Friday, 23 December 2011

A Small Island, A Big Derby

I feel under a bit of pressure writing this blog now, as thanks to the subject matter of my previous entry it was read by a hell of a lot more people than usual! Will they expect more of the same? Or will they just take what I normally write? Well neither of that really matters at the moment, as I am once again writing about non-league football on Canvey Island, and more importantly, a match taking place on Boxing Day.

First though, a very small bit of history and stuff for you. Canvey Island is a small place deep in the heart of Essex, often overlooked due to its location near Southend and Basildon, and normally remembered for the floods of 1953 and the large gas/petrol works on the island. Well on this small island there are two football clubs, those being Canvey Island FC and Concord Rangers FC. Canvey Island FC has been around since 1926, surviving the floods and having varied success over the years. The big moment in Canvey’s history was when local businessman Jeff King took over as manager, helping to plough money into the club and raise their profile and quality. The team have made the third round of the FA Cup before, but have been up and down through the non-league system since before then. There have been notable achievements for the side, including winning the FA Trophy on live TV, and winning the Essex Senior Cup.

Taking that and much more into account, many people on Canvey saw CIFC as the big club on the island. Well recently there have been contenders to that title in the shape of Concord Rangers FC, who as a club have been around since 1967, and until the past couple of years have been under the radar of many islanders.

The following info has been taken from the Concord Rangers website, so please forgive me for plagiarising! Concord Rangers originated from a team of boys headed by Steve Lant, before securing some land on Thames Road in 1985 (where they remain to this day). The club started to get moving, joining the Essex Senior League in 1991 and having a few cup successes over the years. After securing promotion from the ESL in 2008 under the guidance of Danny Cowley & Danny Scopes (the two guys are still in charge), the club entered the Ryman League and managed to get promoted after 2 seasons, this time through the playoffs, and enter the Ryman Premier League.

And it’s there that this blog entry comes up to the present. With Concords promotion, it meant that both teams based on Canvey would be in the same league for the very first time, providing the island with what looked to be some interesting derby matches. Canvey are still seen as the big club on the island, and were expected to brush aside the Concord pretenders during their encounters last season. The first match was at Thames Road on Boxing Day, however due to the weather the game was postponed until a Tuesday night in February. Concord were expected to be whipping boys by many, however they put up a fight on that cold evening, and after some very tense moments Rangers were able to score a 90th minute winner. Now obviously this put a few noses out of joint in the CIFC camp, and the return match was due for Easter Monday where Canvey Island were expected to get their own back on the upstart Rangers. Things didn’t go to plan though for Canvey, as an in-form Concord outplayed a very lacklustre Canvey side in front of a packed Park Lane crowd to win 4-0.

This season and things are fairly similar, Canvey are higher in the league than Concord, Canvey are expecting to win, but I doubt they’ll underestimate the Beachboys this time around. Concord are a better side than they were last year, and although the results may not show it, Rangers are playing pretty well. I can’t speak for Canvey as I’ve not seen them play, however I fully expect the game on Boxing Day at Park Lane to be a hard-fought, tough match for both sides. Excitement is high in the Concord camp, and another decent result against their neighbours would just make the mood that much better for them over this festive period!

Sunday, 18 December 2011

A Bit Of Non League Passion

Yes this is another sports based blog, but this is one focused solely on football of the non-league variety, and this is another one that's been going round in my head for a while waiting to be typed up!

Now everyone is familiar with professional football, even if you don't follow it there is enough news around the sport that its bloody hard to miss. However its when you look deeper at the sport and take notice of the grass roots, that's when you get a whole new appreciation for the game and what playing it entails.

At the moment there are two non-league football clubs on Canvey, the town which i have called home for all my 28 years, Canvey Island FC & Concord Rangers FC. Now when i was younger i only knew about Canvey, and even had a season ticket one year. Well after a while that got left behind and i got fully into the professional game.

Over the past few years though that's changed. After going to see Canvey a couple of times i was starting to get the bug back, but the fascination with the team i had when younger wasn't there. It was then that i was talking with a friend of my brother who worked on the staff and played in the reserves for Concord Rangers. Well after a while i thought i would check a game out down there, and although i can't remember the score, the love of standing in a ground with 150 odd fans watching this team came back!

I started going to more games, and last season was witness to two huge victories for the Concord Rangers team. It was the first time both they and Canvey were in the same league, so 2 heated league derby games would happen. The first was at Concord, and although a scrappy affair Rangers won 1-0 over their "bigger" rivals. That was nothing though, as last Easter Concord made the short journey across the island to play Canvey in the return match. This wasn't as scrappy or as close, as Rangers demolished Canvey 4-0! A fantastic day for all involved with the club that was, especially the players and us fans.

Now i mention all of this because non-league football offers something different to the pro game, and is a big, vital part of the sport in this country. Young players are spotted there, older players go there to keep in the game, and generally there is a passion and love for playing which is rarely seen in a professional game.

Take for example my experiences at Concord. I stand next to the home dugout, so i talk to my mate Miki, and i also talk to the coaches, players and manager. I even had a decent chat with the chairman this weekend! You go through everything they do, and get a great perspective of the game. Its something you don't get at big professional grounds and makes you feel a part of the team. Another point was a couple of weeks back when Concord got their first home win of the season, the reaction on the bench following the winning goal and how it involved us standing by the dugout was a superb experience!

I can only recommend going to see non-league football for yourself. Its something that's cheaper than the professional game, but is filled with just as much, if not more excitement. My love for West Ham never stops, but having a team right on my doorstep that is worth watching is brilliant and a top way to get involved in the game.

Wednesday, 14 December 2011

A Year Of Change

I was reminded on Sunday during a conversation with someone who i recently saw for the first time in ages that i hadn't written a blog in a long time. Not for any particular reason though, I've thought of plenty of things to talk about but just haven't sat down and put it onto a computer! So what'll come over the next week or two is a bit of a blog blitz, stuff I've thought about writing down but never actually got round to doing.

Where else to start but with yours truly eh? The past 12 months have been full of change for me, with plenty going on left right and centre to be honest.

This time last year i was just moving into a control room based role at work, where i remain to this day. The actual job is constantly evolving and sending challenges my way, but even though the circumstances behind the change weren't ideal, i wouldn't go back on it. Being a Station Manager, and a manager in general, hasn't been doing it for me for some time, and I've made it clear to my boss how i feel. I may not want to manage people, going back to a standard job is ultimately what i am after, but still working in control is fun, and it is a constant learning experience which will help me going forward.

On the subject of changes at work, since joining LOROL over 2 years ago I've met a lot of good people, a few of which became very good friends. Two of those got engaged, had a wonderful baby boy and moved to Ireland! Duncan & Helen have been there for me over the 2 years, and it was a pleasure to be at their wedding this past weekend. Two fantastic friends who i wish all the best for, and sincerely hope they are enjoying the honeymoon right now!

There was quite a significant change to my personal life during the summer, as many reading this will know after 4 years together me and Gemma split up. It may not have felt like it at the time but it was the right thing to do. A few times its not been easy given how differently we both moved forward, but we remain good friends and i know i feel better that way than having huge arguments and never being in contact again.

My family changes constantly too, as Ben is now fully bedded in as a full time railway employee, which to be honest i thought i may not see! But fair play to him, he's working his backside off now. My 'little' sister isn't exactly little anymore, nearly 14 and actually scaring me at times with how much she's grown up. Hell i still remember being woken by my nan and being told i have a baby sister! And what of Stephen i hear you cry? He's found happiness right now with someone very special to him. I've got all the support and respect for him in the world, he's still my little brother, even if he's just under 2 years younger than me!

My family however did take a hit recently, as my Aunt Debbie passed away. I've been lucky in a sense that I've not had a family funeral to attend until now, so last month was a very emotional experience for me and the family in general. My cousin Kelly has been an absolute rock through it all, and i know i speak for my siblings when i say we're with her all the way forward.

There's plenty more over the year, but to be honest i am sure you'll say that's enough for now. It's been a year of transitions, changes and learning experiences, and i doubt 2012 will be much different in that respect. Thank you for reading!

Tuesday, 13 December 2011

Harsh Reactions

Well number 2 on my list of blogs to get done focuses on sport, and rightly so considering there's a fair amount of it i watch, even if the majority is just football and the NFL.

The title of the blog is about reactions quite clearly, and to be honest the majority of sports fans are guilty of very harsh reactions after a decision/result doesn't go their way. Players and coaches do too, but my focus here is us fans. Whether its football, NFL, cricket,rugby or whatever, we seem to have three reaction times which govern our feelings of support for our teams after a loss.

Immediately after a loss the majority of us react angrily, thinking of excuses and denying what we've just seen with utter disbelief. A few days later if its mentioned the reaction is a bit more measured, the result has been reflected upon and we've accepted what happened, even if we still ain't happy with it. Then finally there is the moment the following week when you react with optimism and ignorance, almost forgetting what had come the previous game and looking towards the next fixture where you could go through it all again!

I mention that as its something i certainly have felt this season whilst following both West Ham & the New York Jets. There have been times when both teams have had losses that left me and others in shock and disbelief, with a certain anger towards the team for losing. I cite the Hammers games against Cardiff & Ipswich, and the Jets game against Denver. All games that my teams really could and should have won, but events conspire against us!

If i had of written a blog immediately after these games my tone would have been a bit different to what it is now, if only because i have had a chance to reflect on them and take a look at the big pictures. West Ham are second in the league, with around half the season still left to play. Plenty of football and plenty of possible points, so reacting badly and assuming that every loss will cost us promotion will get me nowhere. The team still needs to improve, of that there is no doubt, but we have shown we can do the job even if we play ugly. I am still very positive that we will achieve promotion in May.

As for the Jets, after back to back losses, including the aforementioned Denver defeat, the season looked over as the offence were playing badly, the defence were not at their best, special teams were letting us down and the play calling looked horrific. Fast forward a couple of weeks and the chance to take it all in has changed things. Ok our play calling still ain't great, but the offence got the confidence boost they needed by soundly beating Kansas City this past weekend. The defence is getting back in its stride, and special teams is doing ok, even with a few mistakes still happening. Add to that the fact that we are still well in with a chance of making the playoffs and things actually look good!

One more thing, i was very pleased to hear that the NBA have finally got a new bargaining agreement in place, so a new season will start on Xmas day, albeit about 20 games shorter than normal. The Bulls came close last year, i hope that this time they'll be back at the top of the pile.

Thanks again for reading if you've made it this far!

Thursday, 20 October 2011

It's Been A While

Exactly as the title states, it has been a while since I posted a blog, with the previous one being a review of the Pure Festival weekend. Since then not too much has happened i guess, but enough to think i should start blogging again after a short break!

First up, I'll pick up where i left off last time, on the subject of whisky. Last year i spent £95 on a ticket for a premium whisky tasting, giving me unlimited tastings, a two course meal, and all in all a fantastic experience. Well the show returned this year, and was based at Vinopolis by London Bridge. Instead of paying out myself though for the ticket, it was given to me as a birthday present by my mum and nan. As part of this, i got to take my Uncle Brian with me, who himself enjoys a whisky or two, but hasn't had the experience of a tasting like this featuring some of the  worlds best whiskies.

So off we went, with me knowing to an extent what was coming, and my uncle looking forward to the experience ahead. For Brian it was a day of learning, as he was able to pick up a lot of knowledge from the exhibitors with regards to the processes behind the dram, and with regards to the extent of the flavours that a whisky produces. I was able to catch up with a couple of guys i had met 2 weeks previous at Pure, and also got the chance to meet singer Tim Hain. Another great experience of the day was that a couple of the exhibitors remembered me from last year, so it was great to speak to them again as well! All in all the day was a success, we both tried some spectacular drams, and i took great pleasure in buying 2 bottles!

So other that whisky what is going on with me? Well many of you know that i play in a darts team, and recently we have picked up 2 straight victories in our Friday league. Last season we only managed 1 all year, so already doubling last years total has been a huge success and moral boost for the guys! It's a great league that we're in, and as it's on a Friday the majority of us don't have to worry about work the following day! Still a long way to go until the end of the season, so we may even pick up a couple more victories before all is said and done!

I won't go into detail about the teams i follow at the moment, the Hammers are currently 2nd in the league and the Jets have had an average start to the season, but as with my own darts league, there is still a long way to and plenty more games to be played before all is said and done.

Work is going ok at the moment, had some serious thinking going on recently and made a decision regarding what i want from my job, but that'll be for another time. I just feel a bit clearer about what i want and where i want to go. And speaking of work, i have 2 weeks off starting from this coming Monday! Got plenty to do, domestic duties, plenty of darts, a fair bit of drinking, a mates stag do, a friends Halloween party (no idea what i am dressing as), and more importantly than all that, my birthday. On that note, gifts will be accepted in any form, but whisky is preferred thanks!

This is a bit all over the place i know, but as it's been a while i thought it best to put as many little bits in as possible. Thanks for reading if you've got this far!

Monday, 26 September 2011

A Pure Festival Review

Welcome one and all to what is a blog centred on just one topic this time, Pure Festival. Now for those of you that may need enlightening, I really enjoy my whisky! I’ve attended whisky tastings and events, visited distilleries and am a regular member/user of Connosr.com, a whisky-focused social networking site. And it’s through that last point that I come to the topic of this blog.

Whilst on a tasting with the guys behind Connosr (brothers Jean-Luc & Pierre), they mentioned that they were working on a music and whisky festival, looking to bring fans of both subjects together and introduce them to something they may not have experienced before. Well the idea took off and this past weekend at The Garage in Highbury Pure Festival was brought into existence. Bands were playing upstairs from 16:30 until 20:30, with the downstairs area filled with a whisky tasting from 16:00 until 19:00, and more bands from 19:30 until late.

Getting there early to lend a hand in any way I could, I began my Pure experience by handing out flyers to people walking by outside the venue for an hour or so before hand (on both days). It’s the first time I’ve ever done something like that, and although we got some dodgy looks, we were successful in a sense that all our flyers were taken! Then the real event kicked off, and that’s where the fun began! Saturday was extremely busy, with a couple of stands seemingly not stopping for the entire 3 hours that the whisky tasting was on. My job was to walk through the venue, with my blue “Here to Help” t-shirt on, and answer any questions people may have had about whisky, and the event in general. I had some great conversations with people through the both days, people who were both new to whisky and eager to learn, and  experts wanting to converse about the drams on offer.

Speaking of the whisky on offer, there were 10 whisky based stands at the show all offering some quality entry level and high quality whiskies. There were brand-specific stands from Cooley, Whyte & Mackay, An Cnoc, Ardbeg, Tweeddale and new guys Isle of Mull. They all saw good business as such, with both Mull and Mackay running out of stock before the end of the second day! The remaining stands all were unique, the first being the stand from The Whisky Exchange, who are one of the biggest online whisky retailers around, and they focused on bringing Talisker to the masses. Then there was Whisky 4 Movember, with The Whisky Guy Darren Rook helping promote the charity-focused bottle of Glenfarclas. One of the busiest stands over the weekend was run by a good friend of mine, Stuart Robson, and it was where Stuart used his incredible knowledge of whisky and chocolate to combine the two. Three whiskies and various chocolates were paired together in such a way to bring out the flavour of both! Last but by no means least there was the World Whiskies Review, run by a guy who I have been conversing with on Twitter for some time, acclaimed whisky writer Dominic Roskrow. Dominic had a wide range of whiskies from around the globe, and was also extremely busy over the two days. There was Amrut (India), Lark (Tasmania), St Georges (England), Santis (Switzerland) and loads more that were available to sample. It showed how busy the stand was when Dominic had to call for reinforcements as such for the second day, as he’d used most of his stock!

Once the whisky tasting was over, us helpers were called into action, clearing the main floor of the stands and stock so that the floor could be filled by fans of the bands due to start at 19:30. There was a few nerves at first, hoping that we’d get it all clear in the time we had, but there was no need to panic. On both nights the floor was ready for the bands within 15-20 minutes! This was then the time for us to relax, the music really took over and we were able to reflect on the success of the day. Sunday night we gathered in our green room for a celebratory dram, and you could sense that everyone was pleased with how the weekend had gone. I enjoyed a bit of the music, but due to the long journey home on both days I didn’t stay till the end, so to see a review of that bit you’ll have to go elsewhere! But in closing, Pure Festival, at least in my eyes, was a resounding success, plenty of people were there on both days, there was a cheerful and great atmosphere throughout the event, and it really looked like the hard work everybody put in had paid off. I sincerely hope the guys put it on next year as well, but only time will tell!

Thursday, 22 September 2011

Wonderings Of A Weekend

Time once again for me to find an outlet for my thoughts and talk about shit i like, yeah that's right, its blog time! I know you've all been eagerly anticipating this moment!

So I've just had a pretty full on weekend, after 11 shifts in a row it felt good to get away from work! Friday saw my first darts match of the season take place. Regulars know i started in a team last year, and we lost more than we won. Well this season we play on Friday instead of Wednesday, and we have a couple of new players, but the first result didn't change sadly. We lost 6-4 on the night, but it got us started and game 2 tomorrow night should be fun!

Saturday night i decided to spend my winnings from a football accumulator the week before, heading out on the lash with Ben, for our mate James' sisters birthday. It was a good laugh, a lot was drunk and fun was had, although with hindsight i admit i may not be able to binge drink like i used to and like my youngest brother can! And we both paid for it the next day that's for sure! Speaking of the next day, that was when both me and Ben went to see Lee Evans at wembley! Normally Lee tends to re use old jokes here and there, but this time the whole thing was fresh and new, and had the audience in stitches throughout! Ok we were still a bit fragile from the previous night but we still enjoyed it all the same!

Work has got me thinking again, which probably ain't a good thing! I've been away from c2c and part of London Overground for nearly 2 years now, the time has quite literally flown by with a lot happening. At the moment i work in the control room, after spending just over a year managing stations in south London. I am still enjoying it, don't get me wrong, but being a part of a more operational environment has made me wonder if its worth heading that way. I tried to be a train driver years ago but messed up the antiquated tests, so control is the other way in to that department really. I've picked up a lot more operational knowledge since being in control, and it's been a great experience, and still is! The options are there though, and after over 11 years in customer services, maybe its worth considering something else?

No decisions are made, so i ain't changing shit just yet! Just a thought process that's been in my head a little while i guess!

There's a lot of stuff going on out in the world to worry about, i try to remain positive about everything as otherwise i think you'll go completely mad! There's the recession, earthquakes, corrupt leaders, oil wars and a hell of a lot more that i can't remember this early in the morning! The trick is to keep smiling, things may look like hell at times, but with family, friends, and a bit of optimism here and there, it ain't too bad! Thanks for reading if you've made it this far, its appreciated!

Thursday, 15 September 2011

Reading, and finding The Dark Path

Reading, an essential skill that we learn very early on in our lives, and yet as we grow older too many of us leave this skill to dwindle and just do the basics in every day life. I was like that a long time ago, after leaving school I read only what needed to be read, instructions that were put in front of me, things I had to sign, bills etc. But thanks to a colleague at work who pretty much thrust a book into my face and said I should read it, I began to read for fun again, and I continue to do so to this day! There is so much that you get from reading a book, whether it’s a thriller, fantasy, biography or crime. There are all the emotions on the pages, and you almost can visualise and feel what is going on within the story. It’s a pastime I enjoy and loads of others do too.

I’ve been called a “book snob” before by a member of my family, as she was under the impression that I only read books by a select few authors, and refused to open my mind to new (or old) writers. Well in a way she was right, I tend to stick to what I know, legal thrillers from John Grisham and John Lescroart, the Reacher novels from Lee Child, and autobiographies of the sportsmen/musicians I am a fan of. The three authors I mentioned have always been solid, I’ve enjoyed pretty much every book I’ve read from them, and have nearly read everything they’ve put out there. There have been a few slips here and there, Child didn’t impress me with one of his latest, and both the Johns have had slumps, but given how well they have done, they are bound to have one sooner or later!

Things have changed though in the past few years, starting with a chance encounter on the social network that was MySpace. As part of my profile I had mentioned I was a fan of the three authors above, and I then received a message from a guy called Barry Eisler. At first I thought it was a bot, but after a bit of conversation I found that this was an author who had started his own series of novels about a guy called John Rain, who was similar to Reacher but seemed to have more finesse, more subtlety and was more of an assassin for hire (at first). After talking to Barry, I decided to read the first of his books, and since then have become as hooked on them as I have the other authors already mentioned. So there, my dear aunt Lesley, I ain’t no book snob!

Of course back on MySpace, when one author added you, others followed hoping to promote their works and get you to buy them. The trick is to weed out the rubbish and focus on the guys that are worth reading. Another one that got to me through MySpace was CJ Lewis, I’ve read a couple of his novels now and have been quite impressed.

It’s been a while since then though, my MySpace account is dead and buried, and I’ve been through Facebook and now on to Twitter. The latter social network is a haven for bots and spam, so it’s tough to sift through the crap and find the decent bits that are out there. However recently another author started to follow me on there, and after reading some of his blogs and fairly random tweets, I thought I would take a chance and read his book. Now it’s a supernatural, fantasy type book, which normally I steer clear of, not normally the kind of book I would pick up in a store and buy. However as I said, there was something entertaining about the blogs and tweets that made me think it was worth a shot and couldn’t hurt. Luke Romyn is the guys name, and the book is called The Dark Path, I finished it this morning and although I got through it very quickly, I really enjoyed it. Extremely descriptive and vivid, it was great to read and brought a smile to my face on a few occasions! I would recommend reading it if you ever get the chance, well worth it.

That’s it for this time around, so whether you read hardbacks, paperbacks or using a kindle, keep reading and enjoying it. The world would be a worse place without books like the ones above, make the most of them!

Friday, 9 September 2011

A Bit Of A Catch Up!

Hello one and all, welcome back to my blog, which will once again be vague on my emotions and far too detailed on the sports that I follow with a passion! Add in a couple of bits about work and that’s pretty much it! I’ve covered everything there so you don’t even have to read the whole thing!

I write this as a weekend begins which is quite literally full to the brim with sport. First off the NFL regular season started Thursday night, with the Green Bay Packers beating the New Orleans Saints by 8 points (winning me a little bit of dosh). The team I follow, the New York Jets play on Sunday night/Monday morning at home to the Dallas Cowboys. This morning the Rugby World Cup kicked off with New Zealand beating Tonga fairly easily. England start their campaign tomorrow morning at 9:30 our time, and I’ll be at work keeping an eye on it! The Championship is back as well after the international break, so my beloved Hammers are in action at home to Portsmouth. We’ve not had a home win yet this season, so fingers crossed that tomorrow sees the first one come our way! Add to all of that the ODI cricket that’s been going on today and the F1 Italian Grand Prix over the weekend, and there really is more sport than you can shake a stick at. It would be perfect viewing with a bottle of whisky, couple of cigars and takeaway food, but I’ll be working through it, so I’ll have to wait for another great opportunity like this!

Speaking of work, I’m on an eleven day run of shifts at the moment, as one of my colleagues is off and we struggle to cover at the moment. No big deal, it happens to all of us so I ain’t complaining! I just know that I am going to make the most of the 3 days off I have when this stint comes to an end! Friday night will be our first Darts match of the season, so it’ll be great to finally get back into that as the season ended way back in February. I’ve played a fair bit over the summer, but will be thankful to be playing in matches on a regular basis again! The big night though will be on the Saturday, as for the first time in a while I will be heading out on the lash with Ben, James and a few others with the sole intention of getting slaughtered! Sunday will be about recovery, and heading off to Wembley to see Lee Evans live for the 2nd time. The tickets were bought for me last year, so it’s been a long time coming! Just gotta make sure that a) I have someone to go with, and b) that I wont be working the early shift on the following day!

On the topic of gigs, that brings me to a couple of things I’ve spent my money on recently! I’ve decided not to go to the NFL game at Wembley this year, after being the past 3 years and really enjoying myself, I didn’t want to go this year and see a team I’ve already seen. I’m sure I’ll watch the game on the TV though! Instead I’ve got tickets to 2 upcoming gigs, first is in December when Steel Panther, Motley Crue and Def Leppard play at Wembley, I’ve not seen any of these three live so it will be a great experience! Secondly I got tickets for myself and Ben to see Ian Anderson, the man behind Jethro Tull, live at the Hammersmith Apollo next year. I’ve been lucky enough to see Ian play once, when he made a guest appearance at a Joe Bonamassa gig and performed “Locomotive Breath” and “A New Day Yesterday”. This time Ian is doing his own thing, playing the entire “Thick As A Brick” album and other Tull classics. That is something I am really looking forward to!

That’s enough from me for now, got some annual leave booked towards the end of October and beginning of November which should also be filled with activities, including my birthday, a mates stag do, and another friends (late) Halloween party! Great stuff! So on that note, thank you for reading my fairly quick update on things, got plenty of whisky stuff to mention but that’ll be for next time!

Wednesday, 31 August 2011

A Week To Focus

Its been a while since my last entry, and i thought it was about time i did another one to update everything!

I am back at work this week after having 7 days off, and as always it was tough getting up for the early shift after a week of sleeping in! I needed the week off, didn't do a huge amount of stuff, but was able to chill out, think about everything that's gone on recently and prioritise a few things. It was almost like a detox for my head, certainly not for my liver though! Went to see West Ham on Wednesday, the less said about that experience the better, and went to 2 Concord Rangers home games, which also didn't end too well! Friday was the interesting one though, as me and Ben played in a charity darts night in Farringdon. It was a great laugh, and got more out of the night than expected. Great bunch of lads, a top laugh was had, and we won 3 of our 5 matches, one of which being a sort of West Ham - Orient grudge match! Ok so we didn't make it past the first round, but it was a great event and extremely well put together.

So i guess i should mention West Ham, and we've had contrasting fortunes in games this season so far. Away from home the team are undefeated, playing 3, winning 3 and scoring 9 goals. At home though we've been shaky, a loss and a draw so far, and a loss in the league cup. Big Sam reckons the players may be feeling intimidated playing at Upton Park, well hopefully that feeling don't last too long as it'll be our home form that gets us back in the premiership! Players have been coming and going as well, and today the transfer window will slam shut and we'll see the final squad to take us through to at least Xmas. Its inevitable really that Parker is off, did blinding for us over the past couple of years, but he needs to play top flight football. Best of luck to him in all honesty. I'll have a detailed look at all the players we brought in next time round.

I tend to fill these blogs up with sport, sport and more sport, so I'll leave that topic for now! Work is going well, progress is being made and certain aspects are changing, but all in all i am still happy where i am, and i am enjoying it, which is always a bonus!

Oh and i heard the news yesterday of a huge rock tour happening at the end of the year. Def Leppard are touring, and will be supported by Motley Crue and Steel Panther, and tickets go on sale at the end of this week, which just happens to be when i get paid! So I'll check the dates and more than likely get myself a couple of tickets! There's been a lot of great bands touring over the past few years, and I've been lucky enough to see some of them, and this set of shows will be worthy additions to my list!

The last thing before i finish, i was caught by surprise by my dad during my week off, as me and Ben got a text asking if we wanted to go to the crematorium. This was completely out of the blue, but we went, and it was only then that we realised it would have been the birthday of an aunt who passed away when i was very young. My nan, aunt and cousin were also there, and it was good to see them, but i am not great at handling that sort of thing to be honest. Still worth doing though that's for sure.

And on that note, thank you for reading!

Friday, 12 August 2011

New Season, New Start, Same Old West Ham?

After seeing the result of West Ham’s first game of the season this year, first impressions would be that the title of this blog is spot on. Well I beg to differ, if only in a small way.

Yes the first result of the season wasn’t the way we wanted to start things, especially if Big Sam is right in that we can only lose around 8 games if we want to earn promotion at the first attempt. But there are many ways to look at Sundays’ game and see what we can learn from it. Starting with the negatives I guess, and it has to be the glaringly obvious lack of firepower the team has up front. Our two fit strikers (Carlton Cole and Fredric Piquionne) were ineffective against Cardiff, having a few chances but not really coming close on any of them. To win games you quite simply have to score more goals than your opponents, and as was the problem last year, we cannot score the goals. Strikers are a priority and supposedly have been all summer, however only now has someone been signed, John Carew, the big guy who formally played for Stoke and Aston Villa. The thing is, he is a big guy and will need someone with speed to assist him, and hopefully a second striker will be signed soon.

Secondly, our defensive focus late in the game was just as woeful as it had been last season. Silly mistakes at the back allowed the decidedly average Kenny Miller to be in the right place at the right time to get on the end of a pass to score the late winner. Until the final whistle blows, the players need to be on the ball and aware of what is going on around them! A bit of focus could have prevented that goal and earned the team a draw, which is better than nothing!

Positive notes are a plenty though, and should be enjoyed and treasured at the moment given the disappointment and emotional failure of last season. The main positive I saw from the game was that the team actually played as a team! Players seemed to have more determination on the pitch, were running constantly and putting in the tough tackles needed to get the job done. Passes were made, and decent football was actually played! Obviously the end product wasn’t there, but I addressed that earlier!

Another massive positive was the impact that the new signings had on the game. The main one was Matty Taylor, he didn’t stop running, hit a couple of cracking free kicks, and provided some width to the team that we haven’t seen since Matty Etherington left a few years back. He deservedly picked up the sponsors man of the match award, and it wouldn’t surprise me if he picks up many more before the end of the season. Another new signing who impressed was Joey O’Brien, a former Bolton player who hasn’t really been a regular for anyone over the past couple of seasons. He shone at the back, again seemingly running forever and providing a welcome bit of support on some attacking moves. Big Sam brought him in on trial, and over pre-season O’Brien had impressed and earned himself a contract. Obviously it was a good move by the gaffer!

Another game was due to happen on Tuesday however due to the civil unrest within the UK it was postponed, so we’ll see how the team play and hopefully improve this weekend as the Hammers travel to Doncaster for the first of 2 away games in a row. COYI!!!!!

A Tough Week All Round

Proper blog time once again, some of you may be relieved as I wont talk about football in this post, mainly because I’ve got a whole separate entry coming after this focusing on West Ham! But I have a few other bits to talk about, and it won’t be about sport!

Obviously first of all I will quickly mention a recent event in my life. Some of you already know, but I recently split up with Gemma, my long term girlfriend of 4 years. We remain good friends, as we still get on great, and we still talk to each other regularly. That’s all I will say though, as to be honest there are some things that should remain private, the reasons etc are down to us and nobody else. I thank you all for your understanding!

Moving onwards and I can’t really ignore the big topic that has been a big part of the news this past week, the civil unrest across the whole of England. Now I don’t claim to know all the details, I only can go by what I read and see, and form my own opinions, just as you can, so I may have things the wrong way or may say something you disagree with, but it’s just the way I see it.  

Now it all kicked off Saturday night, after a peaceful protest descended into violence, rioting and destruction of property. This protest was regarding the shooting of a man by the name of Mark Duggan in a police incident the previous Thursday/Friday. Now I understand a protest taking place, we as people have a right to voice our opinions, right or wrong. However I don’t condone the violence and destruction that immediately followed it. Burning police cars, buildings and a London bus were shocking acts which should be punished heavily by the police. Honestly though I thought that would be the end of it, the protest led to some violence, but the point was made and something would be done, of course the following day it was proven that I was wrong in that thought!

The riots kicked off in Hackney and Croydon, and followed to Clapham, then further afield in Birmingham, Manchester and Bristol over the next few days. Personally I saw no reason for these, other than pure greed, criminality and thuggery, and when you saw/heard the people doing this, it was clear they had no real reason, no real cause behind the actions they were taking. And on first glance the police seemingly stood back, and allowed it to happen, although it was clear that they were stretched, and low in numbers. However along with many others, I saw the police reaction as tame, especially when compared to their reaction when football hooligans are fighting. It took longer than I feel it should, but finally all police leave was cancelled and they flooded the streets to stop it occurring. Last night was reportedly quiet across the UK, which is about time!

The inquest has begun into what provoked the extra looting and violence since Saturday, and people are coming up with reasons upon reasons. The main one I hear is that the youth are bored, have no opportunities and have nowhere to go. And to this I say quite simply bollocks. Everyone was bored when they were younger, but they didn’t go out looting and causing mass destruction and havoc across towns and cities! People went to play football in a field, went to a cinema to watch a film, and generally found things to occupy their time that wasn’t illegal! The way I see it, a lot of this was down to a lack of discipline and respect for authority. Previous governments, and even this one, have ensured that the nation has become soft, with the luxuries that some reportedly get in prison, with the tiny jail sentences for murder (someone being released after 14 years of a life sentence?) and the culture of claiming abuse of human rights for absolutely everything.  The people carrying out these acts are criminals, and should be treated as such. Theft is an illegal act, destruction of property is an illegal act, assault, arson and public disorder are illegal acts, and thankfully people are being punished for carrying these acts out, its about bloody time!

Right I’ll get back down from my pedestal, enough of my typing for this entry. Thank you for reading, if you’ve managed to get this far that is!

Tuesday, 26 July 2011

From Parents & The Lockout, To A Pure Festival

Hello one and all, time once again for some varied ramblings from yours truly!

To start with, I'll almost follow on from my last blog. Anyone who read that knows that i spoke about my dad a fair bit, well sticking with the whole parent thing its the turn of my mum this time. Now i won't go too soppy as i know she reads these blogs from time to time and i don't want to embarrass her!

Anyway, this past Sunday was her birthday, and to celebrate the family treated her (and ourselves) to a buffet lunch at the local Indian restaurant. Needless to say everyone got their moneys worth, and it was a struggle walking home for the lot of us! My brother Stephen put in some extra effort as well by buying a cake and having it at the restaurant ready for our visit. Credit where its due on that one, it was a great surprise that mum clearly enjoyed! I've got her a present, but due to release dates she's not got it yet, and thanks to that she's pretty much figured out what it is!

Now similar to my dad, I've got a lot of respect for my mum. Parents are often taken for granted by kids but we need to make sure that doesn't happen. She's been through a lot over the years, putting up with us mainly, but also with (excuse the language) the cunt who shall not be named, and various other little things, yet she's still going strong after it all. And of course she has the knack of knowing if somethings up, but knowing not to pressure you into talking about something you'd rather keep in! I respect both my parents in quite different ways, but wouldn't trade either of them for the world, and i know my siblings would say the same.

Ok, enough of that now, time to move on to something quite unique and special that will be going on in September. As everyone knows i love whisky, and probably mention it more than is healthy! Well the guys that run Connosr.com who I've got to know fairly well have been working on what is now known as Pure Festival, Whisky Not Wellies. This is a 2 day event at the Relentless Garage in London which combines live bands and an introduction to whisky. All the details can be found on the website PureFestival.com, and i would ask you to check it out. It's a unique take on a festival and will surely be a lot of fun. I'll be helping out in one way or another, so i will see you there!

To finish I'll just mention the topic i was tweeting about a fair bit on Monday! The NFL lockout is finally over, an agreement has been reached and a full season will now take place! What's better is that its a ten year agreement with no opt out, so plenty of trouble free seasons are ahead! Free Agency now begins and teams start releasing and signing new players, and the excitement really begins to build up. I know i am looking forward to it, as are many others i speak to on Facebook and Twitter. There should be another London game in October as well, but details are still sketchy at the moment.

And that's it from me, thank you for reading another of these self-indulgent entries!

Monday, 18 July 2011

Fatherly Times

Hello one and all, time again for another blog from yours truly!

I don't say much about my old man on here, but thought that i would change that today. You see today is the old boys birthday, and myself and my brothers have just spent the weekend with him celebrating it. Saturday saw me, Ben and dad head to the local Bingo hall for some games, not the most extravagant of nights but it was good fun for all. It helped that both my dad and me walked away winners of course! Sunday we went to Southend to see my other brother Stephen and we spent the rainy day along the seafront playing prize bingo and sticking money in the 2p slider machines! Oh and we treated dad to a birthday dinner as well! Simple pleasures but we all had a good day and it helped clear a few heads after recent weeks.

I don't say it much, but i have a lot of respect for my dad, he is very technically minded and i would love to be able to do some of the things he does. My ability to make, build or fix things is shockingly poor, but dad finds it very easy to take something apart and put it back together again. I remember telling him once about that, and he got a little choked up! But i think both my brothers would say the same about his talents. He won't read this, but he knows we love him for who and what he is to us.

So moving on to another topic i say very little about, Golf. Now i don't play the game, I've tried and failed many a time, so the extent of my golfing prowess is limited to mini golf! But i do enjoy watching it, and the past two Majors have been particularly good fun to see. First the US Open as Rory McIlroy powered to an emphatic victory, and this past weekend as Darren Clarke finally, and deservedly, won his first Major in The Open. The passion shown by some of the sportsmen is excellent to see, and you can tell that they do it because they love what they do! Of course the money helps, but the guys get genuine enjoyment out of it, which as viewers you want to see. No matter how much i watch it i wouldn't take the game up, but i won't stop watching it that's for sure!

I won't venture towards the other sports i follow at the moment, as everything seems to be pretty quiet! It's the calm before the storm though as football season is just a couple of weeks away, and the NFL cba will reportedly be signed this week, so anticipation is building!

Mentioned last time about the quite expensive whisky show i was hoping to attend in October, well i will be getting a ticket as an early birthday present, and it looks like a relative will be coming with me! Its an uncle who isn't online so there's no fear of him seeing this! He enjoys a good whisky, but hasn't been able to try some of the really good quality stuff over the years, so i know that the opportunity to do so this October will be great for him!

And that's pretty much it for now, so thank you for reading!

Wednesday, 6 July 2011

A Catch Up!

I’ve become quite slack lately with these blogs, so I will make an effort to get them back on track and fill of useful ramblings and thoughts! Well I say useful, but that all depends on what you find useful!

There’s a lot of stuff going on in my head right now, and has been for a little while, but some things should stay there, and won’t be broadcast to the world (or at least the few people that read this). Got a few sport-related bits as usual, work as well, and some other bits.

To start with the most important thing, West Ham! It’s summer, which means the transfer rumour mill is in full flow, and you can never tell what’s right and what isn’t! With us being relegated there were bound to be players leaving, but I didn’t expect to be bringing in a player of the calibre of Kevin Nolan! That was a great bit of business by the Davids and of course Big Sam! I am optimistic for next season, but of course there is a long way to go and plenty of football to be played until I can relax again! The NFL is still on lockout, but things are looking better as the Owners and Player reps have been in solid talks since last week. Hopefully things will be sorted soon, as it’s nearly time for training camps etc to begin, and any delays to that will really impact on the length of the season! No only is the NFL having labour issues, but the NBA is now on lockout as well. Discussions have been taking place, however no progress seemed to be made and so everything has come to a grinding halt. Will there be a season this year? Well that’s the $64,000 question, nobody really knows yet. I hope both the NFL and NBA get their seasons going, as both my teams (New York Jets & Chicago Bulls) are in prime positions to go all the way to the respective championships this year.

Work-wise things are getting busy but everything is also settling down. I’ve officially been a CSDM for nearly 6 weeks now, and we’ve already made good progress with the running of the Customer Services part of the control centre. For me there are less staff to manage, everything is in a closer, smaller environment and it’s so much easier to handle than a bunch of stations with 40 odd staff! I’m also gaining a lot of knowledge from the operations side of things as well; I mean I’ve been on the customer services/retail side of the railway for over 10 years now, and it’s good to get some knowledge on how the whole thing runs from an operational perspective. The railways are operational businesses, so getting the knowledge in that department would be great for me with regards to the further years of my career. But at the moment it is just picking up knowledge, whether I use it in the near future or not is another matter I guess!

Whisky is a love of mine, maybe even an addiction, but I have limited the amount of bottles I’ve been adding to my collection as of late, due to money management and also the fact that I have around 10 bottles at present! 3 of my bottles though are quite special, and won’t be opened until I get a chance to share the contents with one of my uncles, who does love a whisky or two! The first is a bottle I paid £200 for a while back, the 30 year old Tomatin single malt which was bottled in 2006 and is one of only 1500 bottles produced. Next up is the replica of Shackleton’s Whisky, which is a recreation of the whisky found under the ice after being left behind by Ernest Shackleton over 100 years ago! It’s £100 a bottle, and is a special bottling that I’m looking forward to enjoying! Finally there is my Spirit Of Unity bottle, which is a unique blend created by 7 different independent distilleries in Scotland, and all the profits have gone to charities involved with the recent earthquake in Japan. Around 2000 bottles were made from what I understand, and this creation will never be repeated again, so to have a bottle is a great privilege!

Speaking of whisky, there is another whisky tasting show this coming October, similar to the one I attended last year (after paying £95 for a ticket). I reckon I’ll ask for the ticket to that as my birthday present from someone, as I know I will enjoy it! But anyway, that’s me for now, thank you for reading, if you’ve managed to get this far!

Monday, 13 June 2011

Another Railsports Success?

It’s been a while since I last sat down and gave a blog a serious bit of thought, so as a weekend away with work has just come to an end I reckoned it would be an ideal time to unleash one. Now at the moment there is a lot going on in my head, however this blog will be the usual sport/whisky ramble that you have surely become accustomed to by now!

First up I’ll talk about the weekend just gone, and a trip to Blackpool for an event known as Railsports. Every year the various Rail companies through the country put together and attend a set of sports games in Blackpool. Sports involved include football, netball, chess, cricket, rounders, table tennis and darts. My sport of choice for the past two years has been darts, and last year I was actually quite successful! Going in with no expectations I surprised myself and a few others by getting to the final of the singles tournament, so this year my hopes were high of either repeating that or maybe even going one step better. However that was not to be, after topping my qualification group with 3 wins (2-1, 2-0, 2-0) I choked in the quarter finals. I was able to keep playing though, as this year I had a doubles partner, and together we were able to get to the final of that competition. It was a close game, but eventually we lost, walking away with a silver medal. Now this gave me my second silver medal in as many years, I just hope that next year I can buck the trend and maybe, just maybe bring home the gold!

After that eventful day, we travelled home yesterday and I was hoping to catch the Formula 1 Canadian Grand Prix. Well I had no fear of missing it, getting home well before the pre-race show began at 5pm. I feel I have to mention the race as after sitting through what ended up as over 5 hours of television I could not have been more pleased with the result! The rain in Canada was horrendous, and after a safety car start the race got “red-flagged” and was essentially put on hold until the weather improved, which it did 2 hours later! The race started again under the safety car, and a bucket load of incidents occurred throughout, including aquaplaning, punctures, drive through penalties and spins. After the penultimate safety car incident, a certain Jenson Button was right at the back of the pack; however thanks to an excellent and inspired tyre change and some of the best driving we’ve seen in a long time, he made his way forward through the other racers. With less than 3 laps to go Button was in 2nd place and closing in on the leader fast! Vettel showed the world that he can be taken under pressure, as he made a mistake on the final lap, allowing Button to pass him and win the race! It was an outstanding race, and the end was well worth the wait we had to put up with until then!

Before all of that, there was the small matter of having a couple of days off from work! The main event during those days off was making my way to the ITV studios near Waterloo with my brother Stephen and his friends Jack & Phil to watch QI being recorded. Now I love the show, and think it’s fantastically entertaining every time, so watching it live got me quite excited! A lot of editing must be done to the show to ensure it goes out for just half hour or so, as we sat there watching Stephen Fry and the panel go through a seamless 90-odd minute show! It was mostly hilarious, although I must say I was a tiny bit disappointed with Lee Mack on there. A great experience though, and I would recommend going to a recording if you ever get the chance!

And finally, a brand new bottle of whisky was delivered to my house this morning, one that I ordered just a short while ago, and that was only released at the start of this month. It’s called Ardbeg Alligator, and there is a bit of a story to the name. It’s mainly down to the charring of the wood used to make the casks in which the spirit ages. The wood is charred to such a degree that it resembles the skin of an alligator, and that affects the taste and characteristics of the malt placed inside it! Looking forward to sampling it that’s for sure!

That’s about it from me this time, the NFL is still at a stand, the NBA has just seen new champions crowned (Dallas Mavericks) and West Ham are in the process of clearing out some rubbish and bringing in new guys under the tutelage of the new gaffer Sam Allardyce. There’s plenty more going on, but that’s all I will give you for now! Thank you for reading!

Saturday, 21 May 2011

The Final Conference

The NBA Playoffs are still moving onwards, and since I last waffled on about it a lot of things have changed!

I’ll start with the Western Conference, and last time I looked the San Antonio Spurs were about to be dropped out of the first round by the Memphis Grizzlies. Well the Spurs are usually a solid team and one that would perform well in the post-season; however they did fall by the wayside and were dropped out of the playoffs in spectacular fashion! Another team that I thought would do the business and make their way into the finals were the Los Angeles Lakers. However that idea couldn’t have been more wrong, as they were unceremoniously swept aside in 4 games by the Dallas Mavericks in the Conference Semi Finals!

Of course that put the Mavericks through to the Western Conference Finals, and their opponents are the Oklahoma City Thunder, who have gone past the Denver Nuggets and Memphis Grizzlies in their playoff run. The series is currently tied at 1 game each, with the 3rd game taking place tonight in Oklahoma.

Over to the East and my Chicago Bulls have pounded their way through into the Conference Finals, where they are currently taking on the Miami Heat. Chicago didn’t have it easy during the semi finals against the Hawks, as Atlanta took it to 6 games with a couple of tough victories. Thankfully though the better team won through in the end, with the Bulls continuing to have their best season since the last championship in 1998. Miami made the Conference finals by getting past the Philadelphia 76ers and then the Boston Celtics.

This series is also tied at 1 game a piece, with the 3rd game due to take place on Sunday night in Miami (as Chicago had home court advantage being the number 1 seed). There is a bit of history between these two teams, especially going back to last summer when the free agency period was going on. LeBron James, Dwayne Wade and Chris Bosh were three of the biggest free agents available in what was arguably the best free agent class in history, and Chicago had created salary cap room to sign one, if not two, of these guys and build a team around Derrick Rose. However “King” James chose to go to Miami, so Wade decided to remain there and Bosh went along for the ride. With that decision made, Chicago brought in Carlos Boozer, Kyle Korver and a couple of other guys to fill the team alongside mainstays Rose, Noah and Deng, and it has proved to be the right move so far.

To many Bulls fans a victory in this series against the Heat would be a bit of justice served, and personally I would love to see the Chicago Bulls make the NBA Finals at the expense of the Miami Heat! Plenty of basketball to be played yet, hopefully next time I bring it up we’ll be seeing the Bulls in their first finals since 1998!

Monday, 16 May 2011

Down In The Dumps

So that’s it, my beloved West Ham United have been condemned to at least a season in the Championship after being relegated from the Premiership this past weekend. It’s not as though we didn’t see it coming though, results this season have been shockingly poor, and most of the team have played poorly throughout the year. But no matter how predictable the end result was, it doesn’t make it any easier to deal with.

It has been a disaster from start to finish, with the team giving us false hope at times with decent cup runs and some huge victories against teams like Tottenham and Liverpool. However it was the way the team repeatedly collapsed midway through games that led to our downfall, the sheer stupidity and bloody-mindedness of the tactics and player selection didn’t help either. The fans of this wonderful club had high hopes when the ownership hassle was finally resolved over a season ago, but since then mistakes have been made on many counts, no more so than with the appointment, and resultant backing of Avram Grant.

Grant managed a Portsmouth side that he kept rooted to the bottom of the table last season, and this year kept up the trend by keeping us down there. There was slim hope right up until yesterday, where a win would take it down to the final day of the season, however Grant must have put in one of his outstanding (by that I mean shit) team talks at half time and after being 2-0 up, we lost 3-2 which ended our season then and there.

With that, just over an hour after the final whistle Avram Grant was finally sacked as West Ham manager, a decision that has come far too late in the day. Fans were calling for his head back in December/January, at least then a new guy would have had time to do something about the situation, however nothing was done and we are now in the predicament we’re in. The players that did well for us this season will undoubtedly leave the club to greener pastures, guys like Scott Parker, Demba Ba and Thomas Hitzlsperger. And although some of the crap are now out of contract, we’ll surely be left with a few that we’ll be unable to offload no matter how we try.

Of course a lot of work lies ahead, a new manager has to be found, one that has a proven record and one that can do the job of getting us back into the top flight, and players need to be brought in who have the desire and passion to play for the club and get the job done. Names are already being thrown around as to who should take over, and already us fans are mostly voicing our displeasure at the favourites of McLaren and Warnock, neither of whom are held in especially high regard by us. Fan choices range from Chris Hughton, through Paulo Di Canio and Julian Dicks. Personally I think Hughton would do a great job, even more so with someone like Dicks or Di Canio alongside him.

I can’t deny that this feeling hurts like hell. I’ve been through relegation before following the Hammers, and it’s not gotten any easier. I had resigned myself to going down, but it was being given false hope that really twisted the knife in. I could have taken it if we had been soundly beaten yesterday, but by going 2-0 up and coming so close to taking it to the last day of the season, the Hammers continued to do as they have all season and put the fans emotions through the ringer. I hate it, I feel down and absolutely gutted by the whole thing. Summer won’t be easy, and honestly I am dreading next season.

Friday, 29 April 2011

Draft Day Decisions

And so to my second sports related blog in fairly quick succession and this one is focused on the NFL and the current goings on there!

To start with, a note on the CBA, it’s still not been agreed! However a court has granted an injunction to lift the lockout, which means the players can return to team facilities again. There are so many different bits about the injunction though, and I won’t claim to know how it all works. But from what I understand the league year will start next week and the NFL will seemingly run on the 2010 rules. The draft was affected in the sense that players could not be traded for picks, a pick could only be traded for another pick (not necessarily the same year though). With that I would have thought trades would be less frequent in this draft, but as I’ll note later it didn’t stop the teams from shifting picks around.

I’ll admit I hadn’t seen much of the 2011 Draft Prospects before the first round of the draft took place last night, but I’ll detail some of the picks below and any thoughts I have on each one.

First on the clock were the Carolina Panthers, and it wasn’t a surprise as they selected Cam Newton, a quarterback out of Auburn. A lot of the pre-draft articles had Newton going to Carolina, so it was pretty much expected. Whether he can prove himself to be the franchise guy the team needs is obviously yet to be determined! Denver grabbed Von Miller, a Linebacker out of Texas, with the 2nd pick, which was closely followed by Buffalo selecting Alabama Defensive Tackle Marcell Dareus. An interesting selection was made at 4, as the Bengals looked to improve their receivers by bringing in AJ Green. The Bengals had TO and Ocho last season and didn’t make an impact, maybe clearing one or both of them out for the rookie and a free agent could change their fortunes in that respect.

Some of the picks will be just listed, mainly due to my lack of input on such matters! That starts with Arizona selecting Cornerback Patrick Peterson at 5! Atlanta had the 6th pick from Cleveland, using it on WR Julio Jones, whilst San Francisco grabbed DE Aldon Smith at 7. I’ve read a few opinions elsewhere and already some are saying that the 8th pick by the Titans could be a mistake, with QB Jack Locker being taken too early. The same has also been said for the Vikings taking QB Christian Ponder at 12, but you never know, these guys may just step up to the plate and make the difference needed? Just one more QB was selected this year in the first round, with that being Blaine Gabbert out of Missouri, who was taken at 10 by Jacksonville. This was a guy who some mock drafts had actually had going earlier, although to be honest being drafted first round shouldn’t be a disappointment for any rookie!

Generally the next block of the first round was defensively focused, with the Texans, Lions, Rams, Redskins and Chargers all selecting Defensive Ends or Defensive Tackles. Some trades took place later in the round; with the most significant being the New Orleans Saints trading up with the Patriots for the 28th pick to get Running Back Mark Ingram. Offensive Linebackers dominated the final half of the draft, with Mike Pouncey going to Miami, Nate Solder going to New England, Anthony Castonzo to Indianapolis, Danny Watkins to Philadelphia, James Carpenter to Seattle, and Gabe Carimi to Chicago.

My focus though was on the 30th selection, that of the New York Jets, and to be honest many of us had absolutely no idea who would be picked. Would the team trade down, up or just grab the best guy available at the time? Well that question was answered at around 4am this morning, as when on the clock the New York Jets used the 30th pick of the 2011 Draft to select Muhammad Wilkerson, a Defensive Tackle out of Temple. A decent pick given the players available and he will add something to the defensive line, giving it depth and some extra aggressiveness. Jets fans should be pleased with the pick, and from what I read already, it looks like they are! Now the focus goes to tonight and the following rounds, will we trade up for another pick?

The Playoffs Are Here!

Hello there one and all, it’s about time I caught up with a few things going on in the world of sports, so what follows will be two blogs in fairly quick succession! The second will be about the NFL, but first up is a catch up on the NBA Playoffs!

The first round of the 2011 NBA playoffs is coming to a close already, with 16 teams going down to just 8 for the Conference Semi Finals. Over in the West the Oklahoma Thunder have seen off the Denver Nuggets, Dallas have beaten Portland, and the Lakers sent the Hornets home to all get one step closer to the finals. The only first round series undecided yet is between the 1 seed San Antonio Spurs and 8 seed Memphis Grizzlies, where the underdogs are winning 3-2 overall! The East though are all set for the semis, with my Chicago Bulls beating the Indiana Pacers to set up a series against the Atlanta Hawks (who saw off the Orlando Magic), and the Boston Celtics will take on the Miami Heat after the teams beat the New York Knicks and Philadelphia 76ers respectively.

Miami are one of the favourites without question, if only because of their free agent pick up last summer! For those that don’t know, Miami kept hold of Dwayne Wade, and in the process managed to pick up both Chris Bosh and LeBron James. Now they haven’t been superb during the season, but people will find it hard to look past them or the Celtics for the top East spot. Of course, I have a different view, that of the Chicago Bulls going all the way. Chicago have had their best season since the 1997-98 championship year, finishing the regular season as the top seeded team and having the best record in the entire NBA. The team has been solid throughout, picking up huge wins when needed and being very tight on defence. The first round against Indiana wasn’t easy, as the Pacers have been determined and tough all year. However the quality won through in the end, as Chicago won the series in 5 games.

So this sets up a series against the Hawks, who the Bulls beat twice in the three encounters they had during the regular season. Chicago should be able to get past Atlanta in much the same fashion, especially with home advantage in their favour. Derrick Rose (who in my eyes should be league MVP) needs to get started quickly, and the rest of the team need to follow suit. It is a young Bulls squad, but they have the talent to make a huge impact on this postseason. The real test will be in the Conference Finals, as the Bulls will face either Boston or Miami, two quality teams who will surely raise their game as they progress in the playoffs.

Possible opponents in the Finals for Chicago? Well I would say its tough to see past the Spurs, but they are an aging team who are still struggling against Memphis. The only other option in my eyes would be the Los Angeles Lakers, a team that is still being led superbly by Kobe Bryant. He has a solid team around him and they can always do the job when it comes to the big games. Dallas can surprise a few people as well at times, but I can’t see them going all the way this season.

So to finish, the Chicago Bulls are my pick for getting to the Finals from the Eastern Conference, unsurprisingly! The second round of the playoffs start on Monday for Chicago at home to Atlanta, and I will be cheering on the Bulls as I have done all season long!

Saturday, 16 April 2011

Deceptively Optimistic

It’s that time once again for me to focus a blog on my beloved West Ham United. It’s been a while since I’ve ranted about the team, so I thought that with the time left in the season dwindling away it was prime time to bring them up again!

Being a West Ham fan isn’t easy, it never has been! The team will lift you up to the highest heights, and then drop you right back down to earth with a huge bump, then bring you right back up again, and so on! And generally there are more lows than highs, and this season follows that pattern! Recently there was a huge high around the club, after victories against Burnley (FA Cup), Liverpool and Stoke (Premiership). But the return to earth happened shortly after with a loss to Stoke in the FA Cup after playing a quite poor game of football.

A massive draw away to Tottenham then came our way, which raised hopes a little bit, however since then the team have played without passion and collapsed at home to Man Utd and away to Bolton. The league tells you all you need to know, bottom three with a shite goal difference, and optimism from the fans almost non-existent.

And that brings me to today, West Ham are at home to Aston Villa, a team hovering above the relegation dogfight, but still not 100% safe and clear. News from the club is that the player of the season Scott Parker is out for this game, and probably the following 2 as well (away to Chelsea and Man City). Things don’t look too positive for the encounter given how the majority of the team has performed so far this season, but 3 points is a must from this game.

I don’t want to be downbeat through this blog though; Premiership safety is still well within reach. The team needs to put in some massive performances and earn some impressive results over the next few weeks, and I along with every other Hammer out there will be backing them and cheering them on. A win today, depending on other results, could get us a spot or two out of the bottom 3, and the psychological benefits of that alone are immeasurable. Add to that a win without the player everyone seems to have been relying on, and it shows that the team can cope with the adversity and make the difference!

Now that I look back, it seems as though I am very pessimistic about West Hams chances of survival, when I actual fact I am fairly optimistic. 3 points today from Villa, at least 1 point from the next two tough away games, then winning our remaining home games will see us home and dry! I do believe, I will believe until things are impossible, as although West Ham drag us through the mud sometimes, they do raise us right back up without warning! So to finish, quite simply, COME ON YOU IRONS!

Tuesday, 12 April 2011

Much Needed Time Off

Blog time once again, and this one will enlighten you as to how I’ve spent my recent 12 days away from work, which to be honest have been fantastic! It was just a shame that it all had to end and I had to come back to work this past Monday.

My leave officially started after working an early shift on Tuesday 29th March, and it started by going to Wembley for my first full team England game. I’ve been to Wembley a few times before, but those were for NFL games, so I was quite excited to be finally seeing the full England team for the first time. The game was England vs. Ghana, and to be honest it was a bit of a second string England team on the night. However that didn’t detract from the atmosphere there, as it was absolutely electric. The game didn’t disappoint either, as it was end to end, and the Ghanaians put up one hell of a fight. It finished 1-1, and that was a fair result when all was said and done. Really enjoyable experience and one that I will be keen to replicate in the future!

After a day of doing bugger all, I ventured south of the river down to Horley to see two friends from work. Since I started at LOROL both Duncan and Helen have been good friends and they recently had a baby boy, Jack. I took a bit of time to head down there and visit them all, and really enjoyed seeing them. For a baby Jack is a lanky little fella, but it’s to be expected really with tall parents like those two! Also had the pleasure of seeing the old boss Louisa, who thankfully picked me up from the station, and remains great friends with them (she was in charge of all 3 of us when I first started!).

The next day saw me and Gemma head up to Glasgow, but all of that was covered in the previous blog entry! Upon returning to Canvey Island, very little was done for the first day! Tuesday I went round my brothers for the afternoon/night, where we spent the time drinking, playing ps3 and wii games, and watching TV! It’s not too often that me and my brother spend a bit of quality time together, so it was good to do! Wednesday, after going to see my dad during the afternoon, I spent the evening playing Darts against a bloke who used to work for me, Lee. Now I’ve never played him before, so I didn’t know what to expect, and after going 2-0 down I was a bit worried to be honest! Thankfully things turned my way after that, and through 28 games of darts I finally won 16-12!

And that was it really, apart from this past Saturday as I went to see my local non-league team play, Concord Rangers. They took on Horsham, and were clearly the better side throughout. The away team were dirty bastards, committing countless fouls, and their skipper was lucky to last as long as he did, before being sent off midway through the second half. Final score was 2-0 to Concord, and it was a fully deserved result for the only team on Canvey!

I should really touch on the events taking place at Upton Park, but I feel that it would take up a whole post, and that will follow within the next few days! Thanks for reading this far!

Monday, 4 April 2011

A Wonderful Distillery Experience

I had typed this blog entry out on my phone during my train journey home from Scotland yesterday, however due to technical issues it failed to upload and I lost the whole thing! So here is a second attempt at writing why I have had a fantastic weekend!

First a bit of background, and regular readers would know that I am a member of a whisky-based social networking website called Connosr.com. Well recently they held a random draw of members to attend a special event they were putting on at the Glengoyne Distillery just outside of Glasgow, and I was one of the lucky names drawn out of the hat. So after a bit of consideration I invited my other half Gemma so that we could make a bit of a weekend of it, and this past Friday we made our way up on the train. After a total of 5 or 6 hours of journey time we reached the hotel, called the Kirkhouse Inn located just outside Milngavie near Glasgow, and we both were pleasantly surprised. The place was very high quality, and considering we only paid £50 a night it was great value!

First on the to do list though was to head to the event hosted by Glengoyne at the distillery 5 minutes down the road. Upon arrival the Connosr.com founders Jean-Luc and Pierre along with the staff of the distillery greeted us, and were all given a dram of their standard 10yr bottling. I’ve previously emptied a bottle of the 10yr so knew what to expect with that one! After a brief introduction to the Distillery we were all given a VIP tour of the facility, which was excellently handled by the knowledgeable and friendly staff! Upon returning to the function room we were then handed a dram of their 12yr Cask Strength bottling, which lacked the smoothness I was familiar with from their other expressions. A small buffet was provided, and they we proceeded to sample the rest of their range. First was the 14yr bottling, which can only be bought in Marks and Spencer, then the 17yr (which I’ve already emptied a bottle of) followed by the 21yr. These were the "standard" bottles, and what followed were two quite special drams. First was the 23yr Single Cask bottling, of which there are only a handful of bottles actually left in existence! That was wonderful, but the next one was really special, the 40yr expression, which normally retails at £3,750 a bottle, was passed round for all to try, and they even allowed us to finish the entire bottle!

Of course this wasn’t all for nothing, as part of the experience the members of Connosr.com had to relay some of their thoughts regarding the drams to the Whiskypod. Now this is a video booth that the website have used at Whisky events previously, of which I have become a regular user, so I had no qualms about doing a few more this night! When all was said and done, I had recorded 4 and many others had done the same! It was a spectacular evening, and huge thanks go out to all the staff at Glengoyne for allowing the Connosr.com members to be a part of such a great event. They were friendly, knowledgeable, and helpful throughout, and could not be faulted. And of course thanks also go to Jean-Luc and Pierre of Connosr.com for putting this thing together.

I was also very impressed with Gemma, who in all honesty is not a whisky drinker, but she sampled every single one of the drams, and probably came up with one of the tasting notes of the night! It wasn’t her normal thing, but her, along with everyone else, had a fantastic time that evening. And to finish, I bought a bottle of the 21yr (for £90) and got a bottle of the 10yr for free, couldn’t argue with that deal!

The following day was payback time though, and both Gem and me went wandering around the city of Glasgow. Although it isn’t exactly the most touristy of places, it was a lovely day and we ended up seeing some wonderful sights, if only because of the drive into the city given to us by Eric and Laura, a couple of fellow Connosr.com members who kindly offered to drive us into town (and gave us a tour in the process)! A bit of shopping was done, and we went for lunch in the world famous Bon Accord pub, which has a huge selection of whiskies. This was a fact I should have thought of before ordering chilli for lunch, which burnt my mouth and would have altered the taste of any dram I would have wanted to try! All in all though we had a wonderful day around Glasgow though, and although our feet ached like hell afterwards it was worth it.

Back to the hotel for dinner, and we had worked up an appetite, so we both decided that as we were on our holidays it was time to spoil ourselves! We spent £25 each on our dinners, a 20oz mixed grill containing a lamb chop, pork chop, gammon steak, fillet steak and a venison sausage, complimented with sauté potatoes and a fried duck egg! It was an amazing meal, every bit of meat was superb without any gristle or fat, and it was worth the money! The following day we headed home, which due to the closure of the West Coast mainline would take a bit longer than the journey up! And that’s where my final thanks go to Gemma, as she managed both the journey up and the longer trip back without biting my head off due to her wanting a cigarette! Ok the journey home she bought a nicorette patch to help, but even so I think she did very well! And with that, I come to the end of the tale of the weekend, thank you for reading, and thanks again to all at Glengoyne and Connosr.com for a superb event!

Tuesday, 22 March 2011

A Simple Take On The Lockout

The NFL is currently in a state of limbo, things are extremely uncertain at the moment and neither the fans, players nor even the team owners know fully what is going on and what the future holds. First a bit of a back story, and then I’ve tried to collate what info I could find and put it simply for people like myself to understand!

In order for the NFL to keep going, it has a set of terms and conditions that is agreed between the NFL Team Owners, the NFL and the Players Union (NFLPA) called the Collective Bargaining Agreement. This determines how the league is run, what the salary cap for teams is, benefits for players either injured or retired, how many games there are in a season, and so much more. So understandably, this agreement has to be extremely detailed and set in stone fir the league to work, and the latest one expired earlier this month. The NFL, Owners and NFLPA were in negotiations right up until the last minute, and even after a 7 day extension still a deal could not be agreed.

The fact that a deal could not be agreed led to a few things happening which could have a huge impact on the upcoming 2011 NFL Season. The first thing that occurred was that the NFLPA decertified itself, which means that it is no longer the union for players to bargain collectively with the NFL. The NFLPA now just remains a Professional Association, and the players (well, a group of players) have taken out private litigation against the league. This tactic worked during the 80s when the last major disagreement occurred, as the NFL lost in the courts over a Free Agency issue. Players involved with the litigation this time include big names such as Tom Brady, Peyton Manning and Drew Brees.

Along with the decertification of the NFLPA, the NFL Owners imposed a Lockout, which is pretty much exactly what it sounds like. The Owners essentially lock out their team facilities, no practices take place, no players can be signed, mini camps and training camps don’t happen, the players don’t receive any health insurance or any other benefits they normally get, and nearly everything comes to a halt. The only things that do not stop are the Combine (where potential draftees are worked out and put through their paces) and the Draft (which is where teams pick players from the crop of college players). With the draft, the teams can select players, but they can’t sign them to a contract until a new CBA has been put in place!

So that’s what both sides have done, and for the moment nothing seems to be moving. A lot seems to be leveraged on the private litigation taking place, but as fans we don’t care about that really. We want to see the team owners get their backsides round a table and negotiate a new agreement, we want to see a full 2011 NFL season, we want to see our teams and players get out there every week and play football! The message you pick up from the players is that they want to play, but as for the owners, well you don’t hear much of anything, and to be honest that can be the most frustrating thing of all. To us fans it doesn’t look like the owners, or the NFL are doing all they can to get a 2011 season going. I am but one voice in this issue, and there are many others out there who can explain it better than me! But to finish this blog I will say this, NFL fans want a season, and it’s about time the league proved they do too.

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