World Cup Scenarios

Taking a break from politics and one way streets, here’s look forward to the World Cup next month. No matter what happens as far as England are concerned, someone will say that they predicted it all along. So here’s my shot at making sure I can say that, with a set of the most plausible scenarios for the group stage.

“Just not good enough”

England wilt in the tropical heat of Manaus, with Italy notching up a comfortable 2-0 victory. Against Uruguay England have a better game, and take the lead mid-way through the first half. But goals either side of half time from Edinson Cavani leave England no way back. A fairly routine – and, by now, irrelevant – win over group whipping boys Costa Rica does nothing to improve the mood.

It might not be that bad, of course. It might, instead, be almost as bad…

“If only…”

With neither side willing to exert themselves in the Manaus heat, the opening game against Italy peters out into a nil-nil bore draw. A more open game against Uruguay features plenty of chances but only two goals, one for each team. Results in other games mean England need to win by at least two clear goals in their final game against Costa Rica in order to progress, and they start brightly by taking an early lead. But a goalkeeping howler lets the Costa Ricans equalise from a set piece just before half time, putting Roy’s boys back to square one. Pushing for the required two goals in the second half, England get one of them but just can’t force another breakthrough against a team with no ambition other than to park the bus.

Alternatively, there’s more than one way to make a mess of things:

“Defeat from the jaws of victory”

An opening game defeat to group favourites Italy is put behind them as England record a deserved victory over Uruguay, meaning a win over Costa Rica will see them comfortably through. But it all goes horribly wrong when England lose a defender to a red card following a horror tackle in the 18 yard area. Costa Rica equalise through the ensuing penalty, and England’s ten men can’t force another goal. Four points isn’t enough, as Uruguay grab a last-minute winner over Italy in their final game to put both them and the Italians through with six points apiece.

Then again, if things go the right way in the end…

“Scraping through”

After 0-0 and 1-1 draws respectively against Italy and Uruguay, England need a win against Costa Rica to progress. The game starts badly with Costa Rica taking an unexpected lead in the first ten minutes, and holding that lead until half time. England’s equaliser comes shortly after the restart, but the floodgates don’t open. Instead, a combination of Costa Rica’s backs-to-the-wall defence and some slipshod shooting from England’s strikers means that they enter the last five minutes staring elimination in the face. But Daniel Sturridge shows he’s learned from his Liverpool strike partner by going down just a bit too easily in the box, and Frank Lampard – on as a sub for the injured Steven Gerrard – puts away the penalty to take England into the next round.

And England’s luck can’t be all bad:

“Comfortable enough, in the end”

England get off to a good start against Italy with an early goal, but are pegged back by an equaliser in the second half and the game ends all square. In the second game, there’s a bit more margin for error as England take a 2-0 lead by half time. Uruguay pull one back midway through the second half, and England have some last ditch defending to do as the South Americans throw everything at them in the final 20 minutes. But luck, and the woodwork, is on England’s side and they hold on to the lead. A routine 2-0 win over Costa Rica cements their place in the second round.

And, just to round things off, what if it all works out?…

“You know, we might even have a chance of winning this thing…”

A set piece header by Gary Cahill, very much against the run of play, gives England a one goal lead over Italy early in the second half. With both sides tiring in the heat, England are content to sit back and let Italy wear themselves out first by doing all the attacking. The defence holds firm and England notch up an unexpected, but not undeserved, victory. The good defensive form continues into the second game where another 1-0 win is delivered courtesy of Steven Gerrard’s free kick in the first half. Finally, against Costa Rica, the strikers get their chance to appear on the scoresheet in a comfortable 4-1 win as England end the group stage in pole position.

I’m not going to say which of these I think is the most likely. And. of course, there are plenty of other scenarios as well. But I wouldn’t be surprised if one of these, or something pretty close to it, is what turns out to happen. What do you reckon?

Bad news for football fans

It’s being reported that BT has grabbed the rights to all Champions League and Europa League football matches from 2015. As things stand, this is seriously bad news on several different levels.

It’s obviously bad news for Sky and ITV, but that’s not really the major issue. Competition between broadcasters isn’t necessarily a bad thing, and no company has any particular right to succeed if another can do it better. So if that’s all there was to it, then I wouldn’t be too bothered.

What’s more important is that this is bad news for football fans. At the moment, Sky is the only significant operator in pay-TV football in the UK – BT’s 38 Premier League games a season, like Setanta and ESPN before them, is just a pinprick by comparison. At the moment, a football fan’s appetite can be pretty much sated by a subscription to Sky and the free to air channels. You’d have to be really hardcore to actually feel the need for BT Sport as well.

Champions League

This deal changes that. While Sky will still dominate the domestic leagues and FA Cup, the loss of 350 European games is a major blow. These aren’t the trivial scraps from the season currently broadcast by BT, they are some of the most-watched fixtures of the year. And 350 is a heck of a lot more than 38.

So football fans, to get anything like comprehensive coverage, will need to subscribe to both Sky and BT. That’s clearly going to be more expensive than just Sky alone. The alternative is to do without most European games, which isn’t going to go down too well.

In theory, this isn’t such a problem for customers of BT’s “Infinity” fibre Internet service, as they get BT Sport for free along with their contract [update: see note at the end of this article]. But the problem here is that, unlike Sky, the BBC and ITV, BT’s own online streaming system is awful. It’s full of bugs, and even when working properly, is well below the quality you can get from SkyGo, iPlayer and ITV Player. If a large number of football fans switch to BT Internet in the hope of getting European football matches on their PCs and tablets, they are likely to find themselves seriously frustrated.

Therein lies another problem. Both ITV and Sky, the current rights holders, have said that BT’s bid was vastly higher than the value that they place on the rights. So BT appear to have bid considerably over the odds to obtain them.

That money has to come from somewhere. Partly, of course, BT is hoping that it will come from additional subscriptions that they sell on the back of this. But if Sky don’t think it’s justifiable, it’s hard to see how BT will be able to make this deal profitable on the basis of subscriptions alone. Which means that it’s going to come from other parts of BT’s empire.

If that were just a case of cross-subsidising from BT’s other retail operations, such as Internet and telephone, that wouldn’t necessarily be such a problem (although people who pay BT for a phone line just so that they can have broadband from another ISP may be less than chuffed about it). But there may be more to it.

BT is legally prohibited from using profits from its wholesale operation, BT Openreach, to cross-subsidise its retail operations. But wholesale is where BT is making money. Like all consumer ISPs, BT’s retail prices are squeezed to the bone. But their dominant position in wholesale provision allows them to charge pretty much what they like to other ISPs. And they do.

Ofcom is already investigating a number of complaints against BT about wholesale pricing, including one from TalkTalk which explicitly asserts that BT is breaking the rule prohibiting them from subsidising retail operations from wholesale profits. Ofcom has yet to issue a ruling, but the fact that BT retail can seemingly manage to pay well over the odds for sporting rights while still being one of the cheapest broadband providers is likely to raise eyebrows. Even if the accusations are not proven, this is likely to cause ructions between BT and its wholesale customers.

Possibly more worryingly, if the complaints are upheld and BT is forced to cut prices it charges to wholesale customers, that leaves a Champions League sized hole in BT Retail’s finances. Unlike Setanta, which bit off more than it could chew with Premier League rights and went bust as a result, BT is big enough to swallow those costs if necessary. But the money still has to come from somewhere, and retail pricing and customer service are likely to suffer the most.

As well as the question of where the money comes from, it also matters where it goes. And where it will mostly go is the clubs involved in European competition, as well as UEFA itself. That’s obviously good news for those clubs, but it’s bad news for clubs not in Europe as the income gap between them and European competitors will widen. And history shows that when organisations like UEFA get used to being on the receiving end of large sums of money, they don’t readily give that up. To get the rights back again, Sky and ITV will need to outbid BT next time round. It doesn’t take a genius to work out where that money might come from, either.

So, bad news all round? I think so. It’s bad news for Sky and ITV. And, in the long run, it’s likely to be bad news for Sky’s customers. It’s very bad news for football fans who aren’t BT Infinity customers. It’s moderately bad news even for football fans who, like me, do have BT Infinity. It’s bad news for BT customers who aren’t interested in football. It’s bad news for football clubs that don’t play in European competition. Just about the only people it’s good news for are clubs that do play in Europe, and BT executives.

[update] It’s being reported by the Daily telegraph that even BT Infinity customers will have to pay extra for most of the games. That makes it even worse a deal than I’d originally thought, even for people like me who have BT Infinity.

2012 and all that

So, it’s the end of the year. It’s been a bit of a funny one, in many ways. We started with a drought, and ended it the wettest year on record. On a personal note, it’s the year I was elected Deputy Mayor of Evesham, and I’ve enjoyed every part of it. I’m looking forward to the forthcoming year even more. But it hasn’t all been good: the weather caused massive disruption to several of our festival events with the wind meaning no balloons at the balloon festival and the rain resulting in too much river for the river festival. A combination of last winter’s ice and the summer’s rain led to lumps of masonry falling off the Bell Tower. Flood water has been back onto the roads and back into premises on the aptly-named Waterside, although we’ve been fortunate that we didn’t come anywhere near the devastating floods of five years ago.

Long to reign over us

Nationally, it’s been a historic year. A British monarch celebrated 60 years on the throne for only the second time in history, and the Olympics returned to Britain for only the third time. We’ve had a lot to celebrate, although coverage of the Queen’s diamond jubilee was some of the most shockingly inept broadcasting I’ve ever seen from the BBC. Not that the BBC was entirely alone in that respect; the inanity of celebrity comperes at the jubilee concert in The Mall was rivalled only by some performers who don’t know the difference between a birthday and a jubilee. Not that it matters, really, the monarchy has probably never been as popular among the general public.

A potential Romneyshambles

Although we would never have admitted it at the time, a lot of us privately might have agreed with Mitt Romney’s comments about London not being quite ready for the Olympics. Media stories about the army having to be roped in to cover for G4S’s inability to recruit and train staff, and negative publicity about some of the more stupid branding rules associated with the event, weren’t exactly the best build-up. Add to that the fact that the great British public loves a good moan, and everything was in place for a gold medal performance in self-flagellation. Or possibly a silver medal, because someone else would undoubtedly have beaten us better than we could beat ourselves.

It didn’t happen that way, of course. I had an inkling of how big it was going to be when the Olympic flame made its way through Evesham. I have honestly never seen the town centre so full. As I made my own way to the High Street, it seemed as if the entire population of the town was heading the same way. Every last vantage point was taken, with the crowds several layers deep.

Be not afeard: the isle is full of noises

I wasn’t in Evesham when the Olympics actually started. Instead, I watched the opening ceremony in a log cabin in Scotland, at the end of a family holiday. Again, it could so easily have gone wrong. Olympic opening ceremonies of the past have varied from the turgid to the bombastic, and everyone knew we didn’t have the budget to compete with Beijing. But Danny Boyle’s bizarre combination of Shakespeare, JK Rowling, Isambard Kingdom Brunel, a flock of live sheep, Mr Bean, NHS patients bouncing on their beds, Dizzy Rascal, the Queen and Tim Berners-Leee – all soundtracked by those guys who wrote the song which goes “lager lager lager lager lager lager” – was an audacious triumph.

The games themselves weren’t half bad, either. No, that kind of British understatement just won’t do. They were absolutely, stokingly, stupendously brilliant. Even the BBC managed to redeem themselves from their jubilee disaster by getting their coverage spot on. Some might argue that this is due to the unique way in which the BBC is funded, but I put it down to the fact that sport is one of the few areas of programming that is still run by people who know what they’re talking about. However you look at it, though, even the BBC would have struggled to make the games look good if the competitors hadn’t produced the goods. But produce they did. The best performance by a British Olympic squad (please, no “team GB”) for over a century, and even when it wasn’t the Brits winning it was our favourite global superstars. And I did what I have been telling myself I would do, ever since I first saw the Olympics on TV, and went to see them on home turf. Not at the stadium (missed out on the ballot for that), but at the triathlon in Hyde Park. It was a great day out, topped off by a British victory.

There were other sporting achievements, too, of course. Bradley Wiggins became the first British winner of the Tour de France, and Chelsea became the sixth English winners of the European Cup – itself a record for any one country. Incidentally, Bayern Munich have now lost in the final to three different English teams. We’ll gloss over the record of the England team in the European Championships.

Guns and posers

Royalty and sport provided the highlights, and the weather the main lowlights. Over in the US, yet another mass killing gave NRA spokesman Wayne LaPieree the opportunity to claim gold medal for sheer, utter stupidity. But 2012 will also be noted for an unprecedented musical achievement. Never before has a Korean artist so much as troubled the UK charts, let alone approached the top of them. But a song poking fun at the aspirations of a posh Seoul suburb became not only the most viewed video ever on Youtube, but also the soundtrack to a thousand parodies and a million embarrassing dad-dance moves. Oppan Gangnam seutayil.

Danny Boyle’s Olympic Programme Notes – full text

I’ve noticed that I’m getting hits on this blog for my short extract from Danny Boyle’s programme notes for the Olympic opening ceremony. Since there appears to be a demand for it, this is the full text:

‘Be not afeard: the isle is full of noises’

The Tempest, Wiliam Shakespeare

At some point in their histories, most nations experience a revolution that changes everything about them.
The United Kingdom had a revolution that changed whole of human existence.

In 1709 Abraham Darby smelted iron in a blast furnace, using coke. And so began the Industrial Revolution. Out of Abraham’s Shropshire furnace flowed molten metal. Out of his genius flowed the mills, looms, engines, weapons, railways, ships, cities, conflicts and prosperity that built the world we live in.

In November 1990 another Briton sparked another revolution – equally far-reaching – a revolution we’re still experiencing. The digital revolution was sparked by Tim Berners-Lee’s amazing gift to the world – the World Wide Web. This, he said, is for everyone.

We welcome you to an Olympic Opening Ceremony for everyone.
A ceremony that celebrates the creativity, eccentricity, daring and openness of the British genius by harnessing the genius, creativity, eccentricity, daring and openness of modern London.

You’ll hear the words at our great poets – Shakespeare, Blake and Milton. You’ll hear the glorious noise at our unrivalled pop culture. You’ll see characters from our great children’s literature – Peter Pan and Captain Hook, Mary Poppins, Voldemort, Cruella de Ville. You’ll see ordinary families and extraordinary athletes. Dancing nurses, singing children and amazing special effects.

But we hope, too, that through all the noise and excitement you’ll glimpse a single golden thread of purpose – the idea of Jerusalem – of the better world, the world of real freedom and true equality, a world that can be built through the prosperity of industry, through the caring nation that built the welfare state, through the joyous energy of popular culture, through the dream at universal communication. A belief that we can build Jerusalem. And that it will be for everyone.

As taken from this scan of the original

Olympics, industry and the NHS

I wake up this morning to Twitter and Facebook still going off on one about Danny Boyle’s tribute to the NHS in last night’s Olympic opening ceremony. There have been a lot of comments about how it seemed to support a left-wing agenda. But it didn’t. Really, it didn’t.

Yes, Aidan Burley is a twat. But no more so than those who attempted to hijack the imagery of the opening ceremony in support of an anti-reform agenda. There’s an absolutely important point in the narrative, possible missed by those watching (especially by the inane BBC commentators), but directly alluded to in Danny Boyle’s programme notes, that the industrial revolution is something to be celebrated for what it gave us, and the NHS is one of those things.

The “progressive” elements of society that were part of last night’s show, including the NHS and the suffragettes, were not a counter-reaction to the industrial revolution. Rather, they were a direct consequence of it. It was industry that spread democracy and wealth and made progress possible.

Without the money from industry to finance it, the NHS could never have existed. Universal suffrage would not have happened without the social changes wrought by industry. If you want to defend the NHS, then you also have to defend the things which enable it – a free, entrepreneurial society that encourages the creation of wealth.

That was a point woven into the fabric of the Olympic opening ceremony. It’s in the words of the famous song which introduced it. Jerusalem doesn’t just happen. It has to be built. I agree with Danny Boyle when he writes of

The idea of Jerusalem – the better world, that A belief that we can build the world of real freedom and true equality, a world that can be built through the prosperity of industry and the caring nation that built the welfare state, through the joyous energy of popular culture, through the dream of universal communication. A belief that we can build Jerusalem. And that it will be for everyone.

And there’s nothing left-wing about that.

Olympic linking lunacy

In another of my occasional series of articles about organisations who mistakenly think they can control how you link to them on the web, there’s a great example on the London 2012 website. Here’s the relevant paragraph:

Links to the Site. You may create your own link to the Site, provided that your link is in a text-only format. You may not use any link to the Site as a method of creating an unauthorised association between an organisation, business, goods or services and London 2012, and agree that no such link shall portray us or any other official London 2012 organisations (or our or their activities, products or services) in a false, misleading, derogatory or otherwise objectionable manner. The use of our logo or any other Olympic or London 2012 Mark(s) as a link to the Site is not permitted.

What that means is that the link I’ve already created is OK, provided I don’t use this article to point out how stupid these rules are. Oops. But, even if I wasn’t being derogatory about them, these restrictions create some ludicrous situations. Here are some examples:

A website about the Olympics – OK, because it’s a text link that doesn’t use the official Marks.

London 2012 – Not OK, because it uses one of the official Marks.

London 2012 – OK, because it’s not a link, and my use of the official Marks is permitted under the exception for journalism and editorial content.

A bunch of plonkers – not OK, because it’s derogatory.

OK, because I’m using the image in an editorial context and it isn’t a link.

Not OK, because I’m using the image as a link.

Not OK, because it’s an image link even though it isn’t one of the official Marks.

I haven’t broken the rule about not using a link to imply some kind of association or endorsement, because – unlike every other restriction – that is actually enforceable by law. But to try and stop people making links in the non-permitted forms that I’ve done in this article is daft. It’s unenforceable, and all it does is demonstrate ignorance.

If it was just ignorance, though, it wouldn’t be such a big thing. Lots of websites have unenforceable clauses like this in their terms and conditions, usually because they’ve simply copied and pasted them from elsewhere on the web or they were written by people who don’t really understand the Internet and can’t afford to pay someone who does. But when LOCOG does it, it looks like just another example of the control freakery at the heart of the London Olympics.

Quite apart from the fact that we’ve actually got laws telling us when we can and can’t use ordinary, English words such as “games” and well-known names such as “London”, it’s led to situations where local traders have been shut out of Olympic Flame events because the official sponsors don’t want them there and a ban on food vendors other than McDonalds selling chips. That one was partially retracted for staff catering in the face of mass complaints, but it still applies to spectators.

I like sport. I like the Olympics, and I’m massively proud that they’re being held in my country this year. And I’m pleased that the organisers have managed to get things like the stadium and other venues ready on time and on budget, unlike many other Olympic hosts. But the willingness of LOCOG to let commercial interests take precedence over the convenience and needs of athletes, staff, volunteers and spectators leaves an uneasy taste in my mouth.

Anyway, I’ll be doing my own little bit to protest against the rampant commercialism and Olympian authoritarianism. While the games are on, I won’t use my Visa card, I won’t eat at McDonalds and I won’t drink Coca Cola or Heineken. Instead, I’ll watch the TV coverage with a glass of real English beer in my hand and eat food from English providers. And when I need to spend money with plastic, I’ll use my Mastercard. Oh, and I’m happily ignoring nonsense like a ban on derogatory links to a bunch of control freaks who are giving the London Olympics a bad name.

Olympic Flame

The Olympic flame came to Evesham today. I was there to watch it, along with other members of the town council and assorted dignitaries, from our position in the VIP viewing area. Although, actually, we didn’t really use the viewing area at all – like everyone else, we just pushed out into the road as the flame came past. Dignity goes out of the window when you’re watching history being made, especially if there’s a good chance to get some photos.

I like the Olympics. I really do. I like sport in general, and the quadrennial Olympiad is one of the things I genuinely look forward to. I’m immensely proud that the 2012 games are being held here in the UK, in the same year as the Queen’s diamond jubilee. And seeing the flame relay come through my adopted home town of Evesham has been one of the highlights of the year so far.

So I feel a bit churlish having a moan. Unfortunately, it’s a moan that needs to be, well, moaned. I’ve blogged before about the extent to which commercial interests have cast a shadow over the London Olympics (and parodied it, as well), and the torch relay isn’t immune either.

As well as the flame itself, and all the supporting vehicles, the torch convoy includes three sponsor vehicles: Samsung, Coca-Cola and Lloyds TSB (and always in that precise order, apparently). I don’t particularly object to them simply being there (although their presence has led to stupid results elsewhere), but one incident really did rankle.

The Samsung truck

The sponsor trucks come first in the convoy, and the lead truck (sponsored by Samsung) features what’s best described as a warm-up man who, with the aid of a DJ, attempts to whip the crowd up into a sponsored fervour: “Come on Evesham, make some noise”; well, actually, we’d been making plenty of noise before you even turned up, we’ve gone quiet for a bit now because you’re just the sideshow and we want the real thing (by which we don’t mean the second truck, sponsored by Coca Cola). But then, as the truck passed the Avonbank Brass Band (who had been doing an excellent job of entertaining the crowd and, well, making some noise) the MC looked down from the top and said “That’s great guys, thanks for coming, we really appreciate it”. And I wanted to be able to say to him, “You arrogant, patronising twat”.

This is our town, we don’t need some low-grade entertainer paid for by a South Korean electronics company to thank us for being there. On the contrary, you should thank us for letting you come along. We’re here to see the flame itself, not the hangers-on. You want to use the opportunity for a bit of marketing? That’s fine, that’s what you pay your sponsorship money for. But don’t try and pretend that it’s your gig, because it most certainly isn’t.

It wasn’t a huge incident, and by the time the flame itself came past I think most people had forgotten the sponsors anyway. But the fact that it was allowed to happen at all does leave me a little uneasy. I don’t object to sponsorship, and I don’t object to sponsors getting their money’s worth of publicity on the back of it. But it does seem to me that, in their desire to keep the sponsors happy and maximise the revenue they generate, LOCOG have allowed some boundaries to be crossed that should not have been crossed.

It’s probably too late to address that for the remainder of the torch relay, and it’s certainly too late to change anything that’s already settled in the contracts. But where LOCOG still has discretion on what it will allow, it should think carefully about how to exercise that discretion. The sponsors, too, should be careful how far they push it. It would be a real shame if one of the greatest sporting events on earth was spoiled by thoughtless commercialism.

Back to the flame in Evesham, though, you can watch it come through the town on the BBC torch relay website – select the morning recording, and Evesham starts at 11:29 in. You can see the rest of my photos either on Facebook or Google+. As you can see from the footage, the town centre was absolutely packed – on my way there myself earlier in the morning it seemed as if the whole population were all walking in the same direction. I don’t think I have ever seen anything similar, anywhere – probably the nearest is a football crowd on their way in or out of the stadium, but even then you know that they’re only a small proportion of the population. Today, there was barely anyone in town who wasn’t there. That’s what makes the Olympics worth celebrating, and that’s what I’m glad to be a part of.

The London Olympic Games And Paralympic Games Security, Control And Marketing Regulations

Someone asked a question on Usenet:

Supposing the Army wanted to station missiles on my roof to shoot down Olympic miscreants, what powers and legislation would they be relying on to enable them to do this? How might I stop them?

The London Olympic Games And Paralympic Games Security, Control And Marketing Regulations 2009 gives the government the right to station missiles on any property in order to shoot down any skywriting plane which might attempt to display a logo or phrase which contains the words “Olympic”, “London” or “games” anywhere in the UK without permission. It further authorises the police to confiscate and consume any breakfast described as “Olympic”, as well as prohibiting the broadcast or screening of any films or TV programmes featuring Olympic class ships. Aircraft bearing the name “Olympic” will be barred from UK airspace, and (but not or other localised variants) is required to blank out the area of Washington State, USA found at

The legislation also forbids telephones to be answered after exactly five rings – they must either be answered by or after the fourth ring or allowed to ring at least six times. Jellies are not permitted to get set. Websites may not use the colours #FFD700, #C0C0C0 or #CD7F32. Summer in London is also prohibited by law, although the Met Office long range forecast suggests that this, as usual, is likely to prove unnecessary.

Warning: the above may contain traces of irony.

You might also want to take a look at the Olympic Visa Boycott.

I’m NOT A fashion victim

I'm NOT A fashion victimThere’s been a lot of media coverage lately of Anya Hindmarch’s “I’m not a plastic bag” bag. It seems that some people will pay over £100 for one of these on eBay.

All this seems like another way of ripping off fashion victims – the type of people who will pay over the odds just for the right name on the label. So I’ve created a t-shirt design for anyone who feels that they want to proclaim the fact that a designer bag isn’t what turns them on. You can buy a copy through my Spreadshirt shop.

While this is obviously just my cynical attempt to cash in on the latest craze, it would be rather fun to see these out on the streets.