Sunday, June 10, 2012

Passin' The Folks Alaang The Road, Just As They Were Stannin'

Candidates to be the next director general of the BBC are due to be questioned this week about the network's widely criticised coverage of the Queen's diamond jubilee according to a rather typically shit-stirring, trouble-making piece by some Communist louse at the Gruniad Morning Star. The candidates, the piece claims, will also be asked about the failure of the corporation's senior executives to respond to the widespread public criticism, and the lessons learned for coverage of future national events. Lord Patten, the chairman of the BBC Trust, along with his vice-chair Diane Coyle, will begin interviewing the five shortlisted candidates on Monday, aiming to announce the successor to Mark Thompson in the first half of July allowing a handover period. The decision to 'lighten' up the coverage of the Thames river pageant with a host of frothy presenters - including thin-skinned Fearne Cotton - and reporters combined with alleged 'celebrity' guests, rather than deploying senior presenters and historical experts, 'goes to the heart of what the BBC is about,' the Gruniad claimed that one 'well-placed insider' had said. The answers provided by the candidates are expected to have some bearing on the eventual choice. Will Wyatt, a former BBC Television managing director used as a troubleshooter by Thompson, confirmed that the coverage of the pageant would affect the choice. 'Someone who had nothing to do with it will be happier than someone who was,' he said. 'It was a disaster: they got it completely wrong, because they failed on the basic journalism.' The coverage attracted thousands of complaints, many accusing the BBC of missing a unique opportunity to tell the stories of many of the one thousand boats in the flotilla, and the history of the Thames. It has unexpectedly assumed a bearing on the selection because there is no obvious candidate to succeed Thompson, the director general for the past eight years. George Entwistle, the director of BBC Vision, is seen as the internal 'efficient pair of hands,' and favourite of most BBC staffers outside the news division. He chaired the committee co-ordinating the event and is the executive most closely linked with the coverage. Entwistle went on holiday after the jubilee, and was not available to respond to criticism. This left Alan Yentob, the BBC's creative director, to belatedly respond, while Thompson wrote in an e-mail to all BBC staff: 'Our output has been impressive, not only in its scale but in its ambition, quality and outstanding journalism.' The other internal candidates are Tim Davie, the director of audio and music, who oversaw jubilee coverage on radio; Helen Boaden, the director of news and current affairs and Caroline Thomson, the chief operating officer. The external candidate, Ed Richards, is the well-regarded head of the media regulator Ofcom, which played a crucial role in holding up the News Corp bid for BSkyB last year. He is untouched by the jubilee dispute, but is seen as lacking senior broadcasting and editorial experience. He came under attack from the Daily Scum Mail last week, which called him a 'Labour crony' for his work as a No 10 adviser to Tony Blair, and for aspects of his stewardship of Ofcom. So, frankly, he'd be this blogger's choice if only because anyone the Daily Scum Mail hates, on principle, is okay by me. Sir Christopher Bland, a former BBC chairman, described the criticism of the pageant coverage as 'over the top.' He said: 'The idea that it should have any bearing on who should be the next director general is laughable. We are not talking about appointing a football manager. No single programme can ever decide who becomes the next director general.' He added: 'The cry has gone up "bring back the Dimblebys" – but imagine if it had, and the cries of "stuffy coverage." The director generalship is a very big job, and you have to grow into it. The trust has to pick someone who can go up a notch. It is the most complicated job in the world.' He said the Scum Mail's onslaught on Richards' credentials would backfire. 'This sort of criticism is not directed at the people in the room making the decision. The director generalship is not decided in the newspapers.' He pointed to the huge, but ineffective, campaign to stop Greg Dyke become the DG in 1999-2000 in several national newspapers. Sir Peter Bazalgette, a former BBC producer and the executive behind Big Brother, said that the BBC had to 'take stock' because it had also failed during the 2010 election coverage, when it hosted a boat of celebrities on the Thames during the count. Bazalgette said: 'We pay a licence fee for the BBC to speak for all of us in a knowledgeable and educational way. It has fallen down on the job. It does underline how the director general has to be someone with the judgment and touch to be editor-in-chief.'

A new version of the classic Geordie anthem 'The Blaydon Races' has been written by people from across the North East. Walker-born singer-songwriter Pete Scott appealed for help from the general public to rewrite the six verses of the song to celebrate its one hundred and fiftieth anniversary of the song on Saturday. Scott said that the ideas he received were 'fantastic.' Written by George Ridley, the original song was about an accident-prone charabanc trip by a group factory workers from nearby Newcastle to attend the horse races at Blaydon on Tyne on the ninth of June ('eighteen hundred and sixty two on a summer's afternoon'). They travelled, as the song describes, from Balmbra's Music Hall in the Cloth Market, along Collingwood Street and then gannin' alaang the Scotswood Road, across the Chainbridge and into Blaydon itself having various mishaps along the way including the bus crashing. Local landmarks like the Robin Adair pub, the St James' Infirmy and Armstrong's munitions factory and real-life characters like Dr Gibbs, Coffee Johnny, the bellman Jackie Brown and even Ridley himself, performing at 'the Mechanics Haal in Blaydon,' made it into the song's lyrics. A song which has since become a genuine anthem, always sung in the dialect in which it was written, and closely associated with not only the region but, also, more specifically the local football team. The Blaydon Races originally consisted of a horse race and fair. Since 1981, a road race has also been run from Balmbra's pub to Blaydon, following the route described in the song. Scott worked on the project with BBC Newcastle by asking listeners to send in their ideas. He said he had 'no desire' to replace the song, but wanted the new lyrics to reflect the 'spirit of the times. It was great seeing all the contributions being sent in,' Scott said. 'Some of their ideas were fantastic, there was just such great enthusiasm.' Scott said he wanted to rewrite the song so that, in the future, it would show people what the area was like at the time, just as the original song did. The tune and the chorus of the song have been kept the same, but the verses have been brought up to date with more recent roads and landmarks added. Scott said: 'It was great looking at the original route and the route now through their [the listeners'] eyes. "The challenge was to get it all to rhyme and fit together - I was up to my eyes in bits of paper.' County Durham-born opera singer Graeme Danby sang the final composition of the song on Saturday at Grey's Monument, as part of Newcastle City Council and Gateshead Council's celebrations. Scott said: 'I was really honoured to be asked to do it. I'm really happy with the way it's turned out - I love the track. I am really pleased to have contributed to such a legendary song.'

The Olympic torch has travelled across Loch Ness as part of its journey from Glasgow to Inverness on day twenty two of the relay. At the start of the day the flame was taken on board tall ship the Glenlee. The flame has been carried through the picturesque Scottish Highlands and along the banks of Loch Lomond. Scottish soul and R&B singer Emeli Sande carried the flame across Loch Leven bridge just before one o'clock. Saturday's one hundred and sixty nine-mile route includes the banks of Loch Lomond, where the flame was carried on to Luss Pier, and the Nevis Centre in Fort William. After ninety two torchbearers carried the flame there was an evening celebration in Inverness. Emma Baird, sixteen, was the first torchbearer of the day, starting out at the Glasgow Riverside Museum. The teenager, who sometimes needs to use a wheelchair due to hip problems, was nominated for her determination in overcoming health problems to play sport. She took the torch to The Tall Ship Museum and on board The Glenlee - built in 1896, and one of only five Clyde-built ships still afloat. Emma handed the torch on to Olympian Hamish Hardie, MBE, who competed as a yachtsman in the 1948 London Olympics at the age of nineteen and is vice-chair of the Clyde Maritime Trust. He said: 'It is a great pleasure and honour to welcome the Olympic torch on board Glasgow's ship Glenlee.' On its route to Inverness the flame was carried through the village of Luss and on to the pier by Loch Lomond, which is the biggest freshwater lake in Great Britain. In Fort William, the second largest settlement in the Scottish Highlands, the flame went on a gondola to the Nevis Centre, in close proximity to Ben Nevis - the highest mountain in the British Isles. The flame was also carried on the Range by mountain biker Tracy Moseley. Just after 4pm the flame travelled across Loch Ness by boat from Fort Augustus to Drumnadrochit. During the journey, the flame is also visiting Urquhart Castle and the Rockness Festival at Dores. In all, the torch passed through seventeen communities: Glasgow, Bearsden, Clydebank, Dumbarton, Luss, Tarbet, Crianlarich, Tyndrum, Glencoe, North Ballachulish, Fort William, Spean Bridge, Fort Augustus, Invermoriston, Lewiston, Drumnadrochit and Inverness. TV presenter Jennifer Falconer, also an ambassador and campaigner for Prince's Trust, was among the torchbearers, along with John McNiven, the Weightlifting Scotland Vice Chairman and a weightlifting bronze medallist at the 1974 and 1970 Commonwealth Games.

In Euro 2012's first major shock, Michael Krohn-Dehli's expertly taken first-half strike earned Morton Olson's hard-working Denmark side a surprise win against a Netherlands team who had loads of possession but wasted all of it missing a host of chances. Krohn-Dehli drifted away from two defenders to fire home the winner. The Dutch dominated large stretches of the game only to waste numerous efforts, with Arjen Robben and Robin van Persie the main culprits. Robben came closest when he shot against the post and the Danes survived a late handball appeal against Lars Jacobsen to hold on for well-deserved victory. Denmark coach Olsen's pre-match warning that the Netherlands were simply better than his side could easily have been dismissed as mind games. But for long spells of the opening Group B encounter at the Metalist Stadium in Kharkiv, the reality backed up Olsen's fears and the Danes struggled to get a foothold in the game. Netherlands combined their undoubted guile, creativity, pace and attacking quality with midfield grit and organisation but with no end product. Van Persie and Robben provided the cutting edge, and they had a series of opportunities to put Bert van Marwijk's side ahead before the Danes took the lead. Van Persie, who scored thirty six goals for The Arse last season, sidefooted the first opening tamely wide after a good early Robben run and Van Persie teed up a headed chance for Wesley Sneijder. Robben and Van Persie then combined brilliantly on the right only for the Bayern Munich winger to fail to pick out one of two team-mates in the middle. Sneijder also sent a header wide and a Dutch goal looked inevitable. But the Danes remained resolute in defence - largely thanks to a superb display by their captain Daniel Agger - and they went ahead with their first meaningful attack. Krohn-Dehli took advantage of a lucky bounce of the ball after a battling run on the left flank by Simon Poulsen, dummied two defenders and shot low through goalkeeper Maarten Stekelenburg's legs. Niki Zimling had a chance to double the lead soon after, but failed to properly connect with a difficult volleyed effort. Substitute Klaas-Jan Huntelaar - left out of the Dutch starting line-up despite scoring twelve goals in qualifying - went through on goal but was denied by some alert and brave goalkeeping and Huntelaar also had a decent claim for a penalty dismissed. Defender Jacobsen appeared to handle the ball while under pressure from Huntelaar, but the referee waved away the Dutch appeals. The Danes held firm and now have a great opportunity to progress to the quarter-finals, while the Dutch - runners-up at the last World Cup - must win at least one of their remaining two fixtures, against either Germany or Portugal, to have any hope.

In the day's other game, Mario Gomez's second-half header ensured Germany made a winning start to Euro 2012 after Portugal had threatened to frustrate Joachim Loew's side. Which, if for no other reason than it left Cristiano Ronaldo with a big scowl on his mush was a jolly good thing. Germany dominated possession but struggled to create many chances until Gomez broke the deadlock from Sami Khedira's cross in the seventy second minute. Portugal were very disappointing and only came to life after Germany had scored. Pepe hit the bar with a rare first-half chance while Nani was also denied by the woodwork late on. The Germans included seven Bayern Munich players in their starting line-up and, judging by their first-half performance, they appeared to be suffering a hangover from their Champions League defeat to Moscow Chelski FC last month. Portugal were unadventurous and clearly determined not to lose as they stifled Germany's attacking threat to such an extent that Loew's side only once seriously tested keeper Rui Patricio in the opening forty five minutes.

UEFA has begun disciplinary proceedings against the Football Union of Russia for 'improper conduct of supporters' during Friday's Euro 2012 game against the Czech Republic in Wroclaw. Four stewards needed hospital treatment after being attacked by fans in the Municipal Stadium in Poland. And claims of racist abuse directed at Czech defender Theodor Gebre Selassie, who is black, are being investigated. The Control and Disciplinary Body will review the case on Wednesday 13 June. A UEFA statement read: 'Having looked at the security reports and available images, UEFA has today announced that disciplinary proceedings have been opened against the Football Union of Russia for the improper conduct of its supporters, the setting off and throwing of fireworks, and the display of illicit banners at Friday's UEFA match.' Anti-racism campaigners claimed that Czech defender Gebre Selassie was the victim of vile and despicable monkey chants during Russia's 4-1 victory, while footage seemingly shows Russian supporters attacking stewards in a walkway of the stadium. The Football Against Racism in Europe network confirmed that one of their observers at the match heard 'fleeting' racist abuse seemingly directed at Gebre Selassie. Asked if it included monkey chants, FARE chief executive Piara Powar said: 'Our observer reported descriptions of that nature. It was directed at the Czech Republic's only black player,' Powar said. Footage of the incident involving the stewards has emerged online, with UEFA releasing a statement saying they are aware of 'a brief and isolated incident involving a small group of around thirty fans who attacked a handful of stewards.' The statement continued: 'The situation was quickly and efficiently brought under control. The local police are aware of the incident and investigating. The cause of the incident is not currently known but we are studying the security reports and available images. UEFA remains entirely committed to the safety and security of all fans and spectators at all matches of Euro 2012.'

England's players paid a sombre and emotional visit to the former Nazi Auschwitz-Birkenau extermination camps in Poland on Friday. The private trip to the site of the death camp clearly left a strong impression on England manager Roy Hodgson. 'It is a very chastening experience. It's difficult to imagine this type of inhumanity,' he said. Striker Wayne Rooney added: 'It's good to get that history of what happened. It puts football into perspective.' Rooney was joined at Auschwitz - where an estimated one and a half million people died during World War II - by England team-mates Joe Hart, Phil Jagielka, Theo Walcott, Jack Butland, Andy Carroll and Leighton Baines as well as by former Chelsea manager Avram Grant, who lost fifteen members of his family at the camp. After walking through the gas chambers and crematoria of Auschwitz, Rooney described his feelings of near disbelief. 'It's hard to understand,' Rooney said. 'I am a parent and it was tough to see what happened there. You've seen the amount of children who died. You see the children's clothes and shoes, it's really sad. You have to see it first hand. You don't realise how those who lived there to work managed without food, without water. It's a form of torture and then they died. The others got murdered.' Everton defender Jagielka, whose grandparents were Polish, said parts of the visit left him fighting back tears. 'To round people up like cattle and bring them to a place just to be killed – I don’t think I can find a word to describe that,' he said. 'I think the worst moment for me was when we went to see the suitcases of the victims and you saw the age difference of those who died – anything from sixty years to three years old.' England coach Hodgson added: 'I have no great knowledge of the war, but obviously know about certain aspects of it. You cannot understand how it can be so systematic, inhuman. It was a job. It is difficult to get your head around. There are so many lessons to be learned and understood from the Holocaust and we believe football can play its part in encouraging society to speak out against intolerance in all its forms - and in advancing the important work of teaching future generations about the horrors of the Holocaust.' Football Association chairman David Bernstein, along with Hodgson, wore a skull cap to light a candle in memory of those who died. Jewish himself, and born in 1943, Bernstein revealed his grandfather had been born in Budapest but the family emigrated to the United States one hundred years ago. Had he remained, he could have been among those rounded up on Hungary's streets under the orders of Heinrich Himmler in 1944 as the so-called Final Solution brought up to seven trainloads of Jews a day to Birkenau. Arsenal winger Walcott said the visit had brought home 'the reality' of a subject he had some knowledge of. 'It is unreal,' he said. 'I learned some of this stuff at school but I could never imagine anything on this scale, it is just beyond belief or comprehension.' The national team manager Roy Hodgson wore his sombre blue England suit, while his players appeared more casual in polo shirts and trainers. Which, as you might expect, gave the Daily Scum Mail something to have a right good tut about. Earlier this week, Italian players visited Auschwitz in tracksuits, while the Dutch team opted for faded jeans and trainers. The Auschwitz Museum advises visitors: 'On the Museum grounds, visitors should behave with the appropriate solemnity and respect. Dress should be appropriate for a place of this nature.' However, the FA said that the players had been advised to wear 'more comfortable clothing' due to the six-hour round trip between Auschwitz and their base in Krakow. They were also told that training shoes would help them on the uneven ground. In a separate visit on Friday, captain Steven Gerrard accompanied other team-mates to Oskar Schindler's factory just outside the Krakow city centre, close to where the England squad are based for Euro 2012. Schindler's story was chronicled in the 1993 Steven Spielberg film Schindler's List, which won best picture and other Academy Awards. This blogger must say, it's very easy to criticise footballers generally and the FA in particular for some of the stunts they pull but, on this particular occasion, they appear to have got the tone and the rational of what was, essentially, a publicity exercise spot on. For all his inarticulate nature, it's hard not to be moved by, for example, Rooney's comments. Like the many thousands each year who pass under that mocking legend Arbeit Mach Frei, Rooney was left incredulous and numbed at the sheer inhumanity of a site which brutally put over a million Jews to their deaths, eighty per cent within two hours of their arrival. There is more to life than football and its good that we're sometimes reminded of that.

Newcastle United's chief scout Graham Carr has said that owner Mike Ashley will provide funds to manager Alan Pardew for squad strengthening this summer. Carr, who recommended players such as Cheick Tiote, Yohan Cabaye and Papiss Demba Cisse, has advised Pardew on further Magpies targets. 'Mike has committed himself to the club and there will be money available to buy players,' Carr told BBC Newcastle. 'As we speak we are in the market for players to improve the squad.' Carr, who recently signed an eight-year deal with the Tyneside club, has operated largely in Northern Europe with signings from France and the Netherlands. It is an approach which was taken amid tough competition from Premier League rivals, with Tiote, Cabaye and Cisse and Hatem Ben Arfa already proving their worth by helping the club into Europe last season. 'We're making steady progress,' Carr added. 'We don't think we can compete with the big clubs for the sixteen, seventeen-year-olds, because Manchester United will blow us out of the water. What we try to look at is players who are playing first-team football at quite a young age. I first saw Papiss Cisse playing for Metz, he was on a Senegalese training camp they had there but he didn't have the passport to come in. I saw Yohan Cabaye in the France Under-19s, I saw Tiote playing for Roda, before he went to FC Twente. We followed these players, they've been on the radar for a long time.' Carr said he believed Cabaye has been his greatest find for the club. The French midfielder was signed a year ago from Lille for a fee of around four million smackers after escaping the attentions of Europe's top clubs. The twenty six-year-old was nothing short of a revelation in his first season in English football, playing almost every match for United as they secured fifth spot.

And so to today's Keith Telly Topping's 45 of the Day. Here's how Alexis Korner and Nancy Spain (and, the future rhythm section of Cream!) celebrated the hundredth anniversary of the Blaydon Races fifty years ago this weekend. Jazz.

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