Lessons Lern-ed as Villa sale looms

I’ve often marveled at the human mind’s capacity to eliminate memories of humdrum events, leaving our brains filled largely with moments of happiness and contentment. Having just completed my 23rd year as an Aston Villa season ticket holder, I’m particularly grateful for that.

You see, it’s this capacity that allows me to forget the countless turgid performances I’ve seen from the boys in claret and blue over the years, whilst maintaining happy thoughts of those all too rare moments of delirium that make it all seem worthwhile.

Saturday 19th August 2006 will always fall firmly into that category.

I love the smell of a new season. New kits, new signings, hope and anticipation. It was particularly palpable as the curtain rose on the 2006/07 season, thanks in no small part to the sparkling new Emirates Stadium, which would host its very first match that day. However, that was only part of this story.

Villa marched into North London with a swagger that hadn’t been seen in a number of years. Amid a summer of tumultuous restlessness and drama, the deeply unpopular David O’Leary was ousted as manager, before the club’s much maligned octagenarian owner, Doug Ellis, finally gave in to public demand and sold up.

In their place came the revered former Celtic boss, Martin O’Neill, to take over team affairs, while the arrival of a new American billionaire owner in the form of Randolph D. Lerner brought a sense of unbridled optimism to the long suffering Villa faithful.

The ‘New’ Villa demonstrated remarkable verve and vigour that day, coming tantalisingly close to playing the role of party-poopers on Arsenal’s first day at their new home. It took a late Gilberto strike to earn a draw for the Gunners after Olof Mellberg made history by becoming the Emirates’ first ever goalscorer.

ImageVilla celebrate after scoring the first ever goal at The Emirates Stadium to kick off The Lerner Era

But, despite the disappointment of the late leveller, the carnival atmosphere among the travelling Villans couldn’t be abated. Players tossed their shirts into the celebrating crowd, as chants of ‘There’s Only One Randy Lerner’ filled the air. We had our Villa back, and it was wonderful.

Fast forward eight years, and we’re back in North London. Again, disappointment on the pitch did not abate a party atmosphere in the away end. But, unlike that day at The Emirates when it was the anticipation of a new beginning that excited the fans so, at White Hart Lane, as Villa lost 3-0 in an abject display, it was more a sigh of relief that it was all over.

This time, it was chants of “We want Lerner out” that echoed across the stadium. From being hailed as the saviour of Aston Villa, the very mention of Randy Lerner was enough to provoke disdain, disappointment, and even disgust among a number of the Holte End faithful.

Where did it all go so wrong?!

Let’s rewind back to the start. From that opening day at the Emirates, the wave of optimism continued in the early stages of 2006/07 as Villa went unbeaten in the first 12 games. Things would level out over the season, with Villa securing a solid, if unspectacular, 10th place finish.

The final weekend marked the 25th anniversary of Villa’s European Cup triumph, and a reception for the heroes of 1982 ahead of a 3-0 victory over Sheffield United. The weekend also saw a series of events which acted as a statement of intent for what was still to come, with the unveiling of Villa’s new crest and the opening of a state-of-the-art training complex at Bodymoor Heath. As Villa Park rocked to the sound of over 40,000 delirious fans, full focus fell on the slogan which was woven into the free scarves they each twirled above their head: ‘Proud History. Bright Future.’

And so the work truly began. Villa Park was carefully restored to former aesthetic glories with the £4m renovation of the Holte Pub, and the installation of the fine Roman mosaic work, mimicking that which once sat on the Trinity Road Stand, upon the frontage of the Holte End. A mammoth five year partnership with Nike was seen as a major sign that Villa were ready to step into the elite, while the stadium’s corporate hospitality facilities were overhauled in readiness for the movers and shakers who would no doubt be seduced by the team’s compelling play.

Lerner helped restore the stately aesthetic of Villa Park

Most importantly though, for the fans, was the significant investment in the playing side which saw Villa become one of the Premier League’s biggest spenders as Martin O’Neill shaped his forces into his vision.

Everything seemed positive for the three years that would follow. O’Neill built an effective, if at times rigid, unit, and mounted campaigns which saw Villa mount serious challenges for the promised land of the Champions League, falling just short every time as they recorded three successive sixth place finishes. A few minor gripes aside, not least the debacle surrounding a 2009 visit to Russia, all seemed rosy in the Villa garden.

Behind the scenes, though, little did we know that all was not well. Having invested millions in going for Champions League or bust, the money was starting to run out. August 2010 saw O’Neill, the poster boy of the Lerner era, walk out in dramatic fashion on the eve of the season. And thus began a catastrophic series of decisions which saw the goodwill towards Villa’s owner dissipate rapidly.

Gerard Houllier was the unexpected choice to replace O’Neill, and despite his likeable demeanour and admirable philosophy on how the game should be played, somehow he never quite seemed to fit in at Villa. Among the chief concerns was that regarding his health, given the heart attack he suffered whilst managing Liverpool a few years earlier. Despite his protestations that he was in fine fettle, it was with a degree of inevitability that he failed to see out the season on health grounds.

If Houllier had been a surprise appointment, the arrival of his replacement was positively mind-boggling, and marked the major turning of the tide against Lerner. For Aston Villa to target Birmingham City’s manager in any circumstance would be worthy of a raised eyebrow or two. To do so immediately after the relegation of the traditional Second City rival, amid much criticism of his style of football, beggared all rational belief.

A dark and toxic cloud enveloped Villa Park during that season, and despite glimmers of sunlight breaking through as Paul Lambert seized the helm, the situation never fully recovered, and eventually became yet more desperate.

Still suffering from the folly of offering long and lucrative contracts to players of limited ability and low sell-on value, a philosophy of bringing in talented young players from overseas or lower leagues has failed to propel Villa to become anything more than a perennial relegation struggler – and that’s simply not good enough for a fan base which still expects the club to challenge the upper echelons of the top flight.

randy lerner_0Moving on: Lerner prepares to leave Villa

And so, it seems, that the Lerner era came to its likely end at White Hart Lane, the early promise and excitement giving way to weariness, resignation and, in some cases, anger. The biggest shame, for me, is the fact that so many fans seem unable to disassociate between the need for change and their perceptions of a person. In my view, much of the personal abuse and criticism has been out of line.

Has he been the perfect owner? No. Has he been outright incompetent on occasion? Absolutely. But is it fair to say that Randy Lerner doesn’t care for Aston Villa? Even when this sale is done and dusted, I’m sure he’ll be able to point to at least a hundred million reasons as to why that’s not true.

While the on-field state of the club is undoubtedly not where it should be, Lerner does leave a legacy in that he has respected and restored the traditions of the club. He has frequently described himself as a custodian of the club, and has performed this statesmanlike role with aplomb.

In the statement announcing his intention to sell, Lerner referenced the McGregor tradition of the club, and this philosophy has been apparent throughout his tenure. A spirit of philanthropy was one of the major pillars around which McGregor built Aston Villa, and the club’s relationship with Acorns children’s hospice is rightly viewed as a pioneering partnership. The decision to forego a shirt sponsor in favour of displaying the charity’s name on Villa’s shirts for two seasons, together with the untold great work done by the club with Acorns, is something that must remain a great source of pride for all Villa fans.

Villa’s pioneering Acorns partnership will serve as Lerner’s biggest legacy.

Lerner’s custodianship also heralds comparisons with another great Villa leader, Frederick Rinder, who served the club between 1881 and 1925. He is best known for a famous quote, in which he said: “Finance is important, but we should never forget that we are not talking about a mere business. This is the Aston Villa football club, and it deserves nothing short of the best.”

Lerner embodied this by, both physically and metaphorically, removing the slap-dash corrugated metal, plastic and plasterboard facade of Aston Villa, and replacing it with red brick and mahogany panelling. He re-established the ideals of tradition, philanthropy and honour which for so long were its very foundations.

More than anything, he GOT Aston Villa. He understood the club, its history, and its values. Put short, he got the ‘Proud History’ part spot on, but the ‘Bright Future’ was harder to come by.

Just as Frederick Rinder was in 1925, it seems that Randy Lerner is to be hounded out of Villa Park in ignonimous fashion. But also like his predecessor from almost 90 years ago, I’m certain that, in time, Villa fans will look fondly on Randy Lerner – the honourable man who tried manfully, but ultimately failed, to make Villa great again. Of course, that’s a process that could be expedited depending on the owner he chooses.

It’s going to be an interesting summer. Whatever happens, here’s hoping that the first day of next season will remain as memorable as that day at Arsenal eight years ago.

You know it will. It really will.

ART REVIEW: Chiharu Shiota, The New Art Gallery, Walsall.

This is a blog about modern art.

I know, what a pretentious twat.

But don’t get me wrong. I’m not claiming to be an art expert, or even that I know the slightest thing about the subject, because I most certainly do not. I just like looking at it.

Modern art is much maligned, and I can understand why. After all, I leave my bed unmade most days, and there’s nobody queuing up to come and look at it. But modern art makes me think, it challenges me, and it makes me want to understand what makes it art, what was the artists’s inspiration, and how it came to be.

IS THIS ART? – Tracey Emin’s ‘My Bed’

I just don’t get this with traditional portraits, landscapes, sculptures and the like. I mean, I completely appreciate the immense talent involved in the craft of it. I certainly couldn’t do it myself. But I’m largely unmoved when I look at them. Essentially, I find a strong reaction infinitely more entertaining than no reaction at all. Even if that reaction is just ‘What the hell is this crap?’

Put it this way: I’ve never heard a piece of classical music I really dislike, whereas I actively despise the work of many current artists. Yet, given the choice between listening to Classic FM or Capital, I’m going for the hit music station every time.

During my recent trip to New York, its renowned Museum of Modern Art was right up there on my list of places to visit. I spent a hugely enjoyable couple of hours ambling around its famous galleries, a journey which brought feelings of awe, confusion, intrigue and, at times, sheer bewilderment. It was good. It was very, very good.

Andy Warhol’s ‘Campbell’s Soup Cans’ at MoMA, New York

 Fast forward a couple of weeks to yesterday. The excitement of my adventure in The Big Apple all but a distant memory, it was back to the mundaneness of real life as I dropped off my car for its MOT. Little did I realise that this would be the gateway to one of the most breath-taking interactions with art I’ve ever experienced.

The New Art Gallery in Walsall has always stood out in a town which has for a long time been pretty rough round the edges. Upon its opening in 2000, despite its largely drab surroundings, the eye-catching building would quickly make its mark, winning several architectural awards, including a nomination for the prestigious Sterling Architecture Prize.

Needless to say, the building divided opinion. From a purely aesthetic point of view, there were those who questioned whether such a modern and striking building was in keeping with Walsall, if a more modest construction may have been more appropriate. Many queried the cost of the building, and whether the money would have been better spent elsewhere. Many simply wondered if the project was something of a white elephant, if an industrial town like Walsall could sustain such an ambitious cultural project.

The New Art Gallery, Walsall

Since then, a sustained regeneration project in the area surrounding the gallery means that today, it looks altogether more at home in its environment, and the sheer quality of its exhibits has established its reputation as a widely respected gallery, and a genuine jewel in the crown for the town.

As I say, I know nothing about art whatsoever, and my occasional visits have always come at times when I’m wondering around the town with not much else to do, rather than any pre-defined appointments to visit.

And so, with an hour or so to kill before my MOT was complete, off to the gallery I went. And boy was I satisfied with that choice.

After ambling around the more traditional artworks on the second floor, I made my way up to the modern art mecca where the gallery’s guest installations usually reside. As the lift doors opened (these days sadly lacking the accompaniment of Noddy Holder’s voice, much to my chagrin), I was greeted by two things: firstly, the smiling face of my friend Zaynul, who works at the gallery, and hilariously seemed almost to be expecting me despite the spontaneous and unannounced nature of my visit. Secondly, behind Zaynul, was the most visually stunning cascade of battered and worn suitcases, each one suspended from the ceiling.

I would soon find out that it was part of the gallery’s current Chiharu Shiota exhibition, showcasing a host of the Japanese artist’s dramatic and spectacular work.


Before even contemplating the artistic nature of the piece, the sheer scale and craftsmanship of the installation was absolutely breathtaking. The installation became all the more fascinating as Zaynul explained that it is made up of over 400 suitcases, each of which tell the story of a different person. From the places they’ve visited, the things they’ve experienced, and the belongings they took with them along the way. It sums up journeys and the individuals behind them, the loves, the losses, the adventures and the new beginnings. The nature of the installation means you are able to walk all around, and even underneath it, enabling you to explore the art from every angle, and become fully immersed in it.


We ventured into the adjoining room, where we were greeted by – and please forgive this uncouth comparison – what looked to be a giant spider’s web of pubic hair, arranged into a tornado shape surrounding its focal point.


Naturally, it wasn’t. The structure is made of unraveled balls of black wool, painstakingly arranged to surround hundred of handwritten letters sourced from Japan, again containing a wealth of thoughts, feelings and experiences from a host of people unknown to us. The piece allows you to walk around its focal point, again resulting in a fully immersive experience to be enjoyed and explored from all angles. It’s a truly visually stunning piece of work.


It’s funny sometimes how you can ignore what’s available on your own doorstep. I traveled to New York and went out of my way to experience to MoMA’s assortment of works. Yet, it was just circumstance and time to kill that led me to venture into Walsall’s New Art Gallery yesterday. Who knew that it would be there that I would see art that left me truly inspired?

Shiota’s installation will remain in place until March 30th, and it’s absolutely FREE to visit. If you’re shopping in Walsall, or just have some time to kill, pop in and have a look. Pictures cannot do it justice – it just has to be seen.

You know it does. It really does.

The Fairytale of New York

statueI made my long-awaited first ever visit to New York City this week, arriving amid a hubbub of excitement concerning a shift-change in the USA’s iconic late night chat show schedules.

22 years after landing the gig for the first time, Jay Leno has relinquished his hold on ‘The Tonight Show’, which will instead be held under the custodianship of Jimmy Fallon, returning to its original home of The Big Apple in the process.

Of course, it’s not the first time Leno has handed over the reins. In a notorious 2009 palaver, Leno initially passed the torch to Conan O’Brien in order to launch ‘The Jay Leno Show’, which aired on NBC during prime time.

True to many commentator’s predictions, however, Leno’s new show quickly bombed. Yet, bizarrely, O’Brien was the man to take the fall. After weeks of speculation, Leno returned to his old ‘Tonight Show’ chair, while O’Brien was unceremoniously removed from NBC’s schedules, albeit with several million dollars’ worth of severance safely banked.

Whilst hosting his final show, O’Brien delivered what was one of the most impactful speeches I’ve ever heard, maintaining his dignity when many lesser mortals would have hit out at the shoddy treatment he received.

It was one part of the speech in particular which stood out for me, which I will reproduce for your reference, dear reader:

“All I ask is one thing, and I’m asking this particularly of young people: please don’t be cynical. I hate cynicism, for the record, it’s my least favourite quality and it doesn’t lead anywhere. Nobody in life gets exactly what they thought they were going to get. But if you work really hard and you’re kind, amazing things will happen.”

I often come back to that speech whenever I have some soul searching to do. I try hard not to be cynical, really I do. But often, in this world where the actions of others can shock and disappoint you, it’s easy to slip into a ‘glass half empty’ point of view.

So, with that in mind, it’s always nice to rediscover your faith in the generosity of human spirit.

I was in the States to watch Ice Hockey, supporting my Edmonton Oilers in back-to-back away games against the New York Rangers and the New Jersey Devils.

Following an NHL team away from home can be a strangely isolating experience. Unlike football in the UK, the sheer distances between teams in North American leagues means that there’s no real tradition of away support, and any visiting fans are dotted disparately around the arenas.

Sitting among the fans of the home town favourites, supporting a Canadian team in the USA, no less, the feeling of being an outsider is always there at the back of your mind. For me, being an actual foreigner all the way from the UK, that feeling is heightened.

Prior to heading to New York and New Jersey, I’d watched the Oilers on the road in Chicago, Calgary, Los Angeles and Anaheim, and the best experiences were the couple of occasions when lady luck had intervened to ensure I had a fellow Oiler, a brother in arms, beside me.

Until now.

My first game of the trip took me to the legendary Madison Square Garden, a venue oozing history and prestige. Walking around the concourses, there was the usual dotted assortment of away fans, and the customary high fives and nods of acknowledgment that come from your fellow outsiders. Inside the arena, no such luck, as I was surrounded by myriad New York blue shirts.

As the man sitting next to me took his seat, there was the usual awkward banter that goes on when you discover an away fan seated next to you. “Hey, you better sit down and be quiet, you’re getting nothing here today!” nudge, nudge, wink, LOL, etc. etc.

Yet, despite our opposite leanings with regard to the sporting spectacle going on before us, I found myself enjoying the company of my seat companion, whom I knew only as John.

Conversation flowed despite the nail-bitingly close nature of the contest, albeit with a few inaccurate cultural generalisations thrown in… “So, have y’ever been in a soccer riot?”

The prompt for John’s random act of kindness, though, came when I divulged I’d been unable to whet my whistle at the game. This was thanks to Madison Square Garden’s strange policy to only accept passports as a valid form of photo ID for foreign visitors, a fact I’d only discovered when I’d hopefully presented my driver’s licence at the concession kiosk. The surly assistant duly rejected my futile advances, seemingly genuinely angered by my audacity to want to buy a Bud bloody Light for the princely sum of $10.

John disappeared during the intermission, and I enviously eyed the tall, frosty lagers he brandished as he returned to his seat, only for him to quickly thrust one into my clammy palm. Immediately I moved my free hand towards my pocket to reimburse John for his kind gesture… but he waved it away. “This one’s on me”, he said. “Welcome to the States”.

I was slightly taken aback. It seems like a small gesture on the face of it. But again, consider this – we were there as adversaries, supporting opposing teams, with nothing in common other than the fact that fate had placed us in adjoining seats in an arena of almost 20,000 people. Yet this man had taken the time to part with his money, and buy me a beer, a gesture of nothing but pure kindness and generosity of spirit. Human beings being nice to one another. What could be lovelier?

But that’s not where it ends.

The following night I crossed the river to Newark to watch the Oilers take on the New Jersey Devils. I was particularly excited about this one, as I’d splashed out on second row tickets, the closest I assumed I was ever going to get to the hockey fan’s holy grail of a front row spot – the prohibitive cost usually putting pay to any ambitions I ever had of securing such a position.

That was, until, the man in front of me gestured to the empty seat next to him, and invited me to take it. Again, it seems like a small gesture. If the seat was empty anyway, then of course he should have asked somebody to take it.

But it was the significance of it that struck me. There I was again, a foreigner, an adversary, supporting the other team. Yet something had made him reach out with an olive branch to ensure that my experience was a memorable one, offering me a seat worth several hundred dollars to boot.

frontrowWhere’s Wally? (On the left, in the blue and orange top!)

If that wasn’t enough, he ventured up to the concourse at the intermission and returned with chicken nuggets and chips for me, which I was entirely grateful for, albeit not in great need of, having earlier filled my gut on what was a nominated $1 hotdog night.

Two cities, two rival fans, two acts of incredible kindness, two people I’ll never see or hear from again. That’s a shame, really, isn’t it?

I was reflecting on that as I boarded the train to Manhattan when, finally, I found myself sitting next to a group wearing the same orange and blue jersey as me. As we discussed the game, whilst also inevitably establishing exactly why a lad with an English accent was supporting a Canadian team in the USA, they invited me to join them as they headed out into the city that never sleeps to paint the town red.

That night, the conversation flowed as freely as the beer and scotch we poured down our necks, while my stomach, already bulging with hotdogs and nuggets, was lined further with chicken bites, potato skins, and enchiladas as I savoured every moment with my fellow Oilers. Diet be damned.

And it was here that I received my third incredible gesture of human kindness in little more than 24 hours. For as our sizeable bar bill was delivered, I was informed that I was not to pay a penny. It was all on my new mates.

Facebook ‘adds’ were soon exchanged. New friendships with folks from thousands of miles away, forged purely based on the logo we wore on our chests. Marvellous.

Let’s not be fooled into thinking the world’s all candy canes and happy smiles, though.

Cast your mind back to my first game in New York. You know, the one where I sat next to kindly John who bought me a beer?

I got a little excited at the end. A late Nail Yakupov goal meant the Oilers recorded an all-too-rare victory at The World’s Most Famous Arena™, and despite my position as the sore thumb among a group of Rangers fans, nothing was to prevent me from roaring my approval.


The Oilers currently stand 29th out of 30 NHL teams.

“WHAT’S YOUR RECORD ON THE SEASON?” he repeated, almost as if he wasn’t already completely aware of the answer.

“It’s shit, mate.” I replied. “But I’ve come all the way from England for this.”

Suddenly the man’s face, previously etched with pure apoplectic fury, gave way to a forgiving smile. Off he went, confrontation avoided.

So, the moral of this story: Generally, you can rely on human beings being quite nice. If they’re not, all it takes is a Hugh Grant-esque display of British fopphishness to get you out of a tight spot.

And sharing that wisdom is my gesture of kindness to you.

You know it is. It really is.

An ode to Louis Tomlinson

I ruddy love Gabby Agbonlahor. And who wouldn’t?

There’s the endearing stupidity. The last minute goals. His short-lived flirtation with Twitter before he got shut-down, thanks to the aforementioned endearing stupidity.

But one thing that I love about him more than most things is the fact that he’s a world-class wind-up merchant.

‘Shushing’ gestures to opposition fans. Applauding red cards. You’d maybe hate him if he wasn’t one of your own. But he is, so I don’t.

Today, though, Gabby has excelled himself. He’s gone and incited pure, unadulterated rage among millions of teenage girls across the world. And frankly, I couldn’t be more excited about that.

For, at Celtic Park, was a benefit game for the Villa and Celtic legend, Stiliyan Petrov, commemorating his recent retirement following his brave battle with Leukaemia. A team of all-star legends, including our Gabby, up against a team of Celtic legends which included One Direction’s Louis Tomlinson for reasons unknown.

Every touch of the ball from the 1D popster was greeted by a loud chorus of girlish squeals and boarish booing, while everyone looking on was secretly thinking to themselves: “Wouldn’t it be funny if he got clattered?”

Cometh the moment, cometh the man…

It would soon get worse.

After being floored, Tomlinson immediately demanded to be substituted and then, to compound his humilation, promptly vomited as he made his embarrassing exit.

Now, before I incur the wrath of any mental #Directioners, let me be clear: I don’t dislike One Direction. I secretly quite like One Direction. It’s just that I have a bit of an obsession with pro-amateur football, and the bizarre scenarios it can throw up. Think Boris Johnson taking out a German, or Woody Harrelson scoring the winner past Jamie Theakston in front of 76,000 people at Old Trafford. Just so strange, so unlikely, and so very, very brilliant.

Our Gabby, Villa’s Gabby, taking out a global pop sensation could hardly fail to appeal to me, could it?

So, I thought I’d commemorate the event in a fitting manner, by writing a little song.

It’s to the tune of One Direction’s fabulous pop hit, ‘What Makes You Beautiful’. Here’s an instrumental version if you fancy some impromptu karaoke.

Are you ready? Then we’ll begin:

He’s on the floor,
Don’t know what for,
He got knocked down by a lad named Agbonlahor.

His number’s up,
He’s getting subbed,
It’s pretty clear that he just isn’t good enough.

Everyone else in the ground can see it…
Everyone else but you…

Louis, we don’t know why you’re playing for the Celts,
And now the pace of the game’s got you overwhelmed,
Since you fell on the ground, you’re not very well…
Now you know… oh oh,
That boybands shouldn’t play football!

You’re only doing this for charity,
Playing against all the boys from the Premier League.
Right now we’re looking at you and we all believe
That you know… oh oh,
That boybands shouldn’t play football…
Oh oh,
So sing your songs, don’t play football!

So c-c’mon,
You got it wrong,
Should be on stage singing your very catchy songs.

We don’t know why,
You’re in green and white,
Regurgitating your half time pie-ie-ie.

Everyone else in the ground can see it…
Everyone else but you…

Louis, we don’t know why you’re playing for the Celts,
And the pace of the game’s got you overwhelmed,
Since you fell on the ground, you’re not very well…
Now you know… oh oh,
That boybands shouldn’t play football!

You’re only doing this for charity,
Playing against all the boys from the Premier League.
Right now we’re looking at you and we all believe
That you know… oh oh,
That boybands shouldn’t play football…
Oh oh,
So sing your songs, don’t play football! 

Na na na na na na na na na na
Na na na na na na

Na na na na na na na na na na
Na na na na na na

Louis, we don’t know why you’re playing for the Celts,
And the pace of the game’s got you overwhelmed,
Since you fell on the ground, you’re not very well…
Now you know… oh oh,
That boybands shouldn’t play football!

Louis, we don’t know why you’re playing for the Celts,
And the pace of the game’s got you overwhelmed,
Since you fell on the ground, you’re not very well…
Now you know… oh oh,
That boybands shouldn’t play football!

You’re only doing this for charity,
Playing against all the boys from the Premier League.
Right now we’re looking at you and we all believe
That you know… oh oh,
That boybands shouldn’t play football… 

Oh oh,
Boybands shouldn’t play football…

Oh oh,
So sing your songs, don’t play football!

I just spent far too long on that.

You know I did. I really did.

BOOK REVIEW: Richard Bacon’s ‘A Series of Unrelated Events’

Minor celebrities. You name ’em, I’ve probably met ’em.

From each individual member of Blue (but never Blue as a collective) to the Sugababes (both pre and post Mutya), from pre-meltdown Steve Brookstein to pre-break-up Jordan and Peter, I have exchanged cursory pleasantries with them all in my time, mainly during my previous life in the radio industry.

Thing is, you probably didn’t know about that, in the same sense that you don’t know about the press release I amended after some client feedback earlier this week. After all, they were just people that I met in the course of doing my job.

That’s why I sometimes allow myself a smirk when various PR peers or commercial radio salespeople post photographs of themselves with whichever C-lister they’ve encountered on a given day. The smirk often turns into a genuine LOL if that person tries to dress up their chance meeting by claiming that they were ‘just casually hanging out with’ said celebrity, as if they genuinely believe that they’re now mates or something.

You see, loves, we all know – no, seriously, WE ALL KNOW – that they were only interested in whatever book/film/show/perfume they were promoting, and they’d forgotten all about you in the few seconds it took for you to excitedly Tweet the photo. Sorry to break it to you, but it’s true.

That said, I have been known to join the ranks of the hapless celeb spotters on the occasions that I’ve been presented with somebody that I actually have some level of respect or admiration for. While I was happy to spurn the opportunity to be photographed with Dane Bowers or Liz from Atomic Kitten, the very sight of such luminaries as Chris Evans, Noddy Holder, Michael Phelps, Keith Chegwin and then-Villa-midfielder, Gareth Barry, was enough to have me gurning for the camera without a second’s thought.

While discussion of celebrities I’ve met isn’t something I tend to indulge in too often, pretty much for the reasons outlined above, one question I’m usually asked is ‘Who’s the nicest one you met?’ – and the answer, always, is Richard Bacon.

Anyone who knows me will be able to tell you about my near obsession with The Big Breakfast, and the fact that I’ve never particularly managed to get over its demise. It was this level of fixation with the early morning show which led me to be invited to appear on its final ever episode, its producers confirming my status as one of six Big Breakfast ‘Superfans’.

I was 18-years-old, and getting to visit The Big Breakfast house was pretty much one of the best things that had ever happened to me at that point. Actually, it probably still is. But the enduring memory of that day was the kindness afforded to me by Richard Bacon.

Richard BaconJust casually hanging out with Richard Bacon

In hindsight, now, I realise what a nuisance I must have been to him that day – the gawky teenage fanboy hanging off his coat-tails when all he probably wanted to do was hang out with his workmates on their final day together. Instead, though, he posed for photos, signed autographs, pleaded with the security guard on my behalf to allow me to get all the photographs I wanted, chatted to me for ages, even chatted to my mates on the phone, and essentially just went out of his way to make sure I had a great morning.

Some years later, I’d bump into him again, this time at a Radio Academy event in Nottingham, which saw Richard hosting his late night Five Live show from a pub just by the city’s castle. This time I greeted Richard, no longer an irritating teenage fan, but as his industry peer, and thanked him for the generosity and kindness he demonstrated towards me that day.

Again we enjoyed a lengthy chat, sharing our memories of the day, and I was again struck by what a genuinely ruddy nice bloke he is, something that can’t be said about every one of my heroes I’ve encountered (Johnny Vaughan, I may be talking about you).

And so, 673 words into this, I will now mention the book I’m meant to be reviewing.

I didn’t know Richard Bacon had released a book until Thursday evening. I found out about it, as befitting of the digital age, when Gary Lineker Tweeted about it. Continuing the theme, within seconds I was reading it on my iPad, and less than 48 hours later, I sat down to blog about it.

‘A Series Of Unrelated Events’ in both name and nature, the book begins with the incident that propelled Richard Bacon to stardom.

During my Freshers’ Week at university in 2002, Whigfield performed a gig within the University of Lincoln’s sports centre, and made the questionable decision to open the show with ‘Saturday Night’. The audience went wild. Only, the rest of her set was then made up of some shit nobody knew or cared about. Whigfield, exasperated by the declining level of interest being shown by the audience, eventually gave in an played ‘Saturday Night’ once more.

That’s an odd tangent, I know, but by opening the book with a chapter entitled ‘Cocaine, and lots of it’, I feared my mate Richard may have made a similar mistake. Thankfully, that fear was unfounded.

Dealing with the issue with grace, humility, honesty and humour, it immediately creates a sense of ‘now that’s out of the way…’, leaving readers to enjoy the rest of the book without wondering, as you probably would if it were written in the conventional sense, when he’s going to stop with the early days crap and get to the bit where he’s fired from Blue Peter.

From there, we’re taken on a journey which focuses mainly on one man and his frequent embarrassments, from being bollocked by Bill Nighy in front of an audience, to a Christmas arrest for reading a text on the radio, and, of course, being named as NME’s ‘Most F***ing Useless Person In The World’. Best of all, though, speaking as an official Big Breakfast Superfan, is the chapter about the legend that is Plate Spinning Bob and his fateful trip to Vegas, something I’d forgotten about until reading this.

An admirable self-deprecation exudes throughout the book’s 194 pages, with detailed footnotes perhaps acting as a subtle nod to the Alan Partridge comparisons which have been levelled at Richard throughout the years. Above all else, though, the book is funny. Really, really funny.

So, I say buy it. Buy it right now. Not just because it’s good, but because he’s a thoroughly bloody nice bloke, and he deserves your money.

A triumph.

You know it is. It really is.

How people find my blog…

Just a quick one – one of the things I find most interesting about blogging on WordPress is the fact that I can see the Google search terms that people entered in order to come to be here.

Normally, I’d like this list to comprise of several terms which indicate that my visitors come in search of insightful, witty and beautifully written content.

Here’s the list for the last three months:

Search Views
bt infinity halloween advert cast 24
bt infinity advert cast halloween 12
bt advert cast 12
bt infinity advert halloween dj 7
bt infinity advert cast 7
bt infinity halloween advert actors 5
bt infinity advert halloween cast 5
actor in bt infinity advert 5
bt infinity advert actors 4
who are the actors in the bt infinity advert 4
bt infinity halloween advert 4
guy in bt infinity advert 4
halloween bt advert 4
actors in bt infinity advert 3
bt infinity advert 2012 cast 3
bt halloween advert cast 3
who is the dj in the bt advert 3
bt halloween advert 3
bt advert halloween cast 3
bt infinity broadband halloween party 2
bt infinity cast 2
bt advert halloween 2
cast of bt infinity advert 2
cast of bt infinity halloween advert 2
bt infinity advert man 2
wonga fraud department 2
cast of bt halloween advert 2
bt advert cast 2012 2
bt infinity broadband halloween advert actors 1
who is the halloween dj in bt ad 1
who is the halloween dj in the bt advert 1
bt infinity adbert halloween party song 1
wonga 1
bt infinity halloween advert song 1
bt infinity halloween ad 1
who is the dj in the btinfinty halloween ad 1
bt infinity cast commercial 1
wonga helpline 1
papier mache frank 1
wonga money customer service helpline 1
bt infinity adverts cast 1
whos the dj from the haloween bt advert 1
bt infinity halloween advert shit 1
song from bt halloween advert 1
dj from bt infinity advert 1
bt infinity halloween cast 1
what is the song on the bt broadband halloween advert 1
bt halloween cast 1
halloween bt advert actors 1
tom, is it just me who hates tom 1
bt halloween ad 1
bt infinity advert halloween 1
bt infinity teenage advert cast 1
gravestone bt infinity advert 1
wonga hello goodbye 1
bt infinity ads cast 1
bt fibre optic halloween advert cast 1
halloween bt advert cast 1
who is the dj in the bt infinity halloween advert 1
bt infinity advert tom’s mother 1
who is the dj in bt infinity ad 1
dj in bt infinity ad 1
bt advert halloween song 1
whats that dude’s name on the bt advert 1
cast bt infinity advert halloween 1
music to bt infinity halloween party ad 1
who are the actors in the bt adverts 1
who are the actors in the bt infinity adverts 1
bt advert cast halloween 1
who plays mum on,bt vision avert 1
bt infinity advert 1
thisblogisnamedtom 1
wonga customer satisfaction survey 1 1
bt infinity halloween party song 1
bt infinity halloween advert music 1
wonga fraud team never gets in touch 1
what are the actors names in bt infinity adverts 1
if i cancel my debit card will wonga still be able to take money 1
bt infinity halloween dj 1
fraud wonga 1
puppets 1
the dj in the bt infinity halloween advert 1
bt infinity adverts 2012 1
the bt adverts cast 1
who is the actor in the bt advert 2012 1
whos the guy in the bt infinity advert cast 1 1
names ofactors in bt broadband advert 1
actors in bt advert 1
bt infinity ad actors 1
samantha fardon 1
actors bt infinity broadband ads 1 1
wonga don’t answer phone 1
wonga just hang up when i call 1
bt ad cast 1
bt vision advert people 1
who is the guy in the bt infinity advert 1


Is it just me….?

Anyone who’s come across my Twitter account on the average Saturday or Sunday night will realise that for me to become infuriated in front of the television is hardly a rare occurrence.

Just lately though, there is an advertisement which has incurred my silent wrath, and the regularity with which it’s shown has left my blood pressure at a dangerously high level.

The ad in question is the BT Infinity Halloween party advert which, if you haven’t watched any commercial channels for longer than 15 minutes in the last couple of weeks, can be viewed below:

Now, evidently, there’s a lot to hate about this video, the lazy stereotypes and wooden acting to name but a couple. But I can forgive that. It’s a 40 second spot for a telephone operator, not The Shawshank Redemption.

What I cannot forgive is the self-centred actions of a member of the ensemble cast. And I’m certain that I’m the only person on the planet to have noticed the incident, let alone become incandescent as a result of it.

Skip to the 35 second mark.

The disgruntled party goers, complete with DJ lass who seems to have been convinced that she is DJing at a major Ibiza club rather than operating a laptop in dingy suburbia, have moved to an alternative venue which – praise the Lord! – is equipped with BT Infinity broadband.

As the camera moves through the room to take in the full party scene, the villain strikes. And he does so disguised as a gravestone.

Realising that he’s not in prime position to be seen on screen in the final edit, this amateur dramatics knobhead barges his way front and centre, doubtless in the hope that the producers of Hollyoaks will stop and think to themselves: “HEY! This guy’s good! Get him signed up!”

Watch it again! The self-obsessed tosser!

Am I right to be irritated by this? Should I just calm down and get on with my life and not worry about it? Absolutely not. I firmly believe that this is the greatest media scandal to have been exposed in recent weeks, and people need to know about it.

And because I’ve convinced myself that Mr. Gravestone is the sort of fella who probably Googles “BT INFINITY ADVERT GRAVESTONE DANCER” in the deluded hope that he will find a stream of compliments about his starring role, I will say this in the expectation that he comes across my blog:


You know there is. There really is.



I wasn’t expecting that I would ever have reason to get in touch with you. How wrong I was.

I’ve been aware of you for some time, of course. I’ve seen your bizarre advertising campaign starring some frankly terrifying puppet pensioners.

I’m also aware that you recently followed Kevin Keegan, Geoff from Byker Grove, Alan Shearer, Ant, Dec, and Shola Ameobi (probably) as the City of Newcastle’s newest messiah following your restoration of the St.James’ Park name.

More than anything, though, I’ve been aware of your questionable business model which seems to prey on the stupid and vulnerable with tantalising offers of cash advances on their wages, albeit with an ever so slightly inflated 4200% rate of interest.

I was, however, prepared to give you the benefit of the doubt. I mean, if people are daft and desperate enough to willingly submit to you, then who am I to say they or you are in the wrong? It’s none of my business after all.

However, you’ve recently demanded my attention, haven’t you, Because, it seems, your own particular brand of moral bankruptcy (no pun intended) stretches far beyond those who opt in to your ‘service’, but also to those who have enough intelligence to know not to touch you with a fifty foot pole.

You see, on Thursday evening, I logged into my online bank account to conduct my financial affairs. You know, the sort of thing your clientele don’t tend to bother doing, hence why they’re your clientele? Only, I was surprised to see that I was in my overdraft, a situation I’m not exactly accustomed to. Again, quite unlike your clientele.

Now, I will confess, I can be forgetful at times, Organisation isn’t my strong point. So my initial reaction was that it might be my fault, that there was some outgoing that had slipped my mind. I clicked into the account, and saw a name that I was never expecting to see on my bank balance.

It was your name, Twice. And that’s where the fun began.

You see, forgetful and disorganised as I can be on occasion, I remained fairly certain that I’d not been in touch with you to top up my funds, seeing as I have, in another account, something called ‘SAVINGS’… again, a strange concept to those you normally mix with. And with that sure certainty that I’d had no money from you in the first place, I was doubly sure that you had no right to remove the near £800 sum that had disappeared from my account.

So, straight onto the phone I went to give my bank a call and report this obvious fraudulent activity on my account, only to be told that the first port of call would be to contact you directly to try and straighten things out.

Have you ever seen the Channel 4 sitcom, ‘Peep Show’,

If not, you should, it’s really rather good.

Anyway. There’s an episode of Peep Show where one of the show’s main protagonists, Mark Corrigan, is mugged by a gang of youths. They made off with his wallet and Blackberry if I recall rightly. It was funnier than it sounds.

Later in the episode, Mark meets some of his assailants’ accomplices in his local fried chicken emporium in a hopeful effort to retrieve his possessions. Deep down, he knows they have no intention of returning what’s rightfully his, yet he still spends his time and money in the hope that they may come good.

I was put in mind of that scene when trying to deal with your customer services helpline,

You see, it’s not the best experience. From the almost inaudible menu of options, to your staff’s surly and often rude manner, to your system’s tendency to suddenly cut people off, it’s a veritable cavalcade of misery.

Having finally managed to complete a conversation with your operator, during which I reluctantly submitted my debit card details having been told that my case couldn’t be investigated without them, I was promised that your fraud prevention department would be in touch the following day.

Now, I’m a perpetually single fellow, I’m well used to waiting for phone calls or messages which never come. But then, most of the time the people involved haven’t stolen a fair wedge of my hard earned, so I’m able to let it slide.

Your call, though,, I was particularly anxious to receive. But it never came. It never came.

So I called you. And again it was difficult. The first time, I was halfway through the conversation when I entered a tunnel and got cut off (I was on a train you see). I’ll let you off on that one.

The second time, I was again inexplicably cut off. The levels of apoplexy were rising at this point.

The third one, in hindsight, was my particular favourite. You see, my call was answered by a gentleman who strangely chose simply to answer the call by saying ‘Goodbye’ before immediately hanging up the phone, a curious event which was, brilliantly, followed by an automated customer satisfaction survey. I’m afraid he scored 1/5 on all counts, and that was only because my attempt to enter a zero on my keypad was rejected.

Finally, I managed to reach somebody, who told me that the promise to contact me that day had never been made (it bloody had), and that I would, in fact, be made to wait ‘at least 48 hours’ and ‘possibly up to a week’ to have my case investigated before my cash could be returned. Quite what there is to investigate about the theft of almost £800 from somebody who has never been one of your customers is quite beyond me,, but it seems that this is par for the course for you, doesn’t it?

Because, as all of this was unfolding, I’m afraid I was complaining about you on Twitter. And through doing this, I was made aware of the ‘Expose Wonga Fraud’ feed (@aloadofWonga), which outlines the staggering amount of people who you seem to be allowing this to happen to.

The press are on to you, too. Yet still, this appears to be happening.

So, why am I writing to you

Do I want compensation? No. I don’t think I could handle the shame of receiving a payment from you, regardless of the circumstance.

Do I want an apology? It would be nice, but I have no faith whatsoever that it would be in any way sincere. You’ve already stolen from me and then lied to me, after all.

All I want is for you to answer one question. Just one. Do you think you can do that for me?

Why oh why oh why,, do you continue to pay your loans into one account, and then accept your repayment from entirely different accounts which aren’t even registered in the same bloody name?

Just an answer to that. That’s all I want,, because right now it seems that you’re willingly revving the online getaway car outside the online bank that the online thieves are robbing, and it’s just not right.

Oh, by the way. Such was your unwillingness to help, my bank has now, finally, agreed to accept this as a fraud and to reimburse me following your failure to do so. And don’t worry, they’ll be on the receiving end of a few choice words as well.

They did tell me a couple of interesting things about you, though. Reading between the lines, it seems they’re not happy with your fraud prevention techniques AT ALL.

The way you’re going,, perhaps Newcastle United fans could be looking for their next messiah sooner than they think. My money’s on a resurgent Jimmy Nail. Once you give it back to me, obviously.

You know it is. It really is.

Yours sincerely,

Thomas T. Parker.

EDIT 1st May 2013: Updating this following a BBC Watchdog report this evening. Have removed the update from last October which said I was satisfied with their response, because, in hindsight, I don’t believe they were doing anything but trying to shift the blame.

Their excuse, at the time, was that one of my immediate neighbours (those with precisely the same postcode as me) were the only ones who could possibly have been responsible. At first, shocked, I believed this could be true. However, it’s just not the case. My neighbours are largely middle aged/elderly folk on a fairly middle class street. To blame them is crap, I’m not having it.

The other reason that I’ve retracted my earlier statement is their statement on Watchdog earlier this evening, boasting of hassle free resolution payments and quick repayment to those affected.

In my case, as outlined above, the procedure was tedious, painful, dull and unhelpful. The only point at which I received a phonecall from them was when I posted this blog and they spotted it. PR crisis management masquerading as customer service. I’m embarrassed to have briefly fallen for it.

In the end, after days of struggle, it was Lloyds TSB who gave me my money back. Wonga refused to do this, repeatedly.

It was Lloyds TSB who compensated me, it was they who apologised. Wonga just palmed me off, hoping they would get away with it. Let’s not allow that.

Their statement on Watchdog was a laughable lie, and I’m calling them on it. As should everyone affected.

An Olympic Encounter

As I boarded a Birmingham bound train in London this afternoon, joining me and my boss Paul on the Virgin Pendolino was a genuine real life Olympian, resplendent in her Team GB tracksuit and lugging three quite sizeable holdalls.

The sight of the homecoming hero led Paul and I to daydream for a moment as to how it must feel to perform on the biggest stage, which naturally spawned speculation as to the sporting discipline which could have propelled us to stardom. It was at this point that I loudly asserted one of the chief observations I’ve made during this epic summer of sport.

You see, as something of a frustrated sportsman myself, I’ve been examining the options which could, potentially, lead to me representing either Britain or Ireland as a 32-year-old in 2016 – and the specific role I highlighted as the easiest in the entire Olympic Games was that of the Handball goalkeeper.

The theory is sort of sound, in my humble, and most likely incorrect, opinion. With teams regularly chalking up over twenty goals per game, it seems somewhat apparent that the goalkeepers can hardly be blamed for poor team performances. While in sports like Football, where a goalkeeping error can be fatal due to the comparative rarity of goals, in Handball, it would seem, you might just be able to get away with being… well… a bit crap.

You already know where this is going, don’t you?

As we exited the train, I eyed up the young athlete once again and managed to clock the name on the accreditation pass that still hung proudly from her neck, resolving to Google our esteemed fellow passenger to discover exactly what she’d been up to in the last couple of weeks.

The name: Laura Innes.

The position: Team GB Women’s Handball Goalkeeper.

You feckin’ IDIOT, Parker.

So, Laura, on the off-chance you’re reading this, and if you heard my ill-informed outburst on the train, I will offer you this crumb of comfort:

While you were representing your country at the biggest show on earth, I sat here, wrote about it, and ate crisps. I think it’s clear who’s the winner here.

You know it is. It really is…

The Birmingham Bullet

As my Facebook and Twitter followers may have gathered, I’ve been hard at work on behalf of Speedo in the last couple of weeks, marveling at the efforts of supreme athletes such as Michael Phelps, Ryan Lochte and Missy Franklin and their contribution to an incredible summer of sport.

Today, for entirely unrelated reasons, I decided to go swimming myself. Never, ever let it be said that I’m easily led.

In preparing to hit the water, I’d fooled myself into thinking that a week or so of careful study of elite swimmers’ technique might improve my own performance. Armed with this sure knowledge, I jumped in, and immediately attempted a proper, head-in-water, Freestyle stroke which, in my defence, I did quite well for about ten metres before happening upon the realisation that I wasn’t sure how to breathe whilst doing it.

As I tried to figure it out, I was casting envious glances at the person swimming next to me. Man, he looked the part. Cap, goggles, aquashorts, head in the water, perfect technique, breathing on the third stroke. How dare he show me up in this way? I was at the Olympics last week, where was he?!

So I decided. I was going to race him. That would show him.

And so I finished my length. I waited for him. And then, with an imaginary starter’s gun in my head, off we went.

It was an epic battle. He with his almost effortless front crawl versus me, having reverted to my usual, peculiar, head-above-water Breaststroke, albeit a particularly lungbusting version of it.

Somehow, against all the odds, I was head-to-head with my rival as we approached the wall that marked the end of the 25-metre length and, according to my rules, our race. “You’re Michael Phelps, you’re Michael Phelps”, I told myself.

It was tight, and for a moment I was worried that he might pip me at the post. But, with one last desperate lunge at the wall, I sealed my victory and celebrated wildly as my opponent sadly accepted his abject failure.

OK, that’s not actually what happened. I touched the wall first, that bit is true. But I was simply too tired to celebrate, which is good, because I suppose, what with the other lad not actually knowing he was in a race, it might have looked a little weird.

Let’s also ignore the fact that he then went on to swim at least three lengths in the time it took me to recover from the exertions of our momentous battle.

I won, that was all that mattered. And as I swam away, the theme to ‘Chariots of Fire’ reverberated in my head.