World Cup Woes – how I got it wrong, and how England can get it right next time

Well, my predictions for the World Cup group stages were… well, let’s not beat around the bush. They were wrong. Mostly.

Group A went OK with Brazil and Mexico getting the 1/2

Group B should have been Spain / Netherlands, but with the Iberian Implosion, netherlands took top spot followed by Chile.

Group C was always going to be open, but whilst i picked Ivory Coast and Japan, both of these went out, losing to Colombia and Greece.

Group D? Yeah, let’s not dwell on England. Costa Rica suprised everyone, and Uruguay now have a second round game to get their collective teeth into.

E worked out OK with France ahead of Switzerland, and F was a romp for Argentina, with Nigeria coming second.

Tonights games will decide G and H, with Belgium looking strong in the latter, whilst a draw between Germany and USA will see both teams through.

But what about England? It wasn’t the disaster many predicted – OK, we finished bottom and are home early for the first time since 1958, but there were some positives to take from the games, in the way some of the younger players performed. The issues England have are not with this squad, it’s more fundamental than that.

So here’s the Riserdrummer 5-step plan on how to fix English National Football:

1. We need a manager who isn’t interested in whether you are a ‘name’ or a ‘star’ – if you are good enough, you are in. If your form dips, you are out. Alf Ramsey never suffered fools, even dropping Jimmy Greaves from the 1966 team, and he didn’t get to play in the final. That’s the sort of attitude we need again, the manager in charge and the players working for him and each other. I don’t particularly care if he’s English, I just want a manager that can do the job – both match-days and in between times, with the success of the team paramount.

2. We need to play a system that fits the players, not trying to find players that fit the system. If our best team would struggle in this 4-2-3-1 formation but are great in a 3-5-2, then play 3-5-2. If the next game we need to switch to a 4-4-2 because of team changes, then don’t be afraid to do it. Stop forcing players to play out of position just so we can play a so-called ‘progressive’ system.

3. We should select squads that have good cover in ALL positions. I’m astounded that we only took one right-back to Brazil, and no natural left-sided midfielder. Our strikers were all very similar, and therefore all wanted to play down the middle and kept making the same runs. It’s crazy. 23 players is enough for 2 in each position, and more than enough to have some variety in our squad, so that if we need to have a big target-man up front, we can play one.

4. We need to instill proper pride in the badge. I have no doubt that Harry Redknapp’s comments about players wanting to skip games was untimely, but it was also very true. Playing for England doesn’t mean the same as it used to, and it should be the pinnacle of a player’s career. These days there’s too much focus on the cash available in the PL and CL, and that’s all some players think about. Things like the World Cup are just a little jolly boys outing.

5. Finally, we need to establish an FA organisation that’s fit for purpose. There doesn’t seem to be the connection and flow now between the U18, U21 and senior sides. The impression is that they are all independently run, and they shouldn’t be. How are we going to bring young players on in the International arena if there’s no cross-over?

World Cup 2014 – The Riserdrummer Prediction!

It’s time for the best / biggest / most corporate / most corrupt (delete as applicable) football tournament in the world! Welcome to Brazil 2014…..

I’m not going to go into the murkier side of things here – suffice to say I wouldn’t be at all surprised if the 2018 decision was as dodgy as the 2022 one – because that’s being talked about all over the interweb already. Instead, I am going to take on the mantle of my late namesake Paul the Psychic Octopus!

Here’s my take on what we will see over the next few weeks:


I can’t really see too many upsets in this group. Last time out, South Africa became the first host nation not to make it out of the Group stages, and there’s no way that’ll happen again this time round.  Brazil will win all of their games, and after that it’s a bit of a free-for-all. I can see it coming down to goal difference, with Mexico getting the nod for me in second place.


On paper, this is a win for Spain, with Netherlands and Chile fighting for second. Spain usually have an early hiccup, though, so it’s not so clear cut. I still expect them to win the group, with Netherlands coming second despite Chile’s home continent advantage. Australia will be entertaining and the neutral’s favourite, before getting the early flight home.


Group C is without doubt the most open group, whilst also being the weakest by some margin. There are no clear favourites, and so it comes down to individual match ups.  First games see Colombia play Greece (which should favour the South American side) whilst Japan and Ivory Coast will play out a draw. In game 2, I can see another draw between Colombia and Ivory Coast, whilst Japan will beat Greece, putting the Europeans out. Ivory coast have the advantage of playing Greece last, but will need a win to get through, whilst a draw between Colombia and Japan will put three teams on 5 points, and it’ll all come down to who puts more goals past Greece. In the absence of any science, I’ll go for Ivory Coast winning the group ahead of Japan.


England will hopefully benefit from two things: Italy being notoriously slow starters, and Roy Hodgson getting heatstroke and picking the right eleven players. If these things happen, I can see the Italians joining Costa Rica on the plane home, whilst we finish second behind Uruguay. We need to get at least one win against Uruguay or Italy in order to make our final game against the group minnows worthwhile, and meeting Italy in the first game counts in our favour.


France can count themselves lucky. Having scraped into the finals via the playoffs, they have secured a group that should be a stroll in the park for them. As long as they keep out of the way of the Honduran’s over-the-top tackling, they should come top of the group. Ecuador’s success in getting a draw against England last week was mainly down to defensive lapses (or as I like to call them, “Chris Smalling”) and so I can see both of the European teams getting through, with France at the head of the group ahead of Switzerland.


As with Brazil in Group A, this one is a clear Argentina win. Iran are the also-rans in the group, and so second place will come down to the game between Bosnia and Nigeria. It’s being played down south, and so the conditions won’t favour either side particularly. Gut feeling is a Nigeria win, with a flash of brilliance being the difference that sends the Europeans home.


The Germans will fancy themselves to win the group, and tend to grind out the results they need in the early stages. Ghana are a good side, but I can’t see them breaking down the other two sides easily. Portugal are an enigma, and have perennially under-performed at World Cups. For some reason, I’m backing USA to snatch second, because I can see tears for Ronaldo yet again…


Belgium are many people’s tip to do well this time round, but they need to be on their toes to get out of the group. Whilst Algeria are clearly the weakest side, in South Korea and Russia they face different but equally difficult opposition. The Russians will be strong and disciplined, and the Koreans will move the ball very quickly and will pose a very real goal threat. Because tournament football tends to favour teams that are attack-minded over those that are ultra-cautious, I’m going to go for a Belgium / South Korea 1-2.

That will make my last 16 line up as follows:









Straight knock-out from now on changes the game entirely. All-or-nothing tends to lead to more cautious displays, as every mistake punished could be the difference between going through or going home.

I am going to pick these sides to go through: Brazil, England, Spain, Uruguay, France, Germany, Argentina, and Belgium. If the last 16 line up works out as it is above, I really can’t see any upsets. Possibly USA or Ivory Coast have the best chance, but even so, I’d be surprised.

So my quarter-final line up pits BRAZIL against ENGLAND, FRANCE against GERMANY, SPAIN against URUGUAY and ARGENTINA against BELGIUM.

Some of these are straight-forward. Brazil, with all the patriotism in the world, will beat England. At home, in a world Cup quarterfinal, in the coastal heat of Fortaleza? No question. Germany will prove too strong for France, and Argentina will beat Belgium. Spain v Uruguay is an interesting one, and it’s the most difficult to call. I’m going to go with Spain simply because they have the pedigree.

At semi-final time, we’re looking at BRAZIL v GERMANY, which is a match up of two of the games most successful nations. It’ll pivot on whether Brazil can counter the organisation of the Germans. I think they will, and so Brazil should take their place in the final against the winner of the other semi, between ARGENTINA and SPAIN.  Again, this is a really close one, and my head says that Argentina will win through. However, I have a hunch that they will come unstuck. When Spain turn it on, they can be irresistible, and that’s why I’m going for them.

So – a BRAZIL v SPAIN final…. European sides have never won a World Cup in American countries. And Brazil have home advantage. So it’s a Brazil win… right?

I’m going to say…. yes. Despite a very close game, I’m gonna say 3-1 to Brazil in 90 minutes.

So there you have it. My World Cup Prediction. Which means I win nothing from the office sweep-stake, but hopefully will perform better than those smug buggers pundits on the telly!




Social Media – socially aware or socialist’s playground?

Today has been an interesting day.

My time spent on Facebook has revealed the following:

  • a few pictures people have taken of their lunch
  • two videos of dogs doing unusual but amusing things
  • about a hundred updates on what level people have reached in online games
  • several motivational posts (usually a quote by Martin Luther King Jr or Nelson Mandela, against a sepia-tone beach scene) and
  • a very few posts about what people are actually doing.

There have been a few other posts though, which is what kinda makes me set my jaw against the way all social media seems to be used by certain groups. Let’s call them PALOMINOs (Political Activists Lying Over Morally Irritating  Notes of  Outrage). And like the horses of the American western movie, they are everywhere.

Today’s PALOMINO example popped up three times, and was a letter, ostensibly from a guy called ‘Steve Pottinger‘, writing to Cafe Nero returning his (free) loyalty card in protest against the amount of Corporation Tax the company paid last year. Apparently, had they paid tax it would have:

  • Paid for the NHS – or at least the care his father needed
  • Covered the salaries of all the nurses and doctors that came into contact with him
  • Paid for the education needs of all his nieces and nephews
  • Paid the housing benefit for everyone he knows on low income in high-rent areas

All from Cafe Nero’s Corporation Tax.

Now I’m all for stamping out tax evasion – don’t get me wrong. But it’s worth pointing out that Cafe Nero haven’t evaded any tax at all. On their revenues, profits, debt pay-downs and the corporate structure (the holding company for the franchised organisation is based offshore), they were not actually liable for any Corporation Tax, and therefore haven’t done anything wrong – either legally or morally.

What they HAVE done in the last year is pay over £21 million in VAT, and £13 million in NI contributions. So they are hardly the ogre that Steve Pottinger paints them as.

That made me wonder a little more why Steve was so outraged. So I dug a little, and it’s interesting…

Steve is a ‘poet’. His writing can be found on his website, which I have no desire or inclination to promote here. Go look it up, if you can be bothered.

However, he’s clearly in the market for making himself known by being as contentious as possible. Hence his connection with a group of PALOMINOs called Occupy London, through which he has published this letter. You remember Occupy London, don’t you? These were the group that went a-camping outside St Paul’s Cathedral a couple of years back, whilst all around them people simply ignored them and got on with their jobs until they went away. They are a staunchly anti-capitalist group, who see it as their life’s work to bring down the system, all the time leeching said system for all the benefits they can grab. They would see the entire financial industry smashed, and their targets are basically anyone who has any money that isn’t being given to them and their brethren.

All of this made me think about finance and taxation more than I really needed to today, but I have come to a few conclusions:

  1. Taxation pays for the state machine. Always has, always will.
  2. PALOMINOs such as Occupy London believe that legal tax avoidance is a scam to prevent the redistribution of wealth. It’s not – see point 1.
  3. They think that the way to change taxation laws are to boycott companies that operate legally. It’s not. One freebie latte more or less is meaningless.
  4. Anarchists really don’t get the way business works, but that doesn’t stop them spouting about it like ‘experts’. Here’s a hint: shouting at a banker doesn’t make you a financial expert, any more than smashing up a pizza restaurant makes you an Italian.
  5. Anarchists DO get social media, however. It’s the only way to explain why their messages are so widespread, and so readily picked up by the masses.

Here’s the thing: Companies should be more aware of the social implications of the way they operate. They should conduct themselves in a way that is fair to all – to everybody in their supply chain, to all of their customers, to all of their employees, and to the world at large. That doesn’t extend to giving away their entire profit to some lank-haired hippie squatting in a tent outside one of London’s major landmarks. And it doesn’t extend to paying more tax than the regulations and laws decree, because guess what, Steve? And guess what, Occupy? If they did, it would all be refunded! Because THAT’S the way the system works! It’s what we as individuals expect, and it’s the same for companies.

But then you’d know that as PALOMINOs, wouldn’t you, as you’re experts, having once staged a sit-down protest outside a branch of NatWest….


Buskers, Chuggers, and Big Issue Sellers

Usually, buskers are – to me – nothing more than a mild inconvenience. They generally fall somewhere in the middle of the annoyances that a stroll through a town usually provides. There are a few, and it’s worth listing them here, to put my blog article in context:


Now, for those outside of the know, that stands for Charity Muggers. These are people, generally in green ninja-style ‘low-visibility’ jackets, who ask for a minute of your time, but who are really after a deep conversation about their pet issue – which is always something about which you could not possibly care less – and are also after the contents of your wallet in perpetuity. I have two easy ways to avoid them. First, is the generic ‘just received a fake call on my mobile phone‘ approach. This works far better than just keeping your head down, because if you are approached whilst on the phone, it’s them that are the inconsiderate oafs, and not you. The second way to deal with Chuggers is to identify their cause early on, and then apologise, but say you’ve just signed a petition with their arch-nemesis at the other end of the high street that will get them running off, foaming at the mouth. An example would be: “Excuse me, we’re with PETA, can I have a moment of your time?” “Oh, no – sorry. If only you’d caught me earlier, but I’ve just signed the petition of the Cosmetics / Tobacco / Pharmaceutical company at the end of the street, they are collecting because they have run out of beagles and monkeys…”

Big Issue Sellers.

Now I’ve bought my fair share of Big Issue magazines in the past, but whenever I look through them, there’s nothing there that’s really a big issue for me. To me, a ‘big issue’ is when my Sky TV reception fails, or when the car breaks down on the way to the gig, or even the crazy price differences for Apple goods between the US and the UK. So I’m not a regular purchaser these days, and a recent trip to Edinburgh confirmed why this is the case. I’ve seriously never seen so many Big Issue sellers in one place, and when I discovered that Big Issue has an office there – yet through the window I couldn’t see a single sleeping bag – I realised that if they can afford premises where nobody sleeps, they probably don’t actually need my two quid that much. The mobile phone approach works best, followed by the ‘apologetic smile and shake of head whilst patting supposedly empty pockets‘ method.

Buskers have, in the past, demonstrated that they are at least making an effort to give something back for your hard earned cash. And some are really good – but those will nowadays be found on YouTube rather than on the streets of your town. What’s left is the reason for this missive – the terrible quality of street musicians that is fast becoming a blight on the urban landscape of our once-great nation.

Bad buskers come in many guises. There’s the utterly predictable busker, such as the guy in the underpass with his guitar, cycling round the songs he knows, such as Cavatina, and…. well, Cavatina again. If I hear one more busker playing the theme to The Deer Hunter, I’m gonna start taking my chances on the dual carriageway instead.

Then there’s the ‘one man and his backing tape‘ busker. This is the guy in the rainbow jacket with the Bluetooth link between his guitar, his headset microphone, and his amp. Quite how he can afford something so high tech and still be begging on the streets for a few coppers defies logic. And the danger here is that simple avoidance is harder, as he can follow you at least fifty yards from his base. In his case you just need to keep your focus on the road ahead, or if that’s proving difficult, duck into a shop and then challenge him to follow you. You never know, having a mad busker chasing you around the interior of your local Ann Summers might be good for a few chuckles down the pub later on. Especially if he’s singing “I WANNA KNOW WHAT LOVE IS…. AND I WANT YOU TO SHOW MEEEE….” as he sprints past the furry handcuffs and transparent underwear on display.

Last week I saw two buskers that defied belief. Both in Dorset, which must be some kind of Busker Training Zone. Or maybe Twilight Zone.

First off, let’s call this one Busker A. I have to do that, because I really couldn’t tell whether the seventeen-year-old was male or female, so utterly generic was their appearance. Hair down to the waist and clearly unwashed, sweatshirt, jeans, trainers,you know the type. They were sat on an amp, from which was coming a generic early 80s slow rock backing track, to which they were adding the guitar solo.

Now guitar solos can be great. When they are, I love listening to a guitarist flinging his fingers over the fretboard. What I can’t forgive in this case, was the terrible quality. Not of the playing, because I have no basis to suggest they put a note wrong. Where the problem lies is with the ambition. The backing track never varied. I was in earshot for maybe an hour whilst walking around Weymouth, and the speed and energy never rose above a very slow dirge. And the guitar sound never changed from that typical soul-less Gary Moore whine. And all of this, in public, from a seventeen year old who should at least have been throwing in some Foo Fighters or Pearl Jam riffs.

Sad as this sounds, it was potentially topped by Busker B the following day. Sherborne’s a lovely little town, and a little street music should have enhanced an already pleasant afternoon. However, Busker B (definitely a male in this case) managed to avoid this obvious outcome in a brilliant way. Sat half-way along the High Street with his accordion, he played The Anniversary Song (better known as “Oh How We Danced” and recorded by such greats as Al Jolson, Andy Williams, Bing Crosby, Rosemary Clooney and Frank Sinatra) – which should have been lovely. and would have been, if only he’d known the full song.

But no – he knew (and played) one verse. Well – almost one verse. He couldn’t quite finish it off, and so put an improvised ending to the tune, before looping back and starting again. Over and over. And over. And over….

There was a spark of creativity there, however. He managed to get the tune wrong every single time, but in a slightly different way. Just to keep his audience in their toes.

Needless to say, the hats were not exactly bulging with coins at the end, and nothing had been donated by me. Except this review of how NOT to play music on the streets. Which I offer free and for nothing.

Key takeaways? Well, to Busker A, my advice would be to play some different stuff, at different speeds, and expand your horizons beyond Gary Moore.  And for Busker B? Learning the one verse of the one song you can play would be a start…

Album Review – Degrees of Freedom’s PERFECT WORLD

It’s always a good feeling when you do something new – visiting a city for the first time, reading a new book, watching a new movie. So I was pleasantly surprised when my copy of the recent Degrees Of Freedom album, ‘Perfect World’ hit my doormat. Some new music by a band I’d never heard before was just what I needed.


The story behind the album is interesting – it’s the culmination of guitarist John Aulabaugh’s mid-life crisis, which took a Blues Brothers twist when he decided to pull his band back together after a quarter of a century. I’m not sure if a 106-mile road trip or the Illinois Law Enforcement Agency were involved, but I’m sure the sunglasses put in an appearance!

As far as line-up goes, Degrees Of Freedom are guitarist John Aulabaugh, vocalist Michael Husler, Michael Murphy on bass and drummer Tim Murphy. In addition, the album benefits from guest appearances from Lydia Salinkova on keys and strings, Ken Barnum on bass and Paul Garisto on drums.

Perfect World is an eclectic mix of tracks, ranging from the rock to the melodic, from the driving beat to the tunefully pensive. Each tune has a slightly different flavour hinting at a wide range of influences and moods. My personal favourites are Again and Again, Overwhelmed, and Howlin’ at the Moon, tracks that show the best that Degrees of Freedom offer – great musicianship, a lyric that tells a story, and a tune that sticks in your head after the album has long finished.

The remaining tracks are all very good standalone tracks, including the title track, Perfect World, deliberately written in a mix of time-signatures so that it never quite settles into a comfortable groove in your head.

These days, it’s rare that you’ll sit and listen to an album from start to finish. I’m old enough to recall a time before people simply downloaded individual tracks, and then hit the shuffle button. Gone are the days when an album took you on a journey, with all of the tracks hanging together and taking you from A to B. And there’s the only problem I have with the album. Perfect World is, to me, an example of how nine great songs don’t quite hang together as a great album when played in sequence.

Now I’m very aware that I’m being picky here, but it’s that range of influences I mentioned before that possibly contributes to this. Don’t get me wrong – this is far better than most of the stuff you hear on the radio these days, and is worthy of a place on your shelf.

As a collection, Perfect World is excellent. As an album, it’s merely very good indeed…

Track listing:

  • Again and Again
  • Indifferent
  • Howlin’ at the Moon
  • Bring Me
  • Lie to Me
  • Mexico
  • Overwhelmed
  • Hand of the Devil
  • Perfect World

Just a quick list

OK, quick list time – please comment on the contents….

Top 5 Films watched over Christmas:

Megamind – actually a fun animated flick, better than I thought it was going to be.

Tangled – OK, but I preferred Megamind.

Uncle Buck – who could ever get tired of this one? John Candy at his finest.

FAQ About Time Travel – I do love this quirky little science fiction thing.

Ooh You Are Awful – early 70s vehicle for the late great Dick Emery, allowing him to scour the country for tattoos on girls bums. Well, why not?


Top 5 TV Shows Watched Over Christmas:

I’m gonna preface this list with the comment that i still haven’t seen Doctor Who yet – but I will rectify that over the weekend. And I know that’ll take up a space on my list, so you only get 4….. Anyway:

Still Open All Hours – I was a little dubious about this, but I really enjoyed it, and reckon it could make a decent sitcom series.

PQ17 – this was on last night (so technically NOT Christmas) but was such an interesting documentary about the most disastrous convoy mission of WW2.

The IT Crowd – Love this show, and finally got to see the last episode (The Internet Is Coming) which was fab.

Morecambe and Wise Christmas Special – yeah, i know. But this had everything you want from a Christmas TV show, including the Andre Previn sketch. Never gets old.


Top 5 Christmas Gifts:

Dangerous to separate these out, because everything I got was great, so this one is more a subset of a much larger cool list of stuff…

Theatre Tickets – yeah, thanks to David and Heather, we’re gonna soak up some culture in 2014 over at Windsor.

Shaver – sounds dull, but it’s what I wanted, and my old one was very much past it. This one’s lovely and shiny-bright…

Christmas Jumper – well, not so much a Christmas jumper, more a winter one, so whilst it’s lovely and warm, it has no reindeer, holly, Santa or Christmas puds on it, which makes it acceptable for me!

Lynx – loads of Lynx stuff. Apparently, ‘Attract’ smells best, according to my girls….

Top Gear – Ambitious But Rubbish – the book that tells the background to all those well-intentioned yet spectacular failures, and shows that not all of the show is scripted.


Five Books I am reading:

Currently I have five books on the go, so it makes sense to add these to the post…

The Bible (natch)

Raising Steam by Terry Pratchett (surprisingly hard going compares to his usual fare)

Some Kind Of Wonderful by Stephen Biskoff (the novelisation of one of my favourite movies)

Doughnut by Tom Holt (brilliant fantasy farce)

Top Gear – Ambitious But Rubbish (see above)


Finally, let’s do 5 things I want to do in 2014:

More gigging and drumming with my great mates in Riser.

Visit Ben and Julia in the South of France, hopefully fulfilling an ambition to drive over the Millau Bridge.

Write more – stories, blogs, songs, whatever, I really want to put more out there this year.

Go deeper – sounds strange, but with all the things I treasure – relationships, experiences, honesty, faith and self-awareness – there’s another level to take them to.

Enjoy life – 2013 was a bit of a struggle for much of the year, and has ended so well, I want this to continue throughout the year.

OK, there you go. Five lists of Five items. Let’s see where we go from there……


Welcome, 2014

OK, it’s time for my first post of 2014, and there’s a number of things on my mind.

The year has started off with a few ridiculously ironic news items. First of all, let’s get the football one out of the way. In the New Years Day match at Old Trafford, Ashley Young was clean through on goal when the Tottenham ‘keeper Lloris basically took him out. Clear, blatant Penalty and a deserved red card for Lloris. But nothing was given. Cue bleats of displeasure from manager David Moyes, but what he fails to take into account is the following: Young has spent the best part of his career throwing himself to the ground inside the box and has unjustly won many penalties, and many games, for Man Utd. He’s also conned referees into sending off a large number of his fellow professionals, most of which are honest, hard working footballers. So I for one am delighted that his reputation has finally caught up with him, and that his team lost as a result. Nice one.

No less ironic was the story of the research vessel that sailed into the Antarctic seas to study the ‘alarming rate that the ice is melting’ – only to get stuck in the ice for a week. The ship is still there – the crew all needed rescuing by helicopter and are now on board a Navy ship. I wonder if they will build this experience into their findings when they finally get back to warmer climates.

Neither of these occurrences are really enough for me to get into full gear-grinding mode, however. I’m saving that for Keith Vaz, Labour MP and ‘champion’ of all. Well, champion of all those who will give him 5 minutes on the front pages, that’s for sure.

Yesterday, after the relaxation of immigration laws governing travel from Bulgaria and Romania, the first consignment of immigrants from Romania arrived on our shores. They were met at Luton Airport by two MPs – Tory Immigration Committee member Mark Reckless (a Euro-sceptic who has voiced concerns about the potential impact of the new regulations) and Keith Vaz, chairman of the Home Affairs Select Committee. And the first thing Vaz did? Find a rather photogenic group of Romanians and take them for coffee. Yes – rather than have any part of the debate about the genuine fears of a large proportion of the country, he invited both the immigrants and the press photographers to Costa. No doubt for a fully expensed cappuccino….

Today, in the fledgling days of the new year, THAT’S what’s grinding my gears!!


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 532 other followers