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This is where I write about what interests me.

Filtering by Category: Things I Love

Financial Fair Play's Big Moment

James Stratford

When UEFA announced their Financial Fair Play (FFP) regulations, I was happy but doubtful they would be implemented. With Manchester City refusing to accept their sanctions this week, the issue has come to its inevitable head and lovers of the game like me wait with baited breath to see what happens next. Will UEFA be able to force clubs like Manchester City to comply with FFP or will the lawyers get to tear it up in the courts? The future of the game's soul is at stake.

Football is a sport, not a business.

Football is a sport, a game, a competition. It's 11 men playing 11 men in a contest of skill, guile, tactics, mentality, guts, athelticism, passion and willpower. It's the greatest game on earth and is loved accordingly.

I detest it when I hear people tell me that football is a business. Like anything that is popular, it can be monetised with great success. That does not mean that it becomes a business. The business should always piggyback on the sport, not the other way around.

I'm not being naive, we'll always have money men in sport and to an extent they are necessary. What he have seen in football is that these men cannot be trusted to self-regulate and the situation has gotten out of hand. Huge clubs like Glasgow Rangers, Leeds United, Valencia, Liverpool, Manchester United amongst others are either facing or have recently faced huge financial trouble. It is an insane situation and as the governming body of European Football, it is UEFA's job to change things and ensure the health of the sport for the sake of the fans.

Why is FFP a good idea?

In short, FFP means that clubs have to be run within their means. It would seem spectacularly obvious that this is a good idea that would lead to a healthier sport and a fairer competition.

According to UEFA President Michel Platini, 50% of clubs are losing money each year. When FFP was being drawn up in 2009, UEFA said that 20% clubs were in actual financial peril. Many of these clubs are playing in leagues that turn over large sums of money. It is madness that the game is in such a sorry state financially.

Why does it happen? Because club owners know that their is a correlation between the money a club spends on wages and its success on the field. It sounds obvious, of course, but the correlation is more direct that you might expect. This means that owners downplay the risks of big spending, dangerously mistaking gambling for investment. Over time, the prevalence of this attitude has inflated wages and transfer fees to a point that the game cannot sustain.

In England, we saw all too recently one of the great clubs destroy itself with this thinking. In 2001 Leeds United were in the Champions League Semi-Final playing Valencia. In 2004 they were relegated to the Championship. Incidently, Valencia have also suffered from debt problems, being forced to sell the likes of David Villa, Juan Mata and David Silva. Leeds United's problems came from a gamble that the clubs success could pay for its loans. When the success dipped, the club imploded.

Glasgow Rangers are another club that spring to mind. A great institution of fooball ravaged to the point of near-oblivion by financial mismanagement.

It has to stop.

So why go after the rich clubs?

The logic is very simple. The more billionaire-backed clubs like Chelsea, Manchester City and Paris Saint Germain spend on players and their wages, the more normally-aspirated clubs will act irresponsibly to compete.

One of FFP's stated aims is to create a level playing field. If the regulations took the wealth of the club's owners into account then nobody could compete on the level of these clubs. That is not a level playing field, and that is not sport. Michel Platini calls it 'financial doping.' I have to say I find that pithy and apt.

Why is Manchester City being singled out?

They're not. The rules are the same for City as they are for every other club wanting to compete in UEFA competitions. They have had years to comply and have clearly failed to do so. Now that they haven't been able to pull the wool over UEFA's eyes and are discovering that UEFA is willing to back FFP, they are falling back on a questionable moral argument that the owners are being punished for their benevolence to the club.

What is beginning to annoy me about Manchester City is the disingenousness and muddying of the waters to justify their position. They cite their investment in the local area. They have expanded the stadium and set about the construction of phenomenal youth facilities. There is no doubt that the owners are good for the club and the area. That is not the point.

They know that the more noble areas of their investment are not held against them by FFP. It is not relavent to the discussion. They mention it because it makes UEFA look unreasonable. Sadly, some are buying it. They can invest all they like – spend billions and billions if they want – on youth facitilities and it will not be punished.

Nobody begrudges new owners investing in clubs. It's a great thing and to be encouraged but it must be done fairly. Huge investment in youth facilities is fantastic. Expanding the stadium lets more fans see the games. Building the brand of the club adds to the richness of the sport. These are all great things and nobody is criticising City for any of it.

FFP is not about stopping investment in clubs, it's about stopping the use of money as a sporting advantage, thereby removing a dangerous incentive to run clubs irresponsibly in order to compete. That means reigning in the billionaires as much as the irresponsible. It's not rocket science.

What about Manchester United?

Another handful of mud City's owners are throwing at FFP is that it does not punish the incredible situation Manchester United find themselves in. I agree with them wholeheartedly that UEFA ought to do something about clubs being taken over in such a way, but that is a separate argument and I am not sure what UEFA can do in that instance.

The Glazers have effectively made Manchester United buy itself on their behalf. It's truly remarkable what they have done there and I can only imagine how angry the club's fans feel about it. However, as far as FFP is concerned, they haven't gained any competitive advantage – quite the opposite.

Manchester United's problems with its owners do not appear on Manchester City's balance sheet.

A cartel of elite clubs

I've heard some journalists and fans accuse the traditionalists of simply wanting to support a status quo where the traditionally successful clubs continue to dominate. This is nonsense on two levels.

Firstly, it's short-sighted. The big clubs wax and wane over the decades. Mancester United's dominance over the past 20 years was preceded by a fallow 26 years. Liverpool haven't won a title since 1990, Arsenal a trophy since 2005. A cartel of the elite doesn't exist. The English game and UEFA competitions have never been sown up by a small group of clubs for any length of time.

Secondly, why would replacing such a group of elite clubs with another group of mega-rich clubs be any better? If the only clubs in contention for silverware were those owned by billionaires, would the game be better for it?

UEFA has it right for once

UEFA had two choices on how to deal with the financial situation of the game. It could crackdown on clubs losing money or it could make all clubs live within their means regardless of the wealth of their owners. Doing neither was not an option.

Do we really want a sport where the fans have to cross their fingers and hope a billionaire decides to choose their club as his plaything in order to dream of success?

It is no surprise to anyone that turkies don't like Christmas. Of course Manchester City fans are loving their newfound success and it's hard to begrudge them it, but they should also remember that Manchester City was itself in financial trouble before the new money came in and relieved them of Thaksin Shinawatra.

It's easy for fans to talk of club rivalries and accusations of sour grapes or jealousy but FFP is good for the game and I hope UEFA can make it stick. If they do, it will improve football in Europe immeasurably. If they fail, it could be a long time before another serious attempt to heal the game can be made. The stakes are high.

…but I digress.

Peter Capaldi is the New Dr Who!

James Stratford

Peter Capaldi is the new Doctor. Image by Hilary Perkins via Wikimedia

Peter Capaldi is the new Doctor. Image by Hilary Perkins via Wikimedia

I have to tip my hat to Steven Moffat. I'll be honest and say right now that I seldom enjoyed Dr Who early on in its Russell T Davies reboot. I found the stories too short-sighted. How many times can you wipe out ALL the Darleks? And why is that a good idea on any level? It's like killing all the Klingons or Mysterons; you know you'll have to find a way to bring them back cause you need them! Then there was the way David Tennant would cockily waddle into a room full of bad guys and have a cheeky chappy showdown, thus completely destroying the viewers' sense of danger or fear of said bad guys.

Steven Moffat created episodes that didn't rely on saving not only earth but the entire universe or the total existence of everything in any time or dimension. There was no towing earth back into place with the TARDIS. He took the series from the ridiculous to the sublime.  Episodes like Blink and Silence in the Library showed what Who could be with a bit more thought and a little less brashness.

When he took over as lead writer for Matt Smith's debut season I was thrilled. He didn't disappoint. That season (Season 5) was superb. Amy Pond was a brilliant character and her coming into Who at the same point as the new Doctor let them build a great on-screen relationship. Episodes like Vincent and the Doctor live long in the memory. My only criticism of Moffat's tenure would be the unnecessary sexuality at certain moments, Amy Pond actually trying to seduce the Doctor on her bed at one point. Not needed, not wanted.

Moffat has always shown a love for storytelling. He was at great pains to tell viewers not to spoil the ending to a series when it was leaked via a premature release of the US Blurays. He wants people to enjoy the stories, not have them spoiled. He has shown the same attitude with Sherlock, teasing audiences with nonsensical clues as to how the sleuth cheated death in The Reichenbach Fall, whetting appetite for the reveal in the coming months.

His sense of showmanship was again evident when we got a grand live reveal of the new Doctor. Sadly, the correct name had somehow managed to get to top of the bookmakers' odds but it didn't take much away from a great little piece of tele. 

A Good Choice?

As an actor, I think so. He has tremendous screen presence and his age affords him authority that could bring something new to the Doctor going forward.  My only concern with Capaldi is the shadow of his past work. Dr Who is primarily a family show, watched and loved by millions of kids. I'm not sure it was wise to choose an actor whose most famous role was one of the most foul-mouthed, loathsome characters in recent television history. The montages of Malcolm Tucker language over Dr Who imagery were inevitable and arrived promptly. Does it matter? In this day and age probably not, but I'd like to think family entertainment was still worthy of keeping whiter than white, naïve as that makes me.

I will stick my neck out and say that I'm glad they didn't give the role to a woman or a black actor, as was rumoured. For me, the Doctor is a white male. I wouldn't have any strong objections to a black actor in principle as let's face it, the whole regeneration thing makes little sense anyway so changing race wouldn't be outrageous, but I'd have worried that had they chosen to do so at this moment they might have been bowing to the absurd criticism recently levelled at the programme that it is 'thunderously racist.' Moffat made it clear he would happily give the role to anyone that he thought was right, regardless of skin colour or gender. I believe him. Personally, though, I feel changing the Doctor's gender would be too much. All characters have characteristics, gender is pretty fundamental. You wouldn't change James Bond's gender and expect the franchise to carry on remotely as it had before whilst skin colour really wouldn't matter.

I'm fascinated to see where it goes from here. I hope it gets a bit grittier and less twee but I'd imagine it will carry on more or less as it has, albeit with the Clara romance a little scuppered perhaps?

 …but I digress.


cover image: By Gage Skidmore from Peoria, AZ, United States of America (Steven Moffat  Uploaded by Dudek1337) [CC-BY-SA-2.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

Imagine Apple Existed

James Stratford

I want you to suspend your disbelief. Suspend your cynicism and just go with this for a minute.

Imagine there was a company that made computers but they didn't kowtow to anyone. Imagine they made their machines with serious, unabashed pride in what they do. Imagine they talked about design and engineering. Imagine they had the courage to charge an honest premium for their products so that they weren't hamstrung by wafer-thin margins. Imagine they made their computers from single slabs of aluminium to near-military grade tolerances.

Imagine they turned down licensing a third party operating system and developed their own. Imagine they cared about what it was like to use their computers more than they cared about market share. Imagine they were willing to suspend development of major new shiny, easily-marketable features for a whole development cycle and just focus on under-the-hood improvements.

Imagine this company decided they could do better than Walmart, Best Buy, PC World or the rest and they set up a chain of specialised, bijou stores. Imagine they didn't have their computers run screen savers promoting the virtues of their machines and just left them unlocked for the customer to play with.  Imagine the people that worked there actually knew about the products and didn't work on commission. Imagine genuine experts in creative fields were hired to show hobbyists and professionals alike what their hardware and software could offer.

Imagine that company felt they could make a computer that could fit in your pocket too. Imagine they weren't afraid of carriers. Imagine they put the user first and built from that point backwards. Imagine their phones weren't displayed as non-functioning plastic facsimiles that told you nothing about what you were buying.

Imagine this was a company that bought its manufacturing partners new equipment just so they could machine holes in aluminium small enough to be invisible until light was shone through them just to make a great-looking power indicator. Imagine they used glass and aluminium not because it was cheap but because it was desirable to the customer.

Imagine this company's senior corporate leadership was made up of the same people that designed the products. Imagine they were willing to cannibalise their own product lines because they knew they could create something new that offered a superior experience. Imagine they had the courage to ignore vehement criticism by an ignorant, click-baiting press and call time on a dithering plugin developer. Imagine they had the confidence to force that same developer to re-write their flagship program from the ground up using a modern API framework because it was the only way to kick them into the new millennium.

Imagine that aside from all the technical prowess, this company cared about people. Imagine it mattered to this company how people experienced their products. Imagine they sought to make computing accessible in every meaning of the word. Imagine they spent time agonising over how to make sophisticated machines simple to use. Imagine they said 'no' to a feature because it was powderpuff not progress. Imagine real time was spent making complex devices usable by the blind, deaf and motor-impaired. Imagine this company's CEO took pride showing the assembled press how autistic children were learning using his company's products because that was the type of company this was.

If this company existed, there would be those that refused to believe it. Years of learning to see through the marketing nonsense of other major multinational companies would predispose them to thinking this must be PR rhetoric.  These people would mock this company because they couldn't overcome their cynicism and believe it was as simple as it seemed. They'd call this company's customers sheep for being so gullible as to buy into this myth of a better experience. It would be easy to join them.

Even the most discerning of readers have to swim against a tide of bias to get any information. Large South Korean companies spend billions of dollars manipulating and cajoling the very people the public trust to bring them journalism in their media and good advice in their stores. Sadly, even many that would consider themselves 'tech-savvy' are naive of this influence.

Imagine someone was like you. Imagine they hated BS; they hated scare-mongering; they hated impenetrable jargon; they hated creaking plastic machines and cheap-feeling hardware; they hated tolerance of buggy software. Imagine that person set up a company and they happened to be a business genius.

Imagine Apple existed.

 …but I digress.