Thursday, 30 July 2009

Spirit not skill will shape Clarets season

With Owen Coyle putting the final finishing touches to his Burnley squad, the time is right to look at how well equipped he is to keep the Clarets in the Premier League.

Despite the bumper payday for winning promotion, we still find ourselves unable to compete with our peers in the transfer market and have instead looked at bringing in hungry youngsters rather than experienced, expensive professionals.

For instance, Birmingham City splashed out almost £10m on two centre-backs in Scott Dann and Roger Johnson, and Burnley, even after tribunal fees have been set for David Edgar and Richard Eckersley, will in all probability have signed an entire new back line for much less than £3m. Elsewhere, Wolves spent a hefty £6.5m on Kevin Doyle, who scored fewer goals last season than our own Martin Paterson.

James McCarthy and Jason Scotland are just two of the rumoured Burnley targets that have instead moved on to other Premier League clubs, and who knows how many more Coyle might have missed out on for financial reasons.

But the signings he has made are mostly impressive, with the stand-out player obviously being the record-breaking £3m man Steven Fletcher. The former Hibernian striker has made a promising start to his career in claret and blue and looks set to shoulder much of the goal scoring burden. Burnley will need to take their chances and Fletcher is the man Coyle will be relying on to hit the back of the net regularly.

The other four signings so far are all defenders, as Coyle looks to arrest the problems Burnley had at the back last season. But although the quartet of Eckersley, Easton, Mears and Edgar are all young and no doubt talented, there are question marks over whether or not they will prove to be any better than what was already at the club.

They are, though, players that Burnley should be able to retain, even if relegation was to happen come May.

Interestingly Burnley have not gone abroad in their search for new signings, although Ecuadorian winger Fernando Guerrero impressed on trial with the Clarets on the American tour.

That suggests that Coyle is looking to nurture the excellent team spirit from last season further, without risking splintering the squad’s morale by going for bank-breaking, flamboyant foreign players.

Arguably all that is missing from the squad now is a pacy left winger and in his chasing of Hearts’ Andrew Driver and now Guerrero, Coyle has identified that weakness.

However, it appears probable that the Clarets will line up in a 4-5-1 formation more often than not, with Fletcher and Paterson likely to spend some time playing on the wing. That suggests Coyle will favour graft over flair for many games, meaning Robbie Blake and Chris Eagles may have to adapt their games to get regular starting berths.

It is crucial that the team spirit that was so evident last term, especially towards the end of the season, is kept, and the new boys seem to be settling in well already. Most teams will have more skill, quality and talent than us, so we must look to other areas where we can get ahead. Sheer desire is one of them, and Coyle’s tactical nous and ability to get his team up for the big games will also stand the Clarets in good stead.

It’s also important the fans play their part. Turf Moor has the potential to be the most intimidating ground in the Premier League and there are few atmospheres that can match it when supporters are loud.

All in all, we must remember that the Premier League is something to enjoy. Heavy defeats are likely at some point but there will be countless days and nights to remember, with moments that will live on for generations of Clarets.

Enjoy the ride.

This article was written for FansOnline and amended for Fanzone on TimesOnline (for both of whom I shall be writing about Burnley throughout the season).

Guardian article: part 3

Linky linky.

Can't stress this enough - please leave a comment on the article.



Tuesday, 28 July 2009

The next Manchester United boss:- Mourinho throws his hat into the ring

One of the more fascinating aspects of the Premier League has, for me, always been the rapid turnaround in managers. And I think it’s no coincidence that each of the top six, Chelsea excluded, have kept faith with the same man for a number of years. And even that stat tells its own story, with Chelsea failing to push Manchester United close in any of the last three title races.

However, both United’s manager Sir Alex Ferguson and Arsene Wenger of Arsenal are, to put it bluntly, getting on a bit in years. So it’s only a matter of time until both clubs are looking for new men to lead them forward. Of course, Fergie has threatened to retire before and carried on, so it could be a year or ten years until Old Trafford has a new gaffer.

But today Jose Mourinho, foe of Ferguson and self-proclaimed Special One, has claimed that he’d like to take the reins when Ferguson steps aside. It’s an interesting development. Mourinho has immediately been installed by SkyBet as the favourite at 4/1, although there are a string of former United men also in the running, including Steve Bruce (9/1), Mark Hughes (11/1), Carlos Quieroz (15/1), bizarrely, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer (26/1), Roy Keane at the same price, and outsiders Bryan Robson (200/1), Eric Cantona (100/1) and Paul Ince (50/1).

Mourinho was speaking after pulling off the transfer deal of the century, getting rid of temperamental Swedish star Zlatan Ibrahimovic in exchange for the brilliant Samuel Eto’o, the technically gifted but injury prone Aleksandr Hleb on a season’s loan, and around £40m in cash. His Inter team now look like serious contenders for next season’s Champions’ League competition.

But you sense after the unsavoury end to his Chelsea stint, Mourinho feels he has unfinished business in the Premier League. The Blues dumped him after his relationship with Roman Abramovic turned sour, and since then the Stamford Bridge club have gone through four managers – Avram Grant, Luis Felipe Scolari, Guus Hiddink and the current incumbent, Carlo Ancelotti.

United and the Special One would be an exciting proposition. Mourinho’s Chelsea were functional but rarely exciting, whereas you sense at a club as prestigious as United, he would feel pressure to entertain as well as to secure results.

But it is questionable whether or not United’s fans would clasp him to their collective bosom: indeed, post-Ferguson it will take some getting used to for the Old Trafford fans whoever takes over.

Martin O’Neill was enjoying a highly successful spell with Celtic at the time that Ferguson was threatening to retire, and he was widely expected to be the man United would’ve have turned to. And since then he has enhanced his reputation further by reinvigorating Aston Villa, leading them in to Europe and to the brink of breaking into the top four. His name is sure to be one that is in the running when the time comes.

Ferguson will celebrate his 70th birthday at the end of 2011, midway through his 25th year in charge of Manchester United. Could he be tempted to call it a day at the end of that campaign, and lead Great Britain’s football team to glory at the London Olympics the following summer?

Monday, 27 July 2009

Burnley to the Britannia: The Long Way Down

A group of local men are looking for donations after promising to walk to the Clarets’ first away game of the season, to Stoke City’s Britannia Stadium on August 15.

Journalists Phil Simpson and Daniel Black (of the Burnley Express) and Andrew Greaves (of The Bolton News), Burnley FC retail manager Tom Mackie and retail merchandiser Tobias Mackie (of JJB) pledged to make the trip after Burnley secured promotion back in May.

The five hope to cover the 65 miles between Turf Moor and the Britannia in around two and a half days.

They will be raising money for Pendleside Hospice as well as the Claretsmad Youth Foundation.

Donations can be made at

This article can also be viewed at FansOnline.

Labour betray their socialist roots, Lib Dems are the answer

Reports over the weekend suggest that the wheels are in motion to increase university tuition fees up to as much as £7,000 a year.

Both Labour and the Tories would push the move through if they were to win next year's general election, meaning that changes could be made as quickly as 2011.

Back in March when murmurings of this atrocity first surfaced, I wrote a story for InJournalism.

I must admit, I had forgotten all about it since. But this latest news saddens me greatly. I know it may be naive of me, but I still have this stupid notion that the Labour party are supposed to be socialists. This probably comes from my father, who was as old Labour as they come and was an undefeated local councillor for them for around a decade.

We already have a two-tier health system, with the rich using private healthcare instead of the flailing NHS. Increasing tuition fees will only serve to make education a two-tier system as well. The Labour government was supposed to preside over a narrowing in the yawning chasm between the social classes, not make decisions that only serve to increase the gap.

However, there is hope for the nation's youth. The Liberal Democrats are vocally opposed to top-up fees. Liberal Democrat Shadow Innovations, University and Skills Secretary, Stephen Williams said, back in March: “Liberal Democrats believe that all students should be able to go to university without having to worry about getting saddled with massive tuition fee debt. That’s why we think university fees should be scrapped, not doubled.”

Unfortunately, the Lib Dems have failed to market themselves as a viable alternative to the two major parties, despite also being fiercely anti-war as well as against tuition fees. Depressingly, as I Tweeted last night, had all the people affected by top-up fees and the illegal war that Tony Blair led us to in Iraq, voted for the Lib Dems, they would have had a chance of being elected. And it's no coincidence that the Democrats came out better than any other party from the recent MPs expenses scandal.

This isn't a cheerleading post for the LDs. I just wanted to express my dismay that young people in Britain can't put down their mobile phones and Xbox controllers for long enough to vote in elections, even when there is a party campaigning mostly on issues that affect them. Hopefully next year it will be different.

Friday, 24 July 2009

La Roux album review

I really wanted to dislike this album. I had dismissed Elly Jackson and Ben Langmaid (yep, I had to look up his name, but that seems to be the way they both prefer it) as try-hard bandwagon-jumpers, riding the wave of 80s inspired pop indiscriminately to the top of the charts, making mugs of the general public.

But there’s a surprising amount of depth present in their debut, aside from the three giant singles Quicksand, In For The Kill and Bulletproof (admittedly the three catchiest and most memorable tracks on the album).

But the standout song is the slow-burning As If By Magic, where Jackson sings in a couple of keys lower than the ear-bleeding usual. The layered vocals in the chorus are easily the best bit of the record, and it’s a shame the track dies out so quietly.

It’s not all good though. Fascination is about 1/1000th as good as the track of the same name by Alphabeat, Tigerlily’s spoken male vocal is horribly misjudged, and the closing two tracks are simply dull.

But all in all there’s enough here to suggest Jackson and Langmaid may be a pair worth keeping an eye on. It will certainly be interesting to see how the Caribbean steel drums on the next single I’m Not Your Toy goes down with record-buyers.

This review was originally published on The Music Magazine.

Tuesday, 21 July 2009

Mercury Music Prize reaction

Yep, it’s that time of year again. The time of year that music critics fall over themselves to slag off the choices made by the judges for the now Barclaycard-sponsored Mercury Music Prize. The time of year that music fans become even more rabid and defensive than usual of their favourite bands and artists. And the time of year someone you’ve never heard of sells 1000% more copies of their album after inclusion on the shortlist.

This year’s chosen twelve throws up few surprises. Kasabian’s third album West Ryder Pauper Lunatic Asylum is probably the only shock entry from the more mainstream entries. The Leicester boys are not typical Mercury contenders at all but the bookies have installed them as early favourites.

Disappointingly the judges (which include NME’s outgoing Editor Conor McNicholas, naturally...) have predictably bought into the NME-led hype about the Horrors. Their second record Primary Colours is a complete My Bloody Valentine rip-off, but for some reason nobody else seems to have noticed.

Another unlistenable album to my fragile ears is the recent debut release from Florence and the Machine. Lungs ticks all the boxes the Mercury judges love – it’s eclectic, kooky and different to what people might expect – but it’s not actually very good, and in their haste to fall at Flo’s feet, the panel have missed that somewhat important fact.

A more interesting female pop star on the list is La Roux. Her two singles Bulletproof and In For The Kill both bothered the very upper reaches of the charts despite her awkward image. However, it remains to be seen whether the judges feel there is enough depth to her album to be worth the award.

Little Boots will be disappointed to have missed out on a nod. Her Kylie-inspired debut Hands was a stunning opening to the year, but her hype seems to have died away as quickly as it started. Another unexpected omission is Doves, who were widely expected to profit from what was roundly referred to in the press as ‘the Elbow effect’.

I’m surprised that beautiful duo Slow Club are not included for the twee kids and Grammatics and White Lies both miss out despite being the bands of choice for many indie kids over the last few months. Broken Records would have been an absolute certainty but their album was a disappointment after their tremendous early singles.

Readers of the previous incarnation of this website will be well aware of my love of Glasvegas. Their debut album, released way back in September, was easily my favourite of last year, and it sounds just as exciting and liberating now. But albums that are not fresh in the judges’ memories do not often do well and a Scottish win would be a big surprise, despite the band’s sheer brilliance.

Elsewhere on the shortlist is the Bjork-lite but critically acclaimed Natasha Khan, aka Bat For Lashes, with her latest effort, and token folkie Lisa Hannigan, who is probably still best known for providing the sumptuous female vocals on Damien Rice’s gentle but sublime debut album O.

There are then a quartet of acts I have no qualms about admitting to being completely oblivious to (in fact, it is my belief that the panel invent a band each year to try and fox the press). Sweet Billy Pilgrim, Led Bib, Speech Debelle and the Invisible are the awesome foursome (in the panel’s eyes, at least). I am a man of simple tastes and none of the afore-mentioned had crossed my radar at all before this morning.

And last but not least, my tip: Friendly Fires. Their superb eponymous record has been the very definition of a slow-burner, but festival season has seen them explode into the mainstream. They’re the band on everyone’s lips at the moment thanks to staggeringly good songs such as Paris and White Diamonds, and I can easily see the judges going for their dance-funk-rock twist.

So there you have it – the chosen 12. Who’s your pick? Who is missing from the shortlist?

This article was written for The Music Magazine and is published here.

Why working class journo grads have no hope

Gloomy post alert.

Journalism has been in the news of late after Alan Milburn's controversial report into the growing class divide in University education. Today Roy Greenslade offered his thoughts on his Guardian blog, and it makes fascinating reading.

Basically, unless you know someone, or know someone who knows someone, or have a virtually bottomless pit of money available, you have very little chance of making it onto a national newspaper.

The facts are thus:

-Working class graduates are priced out of Masters courses because of lack of funding available and high fees.

-Working class graduates can't afford to move to London without guaranteed work.

-Working class graduates can't afford to work for free, therefore denying them a crucial 'in' to the industry.

It's not a pretty picture I'm painting, because the landscape for the likes of me and my classmates of '09 is bleak and the future ahead is depressing.

Monday, 20 July 2009

Recent stuff

OK - so here's what I've been up to.



In short - this.

There's also another Guardian piece on the way and I'm doing some other stuff for Muso's Guide.

Bookmark away!

Monday, 13 July 2009

The return of The Music Magazine

It gives me great pleasure to announce the return of The Music Magazine, a fine upstanding music website edited by a friend and colleague of mine, Scott Goodacre.

Scott founded TMM not long after starting his degree three years ago, but had to close the site down a couple of months ago when he finished his course, as he had a full-time job to go to (it's alright for some...)

Anyway, I mention it because TMM will be where I will hopefully be having plenty of stuff published over the coming weeks and months, and because it's mint, and you should read it.

My review of Idlewild's new album Post Electric Blues has just gone up now.


Friday, 10 July 2009

Degree Annoyance

OK, so when I created this blog a few weeks ago, I made a promise to myself that I would keep it solely as a collection of articles to use as an online portfolio. But something has really ground my gears and I feel the need to vent about it, and here seems to be as good a place as any.

I got my degree results through last week. I got a 2:2, which was what I expected really (I know I could have put a lot more effort in but by the end I was so bored of Uni - their fault for not stimulating me - it was a struggle to even get finished) but I was still disappointed. Over the three years I definitely think I've deserved a 2:1 for the work I've put in.

(Of course most of this is a moot point as in the current job market even a First from a decent Uni isn't going to guarantee you a good graduate job.)

Anyway, after the initial upset at seeing the final grade in black and white I took a closer look, going through my results carefully. I added them up, did various sums and equations on them, and calculated that overall my total percentage for final year work was a respectable 60.9%. The threshold for a 2:1 is 60%. Naturally this is even more frustrating.

So I e-mailed some University tutors to see if there was any sort of appeals process I could go through. I got this response:

"I'm sorry you are unhappy with your results -- it must be incredibly frustrating to be in your position and I can well understand how you feel (my own daughter narrowly missed a 2:1 in psychology a year or two ago and was very upset).

As you say, there are only a few marks involved but as markers we are very aware of how important a few marks can be. We take great care to ensure consistency through a rigorous second-marking system of every assessment and by sending a selection of work to an external examiner. For the final project (MAC393) with its important 40 credits, we also have a "markers' meeting" where all students' projects are laid out on a table, with all the tutors involved in supervising MAC393 students looking at other projects in what amounts to a triple or quadruple marking exercise.

Even so, some students will inevitably end up just below a grade threshold on individual modules -- and eventually their overall degree mark -- just as others will end up just above. But remember that by the time the degree marks are calculated we have looked carefully at the marks on every module, so the overall mark really does give a fairly thorough appraisal of the marks that student has genuinely earned.

So, I'm afraid that we would not look again at your marks as the system we have makes me confident you have been awarded the appropriate grade.

You do, of course, have a right to appeal -- but only into the process of marking (eg if we did not follow the rules properly) rather than the actual marks awarded. Below is a link to the appropriate regulations. If you wish to appeal you will not, of course, be able to graduate until that appeal has been heard.

I'm genuinely sorry I can't be of more help -- but I hope you recognise that what we realise are important decisions are not taken lightly."

Basically - he could have just typed 'tough shit' for all the use that is to me. Brilliantly, the 'system' means I am powerless to do anything about it. It is the entire system of degree marking I have a beef with (only because it has affected me, obviously, but I thought it was a dumb way of doing it before it fucked me, honest), not the way they do it at Sunderland.

Surely it is more fair to take a complete aggregation of the student's work rather than the ridiculous method currently used. One poor module can screw your degree just because it is considered more important than others. For me, the most important modules were ones that were specific to what I wanted to do in my career: a Placement, Sports Journalism and Arts and Entertainment Reviewing. These three modules overall would have given me a very solid 2:1, close to a First in fact.

But because of the way the degree is structured, with a Media Ethics module stuck in the third year to pad it out instead of earlier in the course where it would actually be useful, and a huge module for a final project that apparently showcases all your talents and skills (rather than the placement where you actually DO showcase your skills, dur), I've come out with a 2:2. They may as well have sent me some human excrement in the post rather than that bit of paper, for all the good it does me.

I already regretted my decision to study Journalism at Sunderland, now I just wish I'd done something else completely with the last five years of my life full stop.

And yes, of course it is at least partly sour grapes. But it's still bloody annoying.

Wednesday, 8 July 2009

Arctic Monkeys' comeback single - review

Arctic Monkeys - Crying Lightning

2007 should have belonged to Arctic Monkeys. More festival headlining slots than you could shake a stick at coupled with a superb follow-up to their record-breaking debut album meant the year was there for the taking.

But dodgy sound at Glastonbury robbed them off their crowning moment, and the weather spoiled their giant near-homecoming gigs at Lancashire County Cricket Club.

So ‘Crying Lightning’, the first peek at their new album Humbug, represents something of a crossroads for the Sheffield band.

Sessions with Josh Homme in the Mojave Desert led to speculation that the Monkeys were about to go Seriously Rock. But ‘Crying Lightning’ seems to be very much a bridge from Favourite Worst Nightmare to their new era.

Turner’s vocals are low in the mix, well underneath spindly and spidery guitar work. They are as breathless as ever, but it’s not typically Arctics singalong fare. Nor is it really a dancefloor filler like, er, ‘…Dancefloor’.

But it’s very much a grower, and an interesting indicator of what the rest of Humbug might sound like. Perhaps this year, with a return to the big time at Leeds and Reading festivals, they will finally hit the stratosphere.

Again, this was originally published on Muso's Guide.

The Cribs preview new album with free track

The Cribs – We Were Aborted

Johnny Marr joining the Cribs might just be the best thing to happen to British guitar music in years. Most thrilling live band in the country + indie guitar legend + growing mainstream success = amazing, yes?

Indeed. We Were Aborted is probably the best song the Cribs have ever written. It fizzles along at more than double the speed of their usual scuzzy racket, with Marr’s mature yet somehow youthful wah-wah Guitar Heroesque fretwork making it pretty much the perfect summer noise anthem.

This is the sort of record that will inspire kids to pick up an instrument and start a band. Holier-than-thou hacks have been lauding the recession as it will apparently produce rebellious music. (What - like the Enemy? Great) Well, there’s no sign of it yet, but fortunately the Cribs are just as much fun as ever. You’ll even forget your lack of job, money, spouse, prospects and so on for its three-and-a-bit minutes of joyful pandemonium.

But it’s not even the first single. This is just a teaser for the album Ignore The Ignorant, due in September.

And for now at least, We Were Aborted is available as a free download from their website. So what are you waiting for?

This review was originally published on Muso's Guide. Hopefully the start of a long and fruitful partnership.

Tuesday, 7 July 2009

Second Guardian article goes live

Linky linky.

Can't stress this enough - please leave a comment on the article.



Sunday, 5 July 2009

Brit Dan's American Triathlon Dream

This is an article I wrote as part of an application for a job at a triathlon magazine...

Ex-pat Dan Sheerin is looking to make his way in the cut-throat world of triathlon after moving to America and becoming the team captain for the Sony Pictures Triathlon Team.

Dan said: “I first got into triathlon when I was doing my masters at Bournemouth University. I made friends with 2 guys and one of them was a keen triathlete from South Africa.

“As I and the other friend, Alex, were very sporty, it didn't take much encouragement to give triathlons a go.”

Like many triathletes, Dan has a natural predisposition for one of the three events that make up triathlon.

He said: “My favourite discipline would have to be cycling. I love being out on my bike. I have always had a mountain bike in the past so it is only recently that I have concentrated on road cycling.”

With a handful of events already under his belt Dan is looking to push on with three more triathlons planned for the rest of the year.

His first event was an Olympic length triathlon in Bournemouth. He explains: “I had no idea how to prepare for the swim and this really showed. I had no proper warm up and this led to a real shock when entering the choppy and cold water.

“I also wasn't looking forward to the run so it is typical to want to hold back slightly. The run felt really slow at first. I got into my stride and as a result I actually ran my target time.

“Finishing the race caused a flood of emotions but I loved it. I was totally hooked but I knew I had a lot to focus on to improve my results.”

Dan is certainly one to keep an eye out for as he continues to improve as a triathlete.