Row Z edition 36; dateline 2 October 2009

Poke me, Jumbo
Sport England engaging with Facebook is like an elephant standing on its hind legs; we should be impressed that it is trying to do it at all but not expect it to do it well. Of course, the more sensitive of us are made somewhat queasy at the idea of animals doing circus tricks, as indeed we are at the whole ‘national agency gets down with da kids’ shtick. Sideliner asked the new apprentice what she thought of ‘Sport Hub’, which is designed so that it “looks and feels like a Facebook fan page but offers a range of new applications, enabling NGBs to organise and market grassroots sports events”, and in her own way she indicated that people her age had moved away from using Facebook as it was becoming overrun by the middle-aged and the staid. Jenny, Jenny will you be my friend? Will you? Will you?

Blue moon? It’ll cost you
When the City of Manchester Stadium was first annexed by Abu Dhabi the locals left their Beswick abodes as one to congregate at a safe distance from the collapsing B of the Bang and celebrate. Some amused themselves by putting tea towels on their heads like down-market shepherds in a light blue, pot-bellied nativity play. The iconic sculpture is now the B of Buggered Off and the spark of wit evidenced by the Eastlands faithful has been picked up, wrung out and made into marketing dross as kids are pictured in the Sundays in full mock Bedouin outfits, all branded Etihad Airways and carrying the City crest. The last time Sideliner tasted betrayal this bitter was when Linford Christie was shown to have gone “on the B of anabolic”.

Titfer Pat
The old bloke who does the garden when the weather allows is the only person in the Row Z team who has a proper hat (the apprentice effects a tea cosy when the sun shines but that doesn’t count) so he has kindly agreed to tip it in the direction of new pundit on the soccer block, former Chelsea and Scotland wing man Pat Nevin. The wee man – as he was almost certainly known at either Clyde, Kilmarnock or Motherwell FCs – has been ploughing a journalistic furrow since hanging up his size 3s (he really is tiny). This season it seems the BBC has finally noticed that he turns a phrase as neatly as he used to turn defenders and, more importantly, is able converse in something other than banter or clichéd banality. Sadly, the chances of him lasting the course in Garylinekerland are seriously compromised by things like his interest in classical literature and a fondness for alternative music. With the chances that Gaz will know that the Cocteau Twins aren’t a couple of African midfielders Arsenal poached from a little-known French club being assessed as “remote”, it is sadly likely that Pat will go the way of Guardian-reading Graeme Le Saux, who was last seen dancing on ice.

It’s marketing, Jim, and just as we know it
Never let it be said that Row Z is above feigning stupidity for comic effect but we don’t think it is us who is being stupid in the case of one of the many pieces of glossy bin fodder from Leisure Industry Week. It seems that a Mark Jones from Liverpool City Council managed to meet so many “existing and prospective clients” at last year’s Birmingham-based, two-day, false-tan-false-smile-false-promise-a-thon that it would otherwise have taken him “several months to have conducted the number of productive meetings that I managed” under the rafters of England’s biggest single gathering of hospitality companies, health and fitness companies, attractions companies, leisure management companies, pool equipment companies, spa equipment companies and bemused students. Two days at LIW is worth more than several months of ten-hour days with your nose to the grindstone and your elbows greased? This is an equation that does not add up. Let’s hope Mark’s boss hasn’t noticed.

Let the false blood flow
The latest twist in the Harlequins blood capsule blood-letting, which sees Dr Wendy Chapman suspended and investigated by the British Medical Council, has Sideliner apoplectic. The gist of the advice emanating from the corner office is that instead of cutting the not-so-innocent-as-at-first-appeared Tom Williams with a scalpel Dr Wendy should have just punched him. We feel sure Deano would happily oblige retrospectively.

Licence to squeal?
As part of this column’s move away from its ‘sport for sport’s sake’ roots (have you seen the new arts section below?) Sideliner has decided to offer an observation on the BBC licence fee debate. In Edinburgh James Murdoch got on his hind legs and parroted his daddy’s line that part of the licence fee should be given to commercial television companies to support regional news or children’s programming or something else that Murdoch and his crew can’t screw enough money out of. The Beeb is a beacon of independence and quality, and as such is watched and listened to by people who want independence and quality. Commercial companies can buy football games, American humourous shows (sic) and anything else they think people will watch and if they make bad decisions they don’t make money. If too few people want to watch regional news the Murdochs of this world do not have to programme it; let them repeat Jeremy Kyle as per usual. They only want to hamstring the BBC because it attracts too many viewers. It’s not the licence fee that is skewing the market; it’s the poverty of imagination and ambition of the satellite channels and the recession-induced commercial care being taken by advertisers.

Drawing a veil
This month we shall be watching the wall as the following smugglers go by: the Great North City Games, whatever they might be; the gossip about Runningsports being reviewed by Sport England and found wanting; Andrew Flintoff turning down £30,000 a year so that he can go bungee jumping when he wants to and then signing an agreement to play; F1; Tyrone Edgar as celebrity top trump; Alex Ferguson’s unseemly response to winning at kickball; the state of British – sorry, English – tennis.


And introducing…
The only diary column in the leisure press with its own feature is pleased to announce we are going to have another one, this time for the lovely people who work at the more cultural extreme of the rainbow coalition that is our industry. Naturally, we thought long and hard about a title and are pleased that after ‘quite literally’ minutes of thought we bring you:

At the Arts End

Welcome to our world, Stewart Copeland, erstwhile Police drummer and current West End impresario, who got himself on Radio 4’s Today programme, talked tosh for some minutes and then “made music” with things hanging around the studio. Fugue for water bottle and stapler, anyone?

Like all right-thinking wordsmiths we welcome the recent celebrations of Samuel Johnson; notwithstanding his omission of the word “interfrastically” from his meisterwerk*. The great lexicographer would have been blowing out 300 candles this month had he been spared and would have been able to rule for once and for all that anything that comes from America – etymologically speaking, of course – should be sent straight back. [*Apologies for the stray Blackadder reference. Ed]

It appears that the web is alive with the sound and sight of something called the meme. The educated among you will know that a meme is a verbal tic that becomes shared by a community (qv Big Brother if you dare) and it is the viral nature of the proliferating and mutating web-based joke format that gives it its name. Commentators have likened the meme to graffiti and even appended that most exquisite of luvvy expressions ‘found art’ to it. Some of them are funny.

Not sure if it’s art but the last remaining original member of the Sugababes has left the singing group. One Keisha Buchanan (no, we don’t know which one that is either) is to be replaced by the little girl that Andrew Lloyd Webber parachuted into the Eurovision selection process after having taken up hours of the Saturday night television schedules with the whole audition, boot camp, final trial malarkey. The most remarkable thing about the whole stramash though is Ms Buchanan’s line: “I've been in this band for eleven years and I have achieved so much.”

And just to reassure everyone that the UK is not the only place where cultural funding is being pinched by expenditure on sporting events, we hear from New Zealand that the creative community of Auckland has been warned that funding for “iconic arts bodies” such as the Auckland Festival is not guaranteed. Steve Chadwick, who speaks for Labour on arts, culture and heritage, has said that “continued funding for the Auckland Philharmonic, the Auckland Theatre Trust and the NBR Opera is uncertain”” And the reason? “While the government is getting excited about Party Central for the Rugby World Cup, the arts community is left dangling, unsure of funding beyond 2010.” Sound familiar?


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