Saturday, 27 October 2012


Sky Soccer Saturday: four-parts cringe, three-parts bantz, two-parts comedy genius (of which, two-thirds unintentional).

Today, Jeff Stelling throws (a verb I overheard a Sky roving reporter use this summer) to Villa Park, where we see the all-too-familiar pencil ‘tache of maybe-not-quite-so-easygoing-as-his-persona-suggests-if-he-has-to-maintain-the-same-facial-hair-and-Barnet-arrangement-ad-infinitum Chris Kamara. 

‘Kammy’ is a regular gantry gaffemeister, of course, but on this occasion it was less general confusion and broadcasting incompetence, more a common-or-garden example of combining two hackneyed figures of speech into a preposterous hypothesis.

With Norwich having dominated the first half-hour (think tabloidopundit thought-fart ‘I don’t know what Chris Hughton has said to them in there, but it’s working’), Kammy opined: “If an alien landed on earth here today, they’d think Norwich were the home team, Jeff”.


Are you sure they wouldn’t be thinking: ‘Why don’t Aston Villa play a withdrawn striker and have two wide men attacking diagonally between advanced full-backs and centre-halves, allowing them to play a double-pivot and an extra midfielder’? Or: ‘Norwich need to circulate the ball quicker’? Maybe even: ‘This must be the legendary Norwich, the club of the flecked strips that we saw in Earth Year 1992’.

Naturally, the reach of Sky Sports is such that the good aliens of inner space are clued up enough to grasp the basic truth of football: The Home Team Shall Be Dominant.

Still, you sit around for another twenty minutes and after an excruciating feature showing a Scouse entrepreneur who runs football tours out of the back of a minibus to people wearing Liverpool scarves still sporting ‘El Niño’ (with knitted phizog-likeness!), we cut back to Jeff Stelling, the hint of a grin playing across his face as he deadpans: “I once went on a tour of the Grand Canyon by helicopter. But I’ve got to say, this is right up there…”

Aliens here, Jeff – unbelievable!

Another piece about SSS: Thommo on Racism

Wednesday, 24 October 2012



“The socialism I believe in is not really politics. It is a way of living. It is humanity. I believe the only way to live and to be truly successful is by collective effort, with everyone working for each other, everyone helping each other, and everyone having a share of the rewards at the end of the day.”

It has been quite a month of moving on for Liverpool Football Club. After the cathartic findings of the Hillsborough Independent Panel’s report and the announcement of a full investigation into the cover-up and smear campaign of South Yorkshire Police, last week, more than a decade after ground redevelopment (or relocation) was first seriously discussed, and two years to the day after FSG’s arrival, the club have been given permission to expand Anfield.

Provisional outlines are for around 15,000 seats to be added to the main and the Anfield Road stands, all of which is of course conditional upon the agreement of adequate compensation for the neighbours whose houses stand to be demolished. And this is where things potentially get difficult – a crumbling block as a stumbling block.

Ian Ayre stated last Monday at the town hall: “It is not Liverpool that is acquiring the properties, it is the city council and Your Housing Group [a social housing developer]. We have passed the ball really. If we get through this next stage then it becomes the role of the planners and whether our planning application will be accepted”. Pass and move – forward, but not to Stanley Park.

Despite the club had already lost £59m in the 2010-11 financial year on plans for the new stadium project, it is still actually a surprise to learn – or to be told – that the project will not be wholly or partly financed by Liverpool, since it has been green-lit by Liverpool City Council as part of the regeneration of Anfield district. However, it seems that not everyone is yet sold on the idea of leaving their homes and others are dissatisfied with the terms being offered by the City Council.  

Monday’s Sky News carried an interview with the Chair of Anfield’s Rockfield Triangle Residents’ Association, Patrick Duggan, who said the club had acted in a manner that was “unkind”.

Is this the classic story of a corporate behemoth – although in this case a much-loved one – steamrolling over the wishes of its near-powerless neighbours? On the other hand, is it right that the will of a single resident – and those of a conspiratorial bent have suggested there could be Evertonians on Lothair Road – could derail a project that could potentially reinvigorate a great institution and much of the area?  

Duggan claims that there has been a deliberate policy of running the neighbourhood down – a duty of dereliction? – essentially making it unliveable (it wouldn’t take much of a stretch to imagine city councillors, after glasses had been clinked and flesh has been pressed, colluding in some skulduggery, would it). 

Anyway, Liverpool FC own ten properties and have relocated residents to different areas of the city, leaving those ten units unoccupied and boarded up. Arena Housing has done similarly to nine properties (three are owned by the council, four owner-occupied, four rented, five uncertain). With abandoned property has come anti-social behaviour: first ex-con tenants re-housed there by the council, then street gangs looking for territory and the everyman dope-and-vodka oblivion-seeking of the underclass. After that came the plunderers: scrap metal, copper piping, anything. Not only did this drive out residents, it also depreciated the value of the property, making it cheaper for Liverpool (or whoever) to buy – and presumably the football club would have to buy the land from any third party – and yet, at the same time, perhaps making the residents less inclined to sell.  

Noises from council and club are that they’re “optimistic for a positive solution”, whatever that means. No doubt emotional pressure will be brought to bear; guilt trips may be mobilized: “you’re holding the club to ransom”. Compulsory Purchase Orders have been mentioned. Are these the same fans who bat not an eyelid at the news that Joe Cole and Alberto Aquilani’s combined weekly salary was around the £180k mark? I will be quick to say here that there is not a single set of supporters in the land who will prioritise class solidarity with fellow fans of rival clubs over the particular, parochial interests of their own club, who will not acquiesce in the mind-boggling absurdity of these wages, leading to the one-eyed turning a blind eye (well, a look of awe and disgust) to it all.

Of course, presuming the Lothair residents are not being recalcitrant out of any ulterior motive, not overly sentimental, not holding out for unrealistic prices (mayor, Joe Anderson says 800 new homes are to be built as part of the regeneration project), the residents can do their bit for the football club (and for this part of the city). Assuming they receive a fair price, naturally, and there’s the rub…

Regardless of how high-handed the mayor gets in rushing through the purchases, perhaps the players can also do their bit to expedite the materialisation of acceptable compensation. They could each donate a week’s salary. It’s a devastatingly straightforward idea, one that ought to hold some sort of resonance for a club, the edifice of whose modern rebirth was cemented together by a hefty dollop of Shanklyist socialism (heaven only knows what he’d have made of the salaries they’re paid these days) and who ought to feel deeply uncomfortable about the allegations from Duggan that they have been left to walk alone. “We believe that the people, even now, are being exploited,” he said. “They’re being dealt with in a very underhand manner and are being offered peanuts for their houses after years and years of uncertainty”.

Footballers often talk about “wanting to become legends”.

One assumes that, as they take their first footsteps in the professional game – before they get sucked up and up to Felix Baumgarten country, where the exorbitant rewards create de facto microeconomies, the player now a whale with its pilot fish – those childhood dreams of glory must still be at the forefront of their thoughts. 

Then – imperceptibly and yet implacably, one supposes – come the distractions (not all players necessarily succumbing, too): the tenpercenters start their whispering; the self-taught factotums (and their own overwrought scrotums) appear like foxes-in-the-box pouncing on a parried save; maybe the player’s ego gets tangled up in pay-indexed pecking-order concerns. Innocence is lost. Detached from real world numbers, caught up in salary blingo, alienated from the lives of the fanbase, these Citizen Kanes’ demands for an extra £20k per week, the venality of the modern player, has been captured by the synecdoche, ‘Cashley’. 

Footballers also talk about “giving something back to the community”.

Beyond the odd famous last-ditch tackle or legendary goal, this can be the players’ way of truly “giving something back” – not just paying lip service to this notion when forced to wander along to a school or a hospital to fill out their afternoon. What is £100k out of the annual salary of Gerrard, Suárez, Reina, Joe Cole, Carragher…?

There may be some resistance. We know Gareth Southgate managed to summon the indignation (maybe faux, maybe vrai) to avoid signing up to the Nurses’ Hardship Fund five years ago, to give up his honest day’s pay for his honest day’s work, but could the Liverpool players – even those with a naturally weaker connection to the club – really raise the chutzpah to say “Sorry, I cannot afford to give up one week’s lucre for the sake of ensuring our neighbours are re-housed fairly and that the club can move forward”?

Liverpool’s annual salary bill for 2010-11 was £129m. This works out at £2,480,769 per week. With FFP around the corner, it’s perhaps significant that wages to turnover has increased from 54% just three years ago to the present figure of 70%. With 35 houses in the street, this would mean each household received £70,879 (the ones long since moved on could also receive money, in theory, albeit adjusted for inflation). Of course, some calculations would be made to ensure that ‘ordinary’ members of the staff at Liverpool FC didn’t have to forego a week’s earnings. Just the players and coaching staff. 

In the wake of the extraordinary PR debacle around their recently appointed Director of Communications, Jen Chang, and the blogger and fictitious Twitter persona Duncan Jenkins, this might be a chance to post some good news through a neighbouring street’s eight remaining letterboxes.

Tuesday, 16 October 2012


So, you’ve had time to digest the extraordinary story of Jen Chang’s off-piste meeting with the blogger Sean Cummins, the man behind the Twitter character @DuncanJenkinsFC, eh (mates)? Pretty mantle, eh? (Sorry, I apologise for apeing his rather tedious joke; I shall desist voluntarily – there’s no need to be putting dogshit through my virtual letterbox, you average football fan, you.)  

There are several disturbing things to have come out of the brouhaha: principally, that people insist on calling @DuncanJenkinsFC a “parody account” (Telegraph) when to be a parody you need to be parodying something or someone – in this case, a real life person called Duncan Jenkins, or Jenkinson, or somesuch. It is a fictional account, a persona.

Nor was the blog “anonymous” (Mail): it’s pseudonymous.  

Anyway, those crucial issues of terminology aside, it appears that Liverpool FC thought that Jenkins was the nom-de-clavier for a real journalist (perhaps one forbidden to tweet as ‘himself’ by an employer) who was party to high-level information from within in the club – in fact, there’d been speculation that he had a mole in the club (not realizing that Santi Cazorla played for Arsenal). Apparently, the LFC hierarchy – including amateur eyebrow raker, Ian Ayre – were miffed that Jenkins’ Twitter activity had cost them money in transfer deals, adding £300k to the value of Fabio Borini after AS Roma were disgruntled that the “maximum discretion” they’d asked for had been apparently breached. Not that Jenkins was gruntled when he found out.  

So it was that the club’s Director of Communications of four months, Cambridge alumnus Jen Chang  perhaps after an evening of, you know, sitting around feeling powerful  took it upon himself to squash the fly in the room in a manner, alleges Jenkins in his blog, more befitting of Chow Yun-Fat. Internal Affairs, only ‘Dunc’ knew no insiders. (Yes, I’m aware the original film was Infernal Affairs, but that joke wouldn’t work, yeah?)  

You couldn’t make it up. Except that you could. Not that ‘Duncan’/Sean has made it up, although that’s what Jen Chang is reported to believe, quoted in The Independent that he won’t respond to “nonsense”.

But what is Liverpool FC’s position on this PR disaster? I know, let’s ask– …Oh. Oh, I see.

What’s that you say – Jen Chang is unavailable for further comment? And whom has issued that statement, pray tell?

See, this is the thing: postmodernism tends to push us beyond good old-fashioned brazen hypocrisy (thinking or feeling one thing, saying or doing another) to a kind of structural cynicism. A lawyer doesn’t need to believe in the law; a civil servant or politician doesn’t need to believe in the government. You just need to perform your duties, to simulate the assigned image that comes with your role. And in the PR universe (often quite high-handed and paranoid at the top end), the image-polishing duties mean that individual bodies are frequently forced to split themselves into private and public selves. (Incidentally, I was going to call this piece Compartmentalization of the Self, but no point losing readers at the title stage, eh [mates]? I also thought Chang on the Ching? might work.)

In fact, it’s probably more nuanced than that (even private individuals are not some untainted residue of authenticity), but the point stands that Chang can, in theory, speak about this affair privately (by which I mean publically, on Twitter, but in a private capacity), but he cannot, or will not, do so professionally – on the Liverpool website, say.

His Twitter profile sums up the absurdity of this situation – and it is absurd; if you don’t think so, that just means you’ve internalized the rules of the game, absorbed the proscriptions against honesty, become a cynic – by stating, as is now a commonplace: “Views expressed are my own opinions and do not represent those of the club”.

So, we go knocking on the door of ‘the club’ looking for a statement about Jenkins’ claims – and again, we need to find someone else since, in his professional capacity, Mr Chang will of course be the flesh-and-blood personage behind the PR cliché “Liverpool FC say…”. According to the aforelinked piece in The Independent, “The club said they were aware of the allegations but had no statement to make”. Hmmm. Yet presumably he is in charge of whether or not he can speak in his professional capacity, as ‘The Club’. Such is the conundrum when a PR gaffe is made by the PR Executive.

Anyway, having myself just (with barely lukewarm zeal) started in this rarefied specialism that is Public Relations – I was also a perspiring journalist, of sorts, after leaving academia – I’m perhaps not yet qualified to diagnose this situation as a “PR disaster”. Nor am I sure what talking head Max Clifford’s line on it all is as yet, but I’d certainly say it’s too early to be calling Mr Chang a PR Guru solely on the basis of the status of his current job.

At the time of writing, being decidedly not ITK (and unable to see how peddling semi-spurious transfer gossip is a professional achievement), it looks like this is what will transpire here: a powerful institution simply denies it happened and, without witnesses, without recorded evidence, the story slowly goes away.

That’s exactly how me and Max-C – M-dog, the M-Unit – would play it, eh Jen.