Archive for April, 2014

I can Breathe a little Easier

Friday, April 25th, 2014

Prior to last week, the Swans had achieved only one win in their last 10 premiership games. For weeks they have hovered just above the relegation zone only to witness teams below them picking up points and inexorably closing the gap on them.

Sunderland were firmly rooted to the bottom of the table, but within four days earned a valuable point against Manchester City and unbelievably defeated Chelsea away.

The accepted total of points generally regarded as the safety net is 40, and with four games remaining the Swans travelled to Newcastle with 33 points. Newcastle are safe from the drop and really had nothing to play for save a win in front of their faithful and adoring fan base.

Initially it didn’t look too promising when Newcastle grabbed the lead in the 23rd minute. Fortunately the Swans equalized on the stroke of half time through a bullet header from their 12 million pound striker Wilfried Bony.

I nervously kept an eye on the score line throughout the second half and to be honest I would have been satisfied with a point. However fate invariably takes a hand and Newcastle conceded a penalty at the death.  Bony duly stepped up and blasted the ball into the roof of the net claiming the much needed 3 points.

I guess there are several reasons the Swans have struggled this season. There were rumors in the summer that manager Michael Laudrup was dissatisfied with the limited amount of money available to buy new players. He remained in charge, but appeared to be disinterested.  Following a series of indifferent results, a lethargic display against West Ham in February led to his dismissal. Swans veteran Gary Monk was appointed Head Coach for the remainder of the season which was a gutsy move by the Chairman considering Monk had no managerial experience.

On the player front, last season’s top goal scorer Michu has been injured for most of the season. Record signing Wilfried Bony missed pre-season and took several games to get into gear.

Big money signings Hernandez and Shelvey have been inconsistent, stalwarts Britton and Rangel have shown advancing years are catching up with them and they would probably be better off playing in MLS in America. Mysteriously Korean midfielder Ki signed from Celtic for 5 million pounds a little over 12 months ago was loaned to Sunderland for the season. I thought it was rather bizarre.

Ashley Williams the lynchpin of the defence is no longer the dominant presence he once was. His defensive partner Chico is a liability and clearly is not Premiership standard.

Dyer, Routledge and Davies are decent players, but if the Swans manage to escape relegation, the squad is obviously in need of an injection of new quality players. The question is whether Gary Monk will be appointed Head Coach/Manager on a permanent basis. The odds of that happening will be considerably shortened if he manages to retain Premiership status.

Tomorrow’s game against potential fellow relegation candidates Aston Villa is another vital step towards safety. It’s not necessarily a must win for the Swans but it would certainly make the remaining two games of the season a little less nerve racking.



A Trip for the Ages when Bunny Foo Foo went AWOL

Monday, April 14th, 2014

I thought this was a good topic for a blog, but I’m not sure whether I should it present is as a travel log or reminiscences from times gone by. I’ve decided to ramble and see where it takes me.

I recently spent a delightful two weeks back home in the UK and for once the weather gods were very kind to me. I often tell my American friends that you rarely witness a cloudless blue sky in the British Isles, but those weather gods were determined to make me a liar. Pennard Golf Club had never looked more spectacular. The fairways were shimmering under an early spring radiant blue sky with not a breath of wind to disturb the circling seagulls or meandering sheep. I can’t imagine another golf hole like the seventh where you tee off facing the ocean 200 feet below a magnificent cliff top. On the right hand side of the fairway lays the ruins of Pennard Castle which dates back to the 12th Century and is sufficient to blow the mind of an American golfer seeking to play true links golf.

Meanwhile I popped into the Gower Golf Club a few miles down the road. When I was town planner I had a hand in recommending that a local farmer convert his dairy farm into a golf course. The gruff but affable owner Mr. Jenkins came to see me in the planning department, and told me in no uncertain terms that “the bottom had dropped out” of dairy farming and the Ministry of Agriculture had advised him to contact his local planning department for ideas on alternative uses for his land.

He initially scoffed at my idea of a golf course, but within a week he returned to the office and admitted it had possibilities, and lo and behold within eighteen months the concept was a reality. I never thought for one moment that a dairy farmer with no experience of golf would obtain planning permission, hire a respected golf architect, Donald Steel, to design a golf layout from his cow pastures, and make a success of it. Sadly Mr. Jenkins passed away a few years ago, but the golf club continues to thrive in the hands of his son and daughter.

Food played a prominent part in my trip. I stayed at my brother’s in Cardiff for two nights and he kindly prepared two delightful Welsh breakfasts of lava bread, cockles, bacon and eggs. Superb cuisine! A few days later I had dinner with some old friends of mine in the King Arthur Hotel, Reynoldston, Gower. I was determined to continue the Welsh theme and ordered trout in a cockle sauce. It was truly exquisite ably supported by a roaring log fire in a convivial pub atmosphere and washed down with a pint of Reverend James.

In the second week of my journey I left the friendly confines of Wales and traveled over the border into England to visit with my son, daughter, their respective partners, and my dear grandchildren. My son lives near to a couple restaurants, Italian and Indian, and the Italian is particularly good. I have visited the Indian a couple of times now, but the jury is still out. Having dined out on the plethora of Indian restaurants in my home town of Swansea since the age of 23, I can be highly critical of Indian restaurants.

When in Rome do as the Romans do; when in Britain eat fish and chips. The Rockfish in Dartmouth is a tad more than a fish and chips shop. It can justifiably be called a seafood restaurant. We ordered monkfish, lemon sole and the traditional cod; all of which were delicious. We had the choice of breaded or batter on our fish and everyone was delighted with their meal. Oh, and the chips were crispy and dry. My favorite chip and shop was Covelli’s in Mumbles, but I received the shocking news that they had closed their doors. The Rockfish is now firmly ensconced as my number one location for fish and chips.

There were other culinary moments along the way. Rossi’s opposite the Liberty Stadium in Swansea has a good reputation for fish and chips and I chose plaice which I found to be a little greasy. I popped into the King’s Head in Treboeth the previous day for lunch which was and old stamping ground of my dad’s, and chose the bangers and mash which unfortunately was served with congealed gravy. Enough said! I had dinner with my brother and niece (who I hadn’t seen in 16 years) in the Traveller’s Rest on Caerphilly Mountain. I can’t remember what I ordered, but it tasted good.

Another fine tradition peculiar to the British is the Sunday roast lunch and carvery served in countless establishments around the country. My daughter took us to Ye Olde Smokey House, a 17th Century pub just outside Paignton and the roast beef, rich gravy and wine were exquisite. My American wife has grown accustomed over the years to a carvery and was a little disappointed with her Yorkshire pudding. Well there’s no pleasing some people.

Another goal of my trip was to reconnect with friends I hadn’t seen for many years. I stayed a couple of nights with Rob and Anne and I don’t believe I have been so well looked after since my mum passed away. Rob was supposed to join my friend Paul and I for a round of golf at Royal Porthcawl but pulled out with car trouble. My brother also declined the invitation but generously loaned me his clubs. Royal Porthcawl is one of the best link courses in the British Isles and looked idyllic bathed in sunshine early in March. The Senior British Open is being held there in July which confirms its status as one of the prestigious golf courses in the country.

Following a couple pints and a sandwich in the quaint clubhouse, Paul and I made a mad dash for the Blue Anchor in Aberthaw which is a thatched roof 14th Century hostelry in the Vale of Glamorgan. The building suffered a serious fire nearly 10 years but they did an excellent job in remodeling it losing nothing of its original ambience. My last port of call on the old friend’s front was reuniting with Sam who I hadn’t seen since I emigrated in 1996. We met in the New Inn in Penllargaer and he gave me a great big bear hug. He hadn’t changed a bit which is more than can be said for me!




Opening Day, Dark Horses and taking care of Canaries

Friday, April 4th, 2014

Today, March 31, 2014, represented the first day of the Major League Baseball season. Only 161 games remain after today’s opener and it could be long season for Atlanta Braves fans and players. The Atlanta Braves were playing the Brewers in Milwaukee and unsurprisingly lost 0-2. Much has been said about the loss of two of the starting rotation to season ending Tommy John surgery. Season ending…….the season had not begun when Medlen and Beachy went under the knife soon to be followed by Cory Gearin from the bullpen.

 But huge question marks hang over the offense when you consider it includes two players, BJ Upton and Uggla, who hit under the Mendoza line last season. For the uninitiated the Mendoza line is an undesirable label given to a hitter whose average is less than .200. Uggla and Upton are earning $28 million between them this season and they went for a combined 0 for 8 in the season opener. Okay, we can agree they are consistent in their ineptitude.

They paid out a lot of money in the winter to some of the younger players on the team. Freddie Freeman for example received $138 million for six years. He’s a good player but he doesn’t deserve super star status; not just yet anyway. General Manager Frank Wren’s reward for paying exorbitant salaries to the Mendoza twins was a contract extension. I don’t get it. Why should incompetency be rewarded?

The FIFA World Cup is a mere two months away and the favorites to win are the usual suspects: Spain, Germany, Brazil and possibly Argentina only for the fact it’s being staged in South America. Throw Uruguay into the mix for that matter. But if you want to place a bet on an outsider look no further than Belgium. The nucleus of the squad plies their trade in the Premiership.

Manchester City captain Vincent Kompany and Vertonghen from Spurs provide a solid defensive partnership, and they could play a back three if you include Arsenal’s Virmaelen. Mignolet of Liverpool has a safe pair hands between the sticks. A midfield comprising Hazard (Chelsea,) Dembele (Spurs,) Mirallas (Everton) and Fellaini (Man Utd,) offers various options in creativity and goal scoring possibilities. Lukaku (Everton) and Benteke (Aston Villa) are two strikers who could take any defense to task. Their Achilles heel could possibly be a lack of experience at the highest level, but nevertheless they will give you a run for your money.

Swansea City took the unprecedented step in firing manager Michael Laudrup with nearly a third season remaining. Equally surprising was the appointment club Captain Gary Monk as head coach for the foreseeable future. Monk is studying for his FIFA coaching badges but has no experience of managing a football club let alone in the cauldron of the Premiership.

His management began well with a win over arch rivals Cardiff City. However that represented his only win in 10 matches despite playing well against Man Utd, Everton, Liverpool and Napoli in the Europa League. A meager one point return from fellow strugglers Crystal Palace and WBA at home had left them precariously close to the relegation zone. However a point against Arsenal away in midweek revealed there was still fight left in the team, but Norwich’s visit last Saturday had a Cup Final feel to it. Norwich were one place above the Swans with two more points and a win was critical to take some pressure of the fans and the players.

The Swans duly delivered by winning 3-0 in the style that has drawn admirers from home and abroad. A 33 point haul looks far more attractive than the 29 points that the team had become becalmed on. Hull City away tomorrow is another important game against another team in the same zone of the table as the Swans. But they go there with confidence and hopefully keep the ball rolling towards safety.