Monday, 24 January 2011

Musical Ups and Sporting Downs

This past weekend has given me two sporting disappointments, but I’ll go into them later on in the blog, first I’ll talk about something that didn’t disappoint, the Thin Lizzy gig on Saturday night. On Friday I was told by my brother Ben that he would have to work and wouldn’t be able to go (although he’d already booked the night off), so on the day of the gig I was trying desperately to find someone to come with me and take the spare ticket. Thankfully my other brother Stephen came through and helped me out. I had heard a fairly poor review of a Lizzy gig a few weeks prior from a mate, and was hoping that it would be better than that! After two pretty impressive support acts (Supersuckers and FM), the repackaged Thin Lizzy took to the stage. They stuck to the classics, and on the main stuck to how the songs originally sounded. However their rendition of Whiskey In The Jar sounded like a mix of the old Lizzy version and the Metallica cover. Now obviously this line-up would sound different, Phil Lynott passed away many years ago, but the singer, Ricky Warwick, didn’t do a bad job to be fair. I would say that his voice would be one you’d find on a Lizzy tribute band, not perfect, but in the right direction. A couple of other points to make, Scott Gorham may be an old bugger but damn he still can play that guitar like a pro, and I never realised exactly how good a guitarist Vivian Campbell was, he was fantastic. They did two encores, the fist containing one of my favourite Lizzy tracks, their cover of the Bob Seger track “Rosalie”. The second was a decent enough version of “Black Rose” to end the night. The gig made me realise one main thing though, how much I wish I had been lucky enough to have seen the original Lizzy line up live with Phil leading the way.

Now to the disappointments of the weekend, and the first one came on Saturday afternoon when West Ham played at Everton. Having only one away win in the league this season, the opportunity was there to make it two, as the Hammers came out fighting. Through the goal machine that now is Jonathan Spector West Ham took a deserved lead, but were pegged back late on. For a welcome change the team kept going and were extremely determined, and it paid off with 9 minutes to go as Frederic Piquionne stuck his header in the net. The thing that pissed a lot of people off though was what followed, as Piquionne earned his second booking for celebrating with the fans (a fucking shambles if you ask me) and was sent off. Everton were able to capitalise and score another equaliser in the 92nd minute, costing the Hammers two vital points. Now I have always been against the rule that means players are booked for celebrating goals. People moan about the passion leaving the game, but when a player shows a bit of emotion and passion like this he ends up getting booked.

Whilst on the subject of West Ham, another story has been in the papers a fair bit lately, and that’s been the proposed move of the club to the new Olympic Stadium being built in Stratford. Personally I am against the move, Upton Park is the home of the Hammers and has been for over 100 years, moving will not do the club any good. Surely the best thing to do would be to upgrade the current stadium, rather than shift the whole thing down the road, and put a running track between the fans and the pitch. Spurs have also thrown their names into the hat in trying to get the stadium, and it’s an even bigger mistake for them. They’d be moving from North London to East London, a cardinal sin to many football fans, and would demolish the stadium before rebuilding it for their own purposes. Both clubs should leave the stadium alone, it should remain in use for Athletics and maybe events like concerts etc. Football should be kept as far away from that stadium as possible, and I know from the fellow Hammers on twitter than many people feel the same way. The decision was due to be made this coming Friday, but that’s been put back now, so we’ll have to wait a bit longer until a decision is finally made.

The second sporting disappointment happened last night in the NFL. Most of you know I am a New York Jets fan, and this season they had made an impact and go through to the AFC Championship game for the second year in a row. After beating the Indianapolis Colts and New England Patriots on the road in the two previous playoff rounds, confidence was high going into the game away at the Pittsburgh Steelers. Things sadly didn’t go to plan in the first half though, the Steelers quite literally ran right through the Jets defence, and the Jets offence didn’t really turn up. It wasn’t nice viewing in all honesty, as Pittsburgh quite easily opened up a 24-0 lead. Nick Folk hit a field goal towards the end of the second quarter to finally get the Jets on the board, but I’ll be honest, I couldn’t sit through another half of that and actually went to bed. The second half was quite different, as the Jets D woke up and kept the Steelers from scoring, and the offense were able to penetrate and put another 16 points on the board. The comeback wasn’t enough though, and another season came to an abrupt end. The Jets played well to get to where they were, and I along with many other fans are extremely proud of the players, it’s not easy to make two AFC Championship games in a row. Things may well be different next year, hopefully with the team going one game further, but the big concern is that the playing staff will be different. The CBA still being discussed could have a huge impact on the team and with some contracts ending/up for renewal there could be some interesting trades/moves during the off-season. I live in hope of seeing the Jets make a Superbowl, there is always next year.

And with that I come to the end of this little blog. If you’ve managed to read this far down, then thank you for reading!

Tuesday, 18 January 2011

A Contrast In Fortunes

The past couple of weeks have seen a lot of newspaper coverage focused on West Ham United, and more specifically the gaffer Avram Grant. After a great Xmas period, the club suffered a humiliating loss to Newcastle, but then two cup games followed. First up was Barnsley in the FA Cup, which the Hammers struggled through 2-0, and following that was the first leg of the Carling Cup semi final against Birmingham. This truly was a game of two halves, as the first half saw West Ham dominate and rule the game, although only going in at half time 1-0 up. The second half saw a different Hammers team come out, they were diabolical, and allowed the Brum to equalise with ease. It looked as though Birmingham would carry on and tear us apart, but thankfully a huge slice of luck allowed West Ham to score and win 2-1. The second leg is next week, so there is still a long way to go. This past weekend a news story “broke” saying that Avram Grant would be sacked no matter what after the game against Arsenal, and Martin O’Neill would take over. That didn’t put the team in the best mindset to be honest, and we easily fell 3-0 to the superior Gunners. More confusion has continued since then, reporting that O’Neill turned the club down, that Big Sam was on his way in, but still nothing official came from the club. Only today, days after the shambles of Saturday, have the club come out with a statement stating they are “committed to retaining Avram Grant as manager” of the club.

I have wanted Avram out for a while, but he has been treated abysmally, and the players/fans have also been dragged through the mud with him. West Ham was once a proud club with a rich tradition; however the current board seem to be doing all they can to ruin that, even though they claim to be fans themselves. Something needs to be done and soon, relegation would be a horrific outcome for the club, and I dread to think what would happen if it were to become a reality.

Things are very different over in the NFL when it comes to the team I follow. Just over a week ago the New York Jets pulled off a last minute victory over Peyton Manning and his Indianapolis Colts in the Wild Card round of the NFL Playoffs. This set up a visit to Foxborough, and a game against long time rivals the New England Patriots. A lot was said by the Jets players and coaches in the lead up to the game, some of which causing a bit of upset in the Patriots camp. But to be honest, Jets fans know that talking like that is part of being a Jet! Head coach Rex Ryan had the team fired up for Sunday’s game, and it showed throughout. QB Mark Sanchez looked a bit shaky at first, but he soon sharpened up and led the Jets to a 14-3 half time lead after touchdown passes to LT and Braylon Edwards. The Patriots, and more specifically Tom Brady, were being pounded, and although New England scored a touchdown and 2-point conversion to make it 14-11 early in the 3rd, the Jets responded right back with a fantastic drive culminating in a Santonio Holmes TD. Another TD late in the game from Shonne Green gave the Jets a huge 28-21 victory over their long time rivals. This win ensured the NY Jets were heading to the AFC Championship Game for the 2nd year in a row, this time away to the Pittsburgh Steelers. One more win would take New York to its first Superbowl since their victory at Superbowl 3!

Speaking of the Superbowl, you can now apply for tickets to the Superbash, the NFL’s UK party held at the IndigO2 in London. This party begins around 8pm, and along with entertainment through the evening, the Superbowl is shown on huge HD screens through the venue. I’ve applied for tickets for the past 4 years but never been lucky enough to get any. I’m hoping that this year is different, and it would make it extra special if the Jets were to make it through to the big game. With that in mind, the deadline to apply for tickets is January 26th, so plenty of time for people to apply, and the Conference Championships take place this coming Sunday, the 23rd January. So by the end of next week it could all be coming together!

Moving on and work is going well. Just before Xmas I relocated to the control room at LOROL HQ in Swiss Cottage, and since then I’ve really enjoyed the role. At the moment it is on a seconded basis, but plans are in place to make the move permanent sooner rather than later. I hope it goes through, as the job is a lot less stressful, easier to manage, and I am really enjoying it. There are three of us in the role, and at the moment its a Monday to Friday job. Weekends will be factored in sooner or later, but I’m used to working weekends so it’s no real bother.

That is all for now, as you have realised the focus is on sport, but that’s no real surprise to regular readers is it! Thank you for reading!

Saturday, 8 January 2011

A Time To Take Away

As you all know, Christmas is a time of giving, and a time of generosity. You give presents to your loved ones, you eat until your about to burst, it’s basically a time of excess. And the period of time that follows, mainly January, is a time for taking away. You take away your food by going on a diet, you take away your treats by cutting down your costs, and additionally West Ham took away their fans hopes in the space of 90 minutes. I mentioned it in my last blog, but West Ham had a pretty good festive period, going unbeaten with 2 wins and 2 draws, eventually taking them out of the relegation zone. Well Wednesday night all that hard work was wasted and thrown down the toilet in a very short space of time. Before the first half of the game had even finished, West Ham were 3-0 down to Newcastle, who hadn’t even put out a first choice 11! There was no desire in the Hammers squad, no effort, and it looked as though they had given up before they’d even begun. The final result was 5-0, and it left a very sour taste in every Hammers fans mouth. Changes are needed, but whether they will happen in time to turn things around who knows. The league is still very close, 14th place is on 22 points and 20th is on 20, so a win or two can change things, but the results have been so unpredictable that you can’t rely on one or two games. It needs to be a consistent run of results to get you out of trouble.

For anybody who read my last blog you’ll know that the NFL Playoffs begin this weekend. Saturday night will see the New York Jets take on the Indianapolis Colts and the New Orleans Saints face the Seattle Seahawks. Sunday will see the Baltimore Ravens battle the Kansas City Chiefs and the Philadelphia Eagles take on the Green Bay Packers. The following week is the Divisional playoffs, followed by the Conference finals, and then the Pro Bowl will fill up the next week before the Superbowl takes place on Sunday February 6th. I also mentioned the CBA talks, but there is one more NFL related event that is worth looking forward to now, and that’s the Draft. I’ve mentioned this many a time over the years, and will be looking forward to this one again. It’s got a dodgy bit of scheduling though, as its taking place in late April, right through the Royal Wedding! For those that don’t know, the Draft is where the top college football players are picked and signed by the NFL teams, ad in the interests of fairness, the worst team from the previous season gets the first pick of the players. This allows the quality players to be spread fairly evenly around the league, and personally I think it’s a great format.

Wednesday night may have been a pile of turd for West Ham fans, but it also marked my return to Darts after a long lay-off. Before Christmas a game or two were cancelled, and we had a Christmas break as well, so it was good to get back to playing in the league that night. The result didn’t quite go our way though, scraping a 5-5 draw overall. It was a bit of a kick as when we played this team previously we’d beaten them 9-1! It was a close call as well, as we just about managed to have the 6 players required for the game! There was a good note or two though; Ricky (our reserve to the reserve) won his first solo leg in excellent and surprising style! Ricky plays when we are desperate to put it simply, and it was a superb result seeing him win a leg! I wasn’t happy with how I played, and I know I need to practice more, just gotta make sure I do it!

A shorter edition this time around, maybe I just haven’t got that much to say! Shocking I know, but on a serious note, thanks for reading!

Monday, 3 January 2011

Negotiating Another Number

Welcome to 2011, and my first blog of the New Year! Not an amazing experience for you I’m sure, but it’ll keep you occupied for a little while at least! Again this will be mainly sports orientated, with the playoffs and CBA being big topics in the NFL. It’s also been a good festive period for the Hammers as well, and the busiest month in the football season has just begun.

So, this past weekend saw the end of the regular NFL season, 4 pre-season weeks and 17 regular season weeks have seen some interesting results leaving us with 12 teams ready to fight for a place in the Superbowl. In the AFC the Jets and Ravens were wild cards, along with the division winning Chiefs, Patriots, Steelers and Colts. Over in the NFC the Saints and Packers made it through as wild cards, whereas the Bears, Eagles, Seahawks and Falcons all won their divisions. The two division winners with the best records in each conference get the first weekend off, and face the winners of the Wild Card games. The most important Wild Card game for me will take place this coming Saturday, as the New York Jets take on the Indianapolis Colts. Now the Colts beat the Jets in last year’s conference final, so the Jets will be up for revenge! If we get through there, then next up are the Patriots, and it’ll be another time for seeking revenge after the drubbing they gave the Jets a few weeks back. More than likely it would be the Steelers up in the conference final, and they are beatable! The Jets have a lot of work to do, but the key point is that it can be done, a Superbowl appearance, and maybe even victory, is not unreasonable to think about for Gang Green.

When the playoffs and Superbowl come to an end in early February the focus will shift to the ongoing negotiations between the NFLPA (Players Union) and the NFL. The current CBA (Collective Bargaining Agreement, which is basically the players terms and conditions) runs out in early March, and if nothing is agreed then it will mean that a lockout is very possible. This means that the season will start late, if it starts at all, and it would disrupt a lot of NFL events. The Commissioner of the NFL Roger Goodell is confident an agreement will be reached, and has sent out a letter to thousands of NFL fans via email saying that. Nothing will be confirmed just yet, but for the fans sake I hope that something gets done quickly and that a full season goes ahead. I also have an ulterior motive, as if the CBA gets agreed quickly enough then its more likely that a game will be back over here in London! I’m hoping as well that the Jets will make the trip, and I’m encouraged after talking to the EVP of the organisation on Twitter. Matt Higgins is a high profile Jets exec, and he is a rarity as he regularly contacts and replies to fans who email/tweet him. He comes across as a nice guy, and I’m glad he’s optimistic about bringing the Jets to the UK in the next couple of years.

Sticking with the NFL, and something has occurred this summer that has happened for 2 of the last 3 years, Brett Favre has announced his retirement from the game. Over this season he has looked worse and worse, and in a way he has damaged his own legacy. Favre had many great years at Green Bay, and probably should have walked away when that ended like others have (Marino etc). However he came back and spent a year with the Jets, starting well but trailing off towards the end of the season, and then he spent another two years with the Minnesota Vikings. He never returned to his best, and in my opinion should really have jacked it in a couple of years ago. Ok I admit this is with hindsight, as when the Jets first picked him up I was very excited and hoped for the best! So it’s come to an end for him, hopefully his legacy will not be hurt too much, and I’m sure he’ll be a shoe-in for the Hall of Fame when he becomes eligible.  

Heading back home and the Hammers have had a blinder of a Christmas period, picking up 7 points from their last 3 games. These points lifted the team out of the bottom three for the first time this season, and trust me when I say it was a huge relief to see that happen! It’s not over by a long shot though, as the bottom 8 are only separated by just 4 points and it can all change in a day. This coming Wednesday there is another set of games, so the Hammers need to pick up more points and stay out of the drop zone! With the New Year comes the dreaded transfer window, a month of rumours and near misses with the papers claiming players are going here, there and everywhere. West Ham need to build up the squad, so I’m hoping we’ll not lose any good players, and bring in solid guys to add to the team.

2011 is now here and there’s a lot to look forward to, as well as a lot not to, including the VAT increase to 20%! Nobody likes that! But as for things to look forward to, another great year of sport for the NFL (hopefully), the NBA, football, cricket, golf and much more. Some great rock gigs are happening, including Rush,  Whitesnake, Black Country Communion, Journey , Foreigner, Peter Frampton and so much more. Plus for my own personal enjoyment there is also Whisky Live London, hopefully another Whisky Show, and the Great British Beer Festival. I’m not an alcoholic, honest!

And that’s it for the first edition of 2011, thank you for reading!

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