that this didn’t happen. It could well have. But isn’t this all happening a little fast? Are we acting and speaking before we think? On what basis do we believe these things?

I’ll lay my cards on the table – I will be amazed if this is proven to be true. Horrified, yes – but mainly amazed. Because it simply doesn’t make any logical sense. Assad is currently in the middle of a bloody and horrid civil war, one which he clearly plans on winning. He is a dreadful man, a sinister tyrant – but he is not stupid. Bad as he may be, he shows no sign of being genuinely foolish.

Let’s try for a moment to strip all emotion out of this and just focus on reason. Chemical weapons are horrible. They’re also rubbish weapons. They have no demonstrably superior effect in a war situation and cannot kill or wound as efficiently as conventional weapons. Weapons which, at the moment, are in plentiful supply thanks to Russian involvement.

Assad is starting to win and Russian conventional weapons are starting to help him to gain a good foothold. He has also been warned repeatedly that if he uses chemical weapons, Western troops and bombs are coming in. So why on earth would he stop using bombs and start using gas? That would be asking for intervention in a conflict that he’s winning. It doesn’t make any sense. Does the timing not sound a little suspicious?

He is being backed by Russia – RUSSIA. Putin is most definitely not stupid. He knows full well that a gas attack would have absolutely no strategic benefit whatsoever, and surely would never allow such a thing to happen on his watch, given how much he has invested.

This has not been proven to anything like a level that I would be asking for, and I admit to being stunned at how readily a nation that backed Blair’s WMD theory is to believe it all over again. Once more – I’m not saying this didn’t happen…I’m saying it hasn’t been proven.

Is it so much to ask for a little scepticism? What harm could possibly come from just waiting a little to see what can be proven, independently and rigorously? Why are we rushing headlong towards a battlefield that contains Russian troops, tanks, planes and ships? I beg you – take a step back.

A scary response

On a similar note – is it just me who is utterly terrified by the thought that Trump saw some images of kids and sent his military to bomb the crap out of an airfield? Whatever you think of his actions – you may approve – is it not just the slightest bit insane that he can just change his mind so easily when he is at the helm of the largest military the world has ever seen?

Leaders need to free themselves of emotion in order to make good, unclouded decisions. American leaders especially, given the enormous power they can wield. We know Trump can’t do this. How can you make major strategic decision in this manner? More to the point, who is reining him in?

Sadly, US Presidents traditionally need to hold back their generals from going to war. Trump is enabling them. We can’t trust him with a delicate and tense situation involving huge interests and nuclear powers. One slight misstep and this goes horribly wrong.

59 Tomahawk missiles (at a cost of $250,000 each) rained down on an airport at the whim of a baby in a suit. In the parallel universe that we apparently now occupy, Lib Dem leader Tim Farron and Supreme High Lord of the Utopian Left, Justin Trudeau have backed him, while Nigel Farage, Paul Nuttall, Katie Hopkins, Arron Banks, Milo Yiannopolous, Paul Joseph Watson and Ann Coulter have denounced him. As the latter pointed out, plenty of people voted for him on the understanding he wasn’t a Middle East hawk. 13 weeks in, he’s already proven himself one.

Pictures of dead/suffering children are unbearable to see. They’re also an awful basis for making good decisions.

Challenge him on the facts

This whole Ken Livingstone saga has dragged on for far too long. More to the point, Ken and everyone else have been at an impasse that should have been resolved long ago. The main thrusts of the argument to this point have been as follows:

Ken: “Here’s a thing that happened”

Everyone else: “That’s really offended and upset a lot of people, you need to apologise”

Ken: “But it’s true, why should I apologise?”

Everyone else: “Because people are hurt and upset. You need to apologise”

And round and round and round…

Here’s my problem – why didn’t anyone just challenge him on the facts? If you think you’re right about something, there is no reason to apologise. Sometimes people get hurt and that’s a shame, but if they’re hurt by something that is true, there’s not much you can do about that. As it happens, he’s wrong, so he should apologise. But the problem is, every time he is on the airwaves, he isn’t met by this challenge, he is just met by an incredulous presenter who simply cannot believe that he won’t apologise for hurting people’s feelings.

I’ll be completely honest, I think the guy is wrong, but I do have a respect for his doggedness. He hasn’t just backed down like every other person in public life does and apologised just to end it all. Throughout this whole saga, I deliberately didn’t look up his references because I wanted to hear him faced with someone authoritative on the subject to deliver an actual riposte to his claims. The problem with not doing that, is that the people listening just hear his side, then a request for him to apologise. This leaves people going “well if he’s right, why should he?”

The answers as to why he’s wrong come in pieces like David Baddiel’s superb contribution to today’s Guardian. He outlines why Ken is wrong accurately and succinctly. But he hasn’t had the chance to put that to Ken directly. He needs to be debated.

Perhaps this should be a lesson. Demanding an apology is just an appeal to emotion. It’s saying “it doesn’t matter if what you say is true or not, you need to say sorry”. And that’s not good enough. What we need to do is say “here’s why what you said is wrong, it’s here in this respected book, this respected and knowledgeable expert says so, you’ve interpreted it in this way when really you should have done it that way. Now apologise.”

A world where people are forced to apologise for something they’re not sorry for – what kind of world is that?