Friday, 29 June 2012

Football commentary: stop living in the past

With the Euro 2012 competition reaching it's conclusion this weekend (I am watching the second semi-final on BBC iPlayer as I type this) I have been watching plenty of football on television over the past couple of weeks - and, as a consequence, I have been getting more and more annoyed at some traits of the commentary which accompanies live football.

I know commentators get a lot of stick (not always entirely deserved, in my opinion) but one thing which really does annoy me is the seemingly constant fascination with old statistics - sometimes several decades old, or more - which really have no bearing on the game currently being played.

It usually starts off with something fairly innocuous -
These two teams have played each other seven times before in international tournaments, and Team A have won six of those seven encounters.
But it's never long until these statistics become increasingly irrelevant, as commentators feel more and more gripped by the need to fill all the available time on air with something resembling an opinion -
This is the first time Team A played Team B in a stadium whose name begins with an "H" since 1988 - and on that occasion, Team A won by nine goals to three.  Could this be an omen?
And then these statements become ever more ridiculous, as they begin to relate to tournaments as a whole, not just the match which is currently taking place -
Team A played two friendly games before this tournament - both against South American teams.  The last time that happened was in 1992.  In that year, they lost their quarter-final match on penalties, despite having been four-nil up in the first half.  Are we going to see a repeat of this tonight? 
So what's the matter?  Surely these little pieces of trivia are harmless enough?

Well, harmless they may be - but they also add no value to proceedings.  Endless reminiscences of matches long gone does nothing to bolster fans' enjoyment of the match they're actually watching.

The real trouble is, it's so difficult to draw such parallels in football; whatever might've happened last time, or the time before that, or twenty years ago, doesn't affect what's going on now - they were different players and different managers playing a different game on a different pitch - and any apparent similarities are surely just coincidence.

Saturday, 16 June 2012

#Euro2012 - the Carroll conundrum

Like (I imagine) many people in this part of the country, I was delighted to watch England seize a 3-2 win over Sweden in the Group stages of the Euro 2012 tournament.  The nail-biting way in which this was achieved was slightly less delightful, of course; England led 1-0 at half-time, but were trailing 2-1 within moments of the restart, only to grab a miraculous equaliser - and an even more miraculous winner! - late into the second half.

One issue which stands out for me, however, is that of Andy Carroll.  The selection of the controversial Liverpool striker (who transferred from Newcastle for a ludicrous £35million fee) by Roy Hodgson has split opinion, and Hodgson must have known that including Carroll in the starting line-up for the all-important Sweden game was a risky strategy.

However, Hodgson's decision was vindicated, or so it seemed, by the first England goal.  It was Carroll himself who gave his national team the lead, with a superb header.  Admittedly, he was helped by an absolutely fantastic cross in from Captain Steven Gerrard - but, ultimately, the finish was Carroll's the power and strength in that phenomenal jumping header was Carroll's, and (rightly so!) the plaudits were Carroll's.

So, at this juncture in the match, Carroll and Hodgson appeared vindicated - their critics, silenced.  Going into half-time, all the talk was of England's goal, and England's goal scorer; those who had doubted Carroll were suddenly very quiet.

I, however, remain unconvinced.  Had the match ended at half-time (with England 1-0, and Carroll the much-celebrated goal scorer) I would've been happy to admit that Carroll's place in the squad had been well and truly justified.  Sadly, though, the match didn't end at half-time - and only nine minutes into the second half, Sweden had scored their first goal.

The first Swedish goal of the match was a scrappy, unsightly affair.  Officially attributed to England's Glen Johnson as an own goal, it was an extremely good piece of luck for Sweden - in fact, the more replays I see of that goal, the more I realise how incredibly fortunate the Swedes were that it even went in at all.

But who's fault was it that England conceded such a terrible, messy, ugly goal?  Andy Carroll's.

It was Carroll's stupid, clumsy tackle on Kim Källström - lunging in late, with both feet - right on the edge of England's 18-yard box which gave away a free kick, the consequence of which was the goal-mouth scramble that eventually resulted in the supposed own goal.

Gifted an unlikely equaliser, the Swedes were fired-up enough to take the lead ten minutes later, thanks to Olof Mellberg.  Would Sweden have enjoyed the ten-minute period of dominance which led up their second goal, had they not been buoyed by the equaliser which Andy Carroll's careless tackle gave them?  Unlikely, in my opinion.

Thankfully, England when on to equalise, and then score a winner, thanks to two wonderful goals from Theo Walcott and Danny Welbeck.  (The Walcott goal, in particular, I thought was amazing - and I certainly hope to see more of him in this tournament, should England progress further than the Group round.)

I enjoyed the game - it was exciting to watch, and a very important win for England.  I thought all three of our goals were excellent, and we certainly showed much more promise than at any time during our hesitant performance against France.  But in the case of Andy Carroll - for me, I'm afraid the jury's still out.

Monday, 4 June 2012

Sandwich review: Tesco British Hog Roast

Today I am reviewing a sandwich from Tesco's limited edition "patriotic" range, brought out to celebrate the Queen's Diamond Jubilee, and identifiable by its garish packaging.

The official description for this sandwich is:
White bread, cooked and flash roast pork, apple and Kentish cider chutney, mayonnaise and pork stuffing.
This is typically Tesco.  Just like their Tandoori Chicken sandwich, which I reviewed a month ago, this sandwich has a promising recipe, and looks to be an excellent concept all-round - however, it is let down by the execution, and fails to live up to the tantalising description.

The pork meat is dry.  In fact, the whole sandwich is dry overall, and would definitely benefit from an extra dollop or three of that apple and Kentish cider chutney.

Extra chutney would be a good thing in more ways than one, actually - as well as keeping the sandwich from becoming too dry, the chutney seemed to me like a very good filling ingredient in its own right.  The idea of it intrigued me, and I was looking forward to trying it, so I was very disappointed, in the end, to be given so little of it to taste.

On the other hand, I was confused and bewildered by the inclusion of mayonnaise.  I don't feel that mayonnaise adds anything to this sandwich - it is not an integral part of the recipe, and doesn't quite seem to fit with the other ingredients in the filling.  I'm never keen on the addition of mayonnaise, simply for the sake of it, in sandwich recipes, and this instance seems to epitomise this.  Who has mayonnaise with a hog roast?!

Overall, I would say I was disappointed in this sandwich.  I love the idea, and I was looking forward to eating it, but Tesco's poor execution has once again spoiled what ought to have been a very enjoyable sandwich.  I would not buy this sandwich again.

Sunday, 3 June 2012

Web and email: making the switch

After the high drama and excitement of last week's double sandwich review and comparison post, I am going to become very pedestrian now, and talk about which web browsers I use, and things like that.  So, if you don't want to know the results, look away now...!

I have been a loyal Mozilla user for close to ten years, now.  I got my first computer (a desktop PC from Evesham Technology) in 2003.  The first thing I did was to download Mozilla Firefox, in order to escape the slimy clutches of Microsoft's own browser, Internet Explorer.

I continued using Mozilla products (by now using both Firefox, and its sister email client, Thunderbird) on my HP Windows laptop, and when I got my first Mac (a second-hand G4 iBook) in 2009, I saw no reason to change this.  Eschewing Apple's native software (Safari for the web, and Mail for emails) I continued using the Mozilla applications with which I was most familiar.

Yesterday, however, I made the switch away from Mozilla, for the first time.  Why?  I don't feel they're keeping up in terms of design, and the software increasingly feels clunky and poorly-made.

In recent months, I have felt more and more frustrated watching other Mac users using slick, shiny, web and email interfaces, while I stick with programs whose interfaces haven't changed, in essentials, for years.  The aesthetics of Mail, in particular, seemed far superior to Thunderbird - and although Safari and Firefox are built on the same tabbed browsing model, Safari somehow manages to make this look cleaner and more modern than Firefox does, and Firefox just can't compete on performance and speed any more.

So, I am now an Apple Mail user.  So far, I am happy with it.  I like the "grouped conversations" feature, and I like that it brings my email management on my MacBook in line with on my iPhone.  Safari, however, impressed me less.  Having been used to the marvellous AdBlock Plus addon with Firefox, Safari bombarded me with adverts in the first five minutes before I Quit it in exasperation.

Following the advice of some people on Twitter, I gave Google Chrome a try.  This was a big step, as I had previously discounted Chrome, on the grounds that Google don't make an equivalent email client to run alongside their browser application.  (One of the irritating things about being as meticulous in certain aspects of life as I am is that I always prefer to use a matching pair of web programs than a hotchpotch of different software.)  In spite of these OCD-related misgivings, I decided to give Chrome it a try...

My first impressions of Chrome were that it was just as fast and stable as I had been told.  The interface, while nothing special, is uncluttered to the point of serviceable, and, perhaps most crucially of all, there is a version of AdBlock Plus available for Chrome as well.  So, I am now using Chrome - at least for the foreseeable future.  The idea of using a non-matching web browser and email client is still slightly unsettling, for now, but I'm sure I can get used to it, in time.

I'm still very disappointed not to be able to continue using Mozilla products.  I like the ethos and the open source nature of their software packages, and (although this is a small point) I think their software icons (in the Dock, or on the Desktop) are better.  At some point, I hope, Mozilla's performance and interface design can catch up with the rest of the world, and their products can become viable options for Mac users again.  Until then, though, I shall be sticking with Chrome and Mail.

Sandwiches will return later in the week.