How a wish became a nightmare

Twitter has always been my favourite social media platform. Quick, concise and in-the-moment, it’s a place where I go for breaking news, topical humour and the latest on Aston Villa. I also occasionally (and against my better judgment) use it as my own personal soapbox.

It was the latter that got me into a bit of bother at the weekend.

While I appreciate the last few days have been a significant time for a lot of people in this country, as a non-Monarchist, it’s been a bit surreal. My attitude to these things is largely to ‘live and let live’, but I couldn’t help but take to Twitter to gently poke fun of the more absurd aspects of the spectacle.

The “Stone of Destiny”, FFS. Amirite?

My ‘each to their own’ philosophy, however, was tested at times by the stance of different organisations. For instance, I was puzzled that the famously impartial BBC was showing unquestioning and unwavering support for a political model that carries an unelected Head of State, something that was also called into question by the anti-Monarchy lobbying group, Republic. Similarly, I was perplexed by the Premier League’s decision to nail its colours to the mast by insisting on a rendition of ‘God Save The King’ before the weekend’s games.

Then, on Saturday evening, fatigued by the constant and unavoidable blanket coverage I’d been bombarded with throughout the day, I was exposed to an act of protest that delighted the rebel inside me. The anthem was played at Anfield, the home of Liverpool Football Club, where it was greeted with a deafening chorus of boos.

So, onto the soapbox I went. I shared a video of the scene to my timeline, accompanied with the following text:

“I wish Villa fans could be more like this. I appreciate not everyone will agree.”

It was, as with most of my Tweets, a half-baked half-thought, devoid of context. It was, however, caveated with an acknowledgment that it wouldn’t be a popular opinion.

I had thought, naively, that like most of my Tweets it would largely go unnoticed, under the radar, into the ether. Then the rumblings of discontent began.

To offer the context the Tweet was lacking, I wasn’t saying that I think Villa fans should boo the national anthem before games. It happens so rarely that it would be a strange hill to die on.

It wasn’t that I disrespect the national anthem, or Britain, or anything like that.

It was an admiration for the spirit of the action more than the action itself.

I generally find Liverpool fans a bit tedious. Full of themselves. “Offended by everything, ashamed of nothing” is a term I’ve used in the past. Oh, and the Anfield atmosphere is a total myth, of course.

However, I do have a begrudging admiration for how resolute Liverpool fans are when it comes to defending their city and their club. From doggedly campaigning for justice for the Hillsborough victims to the way it held ‘The Sun’ to account for the vicious lies it told in the aftermath, they are, if nothing else, a set of supporters that won’t buckle when faced with adversity. It’s a spirit that led to Saturday’s act of rebellion, being a city that was treated so poorly by a cruel Government in the 1980s that a ‘managed decline’ was seriously considered in Westminster.

Ultimately, when I said “I wish Villa fans could be more like this”, it was more a longing for that “don’t fuck with us” spirit rather than a simplistic “Villa should boo the anthem”.

It’s a fire I’ve had in my belly for a while now. In 2020, the ‘Black Lives Matter’ movement rose to prominence, driven by constant police brutality against people of colour in America. Premier League players, inspired by the uprising, opted to ‘take the knee’ prior to matches as their own show of protest against institutionalised racism.

If there was ever a cause that Villa fans should have adopted as their own, it was Black Lives Matter. After all, Dalian Atkinson, revered as a club legend, was a black man whose life was cruelly taken, unlawfully, at the hands of police in 2016.

And yet, when fans returned to Villa Park following the Covid lockdown in May 2021, players were booed by a sizeable chunk of our support when they knelt. It was a reaction that filled me with utter despair and revulsion. How on earth could we reject an act of protest that was arguably more pertinent to us than any other set of supporters?

I wish we’d been more vociferous in our support.

My frustrations go beyond that, though. Earlier this year, despite previous pledges to the contrary, Villa confirmed a deal that would install an overseas gambling firm as its front of shirt sponsor. A strong statement from fan groups briefly offered hope that we wouldn’t lie down and lower ourselves to such an agreement, only for them to back down completely when the club shrugged off their pleas.

I wish we’d kept the pressure on.

Then more recently, we had huge increases on the prices of season tickets at Villa Park, a decision that will inevitably mean supporters on lower incomes, amid a cost of living crisis, will be priced out.

And yet, for everybody saying it was wrong, you’d find just as many people defending the board’s decision.

I wish we’d been more united in calling it out.

You might notice that I’m using the words ‘I wish’ a lot. The Tweet that started all this began with the same two words.

It’s worth pointing out, because I wish for lots of things. I wish I was younger. I wish I was rich. I wish I played for Villa. I spent a lot of my younger years wishing to marry Kate Winslet. I wish everything could be OK.

Wishing for something is just that. It’s often implausible, unfeasible, but you wish for it anyway.

I know I can’t change the mentality of Villa fans. It would be beyond arrogant of me to suggest that anyone should approach things in exactly the same way I do. When I said “I wish Villa fans could be more like this”, that’s all it was. A bloody wish.

And yet, the abuse that came through on Saturday night into Sunday morning would suggest I’d grievously offended people I’ve never even met.

I was called a ‘cunt’ more times than I care to mention.

I was repeatedly told I’m not welcome at Villa Park.

A few people grasped at my ancestry, their underlying anti-Irish bigotry coming to the fore, one of them repeatedly using the derogatory term “Mick”.

One person even told me I have shit hair!

The comments that irked most though were the ones that implied that I was ashamed of where I’m from. Telling me “if you don’t like it here, leave.” Some even urged me to “gO bAcK tO wHeRe I cAmE fRoM” (born in Sutton Coldfield, raised in Aldridge, live in Erdington, but OK!)

It bothers me because to imply I’m not proud of where I come from is just so plainly not true. Anyone who knows me will tell you that I am a tireless, tubthumping supporter of Birmingham and the West Midlands. I’m constantly backing this wonderful part of the world. In 2020, I took a paycut to take on a role at the Birmingham 2022 Organising Committee, and I spent more than two years there giving everything I had to help deliver that unforgettable event, all for the love of my city.

Ultimately, I think it’s a bit weird to make out that the only way of showing pride in where you’re from is to blindly wave a flag and support the state. In fact, why would I? As Brummies, all we ever get from the wider country is the piss taken out of us. Mocking our accent, questioning our intelligence, criticising our city. Why the bloody hell should I associate with that?!

But, as I’ve already said, live and let live, and each to their own. If you want to support the Monarchy, if you want to celebrate, I’m all for that, and will defend your right to express your opinion. Just don’t call me a C-word for expressing mine.

A final note on this: When we talk about being kind, we often say something like “because you never know what other people are going through”. It just so happens that, right now, I’m going through the hardest time of my life.

Being bombarded with mountains of disgusting, violent abuse was the last thing I needed over the weekend. I dealt with it on this occasion by deleting the Tweet and locking my account, but I’m acutely aware that such an aggressive pile-on could push more vulnerable people over the edge.

Individuals will always have different opinions to you, but the mark of a decent person is their ability to accept and tolerate difference. In short: let’s just be bloody nice to each other, shall we?

You know we should. We really should.


Corrie and me

I love Coronation Street. I’m not ashamed to admit it.

Corrie’s always been there, for as long as I can remember. It was background noise when I was a little’un, before it fully grabbed my attention as I headed into my teens. The cool kids liked the grit of EastEnders. I went for the warmth and familiarity of Weatherfield every time.

There’s just something about hearing the opening strains of that iconic theme tune. Echoes of childhood, the promise of half an hour of pure escapism.

I’ve always said that Corrie is not only the best drama on telly, it’s the best comedy too. Jack and Vera’s constant bickering is probably the most accurate depiction of true love I’ve ever seen committed to screen. Mike Baldwin and Ken Barlow set the standard for petty rivalry long before Joe Exotic and Carole Baskin made it their USP. And who could forget Blanche’s withering putdowns, which frankly should have resulted in their very own spin-off sitcom.

At its heart though, Corrie is a memory of moments of silliness with those I love.

When Baldwin heralded Deidre’s release from prison with a cry of ‘FAAAANTASTIC’ whilst vigorously thrusting his glass of Scotch into the air and managing not to spill a drop, me and my mom spent years trying to recreate it with glasses of water – always without success.

I think of drunken nights with my pal Al, when I’d regale not only the scene above, but also one in which Kevin Webster was annoyed because his enjoyment of an Atomic Kitten song had been ruined (I’m not even going to elaborate, because not a single person in the world will remember it).

Speaking of scenes that everyone has forgotten, there was also Dev’s declaration of love for the humble Scotch Egg… something my mate Ed can thankfully back me up on.

Most enduring of all is my Jim McDonald impression. There’s barely a day that goes by when I don’t do it, so there isn’t.

Corrie is also a reminder of happy times with people who meant the world to me. I write this blog on what would have been the 100th birthday of my Nanny Rene, who would often want to share her thoughts about the latest storylines.

It also feels particularly poignant that it’s less than a week since the loss of my dear Aunty Pat. Whenever I arrived for a visit to her in Canada, where Corrie was shown a few months behind, it would never take long for her to ask for the lowdown on the latest comings and goings on the cobbles.

Then there was the look on her face when she’d arrive in the UK, effectively getting to ‘time travel’ by peering ahead at storylines that hadn’t even begun as far as she was concerned.

Going to Canada was always a laugh, now I come to think of it. Random people would catch my English accent, and I’d spend the next ten minutes regaling them with tales of what was still to come.

You’re probably getting a sense now of just how ingrained Coronation Street was within me. So, hopefully, you’ll forgive the fact that I would usually expect everyone else to be as familiar with it as I was.

When a real-life Mancunian started at my school, I’ll never forget his bewildered face when I constantly bellowed my Fred Elliot impression in his face. It turned out, that despite hailing from tantalisingly close to the cobbles, he wasn’t especially arsed by what happened upon them. It didn’t hold us back, though. Somehow, Matthew Lindley remains ones of my best friends to this day… I SAY HE REMAINS ONE OF MY CLOSEST FRIENDS.

I have to be honest, though, reader. my relationship with Corrie has had a bit of a wobble in recent times. Just as I was about to turn 30, I found the Vera to my Jack in the shape of Anna. And while we have many things in common, a love of Coronation Street was not one of them.

Even dragging Anna for tours of the set, both old and current, I failed in my mission to encourage her to take an interest. While I tried manfully to keep up after we moved in together, eventually I lost track. And then, five years passed without me watching as much as a single episode. Sadly, it seemed that Corrie was no longer a part of my life.

Like Deidre always came back to Ken, however, somehow it seemed obvious that we wouldn’t be apart forever.

Then 2020 came along.

This has probably been the best year of my life and the worst year of my life all at once. It’s undoubtedly been the most chaotic. Amid all the madness, I was craving a comfort blanket. And Corrie was it.

The start of the lockdown saw me quickly binge on about a month’s worth of episodes in just a couple of days, and I’ve stayed fully up to date since. As we head into the 60th anniversary, I’m fully invested once more. I felt as nervous about the outcome of Yazmeen’s trial as I tend to be before an important Aston Villa game. And I’m all about seeing that bastard Geoff get his comeuppance.

I’m not sure why I felt compelled to write this blog. I guess, subconsciously, with all the fuss about the 60th anniversary, I’ve recognised that the show has actually played a pretty important part of my life. That through the highest of highs and the lowest of lows that life can throw at you, sometimes you just need that little something that’s always there, reminding you that nothing ever really changes that much.

And so, all that remains to say is a huge HAPPY BIRTHDAY to Coronation Street. I’m yours forever, I’ll never stray again.

You know I won’t. I really won’t.

I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to take it anymore

This is the first blog I’ve written in ages, and I’m afraid I have nothing better to offer than an incoherent rant.

You see, the thing is, I’m at home on my own, and I’ve just seen a photograph that has absolutely enraged me. And I have nobody to listen to me talk angrily about it. So I’m writing this in the hope that you may share my exasperation.

Here is the offending image:


I mean… what is this… I cannot even… what the… who do they… WHY? Just… why?!

Apparently, ‘Clean for the Queen’ is an actual real thing, something that has been backed by the Government. For clarity, it is NOT a storyline from ‘The Thick Of It’, or the subject of a newly resurrected ‘Brass Eye’. Believe me, I’ve checked.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m sort of behind the spirit of the campaign. I hate littering, and I like the thought of people working together for the betterment of their community.

The problem is, that by calling it ‘Clean For The Queen’, they seem to have entirely removed all sense of empowering social action, and instead turned it into a call for the peasants to clean up their shit so Her Majesty does not have to cast her eyes upon it.

I repeat, this is an actual 21st century initiative which has been backed by Government, and not the suggestion of some hysterical fruitcake posting a comment on the Daily Mail website.

But aside from the dreadfully patronising campaign it promotes, look at that picture. Just look at it!

You’ve got Michael Gove looking like a butch lesbian ventriloquist’s dummy that’s about to take its cycling proficiency test.

The allusion to the ‘Keep Calm and Carry On’ crap that everyone got bored of in 2002, and now stands as the primary hallmark of a complete lack of imagination.

The bewildering notion that the best way to clean up a village is to roll out HENRY THE FECKING HOOVER.

The entirely superfluous exclamation marks after their stupid straplines.

The even more superfluous spaces between said stupid straplines and exclamation marks.

The more I look at it, the more apoplectic I become. I have things to do today, but I am absolutely seething. It has ruined my Sunday. I wish I was exaggerating.

‘Clean For The Queen’ day is on April 21st, by the way. I am planning to mark it by travelling to London and emptying a wheelie bin on the floor outside Buckingham Palace.

Then I’ll head to Westminster and kick Michael Gove square in the bollocks. The sniveling little prick.

You know I will. I really will*.


*I probably won’t.

Farewell old friend.

I’m off to Snobs in a bit.

If you’re a Brummie, you’ll know.

If you’re not, allow me to explain. It’s dark and dingy. Hot and sticky. An underground sweatpit, frequently overcrowded with hordes of monumentally pissed people. A shithole. A complete and utter shithole.

Oh, I nearly forgot. It’s also one of my favourite places in the entire world.

I’d never been hugely into nightclubs. I’m still not. Dresscodes, crap music, pissed up twats, all that jazz. But the moment I walked into Snobs, it was like an epiphany. I fell in love. I was home.

I was 22 that first night, and ended up there after an afternoon of drinking whilst watching England getting knocked out of the World Cup. Hearing that the plan was to hit a club, I popped into Tesco to buy the cheapest pleather shoes and collared shirt I could buy, assuming fully that the usual restrictions that typified my city centre nightlife experiences would be in place.

What I found instead was a utopia of people dressed how they wanted, and not like a walking advertisement for Burtons’ smart casual collection. “This is promising”, I thought.

Then there was the music. My word, the music. A smaller room, a little emptier, playing sweet sixties soul, with a dash of The Who, The Kinks, things of that ilk. Moddy. The stuff my dad played for me as I grew up.

Through the mirrored corridor was the main room. A hedonistic temple of indie rock’n’roll, a catalogue of the genre, journeying from the Stone Roses to Oasis to Babyshambles, and everything in between. A place to sing along, loudly, even though you didn’t know the words. A place to lose yourself. A place to forget about the fact you were wearing a truly terrible shirt and shoes combo.

I wish I could say that was the start of an era where I became a regular visitor. Lamentably, that’s not the case. Thinking about it, I’d estimate that I’ve certainly been there more than 10 times, but probably fewer than 20.

Why so little? I’m not sure. There’s certainly been occasions when I’ve wanted to go there, but found myself in the company of people who refused point blank to accompany me. Weirdos.

In many ways, I’d compare Snobs to the blue Gap hoody that’s been in my wardrobe since I was about 16. Something that I could go months, perhaps more than a year forgetting about, before slipping it on and enjoying its warmth and comfort.

It’s a place that never changes, that’s exactly the same now as it was when you first set foot inside. Somewhere that you feel eternally young, because, after all, if nothing around you is any different, then neither are you as a person. Does that make sense?

One thing that’s certain is that tonight marks my final ever visit to the old place. This weekend, it closes its doors forever, making way for some development of a hotel, or offices, or some crap like that. I don’t even know.

By pure coincidence, this is happening at a time of seismic change in my life. At the age of 30, and I’m sure to the delight of my parents, I’m finally moving out, and going to live with a real life girl, as if I’m an actual functioning adult human being, or something.

As for the blue gap hoody? It’s currently sitting in a recycling bag, ready to go to the charity shop. Essentially, I’m in the midst of waving goodbye to my youth. It’s like fate is saying “Snobs is gone. Time to be an adult now”. And there, by the grace of God, go I.

Of course, I should point out that the spirit of Snobs goes on, and it’ll open the door of its new home next week. And while it would suit the purposes of this coming of age narrative to declare that I’m done with it, I’m certain that, in time, I’ll squeeze into my skinniest jeans once more and pretend I’m a man in my early twenties. In the main, though, it’s time for the young’uns to create a new legend.

Before that, there’s still tonight. So I suppose I’d better go and get ready. And to retrieve that hoody from the bin liner…

Snobs is dead. Long live Snobs!

You know it is. It really is.

P.S. The brilliant pictures above have been stolen from Jack Spicer Adams. Click the link for more. Here are some bonus pictures of me snogging the wall of faces – my personal Snobs tradition.

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.

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.

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.

Keep on running…

Blogs, ‘eh? You go more than six months without writing one, then two come along at once. It’s no coincidence. I’m not one for new year’s resolutions as a rule, but I’ve resolved to be more resolute and one of my aims is to write for pleasure more often. So here I am.

The second resolution is a little more difficult to achieve. I’m aiming to shed three stones in weight before seeing in 2013, which I realise is a big ask given my genuine love of pizza and curry and pies and crisps and that, but I’m doing my damnedest to stick at it.

To that end, I’ve done something fairly drastic – I’ve started to run. Well, I say run, it’s more of an awkward, wheezing stagger around the block at the moment. But, it’s a start.

Those who have only known me in adulthood will understandably struggle to picture me as a runner. Something to do with the aforementioned pizza, curry, pies and crisps, I’ll bet. Those who’ve known me a little longer will know differently, though.

Y’see, as a teenager, I was quite the promising middle-to-long distance runner, following in the footsteps of my dad, a former Birchfield Harrier in his own right. The plan was for me too to develop my talent, join a club, and perhaps enjoy a lifetime of competitive athletics. Unfortunately, it soon became apparent that I’m pretty much made of glass as various injuries took hold. A knee complaint saw me housebound for an entire summer at the age of around 13, and near constant ankle-knacks eventually led to me calling it quits a couple of years later. Shortly afterwards, I began to gain weight, and the rest as they say, is history.

So, why have I started again? Well, it’s not quite the sudden epiphany some have when they take up a new fitness pursuit. Nor is it any sort of desire to try and recapture past glories. It’s more a matter of practicality.

Just under a year ago I began, along with my colleagues at S&X, to look after PR for New Balance (the world’s finest purveyor of athletic footwear, I’ll have you know). One of the perks of this was being gifted with a few pairs of trainers, including some of their lovely fashion-led shoes which quickly became acquainted with my everyday attire. However, there was one pair of shoes which remained firmly in the box – a pair of shiny, top of the range running shoes.

Frequently I would see them peering out at me from the wardrobe, almost pleading with me to try them on. “Come on, Tom. We’re worth £95, for God’s sake! Wear us!” And it was tempting. But knowing that I’d become so unfit that sprinting for a bus left me fairly breathless, I felt sure that my running days were over forever.

That was until I read about a new iPhone app called Run5k, an ingenious little system which builds you up from running in bursts of just 45 seconds to begin with to, hopefully, being able to run for half an hour non-stop by the 8th week. It’s early days, but I’m at least getting out and doing my bit and setting out on that road to being three stones lighter. And, touch wood, none of the old injuries have flared up just yet, which is promising.

So, why am I writing about this? Well, it’s quite simple – I want to make sure I stick at it, and I feel that by announcing my intentions as publicly as possible I’ll be extra motivated to, y’know, actually go ahead and do it. The logic is simple – if I tell you all now that I intend to lose the weight, I feel obliged to do it so I don’t sound like some knobhead who’s full of good intentions but not willing to put in the effort. And it also means that if we get to new year’s eve and I’m still a fatty, I’m giving you a free pass to direct a ginormous torrent of abuse in my direction. Win-win, in a way. Sort of.

Here’s how it will work – my progress will become a regular topic of discussion here and on my Twitter feed. I’ll keep you up to date, let you know how far I’m running, and how much weight I’ve shed. I’ll be open about when I’ve done well, and honest when I’ve done badly. And a little encouragement would be appreciated too, if you feel at all inclined to offer it.

And in the spirit of openness and honesty, if you saw this message earlier, I have to confess – I didn’t go. My dinner was ready when I got home and it looked so ruddy delicious that I couldn’t wait a minute longer. But I’ll endeavour to get up early in the morning…

You know I will. I really will.

My name’s Tom… and I’m a karaokoholic.

The best part of The X Factor each year is invariably the audition stage, and without fail it tends to boast some poor bloke who assures the judges that he’s ‘brilliant’ at karaoke before the inevitable tuneless drone is met by the boos and jeers of the baying crowd.

I fear the day will soon come when that poor bloke is me.

Last month my mate Perksy arranged a night at the Tap and Spile karaoke in Birmingham as a pre-Christmas gathering. I sang a couple of duets, had a laugh with friends, and looked on in amazement as Rachel New stole the show with a frankly magnificent performance of White Lines by Grandmaster Flash. It was wonderful.

That would have been that, except it awakened something in a few of us. Perksy, Kerri, Sarah and I went back. And then again. And this weekend we racked up our fifth trip to the karaoke in little over a month.

We’ve developed significantly in that time. Kerri and I have finely honed our performance of ‘The Bad Touch’ by The Bloodhound Gang, I’ve shed the initial nerves to the point where singing several songs without copious amounts of Dutch courage doesn’t particularly concern me, we’ve become well known enough that we were entrusted with the compering of the midnight countdown on New Year’s Eve, and ‘Karaoke Richard’, our master of ceremonies, has bought us drinks.

However, amid all the considerable fun we’re having , I must confess that I do have a lingering concern that we could be becoming those karaoke people. The ones who show up every week, the ones who take it really seriously, the ones who develop a high opinion of their own ability… the ones who end up getting carried away and audition for X Factor. Oh God…

While jovially I’ll always steadfastly insist that my singing is worthy of any stage, the truth is that my limitations mean that I’ll generally perform something between spoken word and parody opera. Only, I must be honest, there have been occasions recently when I’ve tried to actually sing. Y’know, properly, like. I know that Perksy has too. What is becoming of us?

Kerri and Sarah, on the other hand, are perfectly accomplished singers, so I’m less concerned that they might end up embarrassing themselves. However, their in-depth summits during the process of song selection suggest that they too might have been afflicted with the mindset of the regular karaokist, let alone the occasions when they’ve continued to sing the refrain of a song acapella long after the backing track has finished. Milking it, obviously.

Our most recent visit, though, made me think that we may seriously need to take a look at ourselves and work out if things need to brought under control.

You see, midway through the evening, spots of water began to drip through the ceiling, which soon gave way to several significant streams of water. As beer buckets were brandished to catch the errant liquid, I realised that it kind of looked like piss. And it kind of smelled like piss. And it kind of… WAS piss. Real life, genuine human piss, coming from a flooded toilet upstairs. With that in mind, spare a thought for Karaoke Richard who, in the initial confusion as to what could be causing the leak, had decided to TASTE the mystery liquid. Bless him.

At this point, you may imagine that with the bar covered in significant puddles of human waste, the pub would have closed immediately due to environmental health concerns. You’d be wrong. As fairly cultured and intelligent people, you might imagine that we would have made a collective decision that a pub with piss literally raining down from the ceiling wasn’t the place where we should be spending our Friday night. Sadly, again, you’d be wrong. We just bloody love karaoke so much, and if it takes an inadvertent golden shower to do it then that’s just something we have to put up with.

It’s time to admit it, we have a severe problem, and we can only get through it with your unwavering support.

Until then, I would like to sing ‘You’ve Lost That Loving Feeling’, please.

You know I would. I really would…. BABY BABEH!

Here’s a little bonus feature for you, dear reader.

After reading this blog, you’re probably anxious to go and do karaoke now. It’s OK, I don’t blame you.

As a self-appointed expert, though, I do have some tips for you to follow. Take heed of these, and you too could become a world-class entertainer.

1. Only sing songs you actually know

It may seem like a very obvious thing to say, but there’s an incredible amount of people who get up to sing a song without seeming to have the first clue how the song goes. Yes, we all know the chorus of ‘Especially For You’, but if you don’t know the verses you can eff off, tbf.

2. Only sing songs everyone else actually knows

Some lad a couple of weeks ago got up and sang some obscure death metal song that was eight minutes long and which nobody else had ever heard of. Everyone was bloody well pissed off.

3. If you want to feel like a rockstar, sing Oasis

There’s something about Oasis songs which makes everyone want to sing along with you. Feels nice, man.

4. If you’re not a great singer, just make it funny

A humorous ad-lib has saved many an average singer. On the other hand, there’s nothing worse than somebody getting on the mic and thinking they’re hilarious when really they’re just a loud annoying pisshead. All about balance, isn’t it? Needless to say, I’m ALWAYS hilarious.

5. Don’t be shy

At the end of the day, it’s a laugh, and nobody is going to think any less of you for taking part. Well, they might, but they’ll have forgotten about it tomorrow. Just have a drink, grab the mic and have fun.