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Glamping Along the Blue Ridge Parkway

Sunday, September 1st, 2019

About three months ago we returned from a ten day camping trip along the Blue Ridge Parkway, not forgetting the additional sixty miles of Skyland Drive. When my wife reserved the camp sites, one definite requirement was the provision of showers. Surprisingly this necessity greatly reduced the number of campsites that provided this necessary facility. She managed to find three sites that would coincide with our itinerary, but even then the quality of the campsite varied considerably as the following notes will confirm:

Pigsah Camp Site: rest rooms were very basic. Wearing flip flops in the shower is a necessity. Individual  tent sites were too close together. It did provide a food storage bin. The Pigsah Inn was just across the road, and we enjoyed a very palatable meal there one evening.

Julian Price: Camp site was situated overlooking a lake, and definitely the best location during our trip. However, it had no provision for food storage. One piece of good fortune was the discovery of brand new showers and a gigantic stainless sink to wash dishes.

Sherando Lake: Best camp site in terms of space, privacy, outdoor furniture, and food storage. Unfortunately the rest rooms were disgusting. I guess you can’t have everything.

I make no apologies for this blog. It’s not for you if you have no interest in camping. It’s basically a review of our trip and maybe a useful guide for any readers following in our foot steps. Moving on:

Day 1, Friday May 17th

Mt. Pisgah Campground. Met our friends Tom and Bonnie @ Mt Pisgah Inn-whole trout which was filleted at the table. Noisy neighbors from South Carolina @ campground. Highest elevation @ 6000 feet. We were enjoying the idyllic scenery at one of the many overlooks when we were invaded by a car club!!! Final impression of the campground was being surrounded by  Wailers and cacklers and dealing with a broken concrete table.

Day 2 Saturday

Hiking Graveyard Fields, Upper Falls, Devil’s Courthouse. Theresa attempted to make friends with a Four Inch grasshopper in the ladies shower, but her screams reverberating around the camp site confirmed it was not a successful liaison. Built a fire courtesy of Tom’s wood, cooked brats. In that mountain greenery where God paints the scenery….. Views of rolling hills as the eye can see. Spectacular.

Day 3, Sunday

Visited Tom and Bonnie on our way to next campsite. Popped in at Crabtree Falls-insufficient time to explore. Marker for next time. Stopped at Linville Falls. Orange Moon over Julian Price Lake. Quieter clientele thankfully.

Day 4, Monday

Linville Falls leading to Chimney View and Upper Falls. Picnic at Linville Picnic Area. Cone/Flat Manor was a tedious looking building devoid of any character. Even more tedious was the gift shop. I was quite taken by a wooden bowl until I was informed by a snobby sales assistant that I would have to part with $350 to take it home. Missed Grandfather Mountain hike, but drove across Lincove Viaduct.

Day 5, Tuesday

No hiking today. Drove to Blowing Rock for lunch. Attractive little town not far off the Parkway, suffused with antique and craft stores. Adequate number of bars and restaurants to cater for all tastes. Ate at the Sixpence Pub which has a sister pub of the same name in Savannah. Continued onto Boone which is dominated by Appalachian State University. Bit of a tip really.

Day 6, Wednesday

Breaking camp, welcomed by a cool foggy start to the day. Visited Mabry Mill which was very photogenic. Re-enactment Exhibit at Explore Park closed in 2007 in case your guide book is old like ours. Explore Park has nothing else to offer.

Blue Ridge Parkway in Virginia is not as mountainous as North Carolina. Attractive vistas but not as dramatic  at NC. Taking a break from camping, and stayed one night at Peaks Of Otter Lodge. Look out for 3 mountain peaks: Sharp Top (4000 feet,) Flat Top and Harkening Hill. Lodge and adjoining Abbott Lake constructed and opened in 1964. Satisfied our purpose, but I wouldn’t stay longer than one night.

Day 7, Thursday

Said our farewell to the Lodge and visited the James River. Why not? Discovered an historic sluice (1851.) Next stop: Natural Bridge and discovered a dead tree that survived until 1980-1600 years old. Arrived at Sherando Lake Campsite. Best campsite pound for pound. Wildlife spotted so far; turkey, fox, deer and black snake.

Day 8, Friday

Hiked up Humpback Rocks, 700 foot rise in elevation from bottom to top in one mile. Met a brother and sister from Richmond. He had just graduated, and was leaving for Togo for 27 months. Why would anyone elect to spend 27 months in Togo?

Lunch at Blue Mountain Brewery. Found a Kroger in Waynesboro which was its only saving grace.

Day 9, Saturday

Drive to Skyland Lodge, and entered the Shenedoah National Park. Experienced our “first bear jam.” Transition from being in virual wild to noisy civilization can only be described as shock to the system. Sky Lodge: room fine, views great, food and service sucked. Clearly understaffed for Memorial Day Weekend, so service was abysmal and food was deplorable.

Day 10, Sunday

We enjoy a challenge, so we decided to drive the 600 miles home. End of a great adventure.

 

 

Final Thoughts on the Champions League Final

Sunday, June 9th, 2019

I have been a much maligned Tottenham Hotspur supporter since 1961. It’s no coincidence that was the season that Spurs became the first team to achieve the double (league title and FA Cup) in the 20th Century. It’s almost common place now, and Manchester City went one further last season by completing the treble (Premiership, FA Cup, and League Cup.)

Spurs won the European Cup Winners Cup in 1963 and the EUFA Cup in 1972, but apart from a semi-final appearance in the European Cup (subsequently renamed the Champions League Trophy) in 1962 when they were unlucky to lose to Benfica, they hadn’t come close to winning the most prodigious Club trophy in European football.

Following their miraculous effort in the semi-final to defeat Ajax I was really geared up to watch the final against Liverpool. The Reds had also achieved a miracle by overcoming a 0-3 deficit  to squeeze past Barcelona, and the stage was set for a grand finale.

Unfortunately, the game could be summed up by one word: DIRE!!!! Spurs conceded a penalty 26 seconds from the kick off, and the score remained 1-0 until the dying minutes when Liverpool scored a second to clinch the match. Spurs had 67% of the possession in the first half but did not have on shot on goal.

Several reasons have been put forward for the lack luster performance by both teams. Neither team had kicked a ball competitively for three weeks, and perhaps it was asking too much for the drama, intensity and excitement of the semi-finals to be repeated in such a short period of time. The temperature in the Madrid stadium at kickoff was 90 degrees Fahrenheit which is not conducive for fast flowing football.

However what annoyed me more than anything was Spurs manager, Mauricio Pochetinno’s team selection. Harry Kane is admittedly one of the best strikers in the world, but he hadn’t played competitively for 8 weeks due to injury. Now there is a vast difference to being declared physically fit compared to being match fit, and common sense should have told Pochettino to leave Kane on the bench. To make room for Kane, Lucas Mora was consigned to the role of substitute despite scoring a hat trick  in the semi-final. Needless to say Liverpool’s central defender, Virgil Van Dyck had Kane in his pocket for the whole match.

Harry Wicks is a reasonable midfield player but a little out of his depth at this level. He had not played for six weeks due to injury, and unsurprisingly was anonymous. His only memorable contribution was eyeing up the blonde streaker who took a shine to him.

Both teams use wing backs as an attacking resource, and you would assume that Trippier and Rose would have the edge because they are the current England full backs. Not so. Liverpool’s Alexander-Walker and Andy Robertson were vastly superior.

Christian Eriksen is highly regarded as the Spurs playmaker. So much so that Real Madrid are keen to acquire his services. Unfortunately he failed to deliver on the big stage, and spent most of the match drifting towards the sidelines. Son Heung-Min had a wonderful season but was another Spurs regular who chose to an off day in the final. Finally we come to the enigma that is Dele Alli. A couple of seasons ago he looked world class, but has been  on a downward  spiral since the World Cup.

I don’t really understand what his role is. Okay, he’s a midfield player. But he can’t tackle and his passing is very inconsistent. He has goal scoring ability, but that  sadly has deteriorated markedly over the past twelve months. My comments on Alli could also be attributed to the Spurs team. When they are good, they are very good. But when they are not so good they are frustrating to watch. It’s all very well for Pochettino to claim they will be back next season, but I believe they blew their chance. Top teams like Manchester City, Liverpool, Barcelona, Real Madrid are reloading as I write, and Spurs will need to sign three or four quality players to compete with their rivals.

Daniel Levy, get your cheque book out!!!!

 

Lightning Strikes Twice

Thursday, May 16th, 2019

Champions League Semi-finals

Second Leg

Liverpool 4 Barcelona 0 (Liverpool win 4-3 on Aggregate.)

Ajax 2 Tottenham Hotspur 3 (3-3 on Aggregate, but Spurs go through on Away Goals)

I must confess that I did not give a second thought to  Liverpool playing Tottenham Hotspur in the final of the Champions league, particularly when Barcelona led Liverpool 3-0 on completion of the first leg of the semifinal, and Spurs lost the home leg to Ajax 0-1.

Liverpool were first up in the second leg, facing a monumental task against a team that had just clinched the Championship in Spain. The atmosphere in Anfield was at boiling point, and with apologies to clichés, would prove to be the twelfth man. Origi had been peripheral figure for most of the season, but was playing because of an injury to the Brazilian Firmino. It was Origi who opened the scoring in the 7th minute, and the score would remain at 1-0 until half time. Barcelona were leading 3-1 on aggregate with 45 minutes left.

Shortly after half time there was an unusual incident which would change the course of the game. Suarez fouled Liverpool’s fullback, Andy Robertson, who had to be helped off and was replaced by midfielder Wijnaldum. He was not known for his goal scoring, but in the course of a couple of minutes scored twice to level the tie. The Barcelona players looked stunned, and reacted as if all the energy and air had been sucked out of them. Lionel Messi, arguably the best player in the world, and captain of Barcelona appeared to be dazed and helpless to what was happening around him. It was he, and almost he alone, that tore Liverpool apart in the first leg with two terrific goals.

There was only going to be one winner now if the body language of the players was anything to go by. And it was the unsung hero once again, Origi, who scored Liverpool’s fourth following clever play and nous by full back Alexander-Arnold taking a corner kick when the Barcelona defence had turned off for a split second. At the final whistle, pandemonium broke out  with the stadium engulfed in a sea of red, and countless renditions of “You Never Walk Alone.” What a comeback!

The following night, it was Tottenham’s turn to attempt to overturn adversity, and rescue the tie on Ajax’s home turf who were leading 1-0 from the first leg. Tottenham’s only change from the first leg was to restore Son Heung-min  to the line up. He was suspended for the first leg, but had been playing really well in the absence of star striker Harry Kane, absent through injury for the past month.

The match didn’t begin very well for Spurs when they conceded a goal after 4 minutes. Worse was to follow when they conceded another, and trundled off the field at half time 0-2 down and 0-3 on aggregate. Spurs manager, Mauricio Pochettino, is not afraid to change tactics if the occasion demands, and unsurprisingly he instructed his players to introduce route 1 football, using their tall striker, Llorente, as their target man. Llorente is not the most skillful or fastest of players, but is a good header of a ball, and continued to unsettle Ajax’s central defenders.

Within a few minutes of the second half, Lucas Mora had pulled one back for Spurs. Ajax appeared to be shaken by this setback, and shortly after, Mora scored his and Tottenham’s second. In a bizarre way there are parallels to be drawn between Liverpool’s Origi and Mora. Mora had been in and out of the first team for most of the season, and in similar circumstances to Origi was only having an extended run in the first team because of injury to a star player.

Again, body language was giving the TV viewer an insight into the mindset of Ajax players. They appeared to be undecided on whether to protect their one goal lead, or go for goal which would almost certainly put them in the final. They nearly achieved the latter when they hit the post, but Spurs were able to scramble the ball away.

The score remained at 2-2 for the remainder of the second half, and time was ebbing away for Spurs while Ajax were counting the clock down. Jan Vertonghen had a glorious chance to score  nearing the end of normal time, but failed to direct his powerful header accurately. Ajax players breathed a sigh of relief and were anticipating the final whistle. However there were six minutes of injury and stoppage time added on, and in the 96th minute Lucas Mora miraculously popped up among a melee of players to complete his hat trick and level the tie 3-3. Spurs would win the tie on away goals if the score remained the same at the end of the game.

There was very little time for Ajax to react before the final whistle blew. Ajax players sunk to their knees in despair while Tottenham players were dancing a jig around the pitch. Mauricio Pochettino was on his hands and knees crying his eyes out. Spurs had achieved the impossible against all the odds. Arguably Ajax were technically the better team, but their youth and inexperience at the highest level proved to be their undoing. Spurs played with guts and grit and never gave up. Don’t get me wrong, Ajax proved they are very good team by winning the League and Cup Double in Holland, and could be a force to reckon with if they don’t hold a fire sale of their young players.

I have been a Spurs fan since 1961 when they won the Double, and were then so unlucky to lose to Benfica in the semi final of the European Cup the following season. I am so ecstatic that they have clawed their way to the Champions League Final, and I just hope that destiny has their name on the trophy. Glory, Glory, Hallelujah and the Spurs going marching on to meet Liverpool at the Bernabeu Stadium, Madrid on June 1st. Come on you Spurs!!!!!

BREXIT- Eleven Key Terms

Sunday, March 31st, 2019


No deal

  • A no-deal Brexit would mean the UK leaving the European Union and cutting ties immediately, with no agreement at all in place.
  • If MPs do not approve Theresa May’s deal, and there is no alternative deal or move to delay or stop Brexit, the UK will leave with no deal on 29 March.
  • The UK would follow World Trade Organization rules to trade with the EU and other countries, while trying to negotiate free-trade deals.

WTO rules

  • If countries don’t have free-trade agreements, they usually trade with each other under rules set by the World Trade Organization.
  • Each country sets tariffs – or taxes – on goods entering. For example, cars passing from non-EU countries to the EU are charged 10% of their value. But tariffs on some agricultural products are much higher – dairy averages more than 35%.
  • If the UK chooses to put no tariffs on goods from the EU, it must also have no tariffs on goods from every WTO member.

Article 50

  • Part of an EU treaty that sets out how member countries can leave, with a two-year timetable for leaving.
  • Article 50 was triggered by Prime Minister Theresa May at the end of March 2017 and means the UK will leave the EU at the end of March 2019.
  • The UK is allowed to stop the Article 50 process completely – but if it wants only to extend it, all the other EU countries must agree.

Another referendum

  • Some campaigners – who call their proposal the People’s Vote – want to have another referendum on the UK’s membership of the EU.
  • It has been suggested the vote could have three options – Theresa May’s deal, no deal and Remain. But some campaigners think there should only be two choices.
  • Opponents of another vote say there is no need for it as the 2016 referendum made it clear that people wanted to leave the EU.

 

Single market

  • A system that enables goods, services, people and capital (money) to move between all 28 EU member states, as well as Iceland, Norway, Liechtenstein and Switzerland.
  • Countries in the single market apply many common rules and standards.
  • A UK company can sell its product (goods) in Portugal as easily as it can in Portsmouth, bring back the cash (capital), offer maintenance (services) and despatch a repair team (people).

 

Customs union

  • A trade agreement under which two or more countries do not put tariffs (taxes) on goods coming in from other countries in the union.
  • The countries also decide to set the same tariff on goods entering from outside the union.
  • The EU customs union includes EU member states and some small non-EU members and forbids members from negotiating trade agreements separately from the EU. Instead trade agreements are negotiated collectively.

 

Free-trade agreement

  • A deal between countries to reduce, but not necessarily eliminate, trade barriers.
  • These barriers include import or export taxes (tariffs), quotas or licences that limit imports, and differing regulations on things such as safety or hygiene or labelling.
  • The aim is increase trade in goods but also services.

 

Withdrawal agreement

  • Theresa May has agreed a deal with the EU on the terms of the UK’s departure. It does not determine the UK-EU future relationship.
  • It does include how much money the UK must pay to the EU as a settlement, details of the transition period, and citizens’ rights.
  • It also covers the so-called “backstop”, which ensures that no hard border exists between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland after Brexit even if there’s no deal on the future relationship in place by the end of the transition period.

 

Backstop

  • Currently, there are no border posts, physical barriers or checks on people or goods crossing the border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland.
  • The backstop is a measure in the withdrawal agreement designed to ensure that continues after the UK leaves the EU. It comes into effect only if the deal deciding the future relationship between the UK and EU is not agreed by the end of the transition period (31 December 2020).
  • Until the deal on the future relationship is done, the backstop would keep the UK effectively inside the EU’s customs union but with Northern Ireland also conforming to some rules of the single market. Critics say a different status for Northern Ireland could threaten the existence of the United Kingdom and fear that the backstop could become permanent.

 

Free movement

  • One of the four freedoms associated with the single market is free movement of people.
  • This lets EU citizens travel, live, study and work in any member country.
  • There can be no discrimination in access to public services and benefits.

Divorce bill

  • The money the UK has agreed to pay to the EU under Theresa May’s deal.
  • Based on UK’s share of EU budgets up to 2020 as well as continuing liabilities such as EU civil servants’ pensions
  • The bill is widely expected to be about £39bn and will be paid over a number of years, with about half of it during the transition

Partnerships

Friday, December 14th, 2018

Partnerhips in sports have always intrigued me. When I ask myself which famous partnership immediately springs to mind it’s always Hobbs and Sutcliffe who opened the batting for England in the 1920s. Naturally I never saw them play, but by reading countless cricket books they left an undelible impression on me. Consequently the following paragraphs will recall many sports partnerships that I remember during the year I have followed sports.

In the sixties, football in England was dominated by two teams, Liverpool and Man Utd. But as we neared the end of the decade another force emerged in the shape of Man City. An unlikely managerial partnership, Joe Mercer and Malcolm Allison, had taken over the reigns at Manchester City. Genial Joe was old school but a perfect foil for the mercurial Allison who introduced some revolutionary coaching methods. In three eventful seasons they won the Championship, followed by the FA Cup and finally the European Cup Winners Cup. However,they fizzled and subsequently faded like a Catherine wheel.

In the seventies. another managerial partnership grabbed the headlines. Brian Clough and Peter Taylor won the Championship with unfancied Derby County. Their tenure at the Club ended acrimoniously, but they transferred their undoubted talents to another unfashionable club, Nottingham Forest. Following promotion, they won the Championship, and subsequently two European Cups.

Leeds United were a formidable team in the sixties and early seventies managed by the paranoid and superstitious Don Revie, but they were overtly cynical and gave the impression they would do anything to win at all costs. Ironically the team comprised several partnerships: Jack Charlton and Norman Hunter in the heart of the defence, Giles and Bremner in midfield, and two formidable strikers in Clarke and Jones. Nevertheless I disliked them intensely and I’m not wasting any more space on them.

These days, team formations don’t lend themselves to twin strikers playing in tandem as was the case in the sixties and seventies. Ipswich Town had a formidable duo in Ray Crawford and Ted Phillips. Jimmy Greaves had two different partners at Spurs over a period of time, firstly with the battering ram Bobby Smith and subsequently with the sublime Alan Gilzean. The very successful Liverpool team relied on the goal scoring combination of Ian St John and Roger Hunt. Liverpool continued their striking partnerships with Toshack and Keegan, followed by Rush and Dalglish. In the eighties, Liverpool featured Mark Lawrenson and Alan Hansen at the heart of their defence both of whom were comfortable on the ball in addition to being excellent defenders.

Manchester United didn’t lend themselves very much to partnerships. Best, Charlton and Law were the creative and goal scoring force in the sixties for the Club, but not necessarily a partnership in the biblical sense. However, Alex Ferguson’s great success as manager was built on a strong defence. Bruce and Pallister formed a solid barrier for several seasons who were eventually replaced by another outstanding duo, Ferdinand and Vidic.

Rugby had its fair share of partnerships. Gareth Edwards partnered Barry John to Grand Slams and a British Lions victory in New Zealand. Legend has is that when Edwards and John met for the first time for an international, Edwards asked John how he wanted the ball. John replied: ” Just pass it and I’ll catch it!” When Barry John prematurely retired at the tender age of 27, Phil Bennett took his place without missing a beat and teamed up with Edwards to win another series for the Lions, this time in South Africa.

I have to give the forwards a mention. Brian Price and Brian Thomas formed an intimidating second row partnership for Wales in the sixties, and in the seventies an unlikely pairing, Martin and Wheel, were in the engine room. Willie John McBride teamed up with Gordon Brown (Broon from Troon) in the Lions second row to win two unprecdented successive series. However,  it was another half back pairing that first caught my eye as a partnership, and surprisingly it was England’s Dickie Jeeps and Richard Sharp. Surprising in the sense that they were English and not Welsh.

Cricket is another sport that has produced many partnerships. When I was a boy, Pullar and Subba Row opened the innings for England, quickly followed by Boycott and Edrich and more recently Trescothick and Strauss. Bowlers were often mentioned in pairs: Trueman and Statham, Laker and Lock, Hall and Griffith, Lillee and Thomson.

Golf and tennis are normally regarded as singular sports, but tennis has produced several double partnerships, notably at Wimbledon. Emerson and Stolle won several doubles Championships closely followed by Hewitt and McMillan, Newcombe and Roche. Golf’s Ryder Cup romanticizes about Ballesteros/Olazabal’s wonderful record as a pairing against USA, but Nicklaus and Palmer were even more intimidating opponents.

There are many partnerships that I have omitted, but my remit was to identify those that made an indelible impression on me. Torvill and Dean deserve a mention as twice Olympic Champions in the Ice Dance competition, but that is where I draw the line. I know I rarely receive sensible comments on my posts, but feel free to give me your sporting partnerships that deserve a mention.

 

The Rise and Fall of The Swansea Way

Sunday, July 1st, 2018

About six weeks ago, Swansea City’s seven year flirtation with  the English Premiership  finally ended. I should be grateful for the time the Swans spent in one of the biggest leagues in the world, but the struggles over the past three seasons to remain in one of the most demanding leagues  has left a sour taste.

What happened to the free-flowing, passing, entertaining football that graced the promotion season and the first five seasons in the Premiership? What happened to the management process that was the envy of many clubs whereby they run the club in the black and never  resorted to running up  a huge debt?

Typically of the Welsh, they screwed things up when the franchise was establishing a base in the Premiership. The name of the game is greed. Huw Jenkins and his fellow cronies had made a good living from the Premiership perks and bonuses, but decided that was not enough and decided to sell a majority holding in the club t0 a couple of Americans who resembled two shifty second hand car salesmen. What possessed the club to sack a manager halfway through a season three years in a row, and expect to be successful?

But I’m getting head of myself. Let’s go back to when the Swans defeated Reading 4-2 in the Championship Playoff Final in 2011 to gain promotion to the Premiership. Brendan Rodgers was the man in charge, but it was Roberto Martinez who had laid the foundations for the “Swansea Way.”

Prior to their inaugural season in the Premiership, the Swans used the transfer window very wisely by securing the services of Danny Graham, Wayne Routledge, Michael Vorm,  Sigurdsson (on loan) and Steven Caulker (on loan). They finished a credible 11th in their first season. Unfortunately for Swansea, their success attracted attention and manager Rodgers was on his way to take charge of Liverpool.

Incredibly, the Swans hierarchy secured the services of former superstar Michael Laudrup. He had a modest record as a manager/coach, but his legendary status in the game provided contacts all over Europe. Consequently, the Swans were very busy in the transfer market bringing in Ki, Hernandez, Chico, Bartley, de Guzman, and the bargain of the century, Michu who cost a paltry 2 million and produced 22 goals in his first season. The Swans won the League Cup in February of 2013 by defeating Bradford City 5-0. The starting eleven for the final was Tremel, Rangel, Ki, Williams, Davies, Britton, De Guzman, Dyer, Hernandez, Routledge and Michu. They  finished the season impressively in 9th place, and it appeared that everything in the garden was rosy.

Prior to the start of the 2013-14 season, the Swans paid a record fee of 14 million pounds for Wilfried Bony quickly followed by the signing of Jonjo Shelvy for 5 million and Jordi Amat for 2 million. Ki appeared to be not to Laudrup’s liking and was sent out on loan to Sunderland. There were rumours that Laudrup was unsettled at the club, and in February 2014 he was sacked following a poor run of form which left the club only 2 points above the relegation zone. At the time of the decision, the team had lost six of their last 8 games.

The Swansea Board then made another surprising move in appointing player Gary Monk to succeed Laudrup as manager. Monk made a great start by guiding the team to a 3-0 win over near neighbors and arch rivals Cardiff City. He comfortably steered the club away from the relegation zone and was rewarded with a three year contract.

During Monk’s first season in charge (2014/15) the club was involved in plethora of transfer activity  with incomings and outgoings. Sigurdsson, Fernandez, Naughton, Montero, Cork, and Grimes were welcome additions for transfer fees totaling 34 million. Davies, Vorm, Chico, Hernandez, MIchu and Bony (January transfer window) left the club for  combined transfer fees of 54 million. Some would argue it was good business, but supporters felt it revealed a lack of ambition selling your top scorer, Bony who had forged a great understanding with Sigurdsson. The club finished in 8th place which proved to be a false dawn.

Prior to the beginning of the season, the club attempted to replace Bony with Gomis, Paloschi (8.5 million,) Eder (6million,) and Andre Ayew on a free transfer. Ayew apart, the new strikers were not up to the task and were subsequently moved on.  Shelvey was sold to Newcastle for 14 million to balance the books, and alarm bells should have started ringing.

In December 2015, Gary Monk previously cited as a future England manager was sacked after only one win in eleven matches. It transpired that he had lost the dressing room following some unsavory incidents off the field. Legendary former player Alan Curtis was given the role of caretaker manager until the rest of the season, only to be told a week later that the club had hired Francesco Guidolin as the new manager. The swift demise of Monk and the chaotic aftermath of finding a new manager did not inspire confidence in the club’s ownership. Chairman Huw Jenkins even flew to South America in a failed attempt to persuade former Argentine manager Bielsa to take over the hot seat.

Guidolin with considerable help from Alan Curtis guided the club to a comfortable 12th position. It was later revealed that the club had wanted Rodgers, along with former player Joe Allen, to return, but were not in a financial position to make it happen. Stalwart and captain Ashley Williams had indicated he wanted a new challenge, and was sold to Everton for 12 million. Meanwhile top scorer Andre Ayew was transferred to West Ham for a fee of 22 million. Failures, Paloschi and Eder were offloaded for a combined fee of 9 million. Ironically, super flop Eder scored the winner for Portugal in the European Championship Final.

A number of new faces were shipped in prior to the 2016/17 season:

Borja Baston (16 million,) Alfie Mawson (5 million,) Llorente  (5 million,) Jordan Ayew (5 million,) Leroy Fer (5 million,) Tom Carroll (5 million,) Martin Olsson (4 million,) Narsingh (4 million,) and Mike Van der Horn (2 million.) Apart from Baston they could have proven to be bargain buys in terms of Premiership spending. However the success of the signings proved to be very mixed as will be revealed later. In July 2016, Americans Jason Levein and Steve Kaplan purchased controlling interest in the club which proved to be a pivotal time in the future of Swansea City Football Club.

The Swans got off to another poor start to a new season, and by October Guidolin was replaced by American Bob Bradley. Naturally, there was no nepotism on display by the new American owners. I’m dripping in cynicism here. Bradley was subsequently sacked after 85 days. Guidolin  had barely been given 2 months of the new season before receiving the chop on his 61st birthday. Bradley was only able to accumulate 8 points from 11 games, 29 goals conceded and he was given a one ticket back to the US of A.

In January 2017, Paul Clement was hired as the new manager, and succeeded in dragging the club from the relegation abyss to a respectable twelfth place. Okay, this is where the quality of the management becomes very murky. In the off season, their best player, Sigurdsson was sold to Everton for 44 million. It was quite a sum of money for the club’s coffers, but the player was never adequately replaced. Sigurdsson was the club’s second top scorer and had the most assists. Not to pour oil on a burning chip pan, but top scorer Llorente was sold to Spurs for 15 million. Another key transfer that slipped under the radar was Jack Cork’s move to Burnley for 8 million.

In return, they paid 15 million for Clucas from Hull City  who had just been relegated. Former favorite Bony was brought back into the fold for 12 million. Problem was he’d barely kicked a ball in eighteen months, and one football punter claimed “his legs had gone” which proved to be spot on. The Swans also signed another Spaniard, Mesa, for 11 million who was supposedly a playmaker but proved to be totally out of his depth in the rigors of the Premiership.

The club appeared to be on a roll of one disastrous signing after another. Sanchez was signed on loan from Bayern Munich based on the recommendation of manager Paul Clement who had previously coached him at the German Club. Alongside Borja Baston, he proved to be one of the worst signings in the history of the Club. The loan signing was a misnomer because Bayern was paid 10 million for his services. Clement would later claim that “the lad was damaged goods.” Whatever!!!

In a process of an ongoing worrying trend, Clement could not repeat his excellent work from the previous season, and by Christmas the Swans were languishing once again at the wrong end of the table. He was subsequently sacked and replaced by former Sheffield Wednesday manager, Carlos Carvalhal, who had  been shown the door 10 days earlier by Wednesday.

In January 2018, Andre Ayew was brought back from West Ham for the princely sum of 20 million pounds. This proved to be yet another calamitous signing since Ayew failed to score a single goal on his return. Carvalhal initially performed like the great redeemer with impressive wins over Arsenal and Liverpool. He quickly extracted the club from the relegation zone and accumulated 33 points, but  appeared to go on the defensive which proved to be his and the club’s undoing.

The Club had reached the sixth round of the FA Cup for the first time since 1964, but didn’t put up much resistance in losing abjectly to Tottenham. This was quickly followed by an embarrassing loss to champions Manchester City where they rolled over and died. These two result were the beginning of the end, and so it proved.

Where did it all go pear shaped? Well, seven managers in seven seasons: Rodgers (left to manage Liverpool,) Laudrup (sacked,) Monk (sacked,) Guidolin (sacked,) Bradley (sacked,) Clement (sacked,) and Carvalhal (out of contract,) doesn’t engender stability. Disastrous moves in the transfer market, no matter who is responsibile, reduced the quality of the squad of players capable of competing in the Premiership. We were constantly assured that the successful under 23 team and youth academy would provide a stream of players for the first team. In reality only Joe Allen and Ben Davies made their mark only to be sold for profit.

One cannot overlook the fact that Olsson, Clucas, and Fer previously played for relegated clubs. Naughton and Carroll were fringe players at Tottenham, and Alfie Mawson was the only recent acquisition that showed true quality. Even he was raw around the edges and didn’t quite fill the void left by Ashley Williams.

I find it  ironic that a quite a number of first team players want to remain in the Premiership with other Clubs. Let me blunt here; maybe if these prima donnas had performed remotely like the premiership  players they aspire to be, the club would have not been relegated.  Fabianski was recently transferred to West Ham for 7 million, Mesa sold to Seville for 7 million, and it’s only a matter of time before the Ayew brothers, Fernandez and Mawson are out the door. Ki was a free agent at the end of the season and played like a geisha girl with one eye  on the  World Cup and the other on signing for a new club. He has recently signed a two year contract with Newcastle United. Mercifully, the boy Sanchez was last spotted on a beach in the Algarve, hopefully never to return to Sunny South Wales again.

What of the future? Well, a couple of weeks ago the Swans hired 43 year old Englishman Graham Potter as their new manager. He has spent the last seven years managing Ostersund in the Swedish League, guiding the club from relative obscurity through the lower divisions to the top of the tree. They played Arsenal in the Europa Cup last season losing 2-4 on aggregate.

The days of “Swanselona” playing free-flowing , entertaining, passing football was a distant memory during last season’s run-in as hopeful balls were pumped up to Jordan Ayew. There is hope that Potter’s arrival at the Liberty Stadium will signal a return to the total football of yesteryear. I would offer one piece of advice to the new manager. Give the  person or persons previously responsible for the disastrous recruitment programme over the past few seasons a one way ticket to Alaska.

 

 

 

 

All Along the Panhandle

Saturday, April 21st, 2018

It seems quite a long time ago now (no, not in the galaxy) but it was in the month of February that we spent a fortnight (two weeks for American readers) traversing Florida’s Panhandle. What we like about the Panhandle is that some of the sections remain “old Florida”, and have not been engulfed by multi-storey condos and hotels,  and festooned with night clubs and bright lights.

We made three major stops on route, and I decided to make the remainder of my post into a diary, primarily because my memory has more holes in it than the common to garden, or should that be kitchen, sieve.

Day 1-Panama City Beach. Ate at Hook’s Pier Bar and Grill. Excellent gumbo and fish tacos. Great view of gulf and pier.

Day 2– Watched pelicans from  the beach having  a feeding frenzy. Then the heavens opened-cozy though snuggling up in our beach house.

Day 3- Bike rides over to Bay River Bridge. Stopped for lunch at BFE, hole in the wall place. Best Food Ever-great brisket sandwich. Their barbecue pastrami wasn’t too shabby either.

Day 4-Checked out Shell Bay, St. Andrews State Park. Visited the in -laws for  appetizers and drinks in their 21st floor condo. Watched the  Opening ceremony of Winter Olympics while continually stifling a yawn.  Gee whiz, we’re missing the Senior Prom which apparently is a special event in these quarters. Make a note of  Det Cajun Place for future visits.

Day 5- Martin Theatre for the Mersey Beatles. Bayou Joe’s for lunch. Funky Mermaid for nightcap. Pastrami sandwiches for supper. This was a mixed bag of events, akin to a selection of liquorice allsorts, but it all dovetailed perfectly. As an added bonus, my wife picked up a leather jacket for $20. What a bargain!

Day 6– heavy rain, stayed indoors. One walk along the beach in between the deluge. Our kindles came into their own once again.

Day 7– left for Cape San Blas. Drove through Tindall Air Force Base, continued onto Port St. Joe before arriving at our destination. Stayed at a Studio apartment which was compact but very comfortable. Excellent beach sunset, great boardwalk over the marshes to the bay. The only downside was we couldn’t see either views from the apartment windows which was contrary to what was described in the rental advertisement.

Day 8- Kayaking on the bay  at Sand Flea Rentals. Made friends with Ossie, a mix of collie and Australian Shepherd. My wife is a natural kayaker leaving me in her wake while I thrashed around like a beached sea lion. Visited St. Joseph Peninsula State Park which has a beautiful white sand beach with sand dunes thrown in the mix. It reminded me of how Port Eynon in Gower used to look like when I was knee high to a grasshopper.

Day 9- Valentine’s Day. Walk along the beach for good measure. Visited Indian Pass Raw Bar which specializes in oysters. Their baked oysters with butter, garlic and parmesan cheese toppings were excellent. Scallop Republic, a relatively new bar, resembled God’s waiting room. Dinner at Sunset Grill in Port St. Joes. I had the deep fried whole flounder which was excellent. My wife had  shrimp and grits which she gave an 8/10 rating. Night cap at the Thirsty Goat which provided a cozy and pleasant atmosphere.

Day 10-Leave CSB for Orange Beach. Uneventful trip to Perdido Key (41/2 hours.) where we were renting a condo. Very luxurious, but arrived to drilling from another apartment. Beautiful views of Gulf from 5th floor balcony.

Day 11– Woke to a sundrenched day. Went for a dolphin cruise around Orange Beach, spotted about a dozen dolphins along the way. The late Fara Fawcett’s beach house got a mention bringing a wry smile to those who remembered the seventies. Had dinner at Flora Bama Bar, so named because it’s located on the state line. Food was okay. Very unique bar with several bands playing continuously in different rooms.

Day 12– Lunch at Sea & Suds. Good location on the beach at Gulf Shores, but a highly recommended gumbo specialty was very average. Played golf at Lost Key Club-delightful course for the money. Ordered takeaway at Lilian’s Pizza. Very good. Threw a wobbly outside Flora Bama Bar and returned to base.

Day 13-Return home with mixed feelings. We loved the remoteness of Cape San Blas and the immediate area, but didn’t care for the overdevelopment and commercialism of Orange Beach and Panama City Beach. At the end of the day (excuse the cliché) it’s all a matter of personal taste and choices.

 

 

 

Carry On Camping

Monday, April 9th, 2018

I had not been camping since the year dot. The last time I spent some time under canvas was when I was a boy scout with the 7th St. Michael’s Troop based in Manselton, Swansea. My lasting memory of my scout camping exploits was setting the tent on fire with an innocuous lighted candle only to be awoken by the screams of young pimply teenagers who were sharing the sleeping quarters  with me. Mercifully the fire was quickly extinguished, and nobody was injured except my ego.

Consequently, it came as a surprise when my wife suggested we go camping. I furtively agreed to give it a try, and she proceeded to acquire the necessary equipment to make the experience as comfortable as possible. By the time we were ready to embark on our first camping trip, she had assembled the following equipment: state of the art tent with fly sheet and ground sheet, two comfortable cots, two specialized pillows, camp stove, a stainless steel whistling kettle, sleeping bags and a portable light.

We left for Vogel State Park in North Georgia where my wife had made sure we had access to water, restrooms and electric outlet. The weather forecast for the first night indicated that the temperature would tumble down to a mere 24 degrees fahrenheit and like a big girl’s blouse I decided to take an electric blanket. That was a great decision.

My wife and I have  different skills to bring to the table; she is the queen of erecting the tent  and I’m a pyromaniac. She had pitched the tent in approximately 15 minutes, and by the same token I had a roaring firing going  ready to roast our hotdogs and samores. We read on Trip Advisor that a little country store sold firewood a couple of miles outside the park. We were undecided about the quantity we should purchase: 10 logs for $5, 50 logs for $20. Would we burn 50 logs over three nights? You can be damn sure we did!!!

We battened down the hatches for the night, and boy was it freezing. My balaclava was a blessing covering every facial feature except my eyes. Harmed with my electric blanket,  I was snug as a bug in a rug until the damn thing decided to turn itself off. I got up in the middle of the night to go to the rest room, and discovered they had provided heaters inside the public conveniences. A thought crossed my mind to stay in there until daylight, but then a guilty conscience got the better of me and I reluctantly returned to the tent.

The morning temperature had not improved much overnight, but I managed to quickly light a fire, and we were soon  drinking coffee and eating bacon butties which improved morale immeasurably. We decided on a 4 mile hiking trail up to Blood Mountain, but it proved a bridge too far for me. It didn’t help wearing four layers of clothing  when the temperature had improved considerably. It appeared at every half mile, I was shedding a layer of clothing and looking and feeling most forlorn and dejected. I had one shred of comfort in as much we reached Blood Mountain Wilderness. Hamburgers were on he dinner menu accompanied by copious amounts of wine.

The next day we embarked on a gentle walk around the lake in the park taking in a “man made” waterfall. We returned to the tent and had a spot of lunch. By 3.00 pm it was raining heavily and we retreated inside. We didn’t leave the tent until 8.00 am the following morning apart from trips to the restrooms and setting up the slow cooker in the tent’s vestibule to provide chili for dinner. Note to  potential campers: a pack of cards and individual kindles are essential requirements for spending several hours in a tent.

It was still raining the next morning which meant dismantling the tent and packing the car with our gear during very unsympathetic weather conditions. A few cross words were exchanged during the process, but within an hour we were ready to hit the road. Not so fast my friend. The car battery was flat, and my wife was forced to use her feminine charm to borrow jump leads from a neighboring camper who kindly hitched his truck to the leads.

Notwithstanding the weather conditions, I had a wonderful time. I can’t wait to go again.

Unbelievable.

Wednesday, November 30th, 2016

Swansea City’s remarkable 5-4 win over Crystal Palace on Saturday could prove to be the defining moment of a season where for the large part they have struggled desperately, and the prospect of  relegation has reared its ugly head prematurely . The scoring sequence between the two teams needs to be seen to be believed:

0-1 Palace (Zaha,19)

1-1               (Sugurdsson, 36)

2-1 Swans  (Fer, 66)

3-1              (Fer, 68)

3-2 Swans (Tomkins, 75)

3-3              (Cork, own goal 82)

3-4 Palace (Benteke, 84)

4-4              (Llorente, 90+1)

5-4 Swans  (Llorente, 90 +3)

The teams shared the spoils in the first half  scoring a goal apiece. Zaha shrugged off two Swans defenders to plant the ball in the corner of the net, and Sigurdsson equalized   with a sublime free kick as only he can.

Sixty six minutes had elapsed and the game had the hallmarks of two struggling teams going through the motions settling for a point apiece. However, Bob Bradley decided to replace Wayne Rutledge with much maligned Spanish striker, Llorente and suddenly all hell broke loose.

Sigurdsson was involved in all four goals in the second half because they came from his set pieces. From a Sigurdsson corner, substitute Llorente flicked the ball into the goal mouth and Leroy Fer stabbed the ball home from close range. Two minutes later, Fer scored an almost identical goal and the Swans were suddenly and remarkably leading 3-1.

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One could only assume with a two goal lead and only 22 minutes remaining the Swans would coast home and achieve only their second win of the season. However alarm bells began ringing in my head when Mo Barrow was substituted for veteran full back, Rangel to seemingly bolster the defense. You know the old maxim, “What we have, we hold.”

Palace put paid to “Plan A” by getting one back in the 75th minute from an innocuous corner, and the ball was bundled in the back of the net. In the space of nine minutes Palace scored three goals to turn the game on its head. The second came from a routine cross by Zaha which glanced off Jack Cork’s head into the roof the net from twenty yards away. In the 84th minute, the Swans hanging on desperately for a point, again failed to clear their lines and Benteke poked the ball into the net from all of 5 yards. Indeed, six of the goals scored in the second half were from within the six yard box.

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I could not believe what I was seeing, and convinced that the team had no hope in hell in coming back,  I turned my television off in disgust and despair. How could a team surrender a two goal lead and be trailing 3-4 within the space of 16 minutes? Quite simply, the Swans’ defense is diabolical. Schoolboys would be embarrassed to concede the soft goals given up by their senior counterparts.

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About an hour later, I went to the internet to confirm the result, and to my shock and awe, the Swans had pulled victory from the jaws of defeat. Another cliché, but what does it matter. Llorente was obviously encouraged by his assist for Fer’s goal, and miraculously  conjured up two poacher’s  goals in injury time to win the game for the Swans.

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Could this prove to be the turning point of the Swans’ season? It could very well provide a spring board to better times, and inject much needed confidence  into a squad of players bereft of ideas, ability and nous. Let’s not be under any false illusions here, and I refrain from using another cliché; one swallow doesn’t make a summer. The defense is woeful, and in clear need of a strong commanding experienced central defender. Didn’t Ashley Williams, prematurely sold to Everton, fit the bill in all those categories?

It was an extraordinary game and not for the faint hearted. Yes, the players and management should take heart from this result, but at the same time they must remind themselves every minute of every day that a great deal of work needs to be done to improve on Saturday’s performance, no matter how heroic or exciting, if they are to avoid relegation. In Sigurdsson we trust, a truly class act worthy of a bigger stage.

 

It’s A Train Wreck

Monday, November 7th, 2016

Swansea City AFC: Played 11 Won 1 Drawn 2 Lost 8 = 5pts = Relegation.

We are over a quarter of the way through the Premiership, and Swansea City are languishing in the bottom two, staring relegation abruptly in the face. The warning signs were there for all to see last season, but an improbable away win against Arsenal poured some energy into a struggling team who managed to finish a credible twelth. Chairman Huw Jenkins, realizing the near calamity of relegation, assured supporters that such a situation would not happen again and moves would be put in motion to ensure the club’s position in the Premiership.

He certainly made a dynamic move in the summer by selling 70% of the club to Americans. A few games into the season, they sacked hapless Italian manager, Francesco Guidolin, and replaced him with, surprise, surprise, an American Coach, Bob Bradley. Bradley was coaching Le Havre in the French second division, but has no experience of coaching in a top league in Europe let alone the Premiership.

Bradley has been in charge for four games from which he has gained one point with a disappointing draw against Watford. Last Saturday, they conceded three goals in a disastrous first half to Manchester United who they themselves had not played well of late. The National and American Media responded to a  diabolical performance by a once proud Swansea City:

Chris Nathan, Wales Online

“A mess on the pitch, anger in the stand and no real identity-Swansea City are in dire straits:” Chris Nathan, Wales Online football journalist.

Alan Shearer, BBC Match of The Day

It was the most abject, embarrassing 45 minutes of football I have seen in a long, long time from any team at any level:” .

Stuart James, The Guardian

Second from bottom in the Premier League and having picked up only two points from a possible 30 since their victory at Burnley on the opening day, Swansea are sleepwalking towards the Championship. The lack of commitment in the first half, when United had so much space and time on the ball, was arguably more worrying than the shortage of quality.”

Rory Smith, The New York Times

“The mounting discontent among supporters suggests that rapid change has not been universally welcomed. Results make it hard to disagree: Swansea has not won a game since the opening day of the season; Bradley has picked up just 1 point from his first four matches in charge. The club is 19th in the Premier League, with the same point total as rock-bottom Sunderland. The threat of relegation to a lower division is very real.”

 

Dejected Swansea City players against Manchester United

Ian Ladyman, Daily Mail

In South Wales the hopeless nature of his team’s performance will be picked over. It is one point from four games on his watch. But in a wider context, his team’s part in what happened at the Liberty Stadium will sink to sub-plot level. Certainly the American will hope so. Swansea are a physically small team lacking in fundamental fight so this United team was able to impose itself with ease.”

Graham Clutton, the Independent

“With only one league win this season, the club is sitting uncomfortably in the bottom three. And they played like a side destined for the drop. For the first time since their arrival at the top table, the home supporters turned on their side.”

Jim White, The Telegraph

If only he could play Swansea every week, Jose Mourinho’s job would be easy. Against a team doing a good impression of having given up all hope of remaining in the Premier League, his Manchester United looked for much of this game as if all the goal-free miseries of recent weeks were an illusion.”

The Swans have had four managers in less than twelve months: Gary Monk, Alan Curtis (in a caretaker roll,) Francesco Guidolin and now Bob Bradley. Bradley is not entirely to blame for this sorry mess that the Swans find themselves in. He inherited a squad which  lost its rudder and lynchpin when Ashley Williams was transferred to Everton. I felt it was good business at the time receiving 12 million pound for a 32 year old defender, but I assumed they would sign a suitable, younger replacement.

Instead they paid Barnsley 5 million pounds for Alfie Mowson and 3 million for Mike Van de Horn both of whom are too raw and inexperienced to be thrown in the deep end together. They have another central defender, Fernandez, who two years ago was playing in the World Cup for Argentina, but is now missing in action.

Ki is captain of South Korea,  Neil Taylor played left back in the Wales team which reached the semi-finals of the European Championships, Jefferson Montero terrorized Chelsea’s defense not too long ago. None of those players are showing commitment to the cause which is mystifying to the average supporter.

Something was amiss with the Club in the summer. They had the opportunity to re-sign former player Joe Allen who had a wonderful European Championships, but was allowed to join Stoke. Swansea had a shot in signing another former player on loan, Wilfried Bony, but instead chose to pay 15 million for Borja, a virtually unknown Spanish striker who isn’t  setting the world on fire in the goal scoring stakes. It was somewhat ironic that Bony scored two goals for Stoke against the Swans with two assists provided by Joe Allen.

Putting it bluntly, the current squad is simply not good enough to compete in the Premiership, the transfer window in January will arrive too late to save them. Statistically, most teams languishing in the bottom three at Christmas are relegated. Neither do I see three teams worse than the Swans.

It’s been an enjoyable six seasons in the Premiership, and winning the League Cup (or whatever its called these days) was icing on the cake, but I’m afraid the party is over folks. Just as well the owners decided to put increasing the seating capacity of the stadium on hold. R. I. P.