Archive | January, 2018

VAR – Virtually Assured Reprobates

19 Jan

A reprobate, as my Shorter Oxford tells me, is a person cast off by God, hardened in sin, of abandoned character, immoral. For my purposes we’ll call him a Premiership footballer, specifically say Mr  Morata or Mr Pedro.

The introduction of Video Assistant Referee to the global game is set to cause mayhem. This isn’t because video replays are a bad thing, it is because premiership soccer players enjoy cheating more than most other sportsmen and women. Add to this that referees in this sport don’t want their authority to be undermined, so they want the final say. Add to this the scepticism of the old guard – Alan Shearer et al – that errors are ‘part and parcel’ of the game. Controversy causes argument and makes hype and headlines.

Video referral systems have been used widely and successfully in many sports – both individual and team. For the most part they have worked well and enhanced the game. After all don’t we want accurate decisions? Isn’t the truth what we are all after?

Take rugby. Has the ego of the best ref in the world, Nigel Owens, taken a knock from having to ask for the video ref’s advice? You’re joking! Ah but do top rugby players seek to deceive, to cheat, to distort in the same way as Messrs Morata and Pedro did for Chelsea? Not a chance.

Simulation is the new word on the block in soccer circles. It means diving, yes cheating. Strange that no such word exists in the lexicon of rugby, hockey, cricket, tennis, American football.. and the other sports which use video-checks.

Klose, the Norwich defender who looked to have brought down Chelsea’s Willian – yet the referee Graham Scott chose not to video-refer had this to say. “VAR would help the referee sometimes in some situations but I’m not a fan of it. Football is all about these situations. We remember Diego Maradona’s Hand of God …etc Football needs these situations, it puts emotions on, you can write about it, the TV stations have something to talk about…”

So there we have it – at least some players and many pundits are sceptical of VAR. They want it to fail because the drama of cheating and getting decisions wrong creates uproar and fulminating punditry. Does soccer really prefer gamesmanship to sportsmanship? Until the great game changes its attitude to the truth it will continue, in my book, to be less than great.

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Darkest Hour…(Better luck this time)

16 Jan

My enjoyment of Gary Oldman’s brilliant Churchill, moodily navigating his way through the days which led up to Dunkirk was, as is regularly the case, diminished by cinema philistines. And in Epsom too!

The Odeon in Upper High Street – a stone’s throw from  the famed racecourse and a dose of salts – boasts machine-generated tickets and 8 super-screens. Popcorn and full-fat coke are dispensed by grim-looking students scraping their pennies so as to spend their summers as far from the Odeon as possible.

Large numbers poured into Screen 8. Far from silent, the hubbub of conversation and the dazzle of iphones suggested a cavernous wine bar. The trailers were already trailing. Why can’t people find their seats, settle and shut up? A toilet visit prior to entry would ensure comfort and the chance to silence the bloody mobile.

The couple next to us, circa 70, nattered and played with their phones as if they had been instructed that this was the very time and place to obsess with talk and twitter. Luckily they put a sock in it, for the most part, when the main feature started to roll.

Behind us a family – with kids too young to remember the crass errors of  Cameron, never mind the conciliatory chump that was Chamberlain – were set to cause further disturbance. Clearly smug parents were ticking the mind-improvement box and preparing their children for world domination. However learning to behave comes before learning to lead in my book.

Cinemas flog eats and drinks which have extraordinary decibel levels when opened and masticated or otherwise consumed. I need not list the snap, crackle and pop of sounds that cut through the inner ear of my calm. As the opening scenes lit up the screen, I was already a teeth-gnashing mess of ire; I knew that there was trouble ahead. Darkest hour indeed.

Joe Wright, the director, clearly felt that Oldman and Kristen Scott Thomas were likely to grab the headlines. He injected a range of camera tricks from aerial wizardry to close-ups to Oldman’s/Churchill’s nasal blackheads so as to persuade us that the director is worth his place on the credits.

Anthony McCarten’s screenplay is at its best in the in the tense war cabinet rooms with Churchill agonising whether to submit to Mussolini’s offer to broker a victory peace deal for Hitler. Halifax and Chamberlain push him to the brink of conceding. This tension – and the great speeches – are the real stuff of the film. The romantic scenes are distractions: meeting ‘real’ people on the tube; draining tumblers of scotch with the full English each morning while making world-changing decisions from his bed; the bullying-cum-flirtation with Lily James who plays his wet-behind-the-ears secretary. But it’s Hollywood-geared and Oscar-fashioned. And Oldman still steals the show – make no mistake.

I noted that the pathetic advice about phones and other nuisances arrived on screen immediately before the British Board of Film Classification Certificate heralding the main feature. Noooooo.

Put a sign at the front of the cinema which says: Turn your phones off now. No food or drink allowed in the auditorium but there will be a half-time comfort break (as in theatres). Silence in the cinema after taking your seats.

Sounds like I’m a bit of a Nazi (Nartzi) – or Naaaarsi as Churchill would have said.

Another reading year…

10 Jan

Here again my reading list for 2017. Fewer than previous years. I must have become distracted by the joy of world events. I still don’t get round to enough non-fiction but Martin Amis’s collection The Rub of Time is first on my list.

Friends of mine have done so well to publish in the last twelve months. I lag behind but 2018 may prove a watershed. Watch this space…

Books 2017

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