Sunday, 29 January 2012

Sincil Bank – to move or not to move

The issue of moving to a new ground is something that rears its head occasionally at every club.  Lincoln City are no different, and discussion of whether or not a new stadium would ultimately be the catalyst to success is a popular one.

Recently, however, the issue has not only come back on to the table, but seems to be a more serious consideration than I’ve known it in my 18ish year association with the club.  With fans’ opinion divided, here are some of my thoughts on the pros and cons associated with moving ground.

The plus side – potential advantages of moving

Increased commercial income

This is Chairman Bob Dorrian’s big argument in favour of moving.  Basically, if we build a ground with swanky modern facilities that can be used by community groups and businesses, such as conference suites, meeting rooms, sports training centres etc, then this will be a big source of revenue for the footballing side of the club.  Dorrian also envisages the ground being surrounded by ‘hotels, restaurants, shops and banqueting facilities’.  Basically, rather than just being a football pitch and stands used once or twice a week, the stadium becomes the centre of an important venue, used for various purposes seven days a week.

Building a new ground is better value for money than redeveloping Sincil Bank

The figures currently being bandied around suggest that a new ground could be built for £9 million, compared with a suggested £4.5 million needed to redevelop Sincil Bank.  In addition, the club might expect to see income from the land value of Sincil Bank.

Better facilities for fans

As much as we might love Sincil Bank, its position within a Victorian housing estate does create issues of access and space.  A new ground would enable modern road access and car parking provision to be planned in from day one.  Better for home fans, better for visiting fans, better for people who live near the ground.

The downside – potential disadvantages of moving

Is the commercial argument flawed?

The big question is simply ‘how much income would the new ground really be able to generate during the week?’  I hope that the board doesn’t blind itself in believing that millions of pounds will be generated through use of the ground by non-football fans.  If the location is to be Tritton Road, then it’s hardly in the city centre, and the City is not short of well-placed conference facilities, restaurants and shops.  There also needs to be clarity regarding the proposed business model - who will run these hotels, shops and restaurants around the ground?  Will they be run directly by the football club?  Then how will the costs of managing such businesses be met and who will own the risk of them failing (as so many are in the current climate)?  Would they be club owned and then franchised out? If they are to be owned entirely by other companies and simply near to the ground, then what benefit is there to the club?  Is the idea that people will go out for a meal and be tempted to buy a replica shirt?

The arguments made by the board that the club will benefit from increased additional income need to be water-tight, otherwise we could find ourselves worse–off than ever, and at the moment the commercial arguments seem very woolly indeed.

The Tritton Road location

Although any move would no doubt improve fan access over that currently provided at Sincil Bank, surely anyone who knows Lincoln at all would realise that Tritton Road is already a nightmare to negotiate at any time, let alone Saturday afternoon.  Adding a few thousand football fans (and more if the club’s future ambitions are realised) to that mix is just crazy.  If a new ground is to become a reality, then surely locations linked to the new eastern bypass, when it eventually happens, are a far more sustainable option.

The heritage disconnect

As someone with an interest in history, this is obviously an important factor for me but I’m aware that some fans don’t see heritage as a reason to stay, and I can respect that stance.  The thing is that Sincil Bank has been the home of Lincoln City since 1884, and the idea that we still watch the team from the same place that the people of Lincoln were doing 130 years ago means something.  Football clubs, even small, unsuccessful ones, are all about history, and breaking with such history is not a decision to be taken lightly – especially when the club is at possibly its lowest ever ebb.  You can never get it back once you’ve bulldozed it and replaced it with houses.

Loss of identity

Linked to the loss of heritage is the fact that Sincil Bank is a unique name in English Football, and one that has been around since the invention of the sport.  Instead, it will most likely be replaced with a sponsor-named stadium.  Goodbye Sincil Bank, hello ‘The Starglaze Arena’.  Sorry, where?

Identikit ground syndrome

This may be a sweeping statement, but I’ll say it anyway - new grounds are all identical and soulless.  They also tend to be smaller.  Although we don’t currently get anywhere near filling the 10,000 odd capacity of Sincil Bank, there is a certain loss of face about moving to a 6,000 capacity ground.  It’s like at the same time as we’re ‘securing the future of the club’, we’re admitting that we’ll never be as big as we once were.  And that's just depressing.

The quality of the football

Basically, a new stadium may attract a full house for the first game, but if the football continues to be dire and City continue to struggle on as a non-league team, then fans still will not turn up on a regular basis.  If City played at Old Trafford, would we suddenly get 10,000 fans in?  Of course not.  Good football and promotions lead to more fans, not shiny facilities.

Ground redevelopment should be more seriously considered

Although a new ground is being seen as ‘better value for money’, why could a rebuilt St Andrew’s stand not contain the new commercial facilities that the board desire so much?  The Chairman has made the blanket statement that Sincil bank is ‘not fit for purpose’, but I think that fans (and shareholders in particular) need this premise to be more fully (and openly) investigated before a more drastic path is taken.

Who will pay for it?

Although I can see that short term pain can be worth it for long term success, for how long will the club be paying off the new ground?  Will these payments affect the manager’s ability to buy players in the near future?

The experience of other clubs

The idea of moving to a new ground is nothing new, and many other clubs of roughly Lincoln’s size, though mostly not of our pathetic non-league status it must be said, have moved in recent years.  These include Northampton Town, Rushden and Diamonds, Oxford United, Shrewsbury Town, Darlington, Doncaster Rovers, Hull City and Chesterfield.

Some of these have been less than successful – Darlington being the highest profile example, although many will rightly say that they are something of a unique case and were massively overambitious.  Oxford Town have similarly suffered through an overambitious chairman.

Shrewsbury, Doncaster and Chesterfield are perhaps too early to judge, but on the face of it look like they will go down as success stories, with the clubs at least no worse off than before.  It has to be said, though, that these clubs moved at times when they were in good form on the pitch, and the move was to accompany success, not to be the catalyst for it straight after relegation.

Every football club is different, and every town and city they are based in is different.  Direct comparisons with other stories of success and failure are therefore very difficult to make.  Sadly, City’s history is not resplendent with things going our way though…

My thoughts

Overall, I’m not currently swayed by the arguments to build a new ground, and I’m slightly concerned that the board is becoming a little starstruck at the thought of some shiny new facilities (remember what happened the last time they got starstruck when appointing a manager…).  The future stability of the club is of paramount importance, and on current arguments a new ground seems to fall a long way short of guaranteeing that outcome, with the risk of losing the club’s sense of identity and heritage too great a gamble. 

I for one need to see far more persuasive arguments being made than the ones currently being touted.

Tuesday, 24 January 2012

The Great Lincoln Railway Station Barrier Charade

Let me tell you a little story about one of my weekly routines…

Every Monday morning my wife catches an early train from Lincoln to Manchester to go to work.  I walk down the hill with her to say goodbye to her at the station.  So far, so ordinary.  Its only when we get to the station when the Great Barrier Charade begins.

The charade basically revolves around me being able to help my wife carry her bags across the bridge to the train and being able to say our farewells on the platform (a custom which I’m pretty sure is as old as the railways themselves).  To get to the platform though, I have to ask the staff to let me through the ticket barriers.  They usually do so, but with reluctance and often some grumbling.  I then have to repeat the process on the way out - if I can find a staff member near the barriers that is.

Having to do this every single week is now becoming rather tiresome, so my plea to East Midlands Trains, Looney Tunes, or whoever now operates Lincoln train station is this – please make a decision on whether non-travellers are allowed on the platform!

If we are allowed, then let us through without the grudging attitude.  If we have to go to a machine to get a platform ticket, then fine.  If you decide that nobody without a ticket can pass through the mystic portals, then fine.  Although I’d argue vehemently against the latter stance, at least it would mean a decision has been made.

As it stands, I look forward to next week having to go through the usual ritual again.  What do people think? Am I right or am I just whinging?  Does anyone else have this problem?

Sunday, 22 January 2012

新年快乐! Happy Chinese New Year!

Chinese New Year now seems to be firmly accepted into the western calendar, and there can't be many places that aren't referencing the event  to some degree.

Here in Lincoln I've been very happy to see the cute little Chinese lanterns decorating our award-winningly attractive Steep Hill.

Chinese New Year's eve in our household has consisted of a call back home to the Chinese side of the family this morning, and a huge Chinese meal with the English family this evening.

So, however you're celebrating the event (or even if you're doing nothing at all), here's wishing you 新年快乐 and a successful year of the dragon!

Thursday, 19 January 2012

Museums – the more things change, the more they stay the same…

While doing some research for an article, I came across Sir Henry Miers’ incredibly frank report into the state of British museums in 1928.  One thing that struck me was just how many of the issues Sir Henry mentioned are ones that are still prevalent in museums today – 84 years on.  Here are some of his comments, and my thoughts on how they relate to modern museums.


The demise of museum curatorship is a very current issue in museums, as the traditional role of the academic curator slowly degenerates into a generic administrative job (I’m not bitter, honest…).

Sir Henry took particular issue with the ‘disgracefully low standard of salaries’ of museum curators, which he found to be well below the guidelines that the Museums Association had produced in 1922, which proposed salaries based on the population of the town the museum was based in.  On average, curators were receiving salaries 50% below the recommendations and, shockingly, Sir Henry revealed that ‘in some cases the curator is paid less than the caretaker under him.’

Now, I’m not going to launch into some low pay sob story, but it is fair to say that modern museum curators are still paid well below the level that people in other careers with similar levels of professional knowledge and qualifications would expect to be paid.  Que sera sera…

Museum collections

In the late 1920’s most museums were still collecting a wide variety of objects from across the world.  Sir Henry divided museums into those which were entirely dedicated to specialist collections (such as natural history museums, art galleries, historic house collections, teaching collections and museums relating to specific companies), and the rest (the slight majority), which contained varied collections which ‘usually embrace at least something of archaeology, bygones and local antiquities, natural history and miscellaneous ethnological objects; frequently, applied or decorated art; and war relics.’

Sir Henry bemoaned the fact that this latter group of museums were often formed from unstructured private collections and continued to develop in an ad-hoc manner, as ‘there have been few curators with sufficient foresight and determination to control the process.’  He observed that private collectors 'aimed to gather as much material as possible' or to 'preserve mementos of places or people', and that neither of these two aims is the right one with which to develop a museum collection.

Sir Henry also complained that this random collecting meant that different museums contained broadly the same displays; meanwhile some museums possessed important collections which bore no relevance at all to their locality.  The attitude of curators, he claimed, ‘appears to be “how can I increase these collections”, and not “what better use can I make of the existing collections?”’

So how do Sir Henry’s comments fit with modern museum collections?  Well, I imagine any museum curators reading this will have spotted some similarities already.  Those outside of the sector will not be aware of recent developments in museum thinking – of documents such as ‘Collections for the Future’ and ‘Effective Collections’ which basically challenge museums to fix some of the problems identified long ago by Sir Henry and to make better use of their collections.  Museums still have too many objects, collected randomly and often with no local relevance and many still struggle to ensure that they offer something different from their compatriots in their displays and interpretation.

Displays and interpretation

Sir Henry pulled no punches in criticising museums for being ‘congested, and suffer(ing) from the overcrowding of duplicates and redundant objects ... which in large numbers, however interesting they may be to the specialist, have a deadening and confusing effect not only upon children, but also upon ordinary visitors … the excessive number (of objects) displayed confuses the average visitor, serves no useful purpose educationally, and is a flagrant waste of space.’  From a modern perspective, I find this a particularly interesting observation as many older visitors today seem to have rather misty-eyed memories of such old fashioned, crowded displays.  Sir Henry would definitely not be one of them!

In providing an example of such a jumble, Sir Henry cited an unnamed museum in which a single 12” x 24” display case contained ‘a Saxon brooch, a few feathers, several geological specimens and a couple of fossils.’

Sir Henry believed in variety, stating that ‘the cardinal principle (is) that there should be frequent changes in the exhibits, and that stagnation – a museum’s worst enemy – should be avoided.’  He also believed that museums should place objects near the entrance that would ‘challenge attention and arouse interest’ – objects that would stay in the memory of the visitor and continue to stimulate thought after the visit had ended.

Sir Henry continued his critical opinions when discussing interpretation, stating that ‘there are relatively few museums in which the labelling and arrangement can be regarded as satisfactory from the point of view of the average visitor.’  He complained that labelling was either incomplete or intelligible only to experts, and made the bold statement that ‘not more than six museums in the country have satisfactory direction labels’.

He finished by saying that a lack of money was generally thought to be at fault for the defects he perceived in displays and interpretation, but that in reality imaginative and engaging displays could be created for little outlay.  In the current time of financial strain, that still remains a message that rings very true indeed.

Education and research

School children are of course a staple visitor group of the modern museum, but in 1928 Sir Henry’s view was that museums (particularly the smaller ones) were generally underused by schools – partly because schools had their own cabinets of objects, partly because the museums weren’t making their displays accessible enough to younger visitors and partly because local authorities simply didn’t care about encouraging schools to go on such trips.

Sir Henry saw research as the least understood of the museum’s roles.  Although he singles archaeology out as an exception, he is disappointed that curators have otherwise been unable to research their collections or encourage others to do so to any meaningful degree.

Although answering enquiries and facilitating research is a tangible element of the modern museum curator’s life, to be honest many areas of museum collections are still underused – perhaps because they are genuinely not of interest, but more likely because their very existence is not widely enough known.

Communication between institutions

Although the benefits of museums focussing on their local areas are repeatedly highlighted, Sir Henry was keen to stress that museums in 1928 were working too much in isolation, and that increased communication between institutions was essential.  At that time the Museums Association only represented a quarter of museums, and Sir Henry recommended that the Association become more formal in its structure, introduce a degree of regionalisation and ensure that the costs of attending conferences be made more affordable.

Although it was noted that the British Museum had ‘no power to lend anything other than duplicates’, it was suggested that staff at national museums take a greater interest in regional collections and that in general, increased loans of objects between museums would be beneficial. 

In the present day, the relationship and communication between regional and national institutions has vastly improved, and inter-museum loans are a regular occurrence, made easier than ever following recent guidance revisions.  Having said that, though, silo working is still an issue facing the museum sector, and too many institutions (of all sizes) retain a tendency to work in isolation.

Public perceptions

Sir Henry was resolute in his opinion that ‘no museum, however excellently planned and furnished, can be of real public use unless it attracts and teaches the inquirer, acts as a stimulant to school children, and offers tempting opportunities for research to the student’.  Varied, inconsistent and inconvenient opening hours were criticised, as was the paucity of signage in town centres highlighting the existence of the museum and the lack of general advertising.

The modern museum stalwart – a café – was advocated as an essential visitor comfort, as was the now rather less common ‘smoking-room’. 

In his conclusions, Sir Henry made what seems today to be a rather controversial statement.  He writes, ‘to put it bluntly, most people in this country do not really care for museums or believe in them; they have not hitherto played a sufficiently important part in the life of the community to make ordinary folk realise what they can do.  The very word ‘museum’ excites quite the wrong impression in the minds of people who have never seen one of the few that are really good.’  It is to be hoped that such poor public image has been reversed to some degree in the modern age!

So does this all mean that museums are no better today than they were 84 years ago?  Well, I’d say that of course they are.  Museums have had to adapt to the changing needs of their audiences and museum collections today are more accessible and better interpreted than they have ever been. 

Sir Henry’s major points were to remind museums to collect strategically rather than prolifically; that displays of fewer, better interpreted objects are preferable to mass, unstructured displays; that the education and stimulation of visitors have to be at the heart of decisions; and that it is vital to keep the museum content changing and varied.  These are lessons that every 21st Century museum should continue to take to heart.

Friday, 13 January 2012

Stories from The Collection #2 – ‘Roman Bacchus intaglio ring‘ & ‘Anglo Saxon cloisonné insect pendant’

This is the second in a series of posts about the archaeological objects in the collections of The Collection: Art and Archaeology in Lincolnshire.

This article was published in the Winter 2011 issue of ‘Lincolnshire Past and Present’ magazine, published by the Society for Lincolnshire History and Archaeology.

For this issue’s trip into the museum vaults, we will examine two interesting pieces of jewellery, a Roman ring and an Anglo Saxon pendant.  The fashion of adorning oneself with valuable items is of course nothing new - through the desire to display wealth and status, show political or religious allegiance or simply attempt to appear more attractive.

Roman intaglio ring
Late 1st Century BC / 1st Century AD

This early Roman silver ring contains a finely carved carnelian intaglio with an image of Bacchus, the god of wine and revelry.  Before discussing the intaglio’s imagery in more detail, the early date of the ring is worthy of note.  The issue of how quickly and completely the native Britons succumbed to Roman ways is complicated, but the classical imagery of this ring suggests that its owner had adopted Roman religion, or at least wished to make an outward show to that effect.  Perhaps the original owner was not British at all, but an official who had come across from the continent, bringing his ring, perhaps itself an heirloom, with him?

The pale orange carnelian intaglio shows the standing figure of Bacchus (on the right), draped about his lower half and with a thyrsus (a pinecone-topped staff) in his extended left hand.  His head is turned to the right to observe a naked satyr, who is bending away from Bacchus, but has his head turned back to face the god.  The satyr holds something in his hand, which may represent a pedum (a shepherd’s crook).  A similar intaglio is known from Vienna, but in that example Bacchus is naked, and has a panther at his feet.

The cult of Bacchus is well attested in Britain, with hundreds of examples of Bacchic imagery to be found on mosaics, ceramics and on jewellery.  The Lincolnshire museum collections feature a ring from Lincoln with a grotesque theatrical head which may have Bacchic connections, but this is the first item from Lincolnshire that the museum has acquired which features the clear image of the god.  The ring forms one of a growing collection of objects from Lincolnshire which display such classical religious imagery.

The ring was discovered at Revesby, and was purchased with the kind assistance of the Friends of Lincoln Museums and Art Gallery.

Anglo Saxon pendant
6th or early 7th Century

This stunning gold and cloisonné garnet pendant was discovered near Horncastle in 2003.  Anglo Saxon art is resplendent with examples of subtle animal imagery and this brooch is a superb example, being in the form of an insect, with flared wings and semi-circular and triangular cells to represent the face.  A perforated bi-conical bead was used to suspend the pendant from a chain.

This pendant is more complicated than it might appear, however, as it is actually the combination of craftsmanship from 2 centuries apart.  The cloisonné inlay has fish-scale like cells.  This form of cell is rare, being known on only two other items in Europe, both of which date to the 5th Century.  The first is a saddle fitting in the form of an eagle from Romania, the second a fish-shaped brooch from Switzerland.

In contrast, the elegant bi-conical suspension bead is a 7th Century form.  It appears, therefore, that this pendant represents a piece of 5th Century European cloisonné work converted into a pendant in 7th Century England.  Evidence of this amalgamation can be seen at the terminals of the cloisonné wings.  One is rounded, but the other had already lost its terminal cell before re-use.  The 7th Century craftsman simply put his new gold surround around the remaining contour, creating a flatter terminal.  No doubt such incorporation of older workmanship made the pendant an item of even greater significance to its 7th Century owner.

The pendant was purchased with the kind assistance of the Art Fund, the Headley Trust, the V&A/MLA Purchase Grant Fund and the Friends of Lincoln Museums and Art Gallery.

Sunday, 8 January 2012

Travels with Li Dongni – Xinjiang, China (October 2011), part 3

Buddhists, grottoes and mosques

Xinjiang is well served with religious archaeological sites – in particular Buddhist caves, with which the Heaven mountains are quite literally riddled.  This post, the final one looking at my trip to the province, will focus on the Buddhist and Muslim sites we visited.

Bezeklik Thousand Buddha Caves

The Beziklik caves are located near Turpan and the Flaming mountains, at the north-eastern edge of the Taklamakan desert (see my first Xinjiang travel post for these).  The 77 caves were created during the 5th to the 9th Centuries and consist of man-shaped caverns with rounded ceilings containing Buddhist paintings in various degrees of survival.  The damage to the paintings is a cause of controversy as although some deterioration is no doubt natural, deliberate damage was done by the later Muslim population and then by Europeans in the 19th Century.  This latter removal of frescoes for European encyclopaedic museums is ingrained on the minds of the Chinese populace.  Sadly, the murals from Bezeklik were mostly taken by a German (with the rather fantastic name of Albert von Le Coq) and were destroyed during the Second World War when Berlin was bombed.  Other murals still survive in St Petersburg, Tokyo, Korea and India.

A mistrust of foreigners is still present today, and I personally didn’t enjoy visiting Bezeklik because of the close attention that the attendant staff member provided – following me into every cave, and repeatedly saying ‘no photographs’ even though my camera never came close to being raised.  I suppose I’m just used to being trusted when visiting heritage sites, but the constant hovering of the local made me feel intensely uncomfortable.  I have no problem with photography not being allowed in the caves, I just like to think that I only need telling once, and I don’t appreciate having my own personal stalker!

As it is, despite the fame of Bezeklik, I didn’t find the surviving paintings all that impressive, and thought that the setting of the caves was far more attractive.

Emin Ta Pagoda (Su Gong Ta)

Emin Ta is a mosque located near to Turpan, and is one of the largest in Xinjiang.  It is most famous for its gorgeous 144’ (44m) high minaret, and the story of its construction.  Emin Ta was built in 1777 in honour of the Turpan General Emin Khoja, a supporter of the Chinese Qing dynasty, by his son Suleman.

We actually visited Emin Ta twice, the first time at about 6 o’clock in the evening after a long day of touring around sites.  We arrived to find that the local villagers had set up a toll on the road to the mosque (I’m never sure how legal this is, but it seems to happen quite a bit in Xinjiang, and is tolerated by local officials so there’s nothing you can do).  Our driver paid the toll and we proceeded up the road to the mosque – only to find that it had just closed!  We headed back out again, and our driver had a rather heated argument with the local lads, who seemed to think that they had no reason to refund the money, saying that they wouldn’t charge us when we came back to visit again.  Thankfully, our driver managed to get them to refund the toll and we also stopped a number of other drivers from paying – they weren’t too impressed by the local’s dishonesty either.

We went back the next morning and got in without incident, despite the time it takes to move past the array of souvenir and food stalls outside when every stallholder is intent on showing you every single item of the wares.  Emin Ta also sticks in my memory as one of the great examples of a local thinking that all foreigners are somehow careless with money, and trying to sell things for stupid prices – in this case it was a little leather box of no real age, the haggling over which began at 800RMB (£80) and ended with me buying it at 50RMB (£5)…

In the end, I’m actually very glad that we got to go back and see the site at our leisure against the backdrop of a clear blue sky rather than rushing around it in 10 minutes in the near dark, as the architecture of the mosque is very pretty indeed.

Kizil Caves

Kizil Caves are located near to the town of Kucha (which we also visited), and are some of the most famous Buddhist caves in China.  They are also probably the earliest, dating back to the 3rd Century.  They are set within a dramatic cliffside, though the modern interventions to formalise the cave fronts and insert stairways do little for the attractiveness of the monument.

Kizil Caves is another site, like Bezeklik (see above), that has seen damage to its frescoes through the action of 19th Century westerners, and it is another site at which photography is not allowed.  In this case, photographs are not even allowed on the hillside, even when facing away from the caves towards the attractive open countryside.  However, as usual, a policy which would have been fine was undermined by inconsistent application.  I was made to leave my camera in a locker at the base of the cliff and was even told off when I got my phone out of my pocket in case I tried to take photographs, yet when coming back down was passed by Chinese tourists very openly carrying cameras, and with the staff not bothered at all.  Very annoying, and sadly one has to wonder if the application of the rules is deliberately racist.

The site is well aware of commercial opportunity, however, and although there is an entrance fee, that didn’t provide entry into all of the caves.  The best surviving cave is only viewable for a separate payment of an astonishing £50 per person.  Needless to say we did what I imagine most visitors do and left it alone.

'The closed grotto'

The reason for the strange name for this grotto is that I have no idea what it is called!  It is a site that we were privileged to see as it is not yet open to the public.  It is situated very close to the Kezikalahan war signalling station (link), and when we visited the builders were there constructing staircases and site buildings.  Our driver managed to get us shown into a few of the caves, though we had to leave our cameras in the van.  After picking our way across the building site (including crossing some rather rickety planks that I’m sure wouldn’t pass British health and safety), we were shown into a couple of caves that had the best surviving cave paintings we’d yet seen – far surpassing the more famous grottoes mentioned above, and ones that will surely become famous with tourists when the site opens.  I’m pleased to say that I was able to see them without having to fight with tour groups!

Saturday, 7 January 2012

Lincoln City’s joyless Christmas

It seems Lincoln City fans must have been bad boys and girls this year, as any that asked Santa for a resurgence in form and a few points in the bag have been left sadly disappointed.

I stopped blogging individual match reports before Christmas, and to be honest it has saved me from writing a lot of depressing words as City have slumped to defeats against Grimsby twice and today York City, scoring only two goals yet conceding seven.

One thought struck me today as I was sat watching the second half slip away - player for player, Grimsby and York aren't better than City.  The ability on the ball of players like Power, Platt, Taylor and Laurent is as good as any in this league.  The difference, as I see it, has been down to 3 very important things which City are lacking:

1) Work ethic

Although I will stop short of calling City’s current crop of players lazy, the energy shown by York today to keep closing down and deny us time on the ball shows just how much more City players could be doing to stop the opposition playing.  There is a tendency for players to get close to the opposing player, but never really get close and apply relentless pressure.

The same applies when attacking.  A York break resulted in the midfield bursting to get forward and support the attack.  A City break more often than not results in the ball being supplied to the striker, who is then left to fend for himself.  This brings us neatly onto...

2) Movement off the ball

Time and time again City’s attacks are breaking down because the player with the ball isn’t given options by his team-mates.  This leads to the ball being lost either because the player can’t beat three defenders by himself, is forced into trying an ambitious pass that fails, or is forced to head back towards his own goal or hoof the ball long.  It's as if the players think that once someone else has the ball, then their responsibility for what happens next has ended.  That shouldn't be the case in a team where all the players are supposed to be playing for each other.  Goals in this league come from good team play and movement far more than from moments of individual creative brilliance.

3) Communication / leadership

Lincoln City simply don’t seem to have a leader on the pitch.  Josh Gowling seemed to come close to this role, but the loss of the captain’s armband and his constant dropping from the team has eroded this.  The role of Scott Kerr for York today, constantly chivvying and directing his team, made it obvious just how much we have missed him or someone of his ilk.  The Scott Kerr haters just don’t seem to understand that Kerr wasn’t invaluable to the Imps because of his passing or tackling, he was invaluable because he is an intelligent player and a leader.  The most talking City players seem to do nowadays is when they try to decide who was at fault for yet again not picking up the striker who has just scored a tap-in against us.

Unlike some City fans, I also refuse to blame referees for the defeats.  Yes, the referees against Grimsby at Blundell Park and today against York weren't great and made some rather dodgy decisions which went against the Imps, but come on, people.  City were poor in those two games, and would have lost no matter what the referee did.

Let’s just hope that next Saturday’s FA Trophy tie against Carshalton Athletic can result in a win and a confidence boost that we can carry into the league.

Monday, 2 January 2012

Travels with Li Dongni – Xinjiang, China (October 2011), part 2

Ancient cities, temples and towers

Gaochang city

Gaochang, located near to the modern city of Turpan (or Tulufan), was originally constructed in the 1st Century BC – an oasis in the Taklamakan desert (see my first Xinjiang travel post) for travellers and traders on the Silk Road.  It now exists as an expansive ruined site, with the mud-built walls and buildings serving as impressive and ghostly remains of a once great settlement.

The best way to see the site is by donkey cart, and there are plenty of locals at the entrance ready to haggle with (though when we were there they were seemingly led by some twelve year old gangster-kid who was busy bossing everybody around and strutting rather too much).  Our transport was provided by a friendly old chap with a slightly moody donkey, who took us to the centre of the ruins and then back again once we had wandered around for a while.

While exploring the ruins, we came across a one of the local inhabitants – a sand boa, which was halfway through devouring a bird when we came across it.  A local guy (who we think worked at Gaochang though it was hard to tell) started playing with the snake with a stick, and it soon abandoned its meal.  It slithered away but we came across it about an hour later cooling itself down behind a rock.

Sanpu temple

This was one of those sites that makes me remember why we travel independently and not with travel groups, as it’s not open to the public yet but our driver knew some of the locals working on the site and they let us in for a wander around.  The temple is close to Gaochang, and part of the wider city remains.  It’s actually pretty easy to climb over the low boundary walls though, and we soon had a group of local kids following us, wanting to have their photos taken by the foreigners.

The site is currently having wooden platforms installed, and will soon have interpretation.  As it stands, it’s an impressive temple monument that will surely be a feature on the local tourist map and bring some revenue to the local community.

Astana cemetery

Astana was the cemetery site for the city of Gaochang, and the source of the well preserved mummies now on display at Urumqi museum (see my blog post here).  The cemetery contained people from all walks of life and social classes and was used from AD273 to AD778.  It covers over 10,000 square kilometres and houses over 1,000 burials, though only about half of these have ever been excavated.

The site now is a strangely desolate landscape, but a handful of the underground tombs are unearthed and visitable via long staircases.  Photography is forbidden inside the tombs, so I’m sadly unable to share the wall paintings inside, but suffice to say they are fascinating examples of Buddhist art.  One tomb even has a mummy in situ, but it is in a very old display case and in drastic need of some TLC.  I fear that the mummy might not last much longer without some curatorial intervention, and it exists in stark contrast to the condition of the mummies in Urumqi museum, where this one should undoubtedly also be.

The site also has a rather intrusive modern reconstruction of a platform over a tomb, Chinese zodiac statues, and a large statue of Fuxi and Nuwa, the Chinese mythological creator deities, with serpent tails entwined.

Jiaohe city

Jiaohe is one of those fantastic archaeological sites that, because of its setting, is never forgotten.  When I first saw a model of Jiaohe in Urumqi museum, I instantly related it to the Jewish fortress of Masada (taken by the Romans in AD72).  Jiaohe sits atop a sheer 30 metre cliff-top, with a river running around each side of it, as the site map below shows.

Jiaohe was an important place on the Silk Route, and between 108BC and AD450 it was the capital of the Anterior Jushi kingdom.  It continued to be an important site under various Dynasties until its abandonment after it was destroyed by Genghis Khan’s Mongols in the 13th Century.

The natural defences meant that Jiaohe didn’t need walls, though it had large gates protecting the routes up the cliffs.  The city had an organised layout with eastern and western residential districts, and a northern district reserved for Buddhist temples.

Kezikalahan war signalling station

When you go travelling, sometimes it’s the small sites that you’d never heard of that leave the biggest impression on you – often far more than the famous sites do.  It’s one reason why we prefer to travel independently rather than with organised groups and tours.  This mud and timber signalling tower dates back to the Han Dynasty (206BC-AD220), and is apparently the best surviving example of the many such military structures built in Xinjiang.  It sits in a rather featureless piece of open, sandy landscape close to the edge of a cliff (at the base of which a road seems to be in the early stages of being constructed).  It’s a plain structure with the remains of a wooden platform still visible on top (though the wood could be any age), but it stands so prominently in the landscape that you can’t help but be impressed by it – and feel sorry for any soldiers stationed on the top of it for any length of time!


Subash (sometimes seen written as ‘subashi’) is a difficult site to label, but I suppose ‘monastic city’ is as good a title as any.  It was originally constructed in the 1st Century (Han Dynasty), but continued in use until the 13th and 14th Centuries, when the rise of Islam saw its decline.  It reached its zenith in the Tang Dynasty (618-907), and the monk Xuanzang (of ‘Journey to the West’ fame), stayed at the site for 2 months.  At its height it was home to 10,000 monks and exists today as an open site with well preserved ruins, which are fantastic for exploring.

When we visited, there was a rather eccentric old lady there who I suppose was acting as a sort of site warden, but basically just sat at the entrance and was keen to sell us things when we were ready to leave!  The gods on offer were in a series of backrooms which seemed to double as store cupboards, and heaven knows where most of the stuff had come from (though she kept claiming that things were much older than they obviously were, no doubt assuming that all westerners are gullible fools)

One rather nice touch was a small alcove inside one of the temples which has become a makeshift shrine for tourists, and is now full of incense, candles and money left as offerings