Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Sneak Preview...

...of the Scotland squad for the 2018 World Cup in Russia, courtesy of my current Football Manager 12 adventure.

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Season 2012/2013: Match 2: Montrose 4 Inverurie Loco Works 2 (Ramsdens Cup North East Section Round One)

I take it all back.

For the past few weeks, I've been predicting that Inverurie Loco Works, the third best team in the Highland League, would pummel Montrose, one of the worst teams in the Scottish Football League.

Montrose, for those not up to date with happenings in deepest, darkest Angus or the more fetid end of the Scottish game, are not a good side. They weren't a good side last season, and half a dozen players have left since then.

It was therefore in a mood of resignation rather than hope that I traipsed to the North Sea Nou Camp for the Ramsdens Cup.

And my prediction appeared to be coming true when Locos took the lead after 14 minutes, Stuart MacKay noticing that Sandy Wood had become temporarily transparent and powering a shot straight through him.

Paul Watson must have masochistic tendencies, having last week signed up for a third spell at Links Park, but he had a "debut" to remember, curling a beautiful free kick in off the post to level the scores after 26 minutes.

The score remained tied at half time, although Montrose had probably enjoyed the better of the latter part of the second half.

Paul Lunan, deployed as a centre back alongside Alan Campbell, came close with a diving header from a Craig McLeish corner four minutes into the second half, but Montrose finally took the lead on the hour mark, Martin Boyle scrambling the ball in at the far post from another McLeish corner.

Garry Wood doubled the lead six minutes later, shooting into the empty net after a mix-up between Locos keeper Stewart Gray and defender Steven Park.

Terry Masson completed the scoring 10 minutes from time, shooting into another empty net from a Wood square ball after Boyle had been flattened in the box.

Locos scored a late consolation, Souter sliding the ball through Wood's legs with two minutes remaining.

All in all, a good win for Montrose against a strong Locos side. There were a few hairy moments, but Montrose generally coped well. New signings Watson and McLeish both looked useful, the former deployed at left back and the latter in central midfield. Boyle, Masson and Lunan all played well, while McNally had his moments, despite a few lapses in concentration. Only Sandy Wood was truly disappointing, beaten easily for both Locos goals.

Man of the Match: As a member of the press corps, I was asked to vote for today's official man of the match award. I had been inclined to go with McLeish or Watson, both of whom looked useful, but in the run up to filling in the voting slip, Garry Wood was involved in two Montrose goals and came close after a mazy dribble. So he got my vote. And that of my Forfarian friend [best quote of today: "How much would you get for doing a linesman?"]. He was the only player to get two votes, and therefore became man of the match, much to his own bemusement and that of almost everyone else we encountered.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Would You Like Fries With That?

One of the things I hate most about our consumerist society is automated/scripted responses from front-line customer service staff.

During my lunch break today, I visited the Post Office and my bank.

Having paid for postage at the Post Office, I was asked: "Would you like to top up a mobile phone today?"

I don't have a pay as you go mobile phone. And if I did, I would probably top it up when I needed to, not when the Post Office gonk asked me.

This was in a busy Aberdeen city centre Post Office, with a huge queue of folk, presumably some of whom were there during their lunch breaks.

If this exchange takes five seconds per customer, even if the Post Office gonk is only serving one customer every five minutes, that's still a minute wasted every hour. Over an eight-hour day, that gonk could have served an additional 1.6 customers.

The elderly woman next to me was asked the same question: "Would you like to top up a mobile phone today?"

She may as well have been asked if she'd like to discombobulate her Higgs Boson particles. The gonk asked the question three times before giving up and assuming that the elderly lady didn't have a mobile phone in urgent need of top-uppery.

Then in the bank, having paid in some cash, I was asked if I had a mortgage, the bank gonk having presumably snooped through my account and noticed that if I did, it certainly wasn't with them.

"Yes, thank you" I replied.

"It's not with us, is it?"

"No, it's not"

"Would you like us to arrange an appointment to discuss our mortgage options with you?"

"No thank you"

I really do wish that gonks weren't forced to rattle off this sales spiel every time a customer crossed their path.

In a previous life, I worked in a call centre, and we had a scripted response when we answered a call: "Can I have your reference number please?"

[Customer searches for reference number, quotes their own phone number then their meter reading. Finally sources the reference number.]

"Thank you Mr McHughy. I see you have an outstanding balance of £23,675 on your account. Are you calling to pay that by debit card today?"

Cue Mr McHughy launching into an apopleptic fit during which he invents several new swearwords.

But my own personal favourite [and it is a favourite - it defied belief so much] was when I called T-Mobile to advise them I was leaving and would like my PAC code so I could transfer my number to a new provider.

"Hi, I'd like my PAC code please"

"OK, can I just ask why you're thinking of leaving us?"

"Because I've moved to Argyll and I don't get a T-Mobile signal in my house."

"It's just that, because you've been a long-term customer, we could offer you a good incentive to stay. We can offer 500 free minutes per month and 500 free texts."

"That sounds great, but unfortunately I wouldn't be able to use the free minutes or free texts as I have no T-Mobile signal in my house."

"Well, we could extend that to 750 minutes and 750 texts..."

"Which again sounds great, but unless you're also going to build a mast in my back garden, I'm afraid I'll still have to say no."

Modern society - I truly do despair sometimes...

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Season 2012/2013: Match 1: Montrose 0 Brechin City 5 (Friendly)

Editor's note: Groanin' Jock couldn't be arsed going to the football today, so this report was written by Arthur C. McCrocklehurst, veteran reporter of The Angus and Lowlands Perthshire Tribune. The Angus and Lowlands Perthshire Tribune hasn't been published since 1897, but no-one has ever told Arthur.

It was a glorious summer's day, the day of Our Lord July the Fourteenth, Twenty-Hundred and One Dozen.

Alighting from the locomotive at Montrose Station, I ambled through the streets of the town to the association football venue near the Links parade ground and heathland.

Few of the Angus locals had thought to join me, distracted it would appear by the unseasonably warm weather and news of a fresh delivery of coal to the merchants in Aberlemno. But those who did count themselves spectators were suitably dour and miserable, so all was not lost.

This encounter brought together the scarlet-bedecked Brechin City, led by well-travelled administrator James Weir, and blue-clad Montrose, with former Brechin City goaltender Stuart Garden at the helm.

These past few campaigns have been short on vintage for the Montrose association football select, and nothing on view today would convince the casual observer that there will be any deviation from this state of affairs.

Those brave adventurers who travelled through the wilds of Dun and Pugeston to cheer on their brave Brechin boys were rewarded with five scores, Montrose summoning up none by way of counter.

Scott Dalziel, formerly of Bayview in the parish of Eastern Fife, contributed three of the goals added to the visiting tally. Two were recorded in the period prior to the refreshment interval, both from close range and under pressure.

Montrose summoned little and suggested less, with scarcely an attempt on goal registered. Kevin Browne, a newcomer to these parts, lofted a free kick over the hastily-assembled defensive constuct as the umpire prepared to close the half, but Michael Andrews, previously known in these parts, held the ball.

While it would be a falsehood to say that the heavens opened in the second half, some precipitation was recorded, though neither side was hindered, the playing surface being an artificial construct akin to a green scrubbing brush.

Brechin, relishing their visit to the seaside borough with its refreshing breeze, ice cream parlours and clothing emporiums, seemed envigoured, and promptly proceeded to contribute a further three goals to the official record.

Dalziel completed what is colloquially known as his 'hat-trick' with 20 minutes remaining on the chronometer. He was promptly replaced to what would have been a standing ovation had more than 23 paying customers been present.

Further goals were contributed by Paul McLean and Andy Jackson, Montrose's defensively-minded players having failed to return to the arena for the second period.

Only once did Montrose venture forward with sufficient menace to register an attempt on goal, but Andrews displayed enough alertness to concede only a corner from Garry Wood's shot.

Based on today's meeting, none of the Montrose athletes could be considered a threatening force in association football.

Martin Boyle, possessor of a mystical 'Ginger Boot' lacked the support of his colleagues, all of whom surrendered possession with scarcely a contest.

Stationed as I was in the grandstand (adjacent to one of the better Forfarian wenches), the involvement of Scott Johnstone (who bears the look of a human/woodpecker hybrid) passed me by completely. Also anonymous were the Montrose defensive unit. Only Stephen McNally seemed to realise that this encounter was taking place.

One fears that it will be a long and tempestuous campaign for Montrose, a collective short on skill, determination and hunger.

If the Sevco 5088 Wanderers are admitted to the Division III in this rotation of the sun, they will not fear a trip to the Montrose Links Park...

Monday, July 02, 2012

The Stone Roses, Heaton Park, Manchester, Saturday June 30, 2012

The first Stone Roses song I remember being aware of is Love Spreads. The lead single from their long-awaited second album was released when I was 14 and still truly to fall in love with music. But that song caught my ear even at that age, when it was played on the radio amongst the reggae pop, Take That and Wet Wet Wet.

But as with almost all music I heard at that age, it slipped from my memory when the radio playlists moved on to something else.

It wasn't until 1996 that I rediscovered The Stone Roses, by which time they'd finished dragging the sorry remains of their carcass around the festival circuit, a poor imitation of the band that had once had the world at their feet.

The first Stone Roses album I owned was The Complete Stone Roses, a compilation of their output on the Silvertone label that was a birthday present from my Mither. As introductions go, it was more than enough to ignite a love for the band that has never diminished in the intervening 16 years.

Shortly afterwards, I picked up from Groucho's in Dundee a second hand copy of The Second Coming, the album that transformed the Roses from jingly-jangly psychedelic pop gods into thunderous Zeppelin-inspired rock gods. It was John Squire's cocaine album, the riffs and egos coming between a group of four childhood friends and forming chasms that eventually shattered the greatest band of their generation.

So by the time I finally picked up a copy of The Stone Roses' debut album, from Woolworths in Dundee's Wellgate, I thought I knew everything there was to know about the band. Except I didn't. The Complete Stone Roses, while containing most of the tracks from that debut, included shortened, neutered versions of that debut album's monumental bookends, I Wanna Be Adored and I Am The Resurrection. It also missed out anti-monarchy lullaby Elizabeth My Dear and the laid-back groove of Shoot You Down.

This wasn't just a record. This was THE record. The world's most perfect record. When I am Grand High Poobah of The Whole World, I will insist everyone receives a copy with their birth certificate.

Since then, I've acquired various other Roses records - "lost" debut album Garage Flower, a shouty burst of punk-inspired Goth anger that barely hints at the band the Roses would blossom into; an almost unlistenable bootleg of the legendary Spike Island live show; the Turns Into Stone compilation that shoehorns together all of the Silvertone singles that didn't appear on the debut album; an ill-advised but passable remixes album from the turn of the century; various CD singles and live EPs; and, as my salary has grown as middle age approaches, the beautiful but expensive 20th anniversary edition of the debut - heavyweight vinyl, three CDs, a DVD and a lemon-shaped USB drive in a hefty presentation box.

My love for The Stone Roses has been one of the constants in my adult life, and until recently, so had one unbending certainty - The Stone Roses would never reform. The divisions between Ian Brown and John Squire, and between Reni and John Squire, were too wide. Brown was adamant that he didn't need the quitar player, that his solo work stood on its own two feet where Squire's was empty posturing and none-too-subtle ego-stroking. It was the first question asked in any interview with a former Rose - when would they return? And the answer was always the same - we won't.

That always seemed the best solution to me - I'd rather their reputation remained unsullied by an ill-judged money-grabbing reunion. Better to remain that tight-knit group of 20-somethings from the Blackpool Live DVD than four 50-year-olds milking the cash cow.

But at the same time, I always maintained that if they ever did reform, I'd be first in the queue for tickets.

All of which is a very lengthy preamble to the weekend just finished. I've driven 770 miles in a 2003 Renault Clio, from Montrose to Manchester and back again, via Falkirk and Newcastle in both directions. Given the chaos that the Biblical rains brought to the rail network over the weekend, it still appears to have been the better option.

Our gang of three decided to eschew the support acts - we weren't in Manchester to see Hollie Cook, The Wailers, Professor Green or Beady Eye. Our Saturday was devoted to one act and one act only.

Having attempted and failed to catch a tram to Heaton Park - not even standing room on the first tram we saw heading out on the Bury line from central Manchester, and then a line of trams heading for Oldham Mumps - we took a taxi to the venue, our cabbie giving us a list of what indie clubs we should head for after the show.

We caught the end of Beady Eye, who sounded just as flat as when we saw them at the Barrowlands last year. It's an indication of how far Liam Gallagher has fallen that people were standing in the car park drinking warm beer rather than rushing to catch his set. Even a rendition of Rock'n'Roll Star dedicated to Ian Brown, and a run through of Morning Glory, failed to ignite the crowd.

But from then on, we were in countdown mode. Barring a late, but by no means unlikely, disaster or falling out, we would be seeing The Stone Roses in the flesh.

I've rarely encountered such a peaceful atmosphere at a gig that size. We didn't bother attempting the crush for beer, but bumped into someone fresh from the bar queue who sold us four bottles of Fosters for £20. But everywhere you looked, people were smiling. Even as the crowd started thickening at the front of the stage, there seemed to be none of the aggression that would normally accompany the inevitable shoving.

When the Roses did appear on stage, there was no fanfare, no fireworks, no elaborate backing track. Just four men ambling on stage, picking up their instruments and bursting into I Wanna Be Adored. And from that second onwards, I was 16 again.

It was a near-perfect setlist. The only way it could have been bettered would have been by extending the gig by adding Elephant Stone, Tightrope, Driving South and Breaking Into Heaven. All of the songs from the debut album made an appearance:

I Wanna Be Adored
Mersey Paradise
(Song For My) Sugar Spun Sister
Sally Cinnamon
Where Angels Play
Shoot You Down
Bye Bye Badman
Ten Storey Love Song
Standing Here
Fools Gold
Something's Burning
Don't Stop
Love Spreads
Made Of Stone
This Is The One
She Bangs The Drums
Elizabeth My Dear
I Am The Resurrection

Personal highlights were a roaring take on Fools Gold, a song I've never been too fussed by, but that on this showing gave the musicians a chance to shine; Waterfall and Don't Stop - the latter including some phenomenal bass runs from Mani; and the double header of Love Spreads and Made of Stone.

I hadn't long said to one of my mates that Squire hadn't really let the guitar rip when he howled into the opening riff of Love Spreads - that was a genuine goosebump moment. The song ended with Ian Brown rapping over the fade-out:

A pen and a paper, a stereo, a tape
All this with a nice big plate of
Fish, which is my favourite dish
But without no money it’s just a wish
Now I don’t have to dream about getting paid
I dig into the books of the rhymes I've made
I hit the studio and get paid in full

Sugar spun sisters outgoing the distance
Get me, I’m seeking some assistance
High in the realms tonight,
Sky-high like a meteorite
I’m easy like the holy ghost
Ain’t no voice, it’s just a toast
High in the realms tonight,
Sky-high like a meteorite

Stone Roses all the rage
Stone Roses up on the stage
Not a pause, down the doors
Let’s have a round of applause

The first verse is lifted from Eric B & Rakim's Paid In Full, but the rest is all Brown.

It was followed by Made of Stone, my all-time favourite Stone Roses song, and the one I've always thought has the best interplay between Mani and Squire.

Reni's drumming was ferocious throughout. If you'd taken away the rest of the band, it would still have been an absorbing show just watching him drum. It frequently sounded like he was playing live hip-hop rhythms. It's good to have him back.

Those were just my personal highlights, but there wasn't a weak spot at any point during the gig. The band's song and album titles lend themselves to plenty of cliched review titles: What The World Is Waiting For, This Is The One, I Am The Resurrection, Second Coming and so on.

But Ian Brown summed it up as the band stood centre stage post-gig: "We're back".