Wednesday, January 30, 2008

What to do with a former England captain and football legend?

He’s a footballing legend with an international pedigree. He’s won winners medals on the pitch at the highest levels of European competition and has achieved success as a player outside England. Many may think that this record of achievement, and at times downright adulation, by both fans and the media would mean that he has worked to earn the respect of all the football community. But within the next few weeks decisions will be made which to will have to use both the heart and the head, and will begin the new process of defining the new manager of the international team.

Terry Butcher and David Beckham require need to be dealt with in a similar way if George Burley and Fabio Capello are to build respect and achieve success in their new posts.

Capello needs to use his head and put aside the public clamour for a token place in the England team for Beckham in their next match against Switzerland. It is, no doubt, a temptation for the new England manager to use the LA Galaxy player as a human shield from the often rabid English redtops, a measure to avert attention from the inevitable challenges he’ll face on the field as he builds and shapes his own team from the smouldering wreckage Steve McLaren has left behind. But as the first act of significance of a new managerial post it would send out unhelpful messages which will prevent future progress for the England team. Capello cannot afford to send the message that he will be swayed by media hype or player pressure. He must be guided by a belief in his own abilities and the desire to win and to realise the huge, and as yet unfulfilled, potential of English football to regularly compete at the World Cups and European Championships.

David Beckham, for all his undoubted skills on the pitch, is the past and not the future for England. Beckham didn’t move to LA to maintain his position at the peak of on-field prowess, he know himself that the game’s up. His inclusion will be an impediment for England and cannot contribute to the development of the team or the confidence of any of his likely replacements in Lennon or Wright-Phillips. Capello, who dropped Beckham at Real Madrid, must do so again if he’s to succeed with England in the long-term.

The imminent appointment of Terry Butcher as an assistant to George Burley at Scotland has raised the hackles of a few of the Tartan Army, and several of Scottish football’s many bigots. Butcher has through his past success managed to put out both the anti-Rangers and anti-English elements of the Scotland support, and so will inevitably face a mixed reaction in his early period in charge. But the fact remains that the vast majority of Scotland fans yearn for success on the pitch to match the spectacular achievements in the bars and city squares of Europe that our fans have achieved over the past twenty years. I’m not a fan of Berti Voghts, but that was because he was rubbish, not because he was German.

I don’t want Butcher to wear a kilt for a double page Daily Record spread the day of our game against Croatia. I don’t want some faux patriotism from him, or to see him belt out ‘Flower of Scotland’ because it will make the bigots hate him less. I don’t want him not to be an English football legend.

I want him to provide inspiration and sound advice to Scotland’s up and coming talent. I want him to help make Stephen McManus and Andy Webster half the player at an international level he was, because it that’s the case we’ll have a great chance to qualify for the next World Cup. I want him to do the job he’s been asked to do by the new manager, because George Burley, like Fabio Capello, deserves a fair chance to make his own mark at international level, and if that means Terry Butcher then so be it. His appointment has to be a footballing decision, not an emotional one.

The same Scotland fans who cheered Nigel Quashie’s goal against Trinidad and Tobago and laughed with him as he kissed the badge for the fans as we sang ‘You’re Not English Any More’ will also accept Butcher if he demonstrates professionalism off the pitch and shows real commitment to the team. I hope Terry Butcher is the most popular Assistant Manager in Scottish football history, because if he is I’ll be watching the team in the World Cup finals in 2010.

Friday, January 25, 2008

The brightest jewel in my crown.....

With a mother from Ayr,and being well within school-trip range of Burns' Cottage, I'd have been hard pressed not to have an interest in Scotland's national poet. When Debbie and I thought about what sort of wedding we'd like to have last year we wanted the poetry and songs of Burns to be part of it. My sister Rachel's reading of 'O Wert Thou in the Cauld Blast' was one of the day's highlights for me, and Debbie and I were so happy to have her mother's friend Sheena sing "My Love is Like a Red, Red Rose" in the church. She was wonderful too, as you can see from the picture of me (above) listening from the side after we signed the register. I don't recall ever seeing this Burns poem before I saw it in Lizzie MacGregor and Liz Lochhead's wonderful book of Scottish readings for weddings, so today seems like an appropriate day to share. Enjoy!

Robert Burns: O, Wert Thou In The Cauld Blast O, wert thou in the cauld blast On yonder lea, on yonder lea, My plaidie to the angry airt, I'd shelter thee, I'd shelter thee, Or did Misfortune's bitter storms Around thee blaw, around thee blaw, Thy bield should be my bosom, To share it a', to share it a'.

Or were I in the wildest waste, Sae black and bare, sae black and bare, The desert were a Paradise, If thou wert there, if thou wert there. Or were I monarch of the globe, Wi' thee to reign, wi' thee to reign, The brightest jewel in my crown Wad be my queen, wad be my queen.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Congatulations George Burley!

George Burley's imminent appointment as the new Scotland manager is good news for the National team. He's well respected (although does Craig Brown hate anyone - he seems such a reasonable man), has a track record of achievement in management and hates Vladimir Romanov. What more could a Scottish football fan ask for? Mark McGhee's generous praise for Burley, especially given that he was told the news while being interviewed on Sky Sports, is just another reason why the Motherwell manager is held with increasing respect by fans. The longer Motherwell can hold on to him the better. Now, if only the SFA would hurry up and send me a new renewal form for the Supporters Club.....

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Don’t Write off Rudy

His late starting strategy means that the Republican hopeful’s poll ratings were bound to fall.

While some UK commentators have already started writing off Rudy Giuliani’s campaign for the Republican nomination, it’s far from over for the former Mayor of New York. Giuliani’s strategy was clear from the start; he would let the other candidates fight it out early on in the campaign while he concentrated on the big ticket states which go to the polls later in the campaign.

With none of the others able to build real momentum by winning two of out of two in Iowa and New Hampshire, neither Romney (who now has most delegates - see left) nor McCain (who is topping the national polls for the first time) can be said to be leading the charge.

Given the focus on the state by state races, it would be expected that Giuliani’s relative lack of profile would have a short-term effect on his national polling numbers, but those who write him off do so at their own peril. ‘Super Tuesday’ brings Florida, California and New Jersey to the polls, and so can still be a launchpad for this candidate. McCain’s stated lead in Florida is within the margin of error making the race neck and neck, while Giuliani’s local credentials must put him in the driving seat in New Jersey. Although McCain looks ahead in a close race in California, if Giuliani can win two out of these three significant states he’ll be up and running and may be able to put real pressure on the Huckabee and Romney campaigns.

There are four strong candidates still in the Republican contest with the vast majority of states still to choose their candidate. It’s not over yet for Giuliani.

Saturday, January 19, 2008

A backward step for Cheeky Boy?

Scottish coverage of James McFadden’s move to Birmingham has been almost entirely positive and uncritical. His genius displays for Scotland (and especially that goal) have cemented his good reputation in the minds of the Tartan Army, and so it’s definitely the case that his move has been seen as a positive move which will guarantee him the regular first team starts the English Premiership he richly deserves, or so seems to be the prevailing opinion.

I’m not so easily convinced, however, that this is the right move for him right now. While he has acknowledged the inconsistency in his form, Everton fans also seem to be of a mind that although he will be missed by fans getting £6m for a ‘luxury player’ who scored 18 goals in 136 games for the club has been good business.

Although they haven’t set the heather on fire, Everton have been a consistent force in the Premiership in the last few seasons with decent finishing positions in the league. Birmingham, on the other hand, are hovering above the bottom three on goal difference. The main question must be whether, given his inconsistency at club level, are McFadden’s talents better employed in a team going forward or one who have to grind out another 20 points before the end of the season to avoid the drop? I’ve not seen a great deal of Kenny Miller’s games for Derby, but although it’s clear that he’s doing the best he can, it’s impossible to fulfil your full potential as an attacking player when playing for a team who are constantly forced onto the back foot.

So fingers crossed for Cheeky Boy, and here’s hoping he can produce the same kind of match-winning performances for McLeish in the Premiership as he has delivered for Scotland. At 24 he needs to be playing top-class football, not in the English Championship.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Scotland Shortlist: My Verdict

This week the SFA will be interviewing their chosen four candidates for the Scotland Manager's job.  I  don't envy their task, as their choice will be not only between these four individuals, but what style of management we'll have for our resurgent team, and how that will shape the development of international football in Scotland.

So what's the verdict so far on the shortlist?

Graeme Souness:
First class pedigree as a player as captain of Liverpool and Scotland, mixed fortunes as a manager. Even Rangers supporters who flocked back to Ibrox during his reign recognise his reliance on the chequebook as a management tool, sometimes with mixed results – e.g. Terry Butcher and Colin West were 2 of his first signings.  Since leaving Glasgow, Souness has failed to reproduce anywhere near the impressive results seen at Rangers at a string of clubs across Europe.  His recent track record as a manager seems to be to confined to leaving the club before too much long-term damage has been done.  

Special powers – the moustache.  Tackling Steaua Bucharest players.

Tommy Burns:
2 words – Berti Voghts.  He was there and is complicit in the failure.  While he redeemed himself slightly under Walter Smith, this proves that he's better as a No. 2 rather than his own man.  As a manager in his own right, winning a single Scottish Cup in three years at Celtic is not a successful record.

Special powers – Ginger, speaks some German.

George Burley:
A solid player with European success, Burly performed managerial miracles at Ipswich in 1999-2001 taking them from the English Championship to Europe. In the space of 10 unbeaten games made Hearts favourites for the Premier League, before leaving in the face of Vladimir Romanov's interference in the team. His fair performance since at Southampton has not been up to his previous standard.  

Special powers – hates Vladimir Romanov.

Mark McGhee:
Played under Ferguson at Aberdeen, successful spells at Celtic and in Germany . Solid record in management, but has not managed a team at the highest level. Even as a Motherwell fan I can't argue that that this has changes this season. What he has a track record in is building up teams with limited resources to achieve relative success. Good with the media, his teams play exciting attacking football.

Special powers – Likeable, plays 3 up front.

I think it's a straight choice between Burley and McGhee, much as it hurts to nominate a manager who may take Motherwell to Europe next year. Both have all the required experience and a good record in management, and would have the support of fans (or at least, neither are hated by one side of teh Old Firm).

We'll know soon enough.  

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Free Wifi on the train

If I'd have known about the free internet access on the National Express East Coast train from Glasgow Central to Edinburgh, I may have spared myself the £100 I spent on this. :(

Ah well, happy days! All I have to do now is work out why Google now thinks that I'm in Sweden, when I'm actually travelling through Wishaw at 70 miles an hour......

Why all the polls are wrong

Opinion polls are political heroin. You know they're no good over the long term, but they provide a short-term hit for political junkies and despite their inherent, and significant, problems it's possible to function with them from day to day. And they cost a lot of money.

But the problem with opinion polls is that no individual poll is reliably accurate.

The 1992 General Election was seen as a watershed in political opinion polling in the UK, when the professionals got it (very) wrong and predicted a victory for Neil Kinnock's Labour Party even up to the exit polls carried out for that night's TV coverage. More recently, polls in New Hampshire which showed a clear advantage for Barack Obama left many commentators on both sides of the Atlantic with egg on their faces. In Scotland, there have been wildly different results for political opinion polls carried out in roughly the same time.

Significantly, the manner in which the UK polling organisations subsequently tightened up their act and tried to introduce a greater degree of 'science' into the way that they interpreted the raw data they collect is the reason that we can't infer any great significance in a single opinion poll. Because different organisations have different systems for presenting, for example, an individual's likelihood to vote, (some only count respondents who rate their likelihood to vote as greater than 7 or 8 out of 10, while some don't ask this question as a matter of course) or a slightly tweaked demographic model (or none) which they use to plug the statistical gaps in their data collection, it's a fact that different organisations would present different headline 'results' using the exact same questions and answers. Polls carried out by the YouGov for the SNP the Telegraph, in November 2006 in the run up to last year's election which were carried out at the same time had different results, mainly because the questions asked were slightly different.

When you then factor in the relative merits of phone polling (generally less accurate) versus internet polling (YouGov produced the most accurate polls for the last General Election, but was out in last year's Scottish Election), and the often different questions posed to try to examine the same issue it's even more apparent that polls can't all be 'right'. That's why they're all wrong.

So, as an aide memoir, here's a short checklist on what to look for if you want a poll that's less inaccurate than others:

1. Any poll by an organisation which isn't in the British Polling Council should be immediately discounted. Member organisations are required to publish their full data of any questions released to the media if asked, so it can be held up to independent scrutiny. Scottish Opinion is one company which does not do this in Scotland and so it's not possible to compare their methods against other operators. Scottish Opinion polls of voting intention in Scotland in the last year have been the most volatile of all the polling organisations over this period and appeared to show wild swings in opinion when other polls showed steady trends.

2. A poll with a small sample is not reliable. You need a big sample (<900>

3. Don't look at the snapshot, look at the trends over time. Even a poll with a dodgy methodology will, if applied consistently, show trends over time. You may not be able to say with 100% confidence that polling levels for Political Party A are at X percent, but you will be able to say whether support is rising or falling over time if the questions are the same.

4. Beware of shy voters and the 'spiral of silence' Research has shown that there is a tendency for some voters not to want to reveal a party preference they perceive to be unpopular or unfashionable. So in the UK voters have been less inclined to declare their support for the Conservative Party, while there has been some discussion of whether in New Hampshire, Barack Obama 'suffered' from an inflated support rating as voters did not want to be perceived as having a racial bias against him when asked to choose between the candidates for the Democratic Presidential nominee.

So, polling is not an exact science, governed by arithmetical certainty. It's a social science, shaped by opinions and affected by direct interaction with fallible human beings. And that's why all opinion polls are wrong.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

McGhee or not McGhee.....

.....that is the question.

As a Motherwell fan, I’m delighted at the performance of Mark McGhee since his appointment last summer, and know he’s our best bet to secure success in the coming years as he builds his team. But as a Scotland fan, I know that he’s the best in a mediocre bunch who have been shortlisted. None of the other candidates, Craig Levein, Joe Jordan, Billy Davies, and Jim Jefferies, have the track record of success that McGhee has at club level, who has achieved tangible success with every team he has managed.

So today’s interview with Graham Spiers in The Times gave a reassuring message. While it looks though he would want the Scotland job if offered, he’s not going to leave Motherwell in the lurch if it comes about. While some football managers seem to be more concerned with financial gain than delivering results on the pitch, this is a football man with principles.

Who wouldn’t want a manager like that?

Monday, January 7, 2008

Stuff I like today

(for wildly different reasons.....) How journalism works. Journalists get a hard time, and sometimes it’s justified, but often it’s not. I too, such as, know that we should believe in children. The BossHoss - Toxic (Britney spears) German country band sing Britney. It’s a fitting tribute to a troubled heroine.

Sunday, January 6, 2008

Clinton and Giuliani: down but not out

I’ve always been interested in American politics, so being in the States for most of December and having a closer view of the run up to the Presidential nomination process was like being a kid in the political sweetie shop. Now Barack Obama has won the Iowa caucus, the UK media has gotten a hook to start following the race to be President with gusto. He is dynamic, young(ish), a different colour from the other candidates and has developed a easy to understand narrative about Change. The bandwagon has left the building, and is currently trundling through New Hampshire. The fawning media should try to read his book, 'The Audacity of Hope'. That would knock the shine off their coverage by sending them hurtling to the land of nod..... Despite their great starts, I’m not 100% convinced that either winners in Iowa, Obama and Mike Huckabee, can go on to with their respective party’s nominations. My favourite factoid from the weekend’s papers has been that only two Democrats have won both Iowa and New Hampshire since 1976, and neither Al Gore nor John Kerry went on to become President. Winning early is not a bad thing, but it’s not essential, especially in these three and four horse races. In the Democrat race, the problem with Hillary Clinton so far is that she’s been seen as the establishment candidate. Now she can compete as the underdog, which can be the change that her campaign needs. If I were her I’d spend more time campaigning with Chelsea and less time standing in front of old Clinton allies like Madeline Albright. Also in her favour she will have a more experienced campaign staff, and she has money and a consistent significant and substantial lead in the national polls. While this weekend’s polls have it too close to call in New Hampshire, she has around a twenty point lead in both Florida and California which go to the polls within a month. By comparison, New Hampshire and Iowa together send 77 delegates to the Democratic Convention, while Florida sends 185 and California sends 370. Hillary needs to hold her ground in New Hampshire and this campaign will still be wide open as we move to Super Tuesday. The fact that Edwards will still be in the race in a month should help Clinton, as it should help to split the 'anti-establishment' vote. Compared to the Democratic race, the contest for the Republican nomination has been largely ignored by the UK media, but it’s a far more interesting contest in electoral terms. It still seems like a real 4-way contest between a former fat preacher who does not believe in evolution, a flip-flopping Mormon, a man who is even older than Menzies Campbell, and the former Mayor of New York. I still think that Rudy Giuliani has a great chance of winning. His stated strategy has been to focus on larger states which poll later in the contest like Florida, so even his sixth-place finish in Iowa was no cause for concern. If the other Republicans pick each other off early, currently Romney seems to be the villain-de-jour, then Rudy would be well-placed to come through the middle as the least-hated candidate. He’s still the narrow favourite on Betfair from the likely winner in New Hampshire, John McCain. So with one Primary down and twenty-eight to go, I’ve put money on Clinton and Giuliani to win the nominations.

Long time no see.

Long time no see.

Since my last post I managed to get married, go on an amazing honeymoon and survive Christmas and New Year. I thought blogging while on honeymoon would be a little beyond the pale.....

So better late than never, here's my review of my goals for 2007 and my thoughts and plans for 2008.

2007 was a good year. My main goals for the year were to (in no particular order):

  • Get married
  • Have a better work/life balance
  • Play my part in helping the SNP win the election
  • Improve my range of professional skills

Married – check. New job means weekend working is a thing of the past and I can for the first time in 5 years make plans to go out midweek without worrying about work. The SNP are now in Government in Scotland, and the expanded range of responsibilities I have with my new job means that I'm still learning new things at work while keeping my hand in with writing and media/PR work.

So this year, I've a lot to live up to. Given the life-changing 2007 I had it would be difficult to set new goals which are as challenging, but I reckon that while my work goals will be set at a high level I want to spend the next year enjoying my new life with Debbie and my friends and family. So, for posterity's sake, here are my personal goals for 2008:

  • Set up a new home with Debbie

  • Get a golf handicap below 20

  • Get fit

  • Blog regularly

So – here's to a successful 2008 for us all!