Monday, 30 January 2012

Weathering the footy storms...

Don't get me wrong, I like Winter. There's loads of time off work, office parties, makeshift Nordic bars popping up in pedestrianised parts of town, etc.

But there's one thing missing...
...and that's a good old game of honest-to-goodness, 11-a-side, grass-roots, amateur football.

It's boring not playing a game of football. And when I say boring, I mean boring in the sense of every bugger driving to the ground knowing full well that the game isn't going to be played. Just because we've got to see the ref try (and fail) to push the key to his Honda Civic into the frozen turf. When the key doesn't penetrate the pitch, he holds it aloft, like he's discovered alchemy and wants the world to see, and decrees that the meeting of these two sides simply cannot place under his watch.

Half the players have left already anyway, but still it rests on him. I mean he could call them back if he wanted to. Although the feeling of being dismissed like a cash machine beggar would sting him more than being hit by a ball in this temperature.

So far our team, Mancunian Wave FC, has had every game in 2012 cancelled due to the weather (except for a 6-2 defeat last Sunday but we don't talk about that). Plus if you believe the weatherman, we're in for a cold snap akin to what those daddy penguins suffer every year when sitting on their wife's egg for 3 months, as Attenborough would testify.

Chances are, then, more games will be cancelled. And as more games get cancelled, there's less faith amongst the players that the next game will be on. That's when you get the texts on Sunday morning, about the niggling injury that's still niggling after last week's training, the aggravated muscle tear that's raised its head again, the ruptured anterior cruciate ligament sustained whilst plunging a cafeteria.

And you know what, it's fair enough. When it's 2 degrees outside and you wake up feeling stiff (insert innuendo here) who wants to trudge down to the pitches to watch a ref stab the pitch for 10 minutes?

With us, we've kept the momentum going with our usual mid-week training sessions. And, oddly, they've been better during the time we've had no matches - I guess because those who come down are desperate to play.

Training doesn't get you 3 points though. Well, neither do many of our league games either, cynics might say. But it's only when it all warms up for a spell that we'll found out for sure whether we can transfer top-notch training to the proper games - and I can't wait,

Winter: go do one!

Thursday, 8 December 2011

Is the ref really a wanker?

You're lying if you say you've never called him a wanker. And if you think saying 'good shout' the one time he's whistled for offside in your favour, when you're right-back's standing on the goal line, that doesn't make you a level-headed purist.

Most of you reading this have (I hope!) suffered an amateur dicking at some point. And if you're in your first season, like we are, how can you blame the players? (“We've only been a team 6 months; we're too new to be blamed!”)

So it *has* to be the ref, right?

I've only managed a dozen league games so far, but I've already identified the main categories of referee – and just how much they're to blame for a shit result…

Used to manage at semi-professional level: so you're in the 4th division, but for some reason you've got a guy who once refereed a 1st round FA qualifier. He stole the kit from that encounter, and makes sure it's vacuum packed between each Sunday game. A little pompous and has only disdain for the proletariat players he's overseeing.
Blame him for losing? No, he once sent off a Congleton Town FC player.

Too young to be there: his first season, he's got the bored bystander girlfriend watching from beyond the corner flag, tries to might light of the fact he’s bricking it, “only my 2nd game lads”, and the unconvincing fluff he’s grown on his top lip, in preparation for his debut season, means you can’t really take him seriously.
Blame him for not getting the right result? Nah, a knock to his confidence at this early stage might rob us of a half-decent ref for the future.

On the 'top table': this guy sits with the league management, on the top table at those monthly management meetings. Maybe he’s the league secretary, possibly the ref representative for the league. Of an evening the club crest badge sits proudly on his tie. Come the weekend, he dons the black strip and runs pigeon-chested amongst you. He loves how he’s the only ref who doesn’t really get any shit, but ignores the fact it’s because on the top table.
His fault you’ve dropped points? No, the league actually needs old-school multi-tasking like this.

Rickets-riddled oddity: where do you start with this guy? You think it's the cold making him stammer but instead it's the drug-dependency. Unable to stand up straight, legs like the outline of a cello, you feel cheated when offside's given 50 yards from his (probably impaired) line of sight.
Blame him for losing? No, he's got enough on his plate.

Nervous wreck:
Why oh why is he refereeing? He does know that amateur football involves 22 knackered blokes doesn’t he? And that at least half are going to have a bad day. Jumps at his own whistle, flip-flops on decisions, and finally when there’s nowhere left to retreat, and the only defence left is attack, he beefs up his retaliation with a couple of belting swear words: “If I say it’s a penalty, it’s a wankshitting penalty. You bells!”
Bollock him for an unhappy result? It wouldn’t be fair, unless you want some comedic vulgarity.

Dead man walking
Ruddy-faced, obese and confined to the centre circle. His match fee is required purely to pay for lunch afterwards. It’s not like he’s got a missus to keep him in bed on a Sunday either, he makes John ‘Portsmouth Football Club’ Westwood look like one of the male dancers from Strictly. Weirdly though, he seems to get on with the players better than other refs; probably because he’s still pissed on Scotch.
Is he dead to the team because you lost? Nope, he’s actually an alright bloke.

So, although there have been times where I’ve genuinely blamed a ref after the final whistle has gone, soon after I’ve realised that it can’t just be because he’s a wanker. Plus I know I’ve never blamed a ref for winning us a match!

Thursday, 3 November 2011

Trust me, the wins do come (eventually!)…

I almost gave up. After just 4 league games as an amateur football player-manager I almost chucked it in.
Prior to the 4 league defeats, there was also a 10-0 friendly thrashing. And chucked in the middle of all this was a local Memorial Cup, where the only win we had was a default charity hand-out because one of the teams in our group didn’t show up!
Pretty rubbish so far.
For our 5th league game only 9 of our players showed up (plus me), made even worse by the fact that we were playing the league’s top (and undefeated) team. We lost 13-0.
Here’s where I REALLY thought about packing it in! What’s the point in dragging yourself out of bed at 9.30am on a Sunday morning when you can’t even assemble a full team, when you’re rooted to the bottom of the league table and have a goal difference that looks like a North Pole temperature reading?
No one would criticise really. No one had expected it to work out anyway. Plus the nine people who bother to turn up could now have a lie-in on Sundays. (We actually had a squad of around 15 at the time, but through holidays and hangovers we’d come up short.)
However, something happened in the days that followed that rather humiliating 13-0 reverse. After I put a desperate plea on our Facebook team page (Mancunian Wave FC) for players to show up, some of those would have previously missed the game promised that next time they’d be down. I also signed up another couple of players who had called me after seeing my number on the league website, and we hinted that the next weekly training session would decide the next match’s starting XI. So basically if you can’t be arsed coming on a Thursday night, don’t start grabbing a kit from the kit bag the second it’s dropped on the floor on the Sunday!
As for the upcoming match, we were definitely playing a beatable team, so now was the time to turn our season round. The Thursday training session was a great success: most of the squad came down, including two new players who were real class. Ten years younger, twice as fast.
In just a few days we’d created a bit of a buzz about the squad.
So the 6th game arrived, and we had a squad of 14. New youngsters were primed, the regulars reinvigorated, and I tried to give my most motivational pre-match talk yet – staying just shy of opening with “I have a dream…” And so off we went…
Balls, we lost again.
The difference though, was that we lost by only 2 goals, and actually I SWEAR if we hadn’t had such an incompetent ref (he was to refereeing what Sven is to management – and actually asked our captain to choose what hand he was holding a leaf in order to decide who kicked off) we might have grabbed a point.
The important thing though was that we genuinely enjoyed this game, and spirits were high when the final whistle went. The after-match pint was actually enjoyable, and we had loads to build on moving forward.
We kept the momentum going through emails, Facebook updates etc, and made sure that we got everyone down to training again.
As I’m writing this now, we have played 3 more games since that close defeat. And I’m well chuffed to say we have won all 3, scoring 16 goals on the way. We’re off the bottom of the league (in fact there are now 3 teams below us), and for the last game I had a squad of 17 players to pick from on the day. Even the minus goal difference is starting to thaw – it’s now more representative of early-morning Latvia as opposed to the Arctic tundra.
Plus on our Facebook page the comments left by those who follow us have progressed from somewhat patronising (“I just think it’s amazing how you boys get out of bed of a morning, I need my lie-in. lolz rofl!!xx”) to genuine respect, I think (“liquid football!”). By the way I definitely recommend setting up a webpage such as Facebook: you can build a pretty decent sense of community and if you add matches as an event you know roughly which bugger is turning up!
So, for anyone setting up or joining a team, expect it to go belly up at first and don’t throw in the towel when it does.
Football loves a trier! (and seems willing to reward some of them with points)…


Tuesday, 18 October 2011

Focus groups...the more the better!

Recently I organised a full day's worth of focus groups for the company I work for. A chance to meet those who buy the products we write about, and who read the magazine that I edit.
10 hours. 5 individual sessions. Around 50 customers in total, all of whom would probably prefer to be on billable time (as we market to accountants) . 
I must be mad!
Me and my colleagues on one side of the 1-way glass (a little twitchy, wondering whether we were going to like what we heard), the customers sat in the plusher room and comfier chairs on the other (presumably ready to sock it to us). One plus for us though: we had wine in our fridge!
We'd hired a mediator via a local agency, the discussion guides were approved and ready to go, the first group now all sat in their chairs, intros done, the lights dimmed on our side of the glass, the final True Lies impression done by one of my co-workers, so we hit 'record' on the video camera.
Turns out, the sessions were extremely insightful.
Not everyone waxed lyrical about us, that's never going to happen, but we certainly had plenty of advocates and when they came up against the odd person who disagreed, it was genuinely interesting to see people argue over the pro's and con's of our work.
It's reassuring that the majority of people want to be nice, although you're always going to get someone who's come armed with an agenda - and you can spot them from the outset. We had one guy literally jumping around on his seat before he'd even removed his cagoule. When the mediator did the intros round, he announced his name as "I tell you now what the problem is". A terrible name, I thought. 
Then he took a pop at my magazine, firstly by labelling it "just a piece of marketing!" (er, thanks) and then proceeding to flick through every article, slapping the pages with the back of his hand as he went, highlighting which ones he believed were toilet paper. 
He would try to bring other members of the audience in too, asking if they agreed that a particular article was better off in the lavatory. Luckily he kind of isolated himself with this behaviour; I like to think it was because no one agreed, and that they thought the magazine was a thoroughly absorbent read, but my worst suspicions were simply that they wouldn't put flesh to such sharp, glossy paper stock.
Either way, early on I did find myself approaching the glass, climbing up on the shelf below the viewing pane, poking at the window looking into the adjacent room. Staring. Not blinking. 
Slate our hard work will you? I'd like to see you write a better article on the benefits of a spotless database ...mate!
Annoyingly though (or, rather, luckily) I couldn't step through the looking glass. I couldn't enter the forum to get my point across.  Instead, I decided to maintain an arms-folded stance - ├╝ber defensive - to see it out. That ought to do it.
Pleasantly this puckered stance wasn't needed for too long, as customers started to give examples of what they genuinely liked about our products, our marketing and, thankfully, our little magazine. My arms loosened, hands slipping casually into my pockets, I stepped back from window.
10 hours and 5 sessions seems like a hell of a long day when you think it's going to be an endless upper and downer, between smiling serenely at warm praise one minute, and then wanting to front flip, fully armed, through the glass the next.
But once you've decided mentally that you're just going to sit and listen, take the rough with the smooth to try and form an holistic and objective summary of what customers perceptions truly are (even those wearing a cagoule), you really do get a lot out of them.  And of course you don't have to do 5 sessions, but the more you hear and the more you see, the more solid your interpretation is, and you're not allowing one or two people to skew your summary either way. 
So as the last session closed and the tapes were collected, I entered the now-vacant customer area (via the side door, not the window). The mediator walked back in and I asked what her highlights were from the day. She said, "well, there was one person in a kind of anorak..."

Tuesday, 20 September 2011

Football management, for dummies?

A while ago (for someone born with the 1980s on the horizon) a sheepskin coat, shades and a borderline criminal past were pre-requisites for 'pucker' top-tier football management material. 
Not so nowadays... 
Depending on what side of the fence you're on, there are either no personalities in football management any more, or too many to create a sense of a true stereotype. You can be a multi-lingual male model, a shell-suit sporting yokel, a ruddy-faced near-death experience or, as per above, someone sporting a sheepskin coat, shades and a borderline criminal past... (all of whom have managed a prem league team in the last 6 months). 
And seeing as footy is allowing any old clown to take up management, this season I decided to have a stab at it myself. I mean, has a marketer ever lifted the FA cup before (I think Drogba is a qualified accountant, mind)? Maybe now is the time...
The team is Mancunian Wave FC, playing in the Manchester Amateur Sunday Football League ( 
Now at first glance there would appear to be no point in trying to have a managerial personality in this league. After all, aren't the players simply either too hungover or hell-bent on attacking their opposite number to see such character? They say it's tough to appreciate a true touchline totem whilst sweating out last night's Bombardier.
Not so, I say.
During our latest defeat, something quite spectacular happened. The incident in question came around half an hour in: the game was evenly balanced at 0-0 when the opposition manager, following a verbal tit-for-tat with one of our central midfielders, dropped his shorts and got out his john thomas - holding it in his hand right there at the side of the pitch - giving it a wave (not a Mancunian wave) at one of our players. Proud as punch. Like a tribesman. In broad daylight. 
After that for them the goals started flowing and we lost 7-2.
Now I'm certainly not starting down that route in order to get our first points, especially with the imminent onset of winter. But it did get me thinking; maybe there is a place, and maybe an even a greater need, for personalities at this level. 
After all there's more ring-rust, weariness and fatigue to dislodge; a loathing of early Sunday starts to shake off. Those top teams in the Premier league can run themselves. It's the guys putting up their own nets who need a true leader!
So, for the sake of the team, I hope that going forward I've got the task in hand (which isn't a dig at last weeks' manager )...

Tuesday, 9 August 2011

Writing while Manchester burns...

....well, while there's a small fire in the doorway of Miss Selfridge anyway. And that's almost certainly out by now, thank goodness. 
So actually I'm writing when, hopefully, the risk of Manchester burning has been surpassed. Even if only temporarily. The news reports show an empty Deansgate, a vacant Albert Square and a largely uninhabited Oldham Street; and the unflappable #gmpolice twitter feed does its very own Nick Ross by telling us not to have nightmares because the city centre is now quiet.
And it is, you know. Quiet. Okay there's the odd siren, but that's standard for any Northern Quarter-based lughole hanging out the window. I get twitchy when i don't hear a siren for a couple of hours; makes me think the outside world might have vanished.
Not that you could possibly think that tonight (well, last night, depending on when you're reading this)... the sheer amount of activity on Twitter and Facebook concerning the 'Manchester Riots' was endless, and so rich in content that it made the Sky News feed - which lovingly featured a shot of my home - seem slow, stale and censored. 
It was also great at dispelling rumours that "they" (dunno who "they" are) had spread all across town: that Afflecks Palace had been blown into orbit, and that the Arndale centre had had all its walls removed leaving only a roof teetering on a stack of empty JD sports trainer boxes.
I simply refreshed the feed and the facts were there to see - from the writers and reporters out on the streets - and then for me to relay (admittedly somewhat smugly at times) to my family and friends. The buildings were intact.
Mainly though, I've been able to observe it from my balcony, and by occasionally popping out onto Oldham Street and Ancoats Street, and I must admit that on more than one occasion I almost soiled myself.
For me, as early as 6pm you could feel how twitchy people were, particularly when walking across Piccadilly Gardens. Gangs of tracksuits shouting battle cries and staring angrily at policeman. Shopkeepers shutting up shop. Pubs pulling the doors to. But even so, I still thought naively the whole of Manchester would rise above and let the riots pass us by.
Turns out that wasn't the case.
By 6.40pm (now safely at home) I was tweeting about the sirens, the swarm of people up Oldham Street to escape the rioters in town and the  hoodies loitering under my balcony looking for something to light a fire with. Probably. And for every update I gave, hundreds more went up from other people in Manchester.
Teenagers were arriving by the car load, looking to loot whatever they could; even the Oxfam at the end of the road got ransacked FFS. They were trying to get into service doors at the back of clothes shops, a fenced-off Travelodge car park and the one time I opened the main doors to our building to look outside, a couple of them lunged towards me like they wanted to come in and see what they could steal from my apartment.
Obviously I didn't venture out again. I simply sat, online, sharing stories of peril and woe with everyone else who was online trying to get the latest goss. And to see if we'd have a city in the morning.
Not the most heroic thing to do, I agree; I'll leave that to the Greater Manchester Police (and that weird kid on YouTube who dresses in a superhero outfit bought by his mum and seeks justice on the streets of Rochdale.).
I have however signed up for the Manchester Clean-Up in the morning; and will be spending an hour helping to locate and replace the Arndale centre's walls before going into work.
I hope it's the only Clean-up I ever do though; partly because i'm lazy, but also because it pains me to see Manchester suffer. Or set on fire.

Tuesday, 2 August 2011

I blog, therefore I am (annoying? outdated? self-indulgent?)

“All you future Google whores might want to pay attention to what I’m about to reveal,” once said someone seemingly very frustrated, online, via a blog. (Google it if you don’t believe me.)
Without even clicking on the link, all sorts of conceptions crossed my mind about what kind of person might open with such a gambit… was this a digital visionary about to predict the death of a ubiquitous search giant? Were they warning of government blocks on prostitute-related keywords? Or was it an excited teenage lad about to embark on a journal of his own journey through puberty?
Turns out it was a guy flogging web traffic.
Blogging certainly divides opinion at the moment, with some saying it’s had its day, some saying it’s self-serving (99% of it doesn’t get read anyway, they say!); whereas for many it’s a sales tool, an outward release of the soul or an attempt at marketing when you’re skint. Maybe even it’s an interesting opening headline (or tweet) you thought of, that you feel simply must have an article attached to it.
Calling someone a whore is a great way of getting someone to read the next sentence – but if that following sentence starts talking about ROI vs. number of websites built, there’s a 99.9999% chance you’re going to click off. And not just click off; you’ll actually think the writer’s a bit of a tit.
So why blog in the first place?
Why did I even bother starting this blog page (I’ve only done two articles so far)?
I write for a living so I can’t really use the “it’s a release” clause. But then again I currently write about accountancy software in my day job, so one could argue I need a release more than anyone.
Am I simply arriving late at something that is already on its way out, thinking “If I have my own blog it’ll boost my career chances / twitter followers (it’s @stevedelporter by the way) / cool points at work?” (“See that guy over there, he spends his spare time musing. Just musing.”)
Maybe I just like to read my own words in digital print, asking people to ‘Google me’ in the pub if the conversation drops.
Hopefully, it’s none of these reasons. Maybe, it’s all of them. Likely, no one cares!
I do intend to blog though, when I get chance, and hopefully the reason why will reveal itself. Google whores at the ready…  ;0)