Monthly Archives: June 2014

Why YOU Should Support USA

team-usa

Team USA

With England out of the World Cup, it’s time to pick your second team. In 2010 it was Ghana, they shouldered the hopes of the continent, only to be dumped out unceremoniously by the ever popular Luis Suarez.This time around it’s time to raise our star spangled banners in support of USA and here’s why;

It would be great for the world of ‘soccer’ (when in Rome), if the US became a real force. Major long term support could provide the world with millions of enthusiastic fans as well as substantial commercial opportunities. The world game needs more than Europe and a couple of south American teams competing to survive and grow, it needs worldwide backing. This would see the games wealth more equally balanced and would therefore fuel genuinely compelling world competitions.

They are a real team. As a group of individuals they are weak, but as a group they are strong. They work incredibly hard for each other and disciplined, they all put themselves before the team. A team without ego’s is hard to come across but the US appear to have just that.

They are underdogs in the truest sense.  The USA defied expectation by reaching the knock-out rounds from the so called ‘group of death’. If they went one step further and beat Belgium it would be a great sporting story, the team that’s new to the sport beating a team filled with premier league stars.

So there really is only one more thing to say; USA!USA!USA!

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The England Autopsy

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The English Hopefulls

With the group stages of the World Cup over and teams like Costa Rica, USA, Algeria and Columbia through to the second round, it’s high time to analyse what went wrong for our plucky English underdogs.

Firstly it’s important to state that our English underdogs were not underdogs at all. The press had downplayed England’s chances so significantly as to raise the expectations back up again due to this lack of perceived expectation. As a result the England players yet again went into A World Cup under crippling pressure and after their opening loss to Italy, they looked like shadows of men, too afraid to receive the ball against Uruguay.

A problem seemingly ignored by the press is that Gerard was awful and was partially responsible for the three goals conceded at this World Cup. But then again he did spray the ball outside at awkward heights for his team-mates to receive, so maybe he deserves to be let off. In defence of Gerrard he had just completed a gruelling, yet disappointing season. However if this was in any way likely to hamper his performance he should of put his team first and let someone else have a go.

Another problem for England was there lack of finishing ability. Given the chances England had in the first two games at least two points were a real possibility. The ability to be clinical is what separates the good from the average on the world stage. As a result of this England dropped out. This lack of ability to finish our chances can be seen as a large reason for the disappointing early exit. However you cannot blame the personnel as both Rooney and Sturridge were clearly the best candidates in their position, it’s just slightly disappointing that they couldn’t replicate their club form on the global stage.

Two of the worst players for England were Everton duo Baines and Jagielka. Both of them looked completely all at sea. They looked incapable to deliver in major tournament football and the question has to be asked as to whether England would have been more solid with Cole and Terry occupying these positions. The answer to that question is almost resoundingly yes. Jagielka was particularly culpable for the Uruguay goals, mainly for not keeping his eye on Suarez, a threat he should of been all too aware of. Baines on the other hand was culpable for the Italy defeat, allowing Candreva to whip in dangerous balls into the England box, one of which resulted in Balotelli’s winner. Both of these players showed an inability to perform at the top level and therefore must shoulder some responsibility for the death of England’s unlikely dream.

But hey, it’s not all doom and gloom England fans, we did manage a unbelievably boring draw with Costa Rica to round off our role in the football festivities.

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One Summer- Book Review

One Summer

One Summer by Bill Bryson

One summer is an interesting proposition for a book, telling a somewhat chronological story of a few months in time. The fact that the summer of 1927 in America was one of the most fascinating periods in modern history makes for a compelling tale indeed.

Having read previous Bill Bryson books, A Short History of Nearly Everything and Shakespeare, World at Stage, (both of which I recommend despite them being rather heavy reading!). I was excited when I came across a new book emblazoned with his name and ‘The Spirit of St Louis’ flying across the cover.

The book follows the main headlines of the year, focussing loosely on the biggest events in the months of May, June, July and August.  Each of these months have particular focuses, these are; Charles Lindbergh, Babe Ruth, President Coolidge and alleged anarchist murderers Nicola Sacco and Bartolomeo Vanzetti. Whilst these figures are the focal points of the chapters, there are numerous other stories interwoven with them.

The talent that Bryson uses to maximum effect, is to pick out of history what’s interesting, something which many historical fiction books fail to recognise or achieve. This results in a thoroughly entertaining, absorbing book which entices the reader to continue on. Brysons writing style brings the period to life, his constant comparisons to modern day life illuminate the vast contrasts between then and now. You feel the optimism of the roaring twenties pulsating from every page. The wild excesses of the time highlight what a remarkable and unique period it was, particularly in America. The book is fantastically well researched, with a wealth of information everywhere you look. All this information is written in Brysons trademark light-hearted style and I believe this to be the most readable Bryson book to date, from my experience.

A criticism that can be voiced about this book is it’s somewhat disjointed format. The action seems to jump arbitrarily between events. The chapters are named after a figure but only parts of the chapter talk about them. Some of the jump off points for the topics are supported by tenuous links. One moment you will be reading about Babe Ruth, then Charles Linbergh and then Henry Ford, all in a couple of paragraphs. The action also deviates from the year 1927, as the title of the book suggests, but goes on to discuss events throughout the twenties and beyond the forties. This makes the title of the book at the very least, a little bit misleading. However neither of these are an issue for me, if anything they add pace to the action and underline what a remarkably busy summer it was. The jumping between different time periods help to give contextual background to the events of 1927.

I would rate this book as 9 out of 10, for the simple fact that it is truly entertaining, informative and completely absorbing. I found this book very difficult to put down and for those reasons it goes down as one of my literary highlights of recent years.

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Saving Italy- Book Review

 

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Saving Italy by Robert Edsel

Saving Italy, The Race To Save A Nation’s Treasures From The Nazis, is Edsel’s follow up to the critically acclaimed Monuments Men, which recently became a major motion picture starring George Clooney. As a result of this I expect this book to get more attention, which is great because it truly deserves it, for both the book itself and the families of the Monuments Men.

The book again stars the Monuments Men, a group of academics, sculptors and  artists who enlisted in the army to save the artistic heritage of Europe, and in particular for this book, Italy. The book follows several of the Monuments Men’s journeys through Italy, in particular the journeys of Deane Keller and Fred Hart, two contrasting individuals who disagreed regularly but pulled together for the cause.

On top of the journey of the monuments men, the book documents the extensive looting operation of the Nazi’s. In particular it follows Karl Wolff, the leader of SS troops in Italy. These moments also include more general war information and history about the Nazi’s occupation of fascist Italy. This ongoing narrative is splendidly put together by Edsel who manages to weave the stories of several individuals together into a coherent, somewhat sequential collection of events .

What really makes this book shine, is the sheer wealth of research that Edsel and others have put into it. This is all that is needed to allow this staggering true story to shine. The story includes genuinely draw dropping factual moments , moments that see some of the greatest cultural treasures in the world at risk. The sheer rate of Nazi looting takes a lot to be believed, but throughout, Edsel recounts the events as they’ve been reported, rather than dealing with the Nazi’s in a hyperbolic way. This is a positive way of dealing with the issue as it makes the book appear more reliable.

Their are touching moments to this book. these come in the form of letters that the men and wives exchanged. They give a sense of humanity to proceedings. The emotional attachment to the soldiers is not something I expected when picking up the book, it serves to add another dimension to the intrigue.

It’s important to add that their is no need to read the previous books to enjoy this one, if you haven’t it will probably result in you reading the previous episodes, as this novel is unlike anything I have ever read, it brings together art, culture, war and humanity in a way that remains refreshing even after reading the previous instalments. It poses the unanswerable question of how valuable art is and what lengths humans should go to protect our cultural heritage.

A negative point about this book is that if you aren’t aware of what the cultural objects are, it’s hard to imagine the scenes in the book. As a complete amateur in artistic history, I had no idea who some of the artists in question were and therefore how priceless their works of art are. I can see that this could take away some of the meaning of the book, due to blind ignorance. However I liked to see every piece of art that was being mentioned so that I could imagine what it meant to the Monuments Men when they saw these sacred items. I did this simply by Googling the works of art just to get a feel for them. Also some parts of the book slow the pace considerably, most notably when talking about the more military history of the war in Italy. I sometimes found these to be of unnecessarily dense detail, which distracted me from the trials and tribulations of the Monuments Men. However these military moments are thankfully short-lived and the action resumes within a couple of pages.

Overall I would give this book an 8.5 out of 10. Due to the book being of a unique nature. This is not just another war novel! It’s an exciting, narrative driven account of an almost unbelievable historical event.

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The Tunnel- TV Review

The Tunnel image

Series stars Clemence Poesy and Stephen Dillane

The Tunnel is a sky TV drama series adaptation of the popular Danish and Swedish show The Bridge. The Tunnel places both British and French detectives on the case of a killer who places a body on the borderline between France and England in the channel tunnel. This therefore gives both detectives mutual responsibility of the case and an intriguing relationship ensues. The show is simply intriguing from beginning to the end, with genuinely surprising narrative turns around every corner.

The show starts when, without spoiling anything, a politically motivated serial killer named the Truth Terrorist, or TT, comes to the fore by murdering a woman and placing their body in the border between France and England. It is this chase for TT along with the relationships between the detectives which makes this essential viewing.  The pendulum swings throughout the series between TT and the detectives and it’s this unpredictability that makes the show so gripping. As the series progresses, more is learnt about the characters, which makes you as a viewer emotionally invested in the actions of the protagonists.

On top of this the Truth terrorist is an engaging and mysterious villain. Many of the politically principles make you uncomfortable as a viewer as you engage in what TT is fighting for, even if the means are rather homicidal. Indeed the truth terrorist gains a degree of support from the wider public. This makes the viewer feel like their is a choice to be made over who to support, TT or the detectives.

However it’s not all positive. Towards the middle of the series the show loses a little bit of pace. The detectives continue to chase TT and the show feels like it is just waiting for something to happen. But something does happen and the show kicks back into life for the final three episodes. This lull in the shows momentum never made me want to switch off, so the implications of this slow down are limited.

The main weakness of this show is the supporting characters, many of which have no impact on the story. The worst of these by far is tabloid journalist Danny Hiller. The character is woefully cliché and annoyed me most of the time he was on the screen. The character is in the role of a facilitator to the main plot and therefore I understand that he is a necessary character, but he is so dislikeable that it was difficult to have any interest in his activities.

I was a massive fan of BBC 1’s detective series Luther. There are many similarities between the two, the foremost of this being the pacing. The imagery is also very similar as well as the  engaging villain and an overall air of unpredictability. So if you are a fan of Luther than this is definitely worth a watch.

Overall I would rate this television series as a 9 out of 10, it’s a truly gripping crime drama, with engaging character and plot development. I hope it gets a second series!

 

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An Alternate Take on England v Italy

Rooney v Italy

The media tirade surrounding Rooney is unfair

Watching England’s unfortunate defeat at the hands of Italy in Manuas on Saturday left me with mixed emotions and now that the dust has settled on the somewhat disappointing result, I thought why not review the game from my own opinion as well as reacting to the media response to the game. The general consensus in the mainstream media is that whilst England lost, they at least had a go and therefore the focus of the majority of the reports is on the promising performance of the losers.

In particular, Raheem Sterling was picked out for individual praise after his impressive first half performance. Whilst this praise is fair considering the problems he caused the ageing Italian defence, I felt that he was completely impotent in the second half and should of been taken off considering his increasingly lethargic movement from the beginning of the second half.

Another omnipresent story in the British media after the defeat was the continuation of the ongoing saga regarding Wayne Rooney’s place in the team, with many papers stating that he had an unimpressive game against Italy. I couldn’t disagree more. I, along with the nation have come to accept that a post-Euro 2004 Rooney is incapable of performing as he did in that tournament, where he tormented opposition defences with his direct running. For the first time since that tournament Rooney showed the same child-like enthusiasm and a willingness to take on a defender. This, as an England fan, was exciting to see. This coupled with his fantastic assist for Sturridges goal, capped off a promising performance from Rooney, The mainstream press are focusing on Rooney’s mistake in the match, which was the wasting of a decent opportunity. Although I acknowledge that that was an important moment in the match, it seems unnecessarily negative to disregard his promising performance to focus on the one miss. It’s even more unfair to create a media tirade aimed at getting Rooney dropped from the England starting XI. I believe this to be outstandingly negative and not useful journalism at all from the British media. Rooney is the one player in the team that strikes fear into the opposition and instead of supporting him, the media aim to weaken him and affect the decision making of Roy Hodgson.

Credit must be given to Italy, who produced a fine performance, reminiscent of their recent 2006 world cup triumph. They dictated the tempo and took their opportunities when they came. Above all this they adapted to the temperature much better than England, due to their almost monopolization of the ball. After this performance I fully expect Italy to go far in this tournament. A place in the quarter finals is the bare minimum that this side can now go on to achieve.

From an English perspective, I think they will go on and qualify second in the group. Costa Rica made Uruguay look a thoroughly average team and their reluctance to play Suarez shows just how unfit he is. The problem area for England is certainly at the back where Jagielka looked out of place in the international stage and Baines looked extremely vulnerable. In my opinion these two positions would be much stronger with Ashley Cole and John Terry occupying them, but that’s a separate issue altogether. I feel that the so called “young lions” showed enough to display that they are capable of stepping up to this level and I expect us to outscore both Uruguay and Costa Rica, but a place in the quarter finals is the best I expect England to do, which is not to say that that is a disappointing outcome.

Keep enjoying the footie,

Joe

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