Thursday, December 21, 2006


The update on our city rivals Hearts should really be an annual affair – but events this season have proven so insane that it’s already past time to take stock. As we left season 05/06, we were in the managerial “Ivanauskas Era”. A handful of weeks into season 06/07, things have become so confusing that it’s not even clear which era we are in. So far, this is how the 06/07 season is shaping up:

The Ivanauskas Era (duration: 7 months)

Graham Rix lasts four months before being replaced in March 2006 by Valdas Ivanauskas. Following winning the Scottish cup at the end of last season, Ivanauskas takes Hearts to second in the league behind Celtic, within 3 points as late as 24th September 2006. On Thursday 28th, Sparta Prague eliminate the Jambos from the UEFA cup, ending their European involvement for the year. On 15th October Hearts concede 2 points in a 2-2 draw to Hibs, followed by a 2-0 home defeat to Kilmarnock on 21st October, and it’s at this point that things start to unravel.

Ivanauskas refused to talk to the media following the Kilmarnock loss, and immediately flew to Lithuania to talk with owner Romanov. It was allegedly agreed that the manager would take a 2-week break to recover from stress. On 23rd October Eduard Malofeev takes the reigns as a caretaker manager, and as Ivanauskas indicates (3rd November) that he is not ready to return. At this point, Hearts began to officially refer to his absence as “indefinite”, which seemed to imply that the Ivanauskas era had come to an end.

The Malofeev Era (duration: 6 weeks)

Within 3 days the dawn of this bright new era, Racing Genk in Belgium ask FIFA to ban Hearts from any further activity in the transfer market, claiming that they are due 80% of the €835,000 fee allegedly agreed for the sale of Mirsad Beslija to Hearts.

Then the real craziness begins.

On 27th October, Romanov is reported to have told the Hearts first team that they would be “all for sale” should they fail to win against Dunfermline. Club captain and Hearts legend Steven Pressley appears with other core players Paul Hartley and Craig Gordon, and collectively issue a public statement lamenting the situation at the club. Highlights from Pressley include this: “There is only so much coaching staff, a captain and certain colleagues can do without the full backing, direction and coherence of the manager and those running the football club… I have worked hard to retain unity. However, due to circumstances, morale understandably is no good and there is significant unrest in the dressing room”. Former chairman George Foulkes, SNP leader Alex Salmond, and the Scottish players union back the statement by the three key Hearts players.

On Saturday 28th October, Hearts play Dunfermline at Tynecastle (with Pressley, Hartley and Gordon all featuring), and draw 1-1. On the 31st, Julien Brellier indicates he may leave Hearts due to lack of first team action (Breillier having been one of the most contentious issues during Romanov’s reign, with the owner apparently unwilling to allow successive managers to select the player). Saturday 4th November sees Hearts go down 2-1 to Celtic in Glasgow. On 7th November, in one of the most surreal happenings (to date), Hearts send their “Sporting Director” Alex Koslovski to field a standard press conference alone. Normally acting as the translator for Malofeev, Koslovski is unable to answer any questions from the press regarding tactics, formations, or players. When questioned on the appearance of FBK Kaunas (also owned by Romanov) manager Eugenijus Riabovas at the Hearts training ground, Koslovski asserts that Riabovas is in Edinburgh only for “professional improvement”, and not to replace Ivanauskas.

On 13th November Falkirk draw 1-1 with Hearts with captain Pressley absent, and the following day, Hearts confirm that Riabovas is to take the reigns are Hearts as “Temporary Head Coach”, whilst insisting that Pressley was absent from the Falkirk game as he declared himself mentally unfit to play. There are later allegations that Pressley heard of a plot to oust him from the captaincy involving the Lithuanian members of his team, and subsequently refused to make himself available to play.

On 19th November Hearts go down 0-1 to Rangers in Edinburgh, again without Pressley.

Protests erupt outside Tynecastle resulting in several arrests of Hearts fans.

On Tuesday 21st, Riabovas promises Lithuanian media that he will be traveling to Edinburgh in December to take the position as Hearts head coach.

The Riabovas Era (duration: 0 days)

On 24th December, Hearts announce that Valdas Ivanauskas is returning to retake the reigns in Gorgie.

The Ivanauskas Era II (duration: ?)

On Saturday 25th as Hearts draw 0-0 with Inverness Caley Thistle with Pressley finally playing, fans “declare peace” with Romanov, after a meeting of fans groups are assured that Mr Romanov “has no influence on team selection”, and that “Steven Pressley remains captain of the club”. Romanov goes on to refer to Pressley as the “cement” in the Hearts organisation. Sporting director Koslovski insists that Pressley simply had to prove his readiness in training before reselection. On 2nd December, Pressley is omitted from the side again, and Hearts draw 2-2 with St Mirren – the players union hits out at the “unconventional” treatment of Pressley. 2 days later, Edgaras Jankauskas refutes any dressing room plot to oust the captain, and on 8th December, Ivanauskas promises Hearts are close to a resolution with Pressley.

The next day, Hearts beat Motherwell 4-1, and later that evening, it is announced that Pressley is leaving Hearts “by mutual consent”. In the same manner as most of the exiting staff during Romanov’s tenure, it appears that confidentiality is a condition of whatever agreement is in place between the parties.

15th December sees Craig Gordon named as the new Hearts skipper, and Ivanauskas confirm that Paul Hartley “has a future at the club” (presumably he “has a future” in the same way that Pressley was “the cement”). Both players have separate disciplinary meetings with Hearts management, and both remain silent following these meetings on what was discussed.

On 20th December, an open letter on the Hearts Supporters Trust website lambasts Romanov, accusing him of acting “like a playground bully”, and turning the club into a “playground freak show”.

So as Hearts go into the festive end of the season, take a breath, wrap yourself in tinsel and get the popcorn out – there’s plenty more entertainment where this came from!

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

You know... New York Style!

Ryanair – it seemed so good five years ago. Cheap flights, generally on time, basic but efficient service, not too painful in the cabin.

How things have changed.

Here are some of my favourite current things about Ryanair:

· Bright yellow interiors.

· Mostly plastic non-reclining seats.

· Mesh seatback pockets (on their older planes)

· No seatback pockets (on their newer planes)

· Emergency instructions glued to headrest in front of you

· Aggressive shrieking about scratch cards through the Cabin PA

· Advertising on overhead panels covering oxygen masks

· This is a dual use Sick Bag” – for photo development too!

· Airport in wrong location (“Glasgow” Prestwick, “Brussels” Charleroi)

· Extra charge to check in a bag.

· Derisory customer service.

Quite an attractive list. Still, paying extra to carry luggage only to arrive 40 miles from the city I am flying to may not be the biggest problem.

Recent TV programs have alleged that Ryanair pilots are routinely exhausted, and that they are paid a bonus for being on-time on their stand following landing, and a further bonus for being several minutes early. If that is true, then there is a clear financial incentive for pilots to be on time.

You know those TV “Crash Investigation” programs, when you see some company policy or behaviour, that would obviously lead to a culture of corner cutting?

Are there any dots to be joined here?

Setting aside the possibility of a life-ending crash (which will presumably occur whilst I search for my “dual use” sick bag, in my nonexistent seat-back pocket) - the final straw for me was flying from Liverpool to Dublin recently. You should always be wary when a menu starts getting a bit too informal with you. Surveying the options, my eyes met with an item whose description was deeply suspicious:

Oh, I know, do I?

Not only do I not “know”, I am very nearly certain that whatever abomination of a hotdog Ryanair chooses to serve up, it is likely to be very, very far from whatever “New York Style” is supposed to imply.

I say “nearly certainly”, because when I decided to order said hot dog, surprise surprise – they did not have any on board.

So from now on, until such times as Aer Lingus start charging for check-in bags, it is green and white for me.

You know… New York style!

Friday, August 18, 2006

It's all in the timing

The UK is under threat from terrorists.

They want to blow us up, because they hate our way of life.

Excuse me?

The illegal occupation of the West Bank and the Gaza strip by Israel (with massive US support going back years) has nothing to do with it. The occupation of Afghanistan has nothing to do with it. The occupation of Iraq has nothing to do with it. The threats, thrown so casually at Iran, have nothing to do with it. These people hate our way of life.

Here’s a time-saver for you - you don’t need to carefully check the foreign policy of the UK government (perish the thought) to assess whether there is a terror threat. The UK has an official threat level, which will tell you exactly how much these terrorists are hating our way of life at any particular moment.

When the threat level is low, you should only be vaguely frightened. When the threat level is high, you should presumably be in a state of constant panic.

Weren’t we the country who scoffed at the US threat level? Even the Onion parodied the ridiculous manipulation of fear provided by the oscillating threat warnings from the US administration.

We have all seen the magic trick where the magician, sleeves rolled up, has a coin in his hand. He passes his hands over each other a couple of times, and the coin vanishes. Just like it was never there.

As with most magic tricks, it's all in the timing.

The last time Blair was in serious domestic political trouble, there was a threat to the UK which was so immediate, it required a major deployment of the UK army to Heathrow airport in London. Camping outside the terminals in a mass show of force, and tramping up and down the lanes around Heathrow to guard against surface to air missiles, the mass mobilisation completely obliterated the front-page headlines swirling around the government and its policies.

Last week, as parliament was in absolute uproar over Blair’s capitulation to the US in not calling for an immediate ceasefire in Israel’s blood-curdling slaughter of Lebanese civilians, Blair looked like he might be in serious - potentially politically terminal - trouble. At that exact point, a threat emerged to the UK which was so immediate and serious, it required Heathrow to be shut down, hundreds of flights to be cancelled, and awkward new security measures to be put in place. You can hardly watch UK news at the moment without endless discussion of exactly what you can and can not take on your plane as hand luggage.

Of the arrested men and women in these recent ‘terror’ raids – how many exactly will be charged with terrorist offences?

Where did that coin go?

Thursday, June 15, 2006

Rich people, bad apples

Hugo Chavez has been in power in Venezuela since 1988. Ever a thorn in the side of the US, he has vocally criticised Washington’s foreign policy whilst domestically implementing policies which fly in the face of US and IMF fiscal recommendations (in short, reducing the power and profits of corporations, and increasing direct benefits and assistance to the poorest people of his country). These policies have been wildly popular domestically, but have made him some powerful enemies (primarily the US, and the rich minority in Venezuela).

In 2002, he survived a coup that was almost certainly US-sponsored, with only a vast show of support on the streets forcing the return to power of the democratically elected Chavez.

The opposition secured a 2004 referendum on his leadership – Chavez won convincingly. In the Venezuelan congressional election late in 2005, the opposition parties pulled out of the running (a fairly clear attempt by the rich Venezuelan minority to destroy the legitimacy of the election, rather than risk another clear-cut defeat at the polls).

At one point, US TV Evangelist Pat Robertson actually espoused assasination: “We [the US] have the ability to take him out and I think the time has come that we exercise that ability”.

In the face of the constantly escalating rhetoric from Washington, Venezuela has been stockpiling weapons to guard against military action. This ranges from receiving 30 fighter planes, to 100,000 assault rifles (all from Russia). Arms discussions have also been ongoing with China, Brazil and Spain.

Chavez is also joining hands with his allies. He has called for Ecuador and Bolivia to be allowed to join OPEC, signed trade agreements with Bolivia, signed oil and energy agreements with Brazil, signed agreements to open Venezuelan oil fields to Chinese investment, and has agreements and proposals with Argentina covering everything from a gas pipeline linking Argentina, Brazil, Peru and Venezuela, an investment fund for Latin America, through to a South American union.

These events in Venezuela have to be seen in the context of a much larger swing to the left in South America – the biggest other example of this being Bolivia, where new president Evo Morales won his presidency on a platform of raising social spending and abandoning free-market policies. Morales has also dramatically pledged to join Venezuela in the “anti-imperialist fight”.

In short, there are serious problems developing in South America for the current US administration. Chavez is showing that the IMF formula for development (trade liberalisation, free movement of capital, “trickle-down” economics) is fatally flawed – and that taxing of the rich – both individuals and corporations – can deliver material improvements to vast numbers of the poor in vital areas such as healthcare and provision of education.

Would this matter to the US if Chavez wasn’t so verbally belligerent? The short answer is yes. The problem for the US in Venezuela is not just the alternative to the capitalist tradition of rewarding the rich at the expense of the majority – for Venezuela is only one country. The problem is that by implementing this alternative, acting in the best interests of the poorest in his society, and refusing to tow the US line, Chavez is providing an example to the hemisphere and the world – and it is in the providing of this example that Venezuela forms the greatest threat to US hegemony. Chavez has become the dreaded ‘bad apple’ that spoils the basket. He is rocking the boat, and the danger is that others might be inspired to follow - the same danger that has seen Cuba punished for decades.

So when Condoleezza Rice warns that Chavez is “one of the biggest dangers facing Latin America”, ask yourself this: to whom is he a danger? Why?

- - -

The US economy is in a disastrous state. Currently, the major props preventing its total collapse are the Chinese financing of US debt, and most of the world steadily purchasing dollars to function as their reserve currency – largely due to the dollars position as the currency required to purchase oil.

China are a growing power. As such, they will pull the plug on the US debt when it suits them. For other countries, the requirement to purchase oil in dollars is likely to continue until there is a viable alternative.
In November 2000, Iraq stopped trading oil in dollars, and started trading it in euros instead – a policy for which the then Iraqi administration and it’s people paid severely. (Again illustrating the point that any country setting a non-compliant example must be quashed immediately).
In June 2004, Iran announced its intention to set up an international oil exchange, trading in Euros. Month by month, the manufactured crisis with Iran grows ever deeper.
In May 2006, Chavez stated that Venezuela (the worlds 5th largest producer of oil) might price its oil exports in euros, as opposed to dollars.
Perhaps he is right to be purchasing weapons and forming strategic alliances after all.

Monday, May 29, 2006

Fight the real enemy

As a Hibs fan, it normally falls to me to revel in the discomfort of Hearts fans, and to take great pain from their success. This year, however, is different. The normal order has been at least temporarily overturned. The Old Firm have been split, and one half (Rangers) deprived of the Champions League for a year. At the risk of getting dizzy, a quick review of the last few epic managerial eras at Tynecastle is called for:

The Robertson Era (duration: 7 months)
Following Craig Levein’s tenure, John Robertson is appointed as manager, only to be sacked in May 05. Steven Pressley and John McGlynn take over until the end of season. Hearts court Bobby Robson, Lothar Matthaus and Nevio Scala as potential replacements

The Burley Era (duration: 4 months)

George Burley is confirmed as new Hearts coach in June with a 2-year contract. Following an astonishing early-season run of success, his contract disintegrates in October due to "“irreconcilable differences"” between Burley and the board. He leaves with Hearts topping the league, unbeaten.

3 days later, a spokesman for Vladimir Romanov promises on that he will not meddle in team selection. Hearts consider Bobby Robson, Nevio Scala, Claudio Ranieri and Kevin Keegan for the managers hotseat. Before October is out, both chief executive Phil Anderton and chairman George Foulkes depart (the hugely successful Anderton is pushed, with Foulkes jumping in protest) - Foulkes goes on to label Vladimir Romanov a "“megalomaniac". I can't imagine where he got that impression.”

The Rix Era (duration: 4 months)
November sees Hearts confirm Graham Rix as the new head coach. In February 06, he is joined by Jim Duffy as director of football. Just incase Jim gets too comfy in Gorgie, Rix is sacked in March with Duffy following him out the door. Valdas Ivanauskas appointed as interim head coach.

As this season comes to a close (we are seemingly still currently in the Ivanauskas Era, but check back regularly for updates), Hearts go on their summer holidays with two major things to think about: a vastly increased debt hanging over their heads, and the glory of the Champions League beckoning. Oh yes -– and the certifiable owner.

Notwithstanding the rolling farce that has been Hearts off-the-field season, they must be credited with an astonishing achievement in splitting the Old Firm by coming second in the league, and kicking down the door to the qualifying stage of the Champions League. The team and their fans deserve nothing but congratulations for their achievements this year.

Any force that can dent the domination of the Old Firm over Scottish football must be wholeheartedly welcomed. Despite Hibs local differences with Hearts, it is incumbent upon all Scottish football fans to welcome a challenge to Old Firm hegemony, no matter from which quarter that challenge comes. Hearts are currently asking the questions of the ugly sisters in Glasgow, and until Hibs are in a position to do so in a sustained manner, Hibees everywhere must continue to support the challenge that Hearts are mounting.

If they can sustain their on-the-field form with the insanity in the boardroom, season 06/07 should be another beauty!

Thursday, May 25, 2006

Genius becomes legend

Over the last few years, no one has been able to touch Thierry Henry in the Premiership. A devastating package of pace, footwork, visionary reading of the game, and artistry and imagination of what might be possible - Henry has combined these with quiet dignity and professionalism to write his name large on the history books long before he has come close to hanging up his boots at the top level. Sporting journalists continue to scramble for unused superlatives to describe his sublime skills.

Following the defeat of Arsenal in the Champions League final last week, he engaged in off-the-field maneuvers that should catapult his status into a different dimension. With his contract at his club entering its twilight, and at least two Spanish clubs (certainly Barcelona, and presumably Real Madrid) courting him, he did the one thing that nobody expected him to do - and re-signed for Arsenal. In an age where professional footballers regularly seem to value money over loyalty, stability, and occasionally even first-team football, Henry'’s example to sporting youngsters is priceless.

To put the subject in some context, he is not going to struggle to pay his bills or get his groceries (reports suggest his new salary at Arsenal may be circa £110,000 per week). But consider also that he could have taken a money spinning move to many of the worlds top clubs. With the chequebooks of the biggest clubs in the world flapping in the breeze -– he re-signed for the North Londoners.

The new contract will run for four years, and Henry (who is now 28) has indicated he will see out his football life there. If during that contract, he can produce at Arsenal the quality of football of which we are all aware he is capable, the next few years will be utterly breathtaking.

His capacity to transcend the ordinary on the pitch has drawn gasps from all who have been privileged enough to witness it. In committing himself once more to Arsenal in the face of other opportunities, he should become nothing less than a legend.

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

New Moog!

Thoughts my synthesizer buying might be over for the time being were shattered by the Little Phatty at the Frankfurt Music Show in March. Opinion on this keyboard seems to be pretty violently split online, with many declaring it their latest lovechild, and others shunning it as a betrayal of all that is Moog.

Having seen it and played with it, I can report that it sounds amazing, and it looks utterly stunning – probably the most physically attractive keyboard I’ve ever seen. Whilst the internet opinion is split, my experience has been that everyone that has seen this thing in the flesh, wants one. Badly.

The first edition is a special tribute to Bob Moog (who passed away following his input to the initial design stages of the Little Phatty) – this initial tribute edition run being 1200 units only at around US $1,500. There is talk of a revamped full production model closer to the US $1000 mark following this, but with a pared down physical appearance - this is yet to be confirmed.

So long as you are behind me in the queue, let the stampede begin…

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Dial-a-rant has arrived...

April 06 seemed as good a time as any.

More soon...