Tuesday, 29 November 2011

York City v Lincoln City, 29 November 2011

Venue: Bootham Crescent, York
Attendance: 3,155
Final score: 2-0

Lincoln travelled to York in the first ‘Battle of the Minsters’ for quite a few years.  The biggest connection between the two clubs is of course Scott Kerr, the hardworking midfielder who was short-sightedly forced out of Lincoln under Steve Tilson, and is now doing very well for himself at the Minstermen.

City went into the match following two home wins on the bounce and a surge of renewed optimism.  York were a tougher prospect than Ebbsfleet, however, sitting 5th in the league and unbeaten in 9 home games before tonight. 

The game started in frantic fashion, an unchanged City obviously buoyed by their recent resurgence in results.  In just the third minute, the Imps saw sight of goal but Platt could only put his shot over the bar.  York are no mugs, however, and were on the attack straight afterwards.  The ball broke to Danny Pilkington, whose long range shot took a wicked deflection to loop over the stranded Farman.  It was not the luck the Imps needed at the start of a tough away game – 1-0 to York after only 4 minutes.

Although City managed to create a number of half chances, and certainly kept fighting, Farman was the busier of the two keepers.  City’s best chance came from Perry, whose shot was deflected into the keeper’s arms.

Halftime saw City still in with a fighting chance of getting back into the match.

Only 10 minutes into the second half, Luke Medley replaced Kyle Perry, presumably in the hope of adding some more mobility to the attack.  To be fair, building a brick wall on the York 18 yard line would have provided more movement than Perry has recently.

Sadly, City were soon in deeper trouble when York grabbed their second on 56 minutes.  McLaughlin was given the ball by Blair, who curled a delicious left foot shot past a despairing Farman.

The second goal very much killed the game, and despite making attacking substitutions, Laurent on for Russell and Nicolau for Sheridan, City looked a beaten side going through the motions.  York, for their part, had done enough and were content to sit back and wait for the final whistle.

In some respects it was a depressing way for the match to end, especially when some 300 City fans had made the journey in poor conditions.  Getting a win was always going to be a tough ask, but perhaps the team failed to show the fight that they had shown on Saturday, or at least failed to show the quality of finishing that had put Ebbsfleet to the sword.

Although other results meant that City remain in 18th place, Newport, City’s weekend opponents, continued their good form with another win.  City in the meantime continue to find away points very difficult to come by.

The night was finished off with the news that City will face the long, long trip to Colwyn Bay in the first round of the FA Trophy, after the Welsh side beat Halifax Town.  The long trip notwithstanding, it was particularly disappointing not to be getting reacquainted with the Shaymen, who of course used to be far more regular opponents of the Imps in happier times for both clubs.

York City
24 Michael Ingham
3 James Meredith
5 David McGurk
7 Jamie Reed
8 Scott Kerr
10 Ashley Chambers
12 Danny Pilkington
16 Jamal Fyfield
17 Matty Blair
20 Jon Challinor
26 Patrick McLaughlin
28 Moses Ashikodi for Pilkington 76
2 Lanre Oyebanjo for Chambers 86
4 Chris Smith
6 Daniel Parslow
18 Adriano Moke

Lincoln City
28 Paul Farman
13 Tony Sinclair
2 Richard Hinds
5 Josh Gowling
3 John Nutter
8 Alan Power
34 Tyrone Thompson
12 Conal Platt
15 Simon Russell
36 Jake Sheridan
9 Kyle Perry
32 Luke Medley for Perry 51
11 Francis Laurent for Russell 65
17 Nicky Nicolau for Sheridan 81
27 Jean-Francois Christophe
1 Joe Anyon

Sunday, 27 November 2011

Mrs Li Dongni's stroke of luck

A bizarre stroke of good luck befell my wife tonight, and it's a tale I feel the urge to tell.

She has been in Paris for a few days for work, and had flown back into Manchester airport this evening. Being a foreign national, it of course took her forever to get through passport control despite having one of those silly ID cards (Daily Mail readers take note that foreigners do not just casually stroll into the country, even when they have permission to be here).

The delays at the border always mean that her luggage has been rattling around on the conveyer for an age by the time she gets there. On this occassion, she arrived to find her luggage had gone, but someone else's identical suitcase was still there...

Guessing that someone had accidentally taken her case by mistake (despite this other case having a large purple lock on the front that my wife's case definitely doesn't have), she went to the luggage desk. Thankfully there was a name on the case - by strange coincidence it also belonged to a Chinese woman. A tannoy announcement led nowhere, and it seemed that the other woman had already left the airport.

My wife filled in the required paperwork and left the airport in a state of dejection, hoping that the woman would soon realise her blunder and would have the common sense to contact the airport.


Half an hour later my wife was stood at the railway station, waiting for her train home, when she caught sight of a familiar looking suitcase being pulled out of the waiting room by a young Chinese woman. With faint hope, she scurried over to her and asked 'have you just come back from Paris?'. The woman, obviously thinking that a psycho had started to harass her said, 'no, Madrid' and began to hurry away. My wife, tenacious as ever, was determined to find out if this was her case and again scuttled after her, going straight for the luggage label and with delight seeing her name written there. Oddly, upon pointing out to the other woman that she had collected the wrong case from the carousel, she simply turned and ran away, not saying a word.

Despite the strange reaction of the other woman, I think it's fair to say my wife has well and truly used up her supply of luck for the near future!

Saturday, 26 November 2011

Lincoln City v Ebbsfleet United, 26 November 2011

Venue: Sincil Bank, Lincoln
Attendance: 2,111
Final score: 3-0

Lincoln City Land is currently witnessing the blossoming of something rare and wonderful.  A glimmer of optimism has been seen hiding in the bushes after this afternoon’s win against Ebbsfleet.

In extremely windy conditions (or should that be WIN-dy conditions?  Sorry…), City continued their improved home form with a second win on the bounce – something that hasn’t happened since early 2009.

On a personal note, it feels like an age since I was last at Sincil Bank, and it was incredibly good to be back.  Because City have a new manager and a number of changes in playing staff, I confess that I felt a little like a newbie again, having to work out who was who, and who would be playing where.

Ebbsfleet are (no offence to them), one of those sides that really make it sink in that the Imps have dropped into the non-league.  This was the first ever meeting between the sides, and this is Ebbsfleet’s return to the Conference after bouncing back from the Conference South at the first attempt at the playoffs.  Oh, and they have a rather attractive purple away kit

City started with Paul Farmen in goal, despite the return of Joe Anyon from suspension, and with Perry and Sheridan up front.  New signing Tyrone Thompson started in the centre of midfield.

The match started in frantic fashion, with City almost opening the scoring in the first minute when the ball fell to Conal Platt just inside the box.  The midfielder managed to get the ball out of his feet to stab a shot goalwards, but he couldn’t get much power on it and Edwards managed to save with his feet.

The first half continued to be an even affair, with both sides showing equal desire to attack, and defences that looked far from unbreachable.

City were showing a strange unwillingness to shoot, with Perry and Russell in particular preferring to turn their backs to goal and lay off the ball to others when in positions that a shot looked to be an option.

Perry was looking poor throughout the first half – slow, lumbering, with a distinct lack of movement and very easy to knock off the ball.

Ebbsfleet were looking more than capable of cutting the Imps’ defence open, and were proving to be a hardworking and well organised team.  Although Farman didn’t have much to do in the first half, it was only because of some good last ditch tackling by the City defence, Josh Gowling in particular.

The breakthrough came in the 38th minute, when Platt cut inside from the right on the edge of the box.  His first shot was blocked, but when the ball rebounded to him, he wasted no time in pinging a delicious curling shot into the top corner.

Ebbsfleet almost levelled before the break, but Farman pulled off a superb close range block to deny Pinney (who looked distinctly offside) and the Imps led at the break.

I expected an Ebbsfleet barrage at the start of the second half, but it was the Imps who caused the early pressure, with Perry and Nutter both denied by Edwards.  It seemed as if City had been told to be more decisive at the break, and the instruction had been listened to.

In an attempt to get back into the game, Ebbsfleet made a double substitution on the hour mark, bringing on two rather large players in Enver-Marum and Phipp.  The two combined almost immediately, and Farman was forced to tip Enver-Marum’s long range effort behind.

Minutes later, another long range shot from the lively Enver-Marum was brilliantly fingertipped onto the crossbar by Farman, and it seemed that with 20 minutes to go, the Imps would be lucky to hang on to their lead.

The fates of football can turn in an instant, however, and Lincoln doubled their lead soon after.  A Power freekick found its way to Russell at the back post, and the winger unleashed an unstoppable shot into the roof of the net to score his first goal in City colours.

The cushion gave the Imps a visible confidence boost, and they began to put more pressure on the Ebbsfleet goal.  On the 80th minute, Platt put Power through behind the defence, and as he reached the edge of the box, he was bundled over by Mambo.  The big central defender was duly shown his marching orders, and although it was an easy decision for the referee, it was poor luck for the Ebbsfleet player, who had player superbly well all game, and this was the only time he’d put a foot wrong.

Football is a cruel game, and Ebbsfleet’s misery was compounded when Nutter’s freekick deflected off the wall and the ball found its way inside the far post to make it 3-0.

The introduction of Laurent and Medley at the end saw both players making energetic attempts to increase the scoreline, but the full time whistle signalled a vital home win for the Imps.

Despite some reports I have read saying how easy and deserved the victory was, the scoreline doesn’t tell the whole story.  Ebbsfleet are a good side, and up until the very end, were right in the match.  In fact, with 20 minutes to go, the conversation around me was along the lines of ‘I don’t think we’re going to hang onto this lead.’  The scoreline flattered City somewhat, and in the end it was two superbly taken individual goals that made the difference in a very evenly balanced match, the third goal simply the icing on the cake.

I’m afraid I have to single Kyle Perry out for attention. I thought that, in a good overall team performance, he stood out as a weak link.  Interestingly, some Ebbsfleet players were sat behind us in the stand, and we got chatting to them.  They were quite astounded by the poor quality of Perry, and were surprised that we had such a player in the team.  His lack of strength on the ball, and constant going down under challenges particularly bemused them.

On a brighter note, I thought that new signing Tyrone Thompson had a very assured debut in midfield, and both his passing and willingness to tackle back instantly put him ahead of recent departee Ali Fuseini in my book.  Hopefully he will become an important cog in the city machine.  Equally, Luke Medley seemed almost manic in his desire to chase down the ball when he came on, and if Perry’s passing had been more assured he might have been put through on goal on two occasions.

Another thing I noticed was that we consistently left 3 players up when defending corners.  Although the intention to counter attack was obvious, at times when Ebbsfleet were applying pressure, it seemed almost suicidal, as their large strikers were finding plenty of space in the box.  I fear that against higher placed opposition, such a tactic will cost us more goals than we score on the break.

I don’t want to end on a sour note, though, as it felt so good to celebrate a win, a clean sheet, and some much needed optimism amongst players and fans.

28 Paul Farman
13 Tony Sinclair
2 Richard Hinds
5 Josh Gowling
3 John Nutter
8 Alan Power
34 Tyrone Thompson
12 Conal Platt
15 Simon Russell
36 Jake Sheridan
9 Kyle Perry
32 Luke Medley, for Sheridan 81
11 Francis Laurent, for Russell 89
16 Mitchell Nelson
17 Nicky Nicolau
1 Joe Anyon

1 Preston Edwards
2 Craig Stone
6 Paul Lorraine
22 Yado Mambo
14 Joe Howe
8 Ram Marwa
10 Ricky Shakes
24 Neil Barrett
7 Michael West
9 Calum Willock
26 Nathaniel Pinney
15 Liam Enver-Marum, for Shakes 61
11 Tom Phipp, for Barrett 61
16 Ian Simpemba, for Willock 81
3 John Herd
17 Joe Welch

Friday, 25 November 2011

Displaying the Dragon – The new National Museum of China

The National Museum of China (中国国家博物馆) reopened in April 2011 after a 3½ year, £234m redevelopment.  I blogged about it here at the time.  I said in that piece that I’d reserve judgement about the museum and its contents until I’d had a chance to visit it for myself – and now I have.

We decided to get to the museum as it opened at 9 o’clock on a lovely early November morning and thankfully, despite the sea of tour group flags littering Tiananmen Square, queues to get into the museum were short.

The first thing to say about the museum is that the façade is impressive, in an angular sort of way.  Built as one of the ‘Ten Famous Architectures’ in 1959, it’s a building that you are supposed to be in awe of rather than in love with, and in that aim it succeeds.

Sadly, although the architecture provides for a large open space in front of the museum, this also seems to exist only to look impressive, as the public are kept very pointedly away from it.  British Museum or Louvre-esque scenes of tourists milling in front of the grand entrance, taking photos and mingling with their fellow visitors are not part of the design.  Instead, visitors are funnelled through a little side passage, virtually single file, before emerging into a confusing ticketing area.

Ahead of us we could clearly see the queue to get into the museum so we duly went to join it, only to be told that we actually needed to go back to the ticket office, hidden around the corner from where we entered and with no signage at all to highlight its existence.  ‘But it’s a free museum, isn’t it?’ we muttered as we headed into the ticket office.  Inside, Chinese tourists were having to show their Registration cards, and we were asked to show our passports.  However, much to our bemusement, we didn’t need to actually hand them over or even open them before being handed our tickets.  Obviously the museum has little faith in Chinese border control!

So, with free and pointless ticket in hand, we proceeded back to the queue, and awaited being allowed in through the doors to the security check.

Now, security checks in museums are something that I find vaguely annoying.  Different countries have different ideas about how much of a risk is faced by cultural institutions, and I for one am thankful that the UK has adopted a sensible approach – only really pulling out the visible security when the threat level is high.  Other places (I’m looking at you, Paris) seem to think that every museum needs metal detectors at every door, every day of the year.

The Chinese National Museum, however, raises the bar somewhat.  The obligatory metal detector for bags and the pat down are fairly standard, but this seemed to be some kind of show of authority as the female staff got very up-close and personal, subjecting every bulge to close scrutiny (I kid you not).  Seriously, the world’s toughest airport security has nothing on this museum and it can only be intended to intimidate.  It would genuinely put me off visiting again.

So I confess to being slightly peeved by the time I eventually entered the museum proper, to be faced with the orientation from hell…

We already knew that we wouldn’t have time to visit all of the museum, so had to choose our galleries carefully.  A look at the orientation board made us decide to focus on the ‘Ancient China’ and awkwardly named ‘Road of Rejuvenation’ galleries, as these are the major chronological galleries focussing on the history of China rather than the outside world or temporary exhibitions.  Hopefully I’ll be able to fill in some of the others on another visit.

Our first challenge was to actually find where any of the galleries were off the large entrance hall.  Shops we could see, but signs telling us where the objects were seemed conspicuous by their absence.  Eventually, we stumbled across an escalator going down, and after wandering through a range of strange, empty, corridors, emerged in a large foyer that marked the start of the Ancient China galleries.

My first thought was how strangely old-fashioned everything felt, and as I progressed through the chronologically arranged rooms, I became disturbed by the complete lack of variety in any of the displays.  The Ancient China Galleries are HUGE – room after room after room of displays covering China’s long and fascinating history, but they are all absolutely identical.

The display cases are high quality, and all follow the same clean design.  The ceilings are high, with visible air handling, and the tall walls painted plain white.  The limited interpretative text on the walls is provided on small, plain, cream panels with no images, just black text.  The case interiors all have bevelled cream-painted plinths with small white labels giving the object name, date and provenance (albeit in Chinese and English).  I suppose if I were being kind I’d say it was neat, but I couldn’t help feeling that it was a rather monochrome way to present some of the finest objects that Chinese archaeology has to offer.  Where are the large scale wall graphics, splashes of colour on walls and floors to differentiate different periods or recurring themes running throughout the galleries?  Where are the reconstructions showing how objects looked when complete, or providing context for their use?  Where is the sense of challenging the public or invoking a sense of discovery about objects whose function is less than certain?

The objects are presented as things to be held in awe, rather than as vehicles to tell the human stories behind them.  Don’t get me wrong, I have no problem with museums highlighting the aesthetic qualities of objects, but when museums across the world have repeatedly demonstrated the power of historical objects to inspire people, it seems a travesty to spend so much money and produce something with so little personality.  It is designed to impress, when it would have been better designed to inspire.  ‘Institutional’ is a word that it is very difficult to shake off.

It was interesting to note that as we progressed through the Ancient China Galleries, the crowds became notably thinner.  I can’t imagine that this is entirely due to visitors having a passion for the Western Zhou Dynasty and less interest in the Ming or Qing Dynasties, and some of it surely has to be ascribed to gallery fatigue – not helped by the monotonous design.

The galleries also fall into the trap that every Chinese museum I have ever visited falls into – telling the story of the big Dynasties, but casually omitting the ‘messy’ histories in between.  The trouble is that those periods of war, uprising and political turmoil are some of the most fascinating of all.  Whether their omission is the result of a decision to only show an image of a stable and peaceful past, or because it is felt that it is too difficult to explain to the public is something I still can’t decide.

The staffing is another interesting issue.  Now, feel free to accuse me of having a parochial attitude here, but I have always thought that the role of gallery staff was first and foremost to enrich people’s experiences.  To help visitors locate things in the gallery and to engage with them about the contents of the museum.  Of course, they also have an important security role to play, and in a National museum this is absolutely right, but I can’t help feeling that the staff here (and in fact in pretty much every national museum) don’t see their role as one of interpreter.

Despite the rather negative comments I’ve just made, I want to reiterate here that the objects in the galleries are for the most part really rather special (despite their being more replicas than I expected), and it seems that a tour of pretty much every other Chinese museum has been made, with objects cherry picked for highlighting in the national museum.  Below are some of my favourites for your delectation.

Upon leaving the gallery (and being presented with another shop), the orientation problems sadly reared their ugly head again.  We were faced with two staircases going up in opposite directions, one signposted ‘east hall’, the other ‘west hall’.  Unfortunately, we had no idea what the content of either of these halls was, or which hall we had originally entered from.  We guessed at the east hall, but this staircase only led us to a locked door and the distinct feeling that we had guessed wrong…

Having found our way back to the main hall, we headed to the second gallery of our visit – ‘The Road of Rejuvenation’.

This gallery deals with 20th and 21st Century China, and basically charts the rise and accomplishments of the Communist Party.  In fact, a catchier title for the gallery may well have been ‘Why the CCP Rocks’.

I confess that I expected this gallery to be a rather ridiculous pat on the back for the CCP, but to be honest it wasn’t overly cringe-worthy.  Of course, every chance was taken to prod at the ‘foreign powers’ being the cause of all of China’s ills – for instance:

“After Britain started the Opium War in 1840, the imperial powers descended on China like a swarm of bees, looting our treasures and killing our people.  They forced the Qing government to sign a series of unequal treaties that granted them economic, political and cultural privileges and sank China gradually into a semi-colonial, semi-feudal society.”

Basically, China was great until those nasty foreigners came along and made us backwards, and it wasn’t until the Communist party appeared that China started to become strong and proud again.

People will no doubt criticise the museum for not making a big feature of events such as Tiananmen Square in 1989, and whilst it is true that I could find no mention of that event, there is really no reason why it should feature heavily.  Would a gallery on 20th Century American history be expected to dwell heavily on the LA riots in 1992 or a British one on the miners’ strikes?

Design-wise, the gallery thankfully had a lot more variety than the Ancient China galleries, with large wall graphics, photographs, vehicles, flags and the like adding some much needed colour.  The huge artistic wall installation in the entrance is particularly impressive.

It got me, as an archaeologist, wondering why the museum’s ‘ancient’ objects should be presented in such a plain display, yet modern social history is allowed to be so vibrant.  Is it through some misguided sense that the ancient past was more serious, or should be treated with sombre reverence?

So, in summary the museum is a strange mixture of great objects, unsubtle propaganda, varied design aesthetics and ridiculous security.  It’s undeniably impressive as a focus of national pride directed at the people, but I can’t help feeling that I would have liked it more if they had tried to make a museum for the people instead.

Thursday, 24 November 2011

The Ugly Little Panda...

Everyone loves pandas.  Those cute, fluffy creatures that sit there peacefully, casually munching their way through a few tonnes of bamboo with their little black ears and big placid eyes.

There's surely no such thing as an ugly panda, right?  Wrong.

Whilst wandering through the museum part of the Chengdu Panda Research base, I came across a former resident, now spending his days behind glass.  But is the glass to protect the panda, or the visitors?

Just in case that was too shocking for you, here are some of the cuter modern residents to cheer you up

Saturday, 19 November 2011

Wrexham v Lincoln City, 19th November 2011

Venue: The Racecourse Ground, Wrexham
Attendance: 3,424
Final score: 2-0

Sincil Bank was a hive of activity this week with player comings and goings.  So much so, in fact, that Lincoln City Land almost has an air of pre-season about the place (albeit it before a season that starts with a points deduction…)

The arrival of new blood has to be welcomed, and hopefully Jake Sheridan, Tyrone Thompson, Luke Medley (who runs like an Italian pig, we learned this week) and returnee Mitchell Nelson will shake things up, provide some competition for places and generally be a catalyst to get the Imps’ season kick-started.

David Holdsworth has also been active in trying to offload players, with Danny Hone being sent out on loan to Barrow, and the survivors from last season, McCallum, Watts and O’Keefe, being offered around to other clubs.  Whilst the reduction of the wage bill is essential, I have to admit some surprise at McCallum being on the list as I think he’s tried this season, and isn’t someone I’d point the finger at for City’s poor league position (though perhaps he should have bagged a few more goals by now.)

Wrexham visited Sincil Bank early in the season, and gained all three points in a televised game that City should have taken at least a point from.  This time around, Wrexham had fully settled into their stride and were sitting pretty at the top of the table – not an easy task for the Imps at all.

Despite being the underdogs City began brightly, taking the game to Wrexham and creating some good chances in the opening few minutes.  Sadly, Lincoln’s balloon was soon popped, when in the 11th minute, with their first attack, Wrexham scored.  A stray pass from Nicolau put Pogba through on goal, and the striker duly capitalised by putting the ball past Farman and into the bottom corner.  It was cruel fate for City to be penalised for their only mistake.

City managed to keep their heads up, but the goal settled Wrexham nerves.  Despite a few chances on the break, City never really tested the Wrexham goal and the half ended 1-0.

The second half started much the same as the first had ended, but the game’s controversial moment soon arrived.  On the hour mark, a cross from the by-line struck the arm of Nelson.  The linesman flagged for a corner, but the referee decided that the offence was worthy of a penalty.  Some have even suggested that the ball was out before the cross came in.  It seemed a harsh decision on City, but is indicative of the way the luck goes when teams at either end of the table play each other.  Pogba, of course, had no problem tucking the penalty away and the game was duly put beyond City's grasp.

Despite falling to a 2-0 defeat, City can hold their heads high, having shown the fight and desire that has been sorely lacking so far this season.  I think that most fans can accept defeat, especially when playing away at the league leaders, but it is the manner of defeat that matters, and if today’s performance is indicative of the matches yet to come, a glimmer of hope may yet exist on the horizon for City to pull away from the bottom of the table before the end of the season draws close.

25 Joslain Mayebi
2 Curtis Obeng
3 Neil Ashton
4 Mark Creighton
6 Jay Harris
9 Danny Wright
11 Andy Morrell
18 Jamie Tolley
20 Nat Knight-Percival
24 Mathias Pogba
26 Joe Clarke
10 Jake Speight for Morrell 77
8 Lee Fowler for Harris 81
7 Adrian Cieslewicz
23 Chris Westwood
21 Chris Maxwell

28 Paul Farman
13 Tony Sinclair
2 Richard Hinds
16 Mitchell Nelson
3 John Nutter
8 Alan Power
23 Josh O'Keefe
12 Conal Platt
17 Nicky Nicolau
9 Kyle Perry
14 Sam Smith
11 Francis Laurent for Smith 38
32 Luke Medley for Nicolau 62
15 Simon Russell for O'Keefe 81
5 Josh Gowling
21 Nick Draper

Monday, 7 November 2011

FIFA versus the poppy

You are probably aware of the recent talk about whether the England team should be allowed to wear poppies on their shirts for their upcoming friendly match against Spain.  The debate has arisen because FIFA regulations state that international football kits cannot display ‘political, religious or commercial’ messages, and FIFA are therefore telling England that they are not allowed to do it.  Many people are suggesting that England should ignore FIFA and do it anyway.

OK, deep breath now because this is a painful thing to write – I actually agree with FIFA on this.

Now, before anyone starts accusing me of being disrespectful to the memory of our fallen, I want to make it clear that I’m a big supporter of the Royal British Legion and the poppy appeal, and will get my poppy every year – it’s a cause I’d urge everybody to support.  However, the worthiness of the poppy appeal and Remembrance Sunday is not the issue here, despite what the average Daily Mail reader seems to think.

The argument that England should ignore the FIFA rules and wear the poppy smacks of a ‘little England’ mentality.  Yes the poppy appeal is important to us, but what makes it more important than any other statement that other countries might wish to make?  What if Spain decided that it wanted to wear a badge in that same match denouncing Basque separatists?  What if the USA took to the field bearing a 9-11 commemoration or Iran began to wear a verse from the Koran on their shirts?  What if North Korea start wearing a shirt in memory of their citizens killed during the Korean war or Argentina in memory of their soldiers killed during the Falklands

Its too simplistic to suggest that as the poppy is a symbol of commemoration, it should be allowed - FIFA have to look at the precedent it would set across the entire footballing world and the meanings such symbols have to others - for example the poppy is seen in China as a painful reminder of the humiliation suffered at the hands of the west during the 19th Century.

Football kits exist to identify one team from another, not to make any broader statements – however noble and well intentioned the symbol being displayed, and whatever the depth of feeling the symbol invokes to the citizens of that country.

Some people are under the impression that FIFA have introduced this rule recently in an attempt to specifically spite England, which is of course absolute nonsense.  This is a rule which exists to ensure that football, a political enough sport to begin with, does not get dragged into wider political or religious disputes.  In order to ensure that this basic integrity is maintained, some rules have to be firmly enforced and I think that England would be showing the greatest disrespect to the sport if they were to arrogantly go ahead and wear the poppy.  We have the right to commemorate our dead, but we don't have the right to ride roughshod over the rules the rest of the world play by, or to use symbols that may cause offence to others.  FIFA is right to take a wider view on this issue.

Sunday, 6 November 2011

Lincoln City v AFC Barrow, 5th November 2011

Venue: Sincil Bank, Lincoln
Attendance: 2,090
Final score: 2-1

Revenge is a sweet thing in football, so it was with much relish that Lincoln celebrated a rare home win against a team that had beaten the Imps 1-0 earlier in the season.

This was new manager David Holdsworth’s first league game in charge, and he made no hesitation in bringing his new signings into the starting 11, and to good effect.  Goalkeeper Paul Farman, centre-back Richard Hinds and winger Conal Platt all featured, with the midfield consisting of Josh O’Keefe and Nicky Nicolau – both players who had rarely featured under Steve Tilson.

Holdsworth’s aim seems to be to make the Imps a tougher team to beat, both physically and mentally, and to make the team play a little more directly, with the aim of putting more pressure on the opposition higher up the pitch.

This tactic worked well in the first half, with Barrow struggling to get their game going, and City having the better of the opening salvoes.  The Imps took the lead, to the great relief of the home crowd, in the 20th minute when Platt put Smith through to supply a neat finish.  I’ve been critical of Smith this season, but I might have to be prepared to eat my words, as the tall striker seems to be finding some form, and his 6 league goals this season show that he does have some finishing ability.

The Imps quickly extended their lead when, a mere two minutes later, Barrow keeper Danny Hurst punched away Nutter’s cross, but left himself stranded off his line when the clearance fell to Christophe. The French midfielder lifted a neat chip over the keeper from 25 yards to score his first goal in City colours.

City continued to look the sharper team, but were unable to extend their lead before the break.

The second half brought more life from Barrow, who had obviously been giving a dressing down at half time, and the City fans were showing some nerves at the thought of how a single Barrow goal could make the game turn rather sour.  As it was, the City defence held firm against increased Barrow possession, and it was Perry on the hour mark who had the best chance of the half, when his shot hit the post.

Barrow did manage to get their goal in injury time, when a loose ball in the box was fired home by Pearson, but it was too little too late for the visitors, and the City faithful went home happy with both the performance and the result – a rare combination in recent months.

The 3 points lift City out of the relegation places, and that in itself is cause for celebration, though there is clearly a long way to go before any champagne corks can be popped.

Listening to Holdsworth on the radio afterwards makes me think that this is a manager I’m going to like – honest, straight talking, and someone who seems to have positive ideas about what needs to be changed to fix the mess we are in.  After Tilson’s dithering, such positivity will hopefully rub off on all those connected with the Imps.

28 Paul Farman
13 Tony Sinclair
2 Richard Hinds
16 Mitchell Nelson
3 John Nutter
27 Jean-Francois Christophe
23 Josh O'Keefe
12 Conal Platt
17 Nicky Nicolau
9 Kyle Perry
14 Sam Smith
11 Francis Laurent, for Nutter 64
5 Josh Gowling, for O'Keefe 88
7 Jamie Taylor
30 Gavin McCallum
21 Nick Draper

AFC Barrow
1 Danny Hurst
15 Paul Smith
3 Gavin Skelton
2 Mike Pearson
17 Adam Quinn
16 Jack Mackreth
12 James Owen
8 Richie Baker
7 Paul Rutherford
9 Andy Cook
11 Adam Boyes
24 Danny Rowe, for Rutherford 64
18 Louis Almond, for Cook 64
5 Phil Bolland
10 Andy Ferrell
21 Shaun Pearson

Friday, 4 November 2011

Honey, I’m home...

I’m pleased to say that I have now safely returned from a most enjoyable sojourn in China – a month spent travelling to some new places, revisiting some old places, spending some quality time with my wife’s side of the family (which of course has meant being treated to lots of delicious food and drinking a little too much Maotai), and generally enjoying the wonderful hospitality that the Chinese people never fail to extend.  I anticipate writing a few new travel posts in the near future, particularly regarding the ten days we spent in Xinjiang province, seeing the gorgeous mountains, deserts, lakes, rock art and museums.

So what has been happening in the world while I’ve been away?

Almost as soon as I left, City parted company with manager Steve Tilson – an act becoming more inevitable with each passing match.  He has been replaced by former Watford centre half David Holdsworth, who has previously been manager of Ilkeston and Mansfield.  Despite not having masses of managerial experience, it is hoped that he is the manager to instil some fight into the team, and make us much harder to beat.  The sacking of Tilson will undoubtedly have drained City’s meagre coffers  even further, so Holdsworth will have to be canny to strengthen the team – though he has acted quickly to bring in a goalkeeper and a winger on loan.  It was sad to hear on my return that even City’s office staff are being asked if they will take voluntary redundancy.  The financial situation at the club is indeed perilous, and we must remain cautious to ensure that the first priority is to ensure that we still have a club to support, no matter what level it is playing at.

On the field, the results have failed to improve.  A win against Fleetwood (ironically while managerless) has been followed by defeat away at Cambridge and a home draw against Mansfield.  City also managed to continue their pathetic FA Cup record, by failing to even reach the first round proper – losing out to the mighty Alfreton (below City in the league) after a replay.  The league results mean that City still occupy the top relegation place – so much for my hopes of a revival in my absence!

Staying in the footballing world, I did manage to catch the Manchester derby while in China, though I care nothing for either club.  One thing that did occur to me, though, was how much Manchester United keeper David De Gea looks like the kid in the film Jumanji when he turns into the monkey!

Away from football, the world has been an interesting place in the last month.  The Libyan situation came to a head with the slightly mysterious demise of Colonel Gaddafi, both Turkey and Thailand have sadly felt the wrath of nature, and the world’s population has reached a milestone of 7 billion, though we said goodbye to Jimmy Saville.  All in all a fairly eventful few weeks.