Political Ineptitude on Either Side of the Pond

March 31st, 2019

I’ve been writing this blog for several years now, and most topics I write about roll onto the page with very little effort. However, I appear to have a hit a wall regarding the post I’m attempting to share with my reader. Nevertheless my editor (which is me by the way) has given me an ultimatum: write or resign.

The ineptitude on either side of the pond has almost run parallel lines for the last two or three years. In June 2016, the UK held a referendum on whether to remain or leave the EU. Nobody was more shocked or stunned than Prime Minister David Cameron when the British people voted to leave. He immediately resigned and was replaced by a “remainer” Theresa May. From the outset she did a credible impression of Emperor Nero, fiddling while Rome burned. March 29th,  2019 was the date set for UK to leave the European Union, but very little appeared to be accomplished to initiate Britain’s exit for the first two years. However, a new word entered the Oxford English dictionary: BREXIT.

Meanwhile, Donald Trump was elected President of  the USA in November 2016 against all the odds. He had never been active in politics, and was a billionaire from his dealings in real estate. That’s an oversimplification of his business interests, but suffice to say he ran a multi-million empire. The Democrats were so  mortified that their candidate, Hilary Clinton, (that paragon of virtue) had been defeated by a man who has been called misogynistic, a racist, homophobic, arrogant, narcissistic, and egotistical that they refused to accept he had won. Aided and abetted by the Liberal biased media, they attempted to obstruct every element of his agenda.

This was brought to a head when the Democrats accused Trump of colluding with the Russians to win the election. In 2017 a Commission, headed by FBI Special Counsel Robert Mueller, was directed to investigate these claims. On March 22nd this year, Mueller completed his report and gave it to Attorney General William Barr who in turn presented a summary of Mueller’s findings to Congress which confirmed that Trump was not guilty of any collusions with Russian that may have affected the outcome to the US elections.

The Democrats were not content with the Attorney General’s summary and demanded that the full report be published. They will be granted their wish next week, and whether it cools Trumps ardor remains to be seen.

Meanwhile  Theresa May attempted to make up for lost time by  scurrying around Europe these past few months attempting to get an exit deal done by the allotted deadline. Complicit with the way Brexit has been handled she first had to have the EU approve her Brexit agreement which they did. Unfortunately for Theresa May she also required Parliament to approve her deal, but they rejected her deal for the third time on March 29th, ironically the appointed date that the UK was designated to leave the EU . It was a much closer margin (286-344) than the previous two votes in March and January, but still short of the majority.

May tried a new tactic to get her deal through Parliament this time: offering to resign if MPs backed her plan. I don’t quite understand the double entendre here. Surely if her deal was approved she would continue to see it through, and only resign if it was duly rejected for a third time. So why doesn’t she resign? For the love of God, go woman. My son claims that the UK did not have a qualified negotiator to steer BREXIT through troubled waters, and the man they should have appointed to that post should have been Nigel Farage who led the campaign to leave before the referendum was taken. Bearing in mind that Farage was not a member of the Conservative Party, let alone the Government, it would have been tantamount to giving an inmate the keys to the asylum.

We can vacillate over the incompetence of Theresa May’s handling of BREXIT, and debate over whether there was sufficient evidence to set up a Commission to investigate Trump’s possible collusion with the Russians. But what is lost in all this mess is the damage done to Democracy. The British people voted to leave the EU, albeit by a small majority, and the Government was consequently honor bound to comply with the people’s decision. Similarly, Trump was elected President, and love him or loathe him, the Democrats should have accepted the decision of the American electorate. Instead they behaved like an infant throwing his dolls out of the pram.

When the Democratic Party  won back Congress last November their remit was to obstruct any piece of legislation introduced by Trump. Case in point, Trump requested $5 million to build a wall on the border between the USA and Mexico. Congress predictably rejected his request. Trump declared a State of Emergency which is not surprising when it was recorded that 76000 migrants illegally attempted to cross the border in the month of February. Trump has subsequently transferred money from the Military Budget to fund his wall. Needless to say, Barak Obama gave the green light to build a border wall during his Administration with no opposition from Congress.

Unless you advocate anarchy, respect the ballot box and the Rule of Law. People may argue that they were voted differently if all the facts were made available. That maybe so, but there is sufficient information in the media and on the World Wide Web for voters to make an informed decision. Trouble is I can’t vouch for the intelligence of the average voter.

Jackson Hole Here We Come……….Eventually!!!

February 12th, 2019

The few readers of my blog may recall my dissatisfaction with American Airlines when we flew to New Mexico in September. Nevertheless, my wife was determined to use up the remainder of her sky miles as a gold member and fly to Jackson Hole, Wyoming for a romp in the snow.

A few Sundays ago (20th January 2019) we were scheduled to leave Atlanta on an 8.00am flight for Jackson Hole via Dallas. We were  mindful of the effect that the Government shut down was having on TSA security agents at some airports, so we rose at 4am to leave at 5am for the airport. By 5.40am we were making our way through security with very little obstruction.

However, upon arrival at our gate we quickly read the sign hovering over our heads: “Flight Departure delayed until 9.am. The clock ticked slowly towards the appointed hour when the public address system announced that we were waiting the arrival of another flight attendant from an incoming plane, and we would be boarding shortly. It concluded by saying: “Thank you for your patience.” This was a phrase that would resonate with us for the remainder of the day.

We finally left at 9.40am which meant that our window of opportunity to catch our connecting flight in Dallas was severely reduced. We eventually landed at Dallas which left us with very little time to catch our connection to Jackson. To make matters worse, it was the only flight of the day on American Airlines. The flight attendants made no attempt to phone our connecting flight,  but  made a cursory request for passengers on our flight to remain in their seats to allow the hapless few like ourselves  to make an attempt to catch the  connecting flight. Needless to say nobody complied with that request and we wasted precious minutes attempting to leave the plane.

We finally made it onto the concourse and my wife approached an airport employee who was leaning on a wheelchair. I’m not sure what words were exchanged between them, but he offered to push her in the wheel chair from Concourse A to Concourse C where we were attempting to catch our connection. Apparently she told the guy she was fitter and younger than her husband and they both beckoned me to take a seat in the wheelchair. I thought why not? My suitcase was placed underneath the seat and we set off at great speed through the airport. We took an elevator up a couple of floors to the airport train. I was  wheeled onto the train which departed for Concourse C, and  eventually arrived at our gate. To no great surprise the plane had departed.

I stepped out of the wheelchair and the pusher stood expectantly in front of me waiting for a tip. My initial reaction was  not to tip him because our great dash through one of America’s biggest airports had failed. The pusher hovered over me for what appeared to be an interminable time. I finally addressed him, and said: ” I’m afraid I only have a $20 bill.” He replied in a gruff, assertive tone: ” I have change. How much do you want to give?” I said: ” Give me $15 back.” He grudgingly gave me my change and disappeared into the madding crowd.

We trudged slowly to the customer service counter to explain our plight. We were resigning ourselves to spending the night in Dallas courtesy of my favorite airline when lo and behold we came across an American employee who was actually competent. She hit the keyboards on her computer for several minutes and announced: : “I have booked you on a United Airlines flight to Denver, and subsequently onto a connecting flight to Jackson Hole. Thank you for your patience and enjoy the rest of your day.” We landed at Jackson Airport twelve hours after we left Atlanta, bemused, bedraggled, but unbroken.

I wondered whether our checked bag would make the trip to Jackson Hole considering we had switched airlines not to mention two connections. My wife told me to have faith in the airlines’ computer systems, and within a few minutes of standing by the carousel our bag cruised around the corner into my welcoming arms. The vacation in the snow was thankfully back on track.

 

Menage a Trois

December 28th, 2018

Thanks to the overwhelming response to my previous post “Partnerships,” (I received one comment which was from my son) I am continuing a similar theme. Only this time I’m concentrating on trios that were linked in some macabre way. Let’s begin with a comedy act from America, “The Three Stooges,” Moe, Curly and Larry. They didn’t appeal to British audiences, but were very successful in America.

Shell Petrol sponsored “World of Golf” featuring Arnold Palmer, Jack Nicklaus and Gary Player and they became to be known as “The Big Three.” I mentioned in my previous post that Best, Law and Charlton dominated the stage at Manchester United in the 1960s. There’s a  statue of the three of them forever linked in bronze to commemorate their achievements. I also can’t leave out the midfield trio from Tottenham Hotspur: Blanchflower, Mackay and White, who were instrumental in Spurs being the first club to achieve the Double (Championship and FA Cup) in the 20th Century. John White was tragically killed by lightning sheltering under a tree on a golf course in 1965, and was never really replaced.

Turning to politics, Hugh Gaitskell, leader of the Labour Party died suddenly in 1963, and there were three contenders to replace him: Harold Wilson, George Brown, and James Callaghan. Wilson eventually won the leadership contest and became Prime Minister in 1964. Brown served as Foreign Secretary while Callaghan lived next door to 10 Downing Street as Chancellor of the Exchequer. Brown gained notoriety by appearing on television several times in an intoxicated state, and arguably made more sense when he was drunk.

Show business inevitably is littered with trios: The Bachelors, The Beverly Sisters, The Andrew Sisters, The Supremes, The Crystals, The Springfields. Dusty Springfield achieved  greater fame as a solo artist. Eric Clapton comprised for a short time one third of the rock band Cream, but he too achieved greater success as a solo artist. Emerson, Lake and Palmer deserve a mention as one of the first super groups. I could have included Crosby, Stills and Nash but Neil Young made them into a quartet.

Rugby has natural trios in the form of front rows, none more famous than Faulkner, Windsor and Price, They were Wales’s first ever one-club front row, and immortalized in a song by Max Boyce as the Viet Gwent. Comments on a postcard please if you believe I have misconstrued that phrase. Wales had a tremendous back row in the seventies in the shape of Merv the Swerve, Basil Brush Taylor, and Dai Morris, The Shadow.

Finally it would be remiss of me not to mention the “Three Tenors,” Pavarotti, Placido Domingo, and Jose Carreras. The 1990 World Cup brought them into prominence with the general public when the BBC used “Nessa Dorme,” beautifully sung by Pavarotti, as their theme song for televising the month long tournament. The Three Tenors gave a memorable concert towards the end of the tournament which propelled their careers to greater heights.

I could write a sequel on quartets where rock bands like the Beatles, Stones and The Who would be rich pickings. But I’m becoming rather bored with this theme, so goodness knows what it’s doing to my reader. So there you are. It only remains for me to wish y’all a Happy and Healthy New Year.

Partnerships

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.

 

Our 25th Wedding Anniversary at the Big Sur

November 6th, 2018

This post is somewhat at odds with the chronological order of recent entries, but I am the owner and editor of this blog, and therefore I can do what I damn well please.

In June my wife and I celebrated our 25th Wedding Anniversary. Not bad for two middle-aged divorcees. We spent part of our honeymoon at the Big Sur in California, and what better place to celebrate our Silver Wedding Anniversary. Big Sur is situated on Highway 1 which is arguably the most picturesque drive in America. Moving onto our itinerary:

Friday: Flew to San Jose after surviving a grungy flight attendant. Rented a car and drove to Embassy Suites, Monterey. Had lunch at the Sand Bar Grill near the harbor where we enjoyed “she crab” soup.

Saturday: Visited the famous Cannery Row in Monterey which was a touch on the cheesy side. Fisherman’s Wharf was likewise. My wife had raved about the Monterey Aquarium, but it’s not a patch on the Atlanta Aquarium. Our first hour was relatively  quiet, but it wasn’t long before we were overrun by hordes of screaming kids.

Sunday: Drove to Big Sur, stopping on the way to undertake the 17 mile Pebble Beach Golf tour. I marveled at the golf courses and oceanic scenery the first time I did the tour, but it was a little underwhelming this time and dominated by too many tourists. Why do Orientals assume they can invade your personal space to take a photograph?

We finally arrived at the Deetjens Big Sur Inn which was to be our accommodation for our stay. In the early 1930s, Helmuth Deetjen, a Norwegian immigrant, purchased 120 acres of land in Castro Canyon and began building a homestead. Before Highway One was completed in 1937, Castro Canyon was a traditional stopover for travelers making their way along the coastal wagon road. The Deetjens welcomed overnight guests, and the Big Sur Inn was born. Over the years Deetjen built Norwegian-style rooms and gave each them a name: we stayed at the cosey Castro Cabin with no WI-FI, no cell phone service  and no TV or radio. It was surreal yet magical. All work was done by Deetjen and friends using locally milled , scavenged redwood.

The Inn exists today because, when Deetjen died in 1972, he left the Inn “to be forever enjoyed by transient guests wanting to experience the peace, friendship, and beauty of this place.” The Inn is a registered National Historic Site. We had dinner at Deetjen’s restaurant and enjoyed a fabulous steak.

Monday: had brunch at Nepenthe where the views from the terrace offer outstanding ocean vistas. Just down the road we visited the Henry Miller Library, author of “Tropic of Cancer.”

Tuesday: We made it to our 25th Anniversary. Drove to Gorda to enjoy all the magnificent scenery that Highway One had to offer. We had our Anniversary dinner at Deetjens, and I was so entranced by my beautiful bride, I can’t remember what I ordered. I know we each had a glass of champagne to celebrate, but it was all a blur after that.

Wednesday: we  decided to take the Big Sur Lighthouse Tour which proved to be very informative and entertaining. The contrast in temperature between the top of the hill where the lighthouse was perched and sea level was incredible. Lunch was partaken at the River Inn which served very tasty baby back ribs.

Thursday: no trip to the Big Sur is complete unless you visit Pfeiffer Big Sur Beach. The shape of the cliffs and archways eroded away by on rushing waves is spectacular. We enjoyed another drive along Highway One, and stopped to have a pleasant lunch at Lucia Bar and Grill. The Henry Miller Library whetted our appetite for a little more culture, and we attended the International Short Film Screening Event.  It was tantamount to stepping back to the Sixties. Hippies, the unwashed and pot smokers were in full attendance strewn around the outdoor theatre facility enjoying the ambience.

Friday: it was unfortunately back to reality as we bade farewell to Deetjens and the Big Sur, and drove to San Jose in readiness to fly home to Atlanta the following day. We walked around San Jose for a while before returning to our minimalist and sterile hotel.  It’s a very disappointing  city with little character to speak of save for a profusion of electric bikes attempting to maim or injure innocent pedestrians. Note to whom it may concern: electric bikes traveling as 15 miles an hour cannot safely share the sidewalk with pedestrians. To paraphrase Ron White: “You can’t fix stupid!!!”

Saturday: Homeward bound. A very enjoyable and memorable trip which enhanced our 25th Wedding Anniversary.

 

Tottenham Hotspur-An Enigma Wrapped Up in The Old Onion Bag

November 2nd, 2018

The “Glory Glory Hallelujah” days  when Spurs won the Double in 1961 and rampaged through Europe are confined to history now. That was the last time Spurs won the Title (which became the Premiership in 1992.) Spurs have won nothing since 2008. They have enjoyed impressive moments over the past few seasons, but sadly they flatter to deceive.

Mauricio Pochettino was appointed head coach on May 27 2014, becoming their tenth manager over a 12 year span. In his first season they reached the final of the League Cup only to be beaten by Chelsea. Tottenham were in contention to win the league in 2015-2016, but in the penultimate game of the season they drew 2-2 with Chelsea, handing the title to Leicester City.

The 2016-2017 season  began with a series of 12 unbeaten  league matches that ended with a defeat away to nemesis Chelsea in late November. Spurs only won three of their 13 matches between October and mid-December, and went out of both the Champions League and League Cup. Results improved later in the season, but their earlier inconsistencies meant they fell some way behind eventual Champions, Chelsea, and had to settle for second place.

In 2018, Pocchettino signed a new five-year contract to keep him at White Hart Lane until 2023, at least in theory. In July 2017, White Hart Lane was demolished to be replaced by a new stadium. Construction began in 2016 and the new stadium is scheduled to open during the 2018-19 season. However, here lies the rub. Spurs were earmarked to play their opening fixture at the new stadium in October, but it appears that this will not happen until at least the new year.

There is no doubt that uncertainty over the new stadium has affected the manager and the players. But that would be naïve to lay the blame on their nomadic existence rather than their inconsistent performances on the playing fields. Some days the team resembles a well oiled machine while at other times they perform like a spluttering spark plug.

When they have their first choice eleven on the field firing on all cylinders they are a match for anyone in the Premier League, even in Europe. However, they haven’t learned the art of grinding out results when they are not on the top of their game. The squad has no depth compared to Manchester City or Liverpool. Indeed City could field two teams in the Premiership and hold their own.

Apparently, Pocchetino wanted to sign new players in the summer to strengthen the squad, but was told by ownership that would not happen until the Club was settled in their new stadium. It would therefore appear that the January transfer window will not be available to Pocchetino, and he will have to twiddle his thumbs until next summer before he can sign new players. But will he? Clearly Pocchetino is very unsettled by recent turn of events which is exacerbated by the fact that Real Madrid  recently sacked their manager. Pocchetino has always been on Real’s radar, and he has expressed a wish to manage them one day.

On the playing side, the problem lies with the formation of the team. It is too reliant on three players: Harry Kane, Dele Ali, and Christian Eriksen. The team doesn’t function half as well if any of these players do not bring their ‘A’ game. Take for example the recent match against Manchester City. Ali and Eriksen were on the bench recovering from injuries. The midfield comprised Sissoko, Dier, Dembele and Lamela; none of whom possess a creative bone in their body. Harry Kane was clearly out of sorts without the aid of his two amigos, and resorted to drifting out wide in search of the ball.

Clearly, several of the squad are not Champions League material: Davies, Aurier, Rose, Dimbele, Sissoko, Winks, Lamela, LLorente, Lucas, and Wanyama are reasonable players who would find a home at mid-table teams, but they will not win you any titles. Pocchetino is not blameless either because he was instrumental in assembling this squad. I get a sense that he doesn’t have a “Plan B” when a match is not going according to plan. The style of play is sometimes too predictable and occasionally fragile.

They are probably exiting the group stage of the Champions League very shortly, and could be outside the top four of the Premiership by Christmas. Maybe Pocchetino has taken the team as far as he can, and it may prove mutually  beneficial to  the flawed genius and the club if he was hooked by Real Madrid.

 

Thoughts from Afar on the Ryder Cup

October 29th, 2018

I love the Ryder Cup, one corrupt empire battling another corrupt empire. But enough about politics. I’ve lived in America for over 22 years and became a US Citizen in 2008. However, my heart remains in Wales and my economic head resides in the USA. Therefore I always want Europe to defeat America, not just beat them by a couple of points but annihilate them. There’s no question that the US PGA Tour is far richer than the European  Tour, and naturally the best players in the world, including the top Europeans, gravitate towards America.

The American media, public and players expect to win the Ryder Cup. Most of the public don’t know half the players in the European Cup Team. Brooks Koepka won the US Open and PGA Championship this year while Patrick (liar, liar, pants on fire) Reed won the Masters. Europe’s only Major winner this year was Franco Molinari who won The OPEN in July. There’s an arrogance around the US Ryder Cup Team which really grates on my senses. The US PGA knew several years ago that the 2018 Ryder Cup was to be played  in France, but the only American to play the course prior to the competition was Justin Thomas who ironically went 4-1. The others were too busy polishing their egos and making millions playing target golf on the American PGA  Tour.

I am not so naïve to assume that European players don’t have egos. Golf is an individual sport with millions of prize money at stake, and you have to be self absorbed to be successful. But the Europeans have the ability to put away their egos and come together as a team. One for all and all for one etc.

Take for example the rumor that best of friends Dustin Johnson (ranked No1 in the world ) and three times major winner Brooks Koepka almost came to blows on the flight over; allegedly caused by Johnson’s fiancée Pauline Gretsky who appears to wear as little as possible.

Then there was the controversy of Spieth opting to pair with his pal Justin Thomas when he had been so successful in previous Ryder Cups paired with Patrick (liar, liar, pants on fire)Reed. Reed said in the press conference that Spieth didn’t want to play with him, but in reality Reed pleaded  with Captain Furyk to be paired with Tiger Woods.

There’s another story: Tiger Woods and Phil “The Cheat” Mickelson were picked as wild cards. Tiger justified his selection having had a stellar season culminating in winning The Tour Championship at East Lake. However, nobody knew, least of all Tiger, that he was exhausted and in no shape to play the Ryder Cup. Mickelson was also a shadow of his former self and should have been put out to pasture.

Statistics can sometimes tell only half a story, but the results of the corresponding wild cards makes for interesting reading. Europe’s wild cards (Poulter, Casey, Garcia and Stenson) accumulated 9-4-1 points. In comparison USA’s wild cards (Woods, Mickelson, De Chambreau and Finu)  mustered a measly 2-10-0 points. Future hall of famers, Woods and Mickelson didn’t score a single point between them. Woods had no excuses, but Mickelson claimed he doesn’t like narrow fairways and extreme rough. Bite me!!!

Every European player secured at least a point while Francesco Molinari became the first European player to register a maximum 5 points. In contrast, three of the Americans did not score a point which included Tiger and Phil “the cheat” Mickelson.

On paper there should have been only team in the contest, but golf is not played on paper. Neither is it played on reputations. It is played on tees, fairways and greens with a little “hwyl” thrown in the mix. Britain may be leaving the European Union, but the European Ryder Cup will go from strength to strength providing there’s an evil empire waiting to be beaten into submission.

 

 

New Mexico-Land of Enchantment

October 11th, 2018

 

Following stays at  5 hotels, 4 flights (including 2 connections) and 1 rental car we completed our wonderful trip to the Land of Enchantment.

“Tell me Dave, what were the high and lows of your trip?”

“Well thankfully, Sam, the highs outnumbered the negative connotations”

“Can you expand on that theme for your readers, Dave?’

“Certainly Sam, I’ll be glad to.”

Best breakfast: Hotel Garden Inn, Albuquerque (ABQ.) It was the only hotel on our schedule which had waitress service. Best lunch: a food truck situated to the rear of a bar in Las Cruces. Best dinner: sizzling beef fajitas served at an authentic Mexican restaurant, “La Posta de Milla” in the historic town of Mesilla minutes from our hotel in Las Cruces. Best dessert: a green chile sundae topped with pecans which was original and delicious from Caliche’s Frozen Custard.

Best shower: Hampton Inn, Las Cruces. It was walk-in shower and very spacious. Most comfortable bed: Hampton Inn, Ruidoso.

Worst night’s sleep: Hampton Inn, Carlsbad. The second floor of the hotel was being remodeled, a construction worker was prowling the corridor outside our room at 4.30am coughing his lungs out while a nearby store alarm joined in for good measure.

Best landscape: The Valley of the Fires is the youngest lava flow in the continental US and is located about 3 miles west of Carrizozo. It measures about 3 miles wide and 20 feet long, and suddenly appeared out of context with the surrounding desert on Highway 380.

Worst nightmare: Unquestionably flying with American Airlines. Our plane was delayed leaving Atlanta. We were not given any snacks or drinks during our three hour flight. On our arrival at Dallas we were informed we had 10 minutes to catch our connection. There was nobody at the desk when we arrived at the gate, and an employee ignored our pleas to open the door at the gate, so we could catch the plane. Luckily a gate attendant standing at the plane’s door saw my wife frantically waving her arms  to attract her attention. She mercifully returned and opened the door and told us to run down to the plane as they were just about to close the door to the main cabin. They must have known there were passengers attempting to make the connecting flight, but made no attempt to accommodate us until we took matters into our own hands.

Most spectacular experience: There are two candidates for this category both of which can be considered two of the most outstanding natural wonders of the world you are likely to see. Carlsbad Caverns are home to 500-800 thousand bats which every evening at dusk emerge from the caverns and spiral up into the sky and return next morning. The caverns themselves resemble a fantasy land of wondrous shapes and colors. Our 31/2 hour visit barely scraped the surface.

Most disappointing experience: New Mexico State Fair and Rodeo at Las Cruces. We originally planned to spend two days there, but it was very hot, the State Fair was mediocre saved only by the “Frisbee dogs,” and the rodeo was like watching Double A baseball which on occasions resembles watching paint dry.

Best historical places visited: Chloride, a genuine Western ghost town; The City of Lincoln where Billy The kid and Pat Garrett had their little dust up; Fort Stanton features more than 155 years of history ranging from its initial creation as a military garrison to its significance as the first tuberculosis hospital in the state, to an internment camp for German sailors during World War 11., and the 400 year old San Miguel Mission in Soccoro.

Most scenic route: The drive from Las Cruces to Cloudcroft where desert merges into mountain greenery.

Most Bizarre Moments: Excuse my ignorance, but I didn’t realize that New Mexico was a substantial oil producing state. Situated in a very industrialized area dominated by oil we passed through a little town called Artesia on our way to Carlsbad and it reminded me of Port Talbot, South Wales. Apparently Port Talbot inspired Ridley Scott to film “Blade Runner.”  Win, Place and Show Tap House was a bar recommended by a local guide pit, and only receives a mention because  the barmaid didn’t know how to make a margarita, and there were several different brands of tequila sitting on the shelves obviously resigned to being ornaments.

Memorable mention: White Sands Monument which has 275 square miles of gorgeous white sand complete with 40 feet high dunes.

Surprising delights: Dave’s Café in Cloudcroft where they served a splendid beer, wine tasting New Mexico wines also in Cloudcroft, and strolling through the farmers & crafts market in downtown Las Cruces on Saturday morning.  It was lively, colorful, and entertaining highlighted by a parrot that could imitate a dog or cat and play dead at a stroke. We attended the Manhattan Short Film Festival in Mesilla in the evening which more than compensated for the hapless rodeo.  Since our trip to California in June, we have become short film aficionados probably because they only require a short attention span.

Off Key Moments: Hubbard Western Museum in Ruidoso was okay, but I was expecting more on the Wild West considering its location in New Mexico. The Booth Western Museum in Cartersville, Georgia is far superior. Almorgordo’s  Museum of Space History was a little ragged around the edges, and is in need of an update. Dusty Boot’s Café in Cloudcroft had great reviews in Yelp, the BLT was good enough, but was the overall ambience was overrated. Smokey Bear Historical Park near Capitan is a waste of time.

“Do you have any other memories of the trip you would like to share with us Dave?”

Two factors spring to mind. I was impressed by the sheer size of New Mexico. The desert rolls on for hundreds of miles until they hit mountain ranges. On our way to Cloudcroft the desert scenery gently merged into green forest and orchards. The transformation from grey and spartan scenery to cultivated pastures and pine trees was breathtaking. It’s the fifth largest state in America but sparsely populated. Total population is only half the size of Los Angeles.

The roads that run through the heart of Southern new Mexico are long and straight with very light traffic, and were a welcome relief from the congested highways and byways where I live and work in Atlanta.

“Thanks again Dave for sharing your travel experiences with your loyal readers.”

Heroes or Legends?

July 9th, 2018

The 2018 FIFA World Cup was made memorable partly due to some of the giants of the game exiting the tournament so early. The holders, Germany didn’t make it out of the group stage while former winners Spain and Argentina lost in the round of 16. Spain vs Portugal set the tempo  on the second day of the tournament with a thrilling 3-3 draw. That was swiftly followed by Mexico beating defending champions Germany and Argentina crashing to a heavy defeat against Croatia. All this excitement and drama occurred in the group stage!!!

England did not arrive in Russia with high expectations, and they confirmed that assessment by struggling to dispatch Tunisia in their opening match. Harry Kane scored the match winner in injury time. This was followed by an emphatic 6-1 over a dirty, cynical Panama who wasted so much energy

continually berating the referee. England qualified with those two victories, and played to lose against Belgium to avoid the stronger left side of the draw which they duly accomplished. One couldn’t help wondering though if they had sacrificed some momentum entering the knockout stage of the competition.

Germany were given a lifeline when Tony Kirus scored a late winner against Sweden only to surprisingly lose 0-2 to South Korea, and were duly eliminated. After the dust had settled, the line up for the last sixteen had taken shape:

Uruguay 2 vs Portugal 1                        Spain 1 vs Russia 1

(Russia won on penalties.)

France 4 vs Argentina 3                        Croatia 1 vs Denmark 1

(Croatia won on penalties.)

Brazil 2 vs Mexico 0                               Sweden 1 vs Switzerland 0

Belgium 3 vs Japan 2                            Colombia 1 vs England 1

(England won on penalties.)

The shocks, drama and excitement continued during the round of 16. Uruguay knocked out European Champions Portugal, but unfortunately lost their star striker, Cavanni, to injury. France’s 4-3 win over Argentina was the match of the tournament for me. France are very good when they bring their Gallic flair and suppress their Latin temperament. Of course, having three world class attackers, Pogba, Mbappe and Greizmann, can tilt the scales in their favor.

The most impressive comeback of the tournament was Belgium gifting Japan a two goal lead, but then replying with three late goals after manager Martinez changed the course of the game with some critical substitutions. The hosts Russia were the lowest ranked team left in the tournament, but had just enough fuel in the tank to knock out much fancied Spain. England overcame a very feisty Columbia, and made history by winning their first penalty shoot out in World Cup competition.

Significantly, the sport’s two super stars, Ronaldo and Messi, were on their way home having failed to lift their teams to greater heights. The tournament had arrived at the elite eight and more shocks and awe were in store:

Uruguay 0 vs France 2                     Russia 2 vs Croatia 2 (Croatia won on penalties.)

 

Brazil 1 vs Belgium 2                         Sweden 0 vs England 2

Uruguay didn’t have the fire power without Cavanni, and France won comfortably. Belgium provided further heroics by defeating Neymar’s Brazil, and England earned a credible  victory over Sweden. Meanwhile Croatia continued to grind out results with another win via the format of a penalty shoot out.

English fans stoked up by their fickle media were daring to dream that the Cup could be returning home for the first time since 1966. The mood of the nation had dismissed their semi-final opponents, Croatia, and speculation was rife on who they would prefer England to play in the final: Belgium or France?

SEMI-FINALS

France   1                          vs                           Belgium 0

Croatia  2                          vs                            England 1 (aet)

Belgium’s stunning victory over Brazil had taken its toll, and they were unable to reproduce their “A” game in such a relatively short time to match France’s savoir faire. There was only one goal separating the teams, but France controlled the match from start to finish with stout defending and counter attacking.

England couldn’t have enjoyed a better start to their semi-final  scoring after five minutes through a spectacular free kick by Kevin Trippier. Some talking heads claimed they scored too early, but that’s a silly notion. It’s never too early to score, but the secret is to score one or two more so you have your boot firmly on the opponent’s jugular. Harry Kane had a great chance to make it 2-0 midway through the first half but failed to take it. Normally it was a chance he would make with his eyes shut.

England came out for the second half seemingly with the mindset that they would defend their lead for the ensuing 45 minutes. Big mistake!!!! Croatia, orchestrated by Luco Modric ,dominated the midfield and placed relentless pressure on England’s defence which eventually crumbled. Why oh why did England revert to the long ball? They  finished the tournament in fourth place losing again to Belgium for the bronze medal. Harry kane won the golden boot with 6 goals, but didn’t score in the quarters or semis. Remarkably, Croatia’s last three games went into extra time and each time they prevailed which spoke volumes for their character.

The final between France and Croatia proved to be an entertaining but somewhat controversial affair. France’s opening goal derived from a Griezmann dive which led to a free kick and subsequent own goal by Croatia’s striker whose name I can’t spell. Croatia equalized through a sublime goal by Petrovic who then blotted his copybook by handling the ball at the other end giving away a penalty from which France regained the lead. The referee reverted to AVR (assisted video referee) to make a decision on the handball which was unjust in my opinion.

France came out for the second half with all guns blazing and quickly scored two additional goals via Pogba and Mbappe to take an unassailable 4-2 lead. France’s captain and goalkeeper Lloris made a horrendous error to gift Croatia a goal and a glimmer of hope. Needless to say, sanity was restored and cruised to the finishing line as worthy winners of the World Cup.

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Rise and Fall of The Swansea Way

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.