Archive for August, 2010

Book of the Month: The Power of the Dog

Cover of Don Winslow's The Power Of The Dog

Crazy title, great book

In a world full of drugs, where obsessed readers gorge down on Lee Child, Michael Connolly and James Ellroy like they were amphetamine coated candy pops, discovering Don Winslow is like getting your first sniff of crack cocaine. It’s fast, it’s all encompassing and when you’ve finished voraciously cramming The Power of the Dog down you just can’t wait to get another hit.

This is a two and a half day book, which isn’t to say it’s short, just that it’s compulsive. You’re totally hooked on Don’s decades long epic on the rise and fall of the Mexican cocaine cartels and the attempts of the authorities to put them out of business. There’s corruption a-plenty along with lashings of claret and more containerloads of coke than you can shake a nosespoon at.

But it’s not the subject matter that’s so compelling as much as it is Don’s ability to craft real, believable characters, each of whom speaks with a wholly unique, identifiable voice. You sympathise with each of them, whatever their status, and their hopes, ambitions and fears all seem thoroughly real. In this way it reminds me of Ellroy’s LA Confidential, a grand, sprawling behemoth of a novel that interlinks story after story into a powerful narrative that evokes both time and place and gives you a sense of really being there in amongst the action.

This is one of those books you just devour and, having finally consumed it, immediately want to  begin again if only to recapture the sensation of reading it once more. Depending on your character, you’re torn between immediately lending it out to your very best friend so they can share the experience and never mentioning it to anyone and hoarding it all for yourself.  I’m of the former disposition and have already lent it and by god I’m almost regretting it. There’s only one thing left to do and that’s to get stuck into all Don’s other work. Like crack, one dose is not enough.

Archive for August, 2010

What We Learned From Prem Week 2

Still Early Days, But It’s Taking On A Familiar Feel

Difficult to say we learned anything from Arsenal vs Blackpool, except possibly how utterly forlorn Wigan are. Blackpool were completely out of their depth and performed about as well as a bunch of practice ground dummies as Arsenal pretty passed and tikki takked their way around them. Rosicky was commanding in the number 10 role just in front of Blackpool’s defence and Theo Wallchart took full advantage of their lack of pace and understanding. 6 – 0 didn’t flatter Arsenal, but somehow neither did it make them appear totally dominant in a cruel, kill the opposition off and leave them to die sort of way.

Wigan meanwhile were well on their way to achieving their goal of continuing to look even less likely to stay up than Blackpool. Apparently they held their own against Chelsea for a good half hour before being comprehensively run over by the Chelski juggernaut.  Drogba looked back to his old, club self and once they had scored, Chelsea never looked like getting less than a hatful.

Man U proved what we’ve all suspected for a while, that Fulham at home are a tough team to beat. In a man of the match performance Brede Hengerland, who’d previously stated that he didn’t like getting noticed, scored at both ends, his final goal an outstanding header to deprive Man U of two points.

Man City showed us nothing special, there still doesn’t seem to be a coherent team there, but they were still more than enough for them to turn over Liverpool, who look like a team requiring major surgery to get back to their old top four status. I can see both struggling to find a consistent run of form, let alone a consistent team. Liverpool don’t have the cash to invest at present, while Man City have too much to be sensible and with Mancini’s play it safe away from home philosophy, they might have a tough time nicking that top four space from Spurs.

If last season was their breakthrough season, qualification for the Champions League being the equivalent of being promoted to the Prem, then this season is critical for Spurs. They have to get into the group stages and stay in the top four to begin to reap the benefits of last year’s hard work. Based on their defeat of Stoke, they look to be a good attacking team certainly capable of challenging for the top four, but with ‘Arry’s preference for a 4 – 4 – 2 lineup they may have problems in the Big Cup.

Aston Villa by contrast are looking more and more like one of them yo-yo sides. One week they put on a good show, the next they’re torrid. And you can’t put it down simply to the loss of Milner. They were simply awful defensively against Newcastle, who like Blackpool are showing that the best in last year’s Championship can take the rubbish Prem sides relatively easily. You feel that if Villa were to lose against Rapid Vienna and be eliminated from the Little Cup, then their season would effectively be over and it wouldn’t even be the end of August.

Birmingham and Blackburn played yet another one of those Why-The-Fuck-Are-They-In-The-Prem matches featuring two teams whose football is based on ‘character’ rather than any display of skill or attractiveness. Like the ugly girls at the disco, they’re always there being picked up last of all by the Match of the Day crew.

You could say much the same about Sunderland, who look every bit as ghastly as a Steve Bruce team can be, and Wolves, who still haven’t managed to get a competent goal scorer. Admittedly both West Brom and Everton look like they might show a bit of promise on a good day, while bizarrely Bolton look like they might break with their tradition of lumpen prole play and actually pass it around a bit.

Finally West Ham are this year’s Team That’s Too Good To Go Down. They aim to eliminate any credit Avram Grant got for taking Chelski to the Big Cup final all those years ago.

Archive for August, 2010

What We Learned From The Start Of The New Season

Plus ça Change, Plus C’est La Même Chose

I have to say, following the serious disappointment of the World Cup, where there must have been, oh at least a couple of good games (out of 64), not one of which featured either of the finalists, and where none of the many Prem Stars on show actually did anything to either live up to or enhance their reputations, I wasn’t exactly overawed by the prospect of another Prem season.

I’m not alone. Apparently season ticket sales are down, even if TV revenue is up, up, up and parsimony seems to be the order of the day for everyone bar the Arabian Knights of Man City. So the Sky hype machine has once again focused on the same old, same old ‘stars’, many of whom are showing their age like teddy bears with the stuffing falling out. The Drog, Torres, Cesc, Rhino et al. The outlook is that the Prem has, once again, been devalued, with no real big names coming in and none of the Big Four really doing anything more than treading water, while the Best of the Rest play catch up and the Relegation Dogfighters just slap on the low grade talent like a pile of dirty old trollops from a turn of the century East End flophouse. What on earth could possibly keep us entertained as we wait for the start of the Champions League and some real football (although that doesn’t get going until the New Year anyway)?

Blackpool were unusually stunning against the thoroughly useless Wigan. The predictions were that both of these clubs were going down, but if only one of them gets stuffed, then it won’t be Blackpool. They’re an interesting team, if only because their wage structure provides less money than players could get playing in divisions below the Prem. So you can be fairly sure that every single player is motivated by something other than immediate financial gain. They’ll be an interesting proof of whether team spirit and togetherness really does count. Wigan, by contrast, started the season as they left the last one on the end of a right good thumping.

Sunderland vs Birmingham simply served as a reminder of why the Prem would be better off pruned down without either of these teams. Utterly unmeritorious football, backed up with the kind of agricultural, talent killing tackling that FIFA has been trying to outlaw for decades. Cattermole, the apparent engine of the Sunderland side, lived up to expectations and was sent off for exactly the kind of late, studs up sliding bullshit that kills football. The sooner players like him (and their lickspittle managers who attempt to defend them) are out of the game, the better. Birmingham are just shit.

Stoke have just spent a club record on signing Kenwyne Jones, so they must be delighted that he was scissor tackled  by Wolves’ loathsome Craddock and carted off after about 5 minutes. Still it’s tempting to say it’s just desserts as Stoke’s Shawcross (another of those ‘strong’ players who can’t seem to actually tackle properly) was responsible for ‘doing’ Aaron Ramsey a while back.

Speaking of scissor tackles, Liverpool’s new boy Joe Cole proved that he has all the talent to be the next Paul Scholes by doing one on Arsenal’s new boy Koscielney and being sent off for his trouble. Like Rhino, Cole has been suckered into thinking that you need to spice up talent by running about like a twat and tackling badly. Meanwhile, Arsenal still don’t seem to have learned that simply passing nicely isn’t enough and a bit of bite is required if they really want to challenge this season. Mind you a new goalie and some defenders wouldn’t go amiss either.

Chelski chewed up and spat out the utterly tame West Brom. They looked every bit as dangerous as they did at the end of last season and have shed themselves of some unwanted baggage in the shape of Bollocks (who must be torn between being gutted that he was injured in the FA Cup final and didn’t make the World Cup and being more gutted that Germany did so well there without him), Deco and, possibly, Joe Cole. They were merciless against a suicidally bad West Brom.

Given their manager had left them five days earlier and they have an important Europa League qualifier coming up, you’d have thought it was a perfect time to give Villa a good stomping. Not apparently if you are West Ham, who seem intent on destroying whatever shreds of a reputation manager Avram Grant has. They were pitiful and Villa cut them open.

Now, while there were some really bad mistakes and cock ups – Reina’s Robert Green-like spooning of the ball and himself into his own net narrowly tipping Everton’s Tim Howard’s Gary Sprake-like gift of the ball to Blackburn’s Kalinic for goalkeeping howler of the day – the biggest fuck up of all was at White Hart Lane. How Tottingham failed to muller the overegoed puddings of Man City is a mystery. Sure Hart was great in goal for City, but Tottingham will be killing themselves that they didn’t establish psychological mastery over a team that, once again, showed that Mancini’s default position is to play for a draw.

Man U seem to have started well, even if Rhino is playing like that ringer Sourness bought when he was manager of Southampton. They showed Newcastle what for, while Scholes showed that you don’t have to run about like a nutter tackling badly to run the game. Oh and Fulham started life without Uncle Wroy by drawing miserably with Bolton.

So, not a lot of skill or even entertainment on show (Blackpool, Chelski and Man U aside), plenty of evidence that the Prem is more likely to drown in the shite quality of the Championship rather than rise to the level of the Champions League. And, finally, god spare us from the vacuous sofa-curdling lifestyle magazine bullshit that is Match of the Day 2. It’s hard to imagine a programme more bereft of football or stuffed fuller of preening One Show wannabe featurettes and musical medleys than this. Cut it down to size and just show the bloody football, then stuff all the garbage onto some daytime soap show. Because this is enough to put you off watching football on a Sunday altogether.

Archive for August, 2010

More Tweets From The Palace 2010-08-15

Archive for August, 2010

What We Learned From Engerland vs Hungary (2-1)

Bloody Good For A Friendly

It's all go for a whole new era of post-World Cup disappointment as Rhino and Greedy Stevie Me prepare for kick off

This was everything a friendly really needed to be, particularly when you consider how rubbish we’d been in the World Cup (which already seems like about a zillion years ago and part of our ancestral cultural past). In many ways the result was the least important thing about the whole affair, sure it was nice to see them winning again, but if that had been all that there was it would have been a very pyrrhic victory.

Initially the signs weren’t good. We had the bones of the old skool side which had done so much to destroy their claims to be the ‘golden generation’ and the absolute minimum of changes – Hart in goal, Jagielka playing in the ‘Rio’ position next to Titface, and the inexplicably not taken to South Africa duo of Adam Johnson and Theo Wallchart on the wings. You felt that if this was the team Crapolo wanted to take to Euro 2012 then he had learned next to nothing from the World Cup but had simply retreated into his shell to count his money.

We were promised a team in sackcloth, who’d been made catatonic by fear and the majesty of the new Wemberley, a set of lads who were ready to take a public whipping in the same way Titface occasionally takes bookings for the team. Instead we got a team that seemed to have been released from pressure, like a fighter who gets up having been punched in the face realising that, you know what, he was still alive and it didn’t hurt as much as he’d feared.

What we got were all those things that Engerland had seemed incapable of doing. Things like accurate passing, movement off the ball, genuinely accurate crosses from Wallchart, and at least one piece of actual positive interaction between Gerrard and Lumpy. Admittedly the latter still doesn’t suggest that there’s any realistic way these two can play together effectively, but it was a nice moment for the scrapbook. Hart looked like a solid presence in goal and Wallchart, Ashley Cole and the Johnsons provided both width and real threat down both wings (even if Glen Johnson was pretty bloody awful). But the most positive thing was that players were trying things rather than simply going for the easiest ‘pass of fear’ back to the man who gave you the ball. Sure many of those flicks and dinks didn’t come off (possibly the result of players’ unfamiliarity with one another), but they were threatening and indicated a team that was actually enjoying their football. There were some lovely moments of interplay down the wings, great close passing which threatened to pull the Hungarians’ defence apart and overall the team looked like they wanted to win, which frankly they hadn’t done throughout the World Cup safari. They looked hungry.

Typical Engerland

It really wouldn’t be Engerland without a little bit of a mess. I can’t count the number of times when Engerland have had the best part of possession and then gone a goal down, so why should this match be any different? True to form Engerland were the masters of their own misfortune as once again our defence was caught napping. Blame it on the unfamiliarity of players with one another, but Dawson’s error in letting Zoltan Gera through on goal echoed Titface’s lapse against Klose for Germany’s first goal and suggests that defensive coaching needs radical improvement under Crapolo. Admittedly Dawson did well to get back and try to clear the ball off the line and would have succeeded if only the French linesman hadn’t already given the goal.

Untypical Reaction

Normally at this point Engerland would have gone into shellshock reaction and either played all eleven men in opposition’s penalty area, or hunkered down in our own six yard box and conceded the game. Instead, in a radical change of emphasis, we calmed the game down, re-established control and got back into the game. Smart pressure from Adam Johnson on the right and Young  and Gibbs on the left put the pressure back onto the Hungarians. Johnson is fast becoming one of my favourite players, if only because he is the spitting image of Joy Division’s dead singer Ian Curtis, and the pressure he helped create opened up the centre of the pitch, allowing Zamora, who was playing the Heskey role (big striker who runs about irritating the defence without actually scoring) to, well, run about a bit and irritate the defence without actually scoring.

This in turn left space in front of the defence for Gerrard to meander into with the extraordinary result that he scored two excellent goals (note to self, this is almost as many goals as Engerland managed in total in the World Cup). And while the first was a typical Gerrard strike from outside the area, the second was the type of goal everyone wanted to see at the World Cup but didn’t, a mazey, jinky little dribble through four defenders with a sneaky toe poke at the end to beat the keeper. If it had been Messi doing it we’d never hear the end of it (admittedly, given it’s Gerrard, we’ll probably never hear the end of it either).

Overall, A Good Result, But . . .

A good game, played in the right attacking spirit, showcasing some of the array of talent at Crapolo’s disposal. The new boys and reentries done good and on the strength of this we shouldn’t have that much trouble pruning the dead wood and getting through our qualification group. That said, Hungary couldn’t have been more accommodating, playing the sort of 4-4-2 formation that no one intelligent does in international football anymore, defensive lapses show that sadly Titface’s Engerland career is far from over and Crapolo looks thoroughly clueless. But worst of all was the continued failure to bring Rooney into the game in any meaningful way. Irrespective of his position at Man U, he just isn’t working as an international striker, seeming far more effective when coming in from behind rather than leading the line. You’re left with the lingering sense that maybe, just maybe, his best years as an international player (or at least as an international striker) are well behind him. But no way is Crapolo going to grasp that nettle just yet.

Archive for August, 2010

More Tweets From The Palace 2010-08-08

  • @guymurphy And Barca being a zillion pounds in debt means they really need the cash. Bloody good football though. in reply to guymurphy #
  • I love Delicious #
  • Easier than easy peasy draw from Tottingham in the Big Cup. Now Arry can spunk money on some new players. #football #
  • New Post – Goodbye Googlebrick Wave Why Google Wave was like the Segway #
  • Bye Bye Google Wave. A perfect example of a clever piece of technology that no one could figure out a use for. #
  • Cool site. Find your perfect social media strategy – nice work Mike #
  • I liked a YouTube video — Maschine and Sampling Part 2. "New York State" #