Wednesday, 30 March 2011

The Eagle – an archaeological movie review

I don't usually do movie reviews on this blog, but as this particular film deals with the subject of the Roman Ninth Legion, I feel its more 'my turf' than most cinematic releases.  As with any movie review, minor spoilers lie ahead.

Just in case you weren't aware, the reason the Ninth Legion strikes a particular chord with me is because of their connection with Lincoln. The Ninth were part of the AD43 invasion of Britain, and reached Lincoln in the late AD40s, building a fortress for part of the Legion on top of the hill, where our castle and cathedral now stand. They would move northwards again, this time to York, in AD71 but would leave behind material evidence of their stay in Lincoln, evidence which is now held at The Collection museum.

So, to return to the film, the first thing to mention with this sort of production is historical accuracy.  I'm sorry to disappoint people (including the guy behind me in the cinema it seems) but despite what the opening spiel of the film says, the Ninth were not lost after a battle in Scotland, and Hadrian’s Wall not built because of the shame of defeat.  In fact, when the film was set (the AD140s), Hadrian's Wall probably wasn't even the northernmost border of Rome - the short-lived but even more northerly Antonine Wall was built about then.  However, seeing as the film is based on the famous Rosemary Sutcliffe book 'The Eagle of the Ninth', it would be harsh to judge an entertainment product on such details, and I don't intend to get all 'up-tight history geek' about it because somebody's belt buckle was 20 years too early for the setting.

In brief, the plot follows Roman centurion Marcus Flavius Aquila (whose surname aptly means 'eagle' in Latin, trivia fans) and his quest, following his discharge from the Legions through injury, to find the Eagle of the Ninth.  The Eagle is a standard - the symbol of the Legion - and his father was killed defending it when the Legion was massacred.  Accompanying Aquila is slave-turned-best-buddy Esca, a native Briton of the northern Brigantes tribe.

I thought the film opened well, with its dirty depictions of life in the army, and some good early battle scenes. The battles in particular were satisfyingly gritty - focussing more on the organisation of the Roman army than Hollywood style exaggerated sword waving. Although the idea that an isolated Roman fort in southern Britain was coming under attack by disgruntled natives seems more suited to the mid 1st Century than to the early 2nd Century, the portrayal of the Romans as an invading 'other', surrounded by hostile locals, was very well executed.   The use of American actors for the Romans and British actors for the Britons was also a good choice - enhancing the difference between them.  References to more recent military events could also be subtly inferred, but were thankfully not overplayed.  In fact, the only picky comment I’d make from the opening scenes is with regards to scythes on chariot wheels – filmmakers just can’t resist themselves having someone’s leg sliced off it seems.

As these early scenes played out, the film gave a sense of not being sure who the good guys were. The native Britons, taking up arms because of lands taken and wives raped, could easily lay claim to be the 'good guys' - the Romans given no moral authority for their invasion and aforementioned offences. As the film wore on, however, this tense and interesting dynamic was sadly lost. As the Roman leading character becomes beset by savage Britons (the imaginary, face-painted and utterly barbarian 'seal people'), the audience is left in no doubt who they are expected to root for, despite the Ninth Legion apparently marching on an expedition of conquest into their lands. An expedition which ended, I should add, with no small hint of reference to what happened to the Legions of Varus in the Teutoburg forest in AD9.

The seal people themselves were a weakness of the film for me.  The generic 'barbarian' stereotype did nothing to conjure up the reality of Iron Age life and culture (even in northern Scotland) and left me completely unable to empathise with them – they seemed more like hunter-gatherers than a settled 2nd Century community. In fact, visually, they made my mind wander to thinking of the Na'vi from Avatar more than once.

Ultimately, of course, all ends happily - the Eagle is returned, everyone we are supposed to care about lives and the honour of the entire Roman Empire, not to mention the Aquila family is restored.  Hooray!

The only other points I'd like to make are about accuracy, and are particularly pedantic, I confess. Firstly, when a map of Britain appeared, it was good to see that Lindum was not overlooked. However, why was there a line of hills where the river Trent should be, and why was Lincoln almost on the River Humber? Minor and picky points maybe, but all you had to do was check a map, people!

Secondly, there was one thing about Aquila’s father that irked me a little.  He was described as the Centurion of the 1st cohort, making him the Legion's Primus Pilus - the most senior of the Centurions.  But Centurions were effectively NCOs in the Roman army - very important men but not the Legion's commanders.  References to his father being infamous as the man responsible (and shamed) for losing the Eagle therefore seem rather odd. Are modern military failings usually blamed on Sergeants?

Overall though, I have to say that The Eagle passed an hour and a half on quite satisfactorily - certainly better than the other recent Roman debarkle 'The Centurion'.  Its gritty portrayal of life in Roman Britain was generally well executed and absorbing, while the essentially odd-couple buddy-movie formula has no major flaws.  Considering some of the Roman themed nonsense Hollywood has spewed out over the years, I have to say that overall, The Eagle gives a good impression of a Roman frontier province.

Tuesday, 29 March 2011

Port Vale v Lincoln City, 29 March 2011

Venue: Vale Park, Stoke on Trent
Attendance: 4,636
Final score: 2-1
Fresh from Friday night’s mauling at the hands of Rotherham, Lincoln travelled to Port Vale with fans unsure of what to expect.  Would the team react strongly and put in a performance (as Port Vale would fear) or would the shellshock still be present, allowing Vale to stake their claim early?

Vale began the game in 9th place, still looking for a playoff spot, as all of City’s recent opponents seem to have been.  City played Vale at Sincil Bank relatively recently, back at the end of January, as City ran out 1-0 winners during their New Year purple patch thanks to Ashley Grimes’ late strike.  Was a rare double on the cards?

City made surprisingly few changes to the starting 11.  Danny Hone was given back his place in the side, which should never have been taken away in the first place.  For the sake of decency, I won’t mention the name of the suspended player he replaced.  In the midfield, O’Keefe came in for Spencer, meaning that Ben Hutchinson was playing as City’s lone striker.

Port Vale began to attack straight from kickoff, forcing Hone into an early clearing header.  City were soon on the attack, however, and after winning a freekick, Kelly put in a cross which found McCallum, the winger hitting his strike first time to give the Imps a 1-0 lead in just the third minute.

City came close to extending their lead as Vale rocked – Hutchinson missing the target with 2 headers in quick succession.

City were playing with far more fluidity and purpose than Friday night, but could not make their possession count.  Danny Hone had a good chance halfway through the half when he stabbed a rebound over the bar.

As the half wore on, Vale inevitably came more into the game.  Young loanee goalkeeper Parish made a great save from Richards, and a scramble ensued that City eventually cleared.  Despite their increased possession, Vale couldn’t break through and City deservedly took their lead into the break.

City started the second half brightly, but Vale had obviously been given a dressing down at half time, and soon began to exert pressure on the Imps’ goal.  They were nearly back on level terms almost immediately, but Pope saw his header come back off the post.

Vale didn’t have to wait too long to get their reward, however, as Richards got on the end of a cross to plant a textbook downward header past Parish on 59 minutes to make it 1-1.

Vale were now in control, though it took a long range wonderstrike to give them the lead on 70 minutes.  Loft cut inside Watts before curling his powerful shot past Parish and into the top corner.  The young keeper must be getting tired of picking the ball out his net this week, though in reality he has done little wrong to deserve such poor statistics.

City kept working hard for an equalizer, but couldn’t muster any real chances until injury time when O’Keefe forced Tomlison to save his header.  An injury to Danny Hone held up the final whistle, but when it eventually came, it confirmed the sad fact that although City’s performance was massively improved over Friday, the league table continues to show City’s points total 4 short of the magical 50.

12 Stuart Tomlinson
2 Adam Yates
5 John McCombe
6 Gareth Owen
15 Lee Collins
16 Lewis Haldane
4 Anthony Griffith
7 Doug Loft
18 Lewis Morsy
9 Marc Richards
29 Tom Pope
14 Kris Taylor for Owen 10)
3 Rob Taylor for Haldane (55)
22 Gary Roberts for Morsy (63)
8 Louis Dodds
11 Justin Richards
21 Ritchie Sutton
1 Chris Martin

24 Elliott Parish
16 Julian Kelly
4 Adam Watts
6 Danny Hone
3 Joe Anderson
14 Josh O'Keefe
31 Ali Fuseini
26 Tom Kilbey
7 Mustapha Carayol
9 Gavin McCallum
27 Ben Hutchinson
25 Cian Hughton for Kilbey (84)
2 Paul Green for Hone (90+6)
8 Clark Keltie
19 Jamie Clapham
22 Andy Hutchinson
39 Scott Spencer
20 Paul Musselwhite

Friday, 25 March 2011

Lincoln City v Rotherham United, 25 March 2011

Venue: Sincil Bank, Lincoln
Attendance: 3,766
Final score: 0-6
Sadly the scoreline above isn’t a typo.  I’m still searching for a word to describe City’s performance this evening.  Abject? Turgid? Wretched? Humiliating?  Thank goodness the English language is replete with so many fine words to sum up such a near non-existent footballing display.

A number of surprise departures had brought additional interest to the visit of the Millers to Sincil Bank this evening.  Despite being heavily involved in the playoff mix, and tipped by many to finish well this season, Rotherham parted company with manager Ronnie Moore on Monday ‘by mutual consent’.  It seems that Saturday’s 5-0 hammering at the hands of Chesterfield did little to help the situation, with Moore commenting afterward that he was so angry with his players, if he had a gun he’d shoot them.  Sadly for City though, it seems the upheaval did little to upset the Rotherham team.

On City’s part, the last minute drama came in the form of on-loan goalkeeper Trevor Carson departing back to parent club Sunderland, ostensibly to help with their goalkeeping injury crisis – with Craig Gordon out the Black Cats seemed short of cover.  Most Imps fans were disappointed, but understanding of the situation, I think.  However, news soon came out that Carson has immediately gone out on loan again, this time to Brentford.  Almost as quickly, Imps fans’ understanding turned to offended confusion.  Carson has recently repeatedly stated his happiness at Lincoln and his desire to stay until the end of the season.  It seems unlikely, then, that the player himself requested such a change in circumstances.  Until more information is offered by the club, or leaks out through the gossip channels, the situation just has to be accepted and City just have to get on with it.

With Joe Anyon out on loan at Morecambe, Steve Tilson must have had a rather busy Thursday afternoon, but he managed to secure the services of Elliott Parish on loan from Aston Villa.  Another new arrival is Tom Kilbey, a midfielder from Portsmouth.  Regular readers of this blog will know that I have felt for a while that City’s midfield lacks bite and is the cause of many of our woes - tonight being far from an exception.   Hopefully, once he settled in, Tom will add some bite to the team.

City are struggling with injuries at present, and the unexpected absence of top scorer Ashley Grimes did nothing to help the situation.  However, Steve Tilson’s team selection this evening can be described as nothing short of suicidal, and many Imps fans feared a mauling before the game even began.

New loanee Parish started in goal, but in front of him the absence of Danny Hone was notable.  The young defender has done nothing particularly wrong in recent weeks, so it was a surprise to see him dropped in favour of Patrick Kanyuka, who has barely seen first team action, and even then to less than spectacular effect.

In the midfield, another surprise was the omission of O’Keefe, leaving the untried youngster Kilbey to start alongside my current least favourite player Ali Fuseini – surely a disaster waiting to happen.

Up front saw Ben Hutchinson return from suspension to be partnered by Scott Spencer.

Despite a scrappy opening, it was City who created the first opening.  Carayol fed Spencer, who looked to have space to burst into the box, but the City striker was slow to react and allowed the tackle to come in.

On the 9th minute, the tone for the remainder of the game was set as Rotherham took a lead they would never look like relinquishing.  A scramble in the box was half cleared, but only as far as Thomas-Moore, who hooked a half volley back into the box.  The ball deflected off a body (whether Rotherham or Lincoln I couldn’t tell), and trickled over the line at the far post.  Ironically, just at that moment, former Lincoln goalkeeper Rob Burch walked up the steps of the stand past me – maybe we can have him back next season if Notts County don’t want him anymore?

As it was, the scoreline got worse for City soon afterwards, as in the 14th minute Rotherham struck again.  As the Rotherham bench were appealing for a foul in the centre circle, the referee waved play-on, allowing Harrison to stroll seemingly unmolested towards the City box and strike the ball low into the corner of the goal.  Unsurprisingly, the appeals for the freekick subsided very quickly…

City had a half chance to get back into the match a few minutes later when Carayol managed to put in a deep cross.  The ball was headed down at the back post to Spencer, but once again the striker showed a lack of instinct for goal, and failed to get his shot away before the chance was lost.

Rotherham responded by going straight down the other end and putting in a deep cross of their own, this time the header being put goalwards, but tipped over by Parish.

The remainder of the half was a calmer affair, as Rotherham were content to knock the ball around and seemed likely to score every time the ball went near the City box.  For their part, City were showing plenty of willingness to run, in particular Carayol, Hutchinson and McCallum, but no shape or gameplan, and the defence and central midfield had no hold on the game.

The halftime whistle came to a chorus of mild boos from the home crowd.

Surprisingly, despite it being clear to everyone in the ground that the players on the pitch were never going to get back into the game, Tilson decided not to make any changes at halftime.

That decision was soon proved wrong as Rotherham added a third on 50 minutes.  City lost possession in midfield, and Rotherham swarmed forward in numbers.  The ball was played in low to Thomas-Moore who scored his second of the evening with a sweetly hit volley that struck the top corner, just eluding the outstretched glove of Parish.

City had barely recovered from that when Rotherham got their fourth just three minutes later.  The poor Kanyuka was robbed of possession just outside the area by Taylor, who cut inside and curled the ball inside the far post.

On 60 minutes, Kanyuka’s already dire evening got worse, as he made a mess of controlling a pass, handing the ball to Thomas-Moore.  As the striker ran into the box, Kanyuka turned and bundled him over from behind.  The referee had no hesitation in awarding the penalty, and Kanyuka his second yellow card, having picked up his first in first half injury time.  The defender trudged off the pitch to the sarcastic applause of some City fans.  Thomas-Moore took the penalty himself, and made no mistake in scoring his hattrick and Rotherham’s fifth.

The reduction to 10 men spurred Tilson into action, and he brought on Danny Hone for Scott Spencer, leaving Hutchinson as the lone striker.  Hone immediately started to make his presence felt, and there can be no doubt that the scoreline may not have been as bad had the young defender been on from the start.  At the same time, Rotherham introduced Adam LeFondre – a striker who has scored more than his fair share of goals against Lincoln and who signaled the Millers’ intent to add to the Imps’ misery.

The game once again settled into a quieter spell, with Rotherham retaining possession at will, and leaving Lincoln’s ten men chasing shadows.

It seemed that the scoring was over and the game would finish at 5-0 when Jason Taylor produced a shot from nothing that flew past Parish from 25 yards in the 87th minute to make it 6 for the Millers.  That proved to be the last action of note in the match.

It is shocking to note that this was the third time that City have conceded 5 or more goals at home this season.  I can’t think of a season in my time watching City when that many hammerings have been received so close together.

For City, it is a case of back to the drawing board to reflect on tactics and personal performances.  Something needs to be done and quickly if City are to pick up the remaining points required to guarantee safety.

24 Elliott Parish
16 Julian Kelly
4 Adam Watts
40 Patrick Kanyuka
3 Joe Anderson
31 Ali Fuseini
26 Tom Kilbey
7 Mustapha Carayol
9 Gavin McCallum
27 Ben Hutchinson
39 Scott Spencer
6 Danny Hone for Spencer (63)
14 Josh O'
Keefe for Kilbey (77)
2 Paul Green
19 Jamie Clapham
22 Andy Hutchinson
25 Cian Hughton
20 Paul Musselwhite

1 Andy Warrington
2 Dale Tonge
3 Tom Newey
4 Danny Harrison
6 Nick Fenton
7 Nicky Law
17 Johnny Mullins
18 Mark Bradley
20 Ryan Taylor
21 Marcus Marshall
22 Ian Thomas-Moore
5 Ryan Cresswell for Fenton (H/T)
10 Adam Le Fondre
for Thomas-Moore (63)
8 Jason Taylor
for Bradley (73)
12 Jamie Green
26 Omar Daley
27 Liam Henderson
30 Jamie Annerson

Tuesday, 22 March 2011

World Heritage – not coming to Lincoln anytime soon…

Any faint hopes Lincoln may have entertained of gaining a place on the top table of world heritage were dealt a death blow today when DCMS announced the shortlist of UK sites to go forward to the UNESCO panel – minus our fair city.

In case you missed the earlier story, a long list of 38 sites was produced back in July 2010, each expressing an interest in being granted World Heritage status.  The list was varied and included historic towns, prehistoric caves and industrial heritage.

The applications for each applicant were published online by the Department for Culture, Media and Sport.  Lincoln’s application can be viewed here.

I have to confess I felt a vague sense of disappointment when I first read that application.  It just didn't seem to sell the city in particularly glowing terms and failed to present Lincoln as an integrated cultural offer - where was the talk of the Roman monuments, charming cobbled streets, varied museums and important historic buildings?  York’s application in comparison wove a tale of the history of the city – stories of Viking Kings and Roman Emperors being told through dynamic modern partnerships with unity of vision.  We may not have as much of that in Lincoln, but we do have fantastic stories to tell, and the big problem for me was that the application was focused rather superficially on the castle and cathedral, as if they exist in a bubble rather than as part of a fascinating and complex historical palimpsest.

However, as it turns out, York’s brand of lyrical wax was just as unwanted as Lincoln’s, as neither city made it onto the shortlist.  The final list consists of:

Chatham Dockyard and its Defences, Kent, England
Creswell Crags, Derbyshire/Nottinghamshire, England
England’s Lake District, Cumbria
Gorham’s Cave Complex, Gibraltar
The Island of St Helena, South Atlantic Ocean
Jodrell Bank Observatory, Cheshire, England
Mousa, Old Scatness & Jarlshof, Shetland, Scotland
Slate Industry of North Wales
The Flow Country, Scotland
The Forth Bridge (Rail), Scotland
Turks & Caicos Islands, West Indies

I find this selection rather surprising, as 'traditional heritage' such as historic towns and cities seem to not be the flavour of the month at all.  I’m sure that every place on the list is important in its own right, but is the Forth Bridge really a more important place in the history of the world than York?

One reason that I find this list strange is with regards to the potential these sites have to attract tourists.  Now, I’m the last person to suggest that tourism should take precedence over criteria such as historic importance, rarity and the like, but in the world we live in it is a reality we have to embrace.  Many international tourists will look at lists such as World Heritage when planning where to travel (I know from personal experience that lots of Chinese tourists do this).  I’m certain that pretty, historic towns like Lincoln and York would attract more tourists than some of the sites on this list (no disrespect to those sites intended).  Be honest, if you were going on a holiday yourself this summer, which of these would you deliberately go to?  The Lake District – very possibly.  Chatham Dockyard – I’m not so sure.

However, it shouldn’t all be doom and gloom, and I don’t want to sound bitter.  We should all remember that we already have one UNESCO listed attraction in Lincoln – Magna Carta, which is on the Memory of the World register

So let’s at least wish the best of luck to the 11 surviving sites with the next stage of their bids, and hope that Lincoln will at some point get the wider recognition that its deep and fascinating history deserves.

Saturday, 19 March 2011

Stevenage v Lincoln City, 19 March 2011

Venue: Broadhall Way, Stevenage
Attendance: 2,732
Final score: 2-1
Lincoln made the reasonably long trip down to Stevenage-used-to-be-Borough this afternoon in the hope of getting three of the five points required to reach the magical 50 mark.

Stevenage are enjoying their first season in the football league, and so far it has been an enjoyable one for them.  They sit just outside of the playoffs, and despite having the reputation of being a big, no-nonsense side its points that decide where you finish, and Stevenage have been picking up enough to justify playing whatever style of football they want.  Stevenage’s home form is good, having only been beaten 3 times at Broadhall Way this season.  They have, however, drawn 9 at home, suggesting that a tight game was on the cards.

The big problem facing the Imps was a lack of strikers, with Facey ruled out by a dislocated shoulder and Hutchinson by his own petulance against Macclesfield on Tuesday night.  Facey in particular will be missed as a captain, a target man up front and even as an outlet down the wing with his surprising turn of pace.  Rumours that the Japanese earthquake were actually caused by Delroy chasing down a loose ball are so far unconfirmed.

These omissions meant that Scott ‘Bill S. Preston Esquire’ Spencer was given his first start for the Imps, and a chance to perhaps claim a starting place for the rest of the season.  Luke Howell also returned from injury into the centre of midfield, pushing Jamie Clapham out wide, an unusual position for the ageing left back.  The absence of Facey meant that loanee defender Stephen Hunt wore the captain’s armband.

Stevenage made a positive start, and City’s defence would be left in no doubt from the off that they would be facing a tough afternoon. Despite Stevenage getting the ball forward often, neither goalkeeper has overly concerned in the opening quarter of an hour.

The first incident of the game was an early, unplanned City substitution.  Howell’s return to first team action lasted less time than he would have hoped, and he had to be replaced by McCallum.  Hopefully the setback in his recovery will be minor.  The change meant a tweak in the midfield, with O’Keefe and Clapham in the centre, Carayol wide right and McCallum going wide left.

City’s first real chance of the game came a few minutes later when Carayol’s pace saw him create some space, but his goalbound drive was deflected wide.

City began to get into the game as the half wore on, though the threat of being hit on the break was ever-present.

The deadlock was broken in the 33rd minute.  Carayol put a cross into the box, which was deemed by the assistant referee to strike the arm of Scott Laird.  The referee gave the penalty despite the protestations of the Stevenage players.  Grimes stepped up and coolly sent Chris Day, a former Imps loanee, the wrong way to give the Imps a 1-0 lead.

The goal sparked some confidence in City, and Carayol fired a shot just over the bar soon afterwards.  Sadly for the Imps, the old adage about being most vulnerable just after you score proved true.  A poor clearance by Clapham fell in the Imps’ box, and allowed Mousinho to shoot.  His shot was well saved by Carson, but the rebound fell to Wilson who tucked it home, albeit off the City keeper.

City seemed to wobble slightly after conceding, but managed to hold out until the break.

City began the second half well, with Grimes curling a shot just wide, and McCallum hitting the side netting.  At the other end, the pace of Charles embarrassed Adam Watts, but the Imps smothered the breakaway.

On the hour, Stevenage took the lead.  Wilson received the ball and sent a dipping shot past Carson from outside the area.  It wasn’t particularly high, and there was a suspicion that the City keeper might have done better with it.  Nevertheless, City found themselves trailing even though Stevenage had barely pressured their goal, and now needed to step up a gear to get back in the game.

That effort was hampered just 5 minutes later when Grimes injured himself while taking a shot, seemingly kicking the bottom of a defender’s boot.  The innocuous injury was obviously troubling Grimes and he had to come off, to be replaced by  Andy Hutchinson – another striker who will hope to make the most of any chance he gets with City’s current injury crisis.

As time ran out, City continued to press but were unable to provide Day with a stern test.  As desperation set in, Carson up for two corners in the dying seconds and came close to connecting with one, but to no avail, and the final whistle signaled an away defeat for the Imps.

Ultimately, City were worn down by a hardworking Stevenage side and the game went according to their gameplan.  Stevenage produced nothing spectacular but ground out the win by putting City under constant pressure, and took the few chances they created.  Their style is not pretty but it once again proved effective and there’s nothing wrong with that, as the league table shows.

Of greater worry to the Imps is the addition of more injuries, with Grimes, Howell and possibly Hunt picking up knocks.  This spate of injuries can perhaps be put down to the fixture backlog from the harsh winter starting to catch up with tired players.

16 Chris Day
Scott Laird
24 Michael Bostwick
14 Mark Roberts
25 Ronnie Henry
Luke Foster
21 John Mousinho
Stacy Long
Lawrie Wilson
Darrius Charles
10 Craig Reid
Jon Ashton for Laird (58)
Darren Murphy
12 Ben May for Reid (88)
13 Joel Byrom
17 Peter Winn for Long (58)
20 Chris Beardsley
27 Dino Maamria

24 Trevor Carson
16 Julian Kelly
Adam Watts
Danny Hone
23 Stephen Hunt
14 Josh O'Keefe
19 Jamie Clapham
15 Luke Howell
Mustafa Carayol
39 Scott Spencer
29 Ashley Grimes
Paul Green for Hunt (83)
9 Gavin McCallum for Howell (14)
22 Andy Hutchinson for Grimes (70)
25 Cian Hughton
31 Ali Fuseini
40 Patrick Kanyuka
20 Paul Musselwhite