That’s right, I’ve started a football blog

14 04 2010

Hey guys, I’ve launched a new football-related blog, Pele Confidential.

Check it out and join the conversation. Get involved by commenting on the articles, and let me know if you think of ways I can improve it.

Cheers.

Tom





Harry Brown

9 03 2010

Apologies for the time-lapse since my last post, I have been very busy with production days and contributing to the exciting new CJS website Capture Cardiff.

In the light of the above, I have decided to add some of my recent articles to this blog, particularly my reviews and comment pieces.

I will start with last week’s DVD review: the new Michael Caine vehicle Harry Brown.

_________________________________________________________________________________________

From the opening scene of Harry Brown, it is clear the viewer is in for a harrowing experience.
An unprovoked act of violence in broad daylight, in which a group of youths shoot a defenceless mother, is a microcosm of the moral abyss in which the events of the film take place.

Nearly 40 years on from Get Carter, Michael Caine shows he still has star quality

Michael Caine stars as the eponymous antihero, a vigilante who takes it upon himself to combat the rule of the violent and unrestrained youths of south London.
***

But the real star is Ben Drew, who is beginning to forge an impressive acting career after a semi-successful foray into rap under the pseudonym Plan B.
Reminiscent of a young Vincent Cassel, Drew excels as the hollow villain of the piece. Few performances have disgusted and impressed in equal measure as much as his since Gary Oldman’s in Leon or Cassel’s star turn as Vinz in La Haine.
***

The strength of the acting is complemented by an impeccable use of gothic London cityscapes, which transport the viewer back into a Jekyll and Hyde-esque nightmare in a way which is not at all artificial.
***

Director Daniel Barber, making his feature-length debut, looks like an old hand. His command of subtle lighting and his use of silence or minimal dialogue add to the atmosphere of frightening uncertainty.
***

The haunting tone of the piece leaves the viewer feeling distant and horrified throughout, yet undoubtedly affected once the film draws to its chilling climax.





Obits and pieces

12 02 2010

Recently we were encouraged to write an obituary for a living person of our choice. I used the opportunity to pay tribute to one of the best authors alive today, Bret Easton Ellis. Here is what I would have to say about the great man if he died today.

IN HIS 1987 novel The Rules of Attraction, Bret Easton Ellis wrote: “You will never know me.”

Now, after his mysterious death, the 45-year-old Californian author leaves behind more questions than answers.

And an unexplained passing, prompting wide-reaching explanations from a multitude of friends and acquaintances, is surely the way he would have wanted to go.

Forever an enigma, Ellis rocked up on the literary scene in a wash of overpriced denim and exuberant metaphor.

A cocktail of sex, drugs and hyperbole made his debut novel Less Than Zero an instant hit, while the rushed Brat-Pack film adaptation only served to demonstrate the unreplicable quality of his prose.

No one could explain the secret to Ellis’ writing.

Blending pity and envy, his portraits of privileged existence allow readers a glimpse of something they will never be part of.

Yet, far from offering simple escapism, Ellis has consistently shocked and disgusted his audiences to the point that a snapshot is all they could feel comfortable with.

The gaps between his later novels, often as long as five years, were punctuated by speculation about his private life.

By dealing with the vulnerability of celebrity in Glamorama and developing a fictionalised self in Lunar Park, many felt they were being invited to probe into the existence of a surprisingly secretive individual.

The truth is far more intriguing.

Ellis at a Lunar Park book signing

Just like his characters, Ellis invited reverence and revulsion in equal measure.

And his semi-autobiographical novel Lunar Park only added to the aura of mystery set up by the morally-ambiguous American Psycho and Ellis’ own morally-ambiguous existence.

The overlap between his life and work, culminating in their disturbing convergence in Lunar Park, will leave fans holding out hope that his death is just a plot-device, or even a valuable sub-plot in a much larger and hitherto unread story.

Publishers Knopf have not yet announced whether they will release Ellis’ final novel, Imperial Bedrooms, which was set to hit bookshelves in May.

All that is known of the work, a long-awaited sequel to Less Than Zero, is its opening line: “They had made a movie about us.”

Surely the mystery of Bret Easton Ellis’ life will be unravelled on the silver screen.

He would surely hate the commodification of his life, but secretly love the attention.

*Disclaimer: My details of Ellis’ death and the future publication of Imperial Bedrooms are fictionalised this article was just written as an exercise.





Music to write copy by

7 02 2010

Here at CJS we have recently dived head-first into the relentless routine of production days.

Unforgiving deadlines, strict word limits and gripping features are now the order of the day, and we need to be focused on the job in hand.

While a clear mind and a readiness to communicate are musts within the confines of the newsroom, many of us will no doubt find ourselves constantly on the go, chasing stories and writing features away from the order-in-chaos.

I cannot be alone in using music to help focus the mind, and in this post I will share with you just some of the bands and artists I turn to when I have work to do.

Be it revising for a testing public admin exam or writing a 750 word feature on Formula 1, music tends to help my productivity. I’m sure it does the same for some of you too.

At the very least, I hope I can introduce a few more names to your Spotify playlists and provide a gift that stays with you for years to come.

1. Electric President

I was introduced to Electric President just over a year ago, and  the Floridian duo instantly won me over with their blend of haunting vocals and mellow beats.

Alex Kane’s electronic input perfectly complements Ben Cooper’s vocals, both providing a subtlety lacking in the work of may of their peers.

They have been compared to Postal Service and The Weakerthans, but such comparisons do an injustice to a band whose music will engross but not engulf the listener.

2. Mogwai

As far removed as possible from the energetic Gremlin with which they share their name, Mogwai are on a level which most bands can only dream of.

For more than a decade they have treated fans to expansive post-rock so grand in scope it makes Lord of the Rings look like Superbad.

They went some way to getting the recognition they deserve after being asked to compose the soundtrack to Zidane: A 21st-Century Portrait in 2006. Since then, they have gone from strength to strength with recent album The Hawk is Howling showing the band’s unerring ability to captivate observers with every movement, much like Zizou himself.

3. Jurassic 5

Of course, I appreciate that different people work best when listening to different genres of music. As such, I feel it would be both ignorant and inappropriate of me to omit hip-hop in my discussion of music to write by.

Kings of the genre, in my humble opinion, are California-based act Jurassic 5. Showing more versatility than many of their peers, J5 span all elements of hip-hop, often providing more relaxed and mellow music but never being afraid to show more aggression and panache on live favourites such as A Day at the Races.

Their music might not seem conducive to writing at first glance, but check them out for yourselves and you may well be pleasantly surprised, even if hip-hop isn’t usually your cup of tea.

4. Explosions in the Sky

The word ‘epic’ is used all too frequently when it comes to today’s music. But one band which really does merit that description is Explosions in the Sky.

The Texan quartet have spent the last decade or so making music you thought couldn’t be bettered…and then bettering it. Their crashing guitars and vocal soundscapes add an unquantifiable sense of grandeur to whatever you are doing while listening to them.

So stick any one of their albums on, be it one of the earlier classics or the new groundbreaking material, and it will feel like that MPs’ expenses story you’re writing is the next Ulysses.

5. Sigur Ros

Perhaps the most famous of the five bands I have mentioned here, Sigur Ros have still taken far too long to gain the recognition they deserve.

No one else makes music quite like the Icelanders, whose vocalist Jonsi Birgisson sings in an invented language – Hopelandic – as well as in his native tongue.

It is perhaps the use of Hopelandic which give the quartet their almost magical quality. But the whole-hearted desire to experiment also has something to do with it.

Their music puts you in a state of mind so peaceful all other concerns will be brushed to one side, letting you focus your energy on almost anything.

If you are yet to discover this masterful band, I urge you to sit back, relax, and enjoy.





[insert tenuous automobile pun here]

17 12 2009

This term we have had a number of wonderful speakers talk to us about various elements of online journalism.

We have learned about blogging, digital storytelling and much much more, from names as diverse as Rory Cellan-Jones – who has years of expertise to fall back on – and Rob Andrews, who only recently graduated from the very same CJS course we find ourselves on now.

But for our penultimate lecture of term, we went back to where it all started – a stuffy lecture theatre in the law building and the wise words of Glyn Mottershead.

Not that I want to belittle Glyn’s teachings – far from it. For in this lecture he gave us an insight into the vital skill of Computer Assisted Reporting (CAR)

Gran Turismo

Although CAR has been a popular source of reporting in the US for some time, it is yet to board the ferry for Britain with any real authority.

Many have speculated on the reasons for this, although I will hazard a guess that Glyn’s comment that ‘It’s quite time consuming’ may have something to do with it.

Perhaps after missing the boat originally, British journalists have ascertained that the 24-hour news culture renders speed more important and 100% accuracy less so.

Or perhaps its the school of thought which came up with the statistically inaccurate assertion that there are ‘lies, damn lies and statistics.’

All that’s certain is I made 81.2% of these assertions up on the spot.

Breakdown cover

Like many things, CAR can be broken down very simply, but at the same time the process of dumbing-down is counter-productive if you don’t then expand back out to give a fuller picture. Confused(.com)? well you shouldn’t be.

CAR is about working out where you can find information, then evaluating, analysing and (finally) communicating it. Key to this process is our old friend the Freedom of Information Act.

And here is where things start to get a little more complicated, in terms of finding the information you need for that elusive scoop, that front-page splash that your editor wants you to provide.

Steering you in the right direction

When making a Freedom of Information request, if just ask for an answer to your question that will only get you so far.

If, on the other hand, you ask for documents relating to the issue you want to cover, this will potentially get you much further.

Sure, it might require more work on your part, but researching and using all the available information is all part of the job, right?

Take, for example, the Labour government pledging an extra £300 million for childcare. On the surface an impressive-sounding, headline-grabbing number. But CAR helps us tell a different story.

It can tire you out

What is £300 million? Well it’s just a number. The figure was pledged over a 5-year period, so to work out how much it amounts to per year, you need to divide by 5.

Then divide by 52 to find out how much will be pledged per week.

Then work out how much that is per child – here is where the Freedom of Information request comes in.

Long story short, the seemingly extravagant £300m equates to only £1.15 per child per week.

How did I get to this answer? I got there by CAR.

On the road

So, that’s about as much as I know so far, but I think I can speculate that CAR will grow and grow quickly.

After all, most of us at CJS have already expressed an interest in learning more about it and developing our existing skills. And we’re some of the best budding journalists in the country, right?

Anyway, I’ll keep you posted, but for now I’ll leave you with this gratuitous post, a video from a legend of modern music whose words single-handedly brought down the Berlin Wall. Why don’t you come along for the ride?





Team of the decade

14 12 2009

Hot off the heels of ‘album of the decade’ and ‘sporting icon of the decade’, it’s the latest CJS newsroom blog war. This time – team of the decade.

We have limited it to players from the Premier League, to stop all hell breaking loose when Alex Smith tries to put Alvaro Recoba on BOTH wings.

Of course it was still a tough choice, but I feel all the players I have chosen deserve their place in my starting XI.

Goalkeeper – Brad Friedel

338 appearances (Liverpool, Blackburn Rovers, Aston Villa), 1 goal

When Brad Friedel left Liverpool in 2000, after being frozen out of the first team by Sander Westerveld, few would have predicted he would become the Premier League star he is now.

But a move to Blackburn kickstarted the career of the former UCLA student, who up to that point had played for four different clubs in four different countries, none for more than three years.

Friedel spend eight years at Ewood Park, helping the club to a League Cup victory in 2002 and establishing the Lancashire outfit as a mainstay of the Premier League. He even managed to get his name on the scoresheet against Charlton the following season, emulating the incomparable Peter Schmeichel.

At the age of 38, the former American international is still going strong. Now plying his trade at Aston Villa, he will surely he hoping to keep going at the top level beyond his 40th birthday.

Right-back – Michael Essien

116 appearances (Chelsea), 14 goals

I know what you’re thinking, Michael Essien isn’t a right back. Well he’s played there a few times and – more to the point – this is my team and I’ll put players where I like.

Essien made his name in the indomitable Lyon midfield of the early 2000s, where he played alongside Mahamadou Diarra, Juninho and Florent Malouda, while also helping the exciting Ghana team of 2006 to the second round of the World Cup.

But it is at Chelsea where he has really come into his own. A few eyebrows were raised when Jose Mourinho paid £24m to bring him to Stamford Bridge, but all fears were soon dispelled by a number of stirring performances, both at right-back and in the centre of midfield.

And he clarified his status as one of the best players in the league with a starring role in last year’s Champions League semi-final against Barcelona, where his team suffered the harshest of defeats.

Centre-back – Rio Ferdinand

299 appearances (West Ham United, Leeds United, Manchester United), 8 goals

There can surely be no doubt about my next pick. Rio Ferdinand has been idolised as one of the best defenders in the Premier League since a young age.

He had only just turned 22 when Leeds United forked out £18m to prise him from West Ham United in 2000. Say what you like about Peter Ridsdale’s spending spree at Elland Road, that amount of money shows that the England international was (and still is) one of the best in the game.

His tremendous reading of the game, and the ball-playing skills honed in his early days as a midfielder at Upton Park, helped make Ferdinand a key component of Leeds’ Champions League run of 2002.

And he has gone from strength to strength since joining Manchester United for a then-British record £29m, adding deserved domestic and European honours to his copybook. He now sits head and shoulders above many of the world’s defenders.

Centre-back – Sol Campbell

280 appearances (Tottenham Hostpur, Arsenal, Portsmouth), 12 goals

Try to ignore the recent Notts County debacle, and the Upton Park disappearance fiasco, Sol Campbell has achieved things many could only dream of.

And it is testament to his ability that the 35-year-old Londoner has managed to bounce back from all the setbacks in his career, when a lesser man would have perhaps cracked much sooner.

You need to be made of stern stuff to deal with the backlash suffered by Campbell when he left Tottenham to join their rivals Arsenal, but he passed the test with flying colours, becoming an integral member of the ‘invincibles’ of 2004.

And after leaving The Emirates Stadium to join Harry Redknapp’s Portsmouth revolution in 2006, he helped his new side establish themselves in the top flight. The level to which they have struggled since his departure shows how important a player he still is.

Left-back – Ashley Cole

246 appearances (Arsenal, Chelsea), 12 goals

I hate Ashley Cole. From the fuss he made at being offered ‘only’ £55,000 a week by Arsenal, to the borderline assault he launched on referee Mike Riley after a dangerous studs-up challenge on Alan Hutton in 2007 (skip to about 1:20 on this video).

But aside from this behaviour, there is no doubting Cole’s quality on the pitch.

After being sent out on loan to Crystal Palace, there were fears that the Stepney-born defender would never realise his dream of playing at Highbury.

But since then he has never looked back, revolutionising the left-back role and consolidating his position in the England national side.

Right-midfield – Cristiano Ronaldo

196 appearances (Manchester United), 84 goals

Who would have thought that an outlay of £12.24 million on an 18 year old would prove to be one of Sir Alex Ferguson’s finest purchases at Manchester United.

After taking some time to find his feet in English football, netting only 15 times in his first 90 games, the Madeiran superstar proved his worth – and then some.

For the best part of two seasons he was nigh-on unplayable, with his 31 goals in 34 league games during the 2007/8 season only telling part of the story.

He left Old Trafford this summer on an unprecedented high, and the pressure following the £80 million paid by Real Madrid to take him to the Bernabeu has proved no obstacle. 12 goals in his first 11 games in Spain merely solidify position as one of the world’s greatest for years to come.

Central midfield – Patrick Vieira

181 appearances (Arsenal), 22 goals

Throughout the Premier League’s existence there have been a number of foreign players who performed as though the league was designed for them.

Patrick Vieira is one of these players, alongside the likes of Mikel Arteta and Juninho Paulista, who have failed to hit the same heights outside English football.

Vieira was the only foreign player in the first Arsenal line-up picked by Arsene Wenger, and his name has since been synonymous with the blend of passing and athleticism which has characterised Wenger’s side.

Even in his absence, fans of the London club complain that he hasn’t been properly replaced, and their failure to win a single trophy since his departure is testament to the influence their former captain provided on and off the field.

Central midfield – Paul Scholes

297 appearances (Manchester United), 67 goals

The second central midfield position was a real struggle for me.

I considered David Beckham, Roy Keane and Jay-Jay Okocha for the role, as well as the perenially-mentioned Frank Lampard and Steven Gerrard, but finally decided on Paul Scholes, and not just because I wanted to show this clip:

Scholes has had a real second wind since retiring from international football in 2004, proving an integral part of the Manchester United side in their three league title wins from 2007-9.

And, while others (notably a certain Mr Ronaldo) have perhaps got carried away with their ability and success, Scholes has largely remained the model professional, going about his business quietly while peers bask in their undeserved spotlight.

Left-midfield – Robert Pires

189 appearances (Arsenal), 62 goals

‘Where’s Ryan Giggs?’ I hear you cry. Well I’m going to stick my neck out and say that ‘Bobby’ Pires was the best left-winger of the 2000s.

Despite Giggs being honoured as 2009 Player of the Year and Sports Personality of the Year, I will maintain that the 90s was the Welshman’s decade.

Pires, on the other hand, was an integral part of Arsenal’s ‘invincibles’ (and I’m not just talking about the dive which kept their unbeaten run going).

Another who was unplayable on his day, the Reims native had a combination of flair, skill and pace which complemented his team-mates perfectly and helped Arsenal to several trophies, all won playing beautiful football.

Striker – Thierry Henry

254 appearances (Arsenal), 174 goals

I know it’s difficult, but try to look past that handball. Just try. Remember Thierry Henry for his time at Arsenal instead.

The goalscoring record speaks for itself, but unlike his peers and predecessors Shearer and Hasselbaink, so many of the Frenchman’s goals were masterpieces.

As a West Ham fan it pains me to show this goal, but I have to let you see it to demonstrate the things this wonderful player was capable off, even when there seemed to be nothing on.

And since Henry’s departure even the enviable abilities of messrs Van Persie and Arshavin have failed to fill the gap left by this modern great.

Striker – Ruud van Nistelrooy

150 appearances (Manchester United), 95 goals

This week, football fans across England were sad to see the premature retirement of Dean Ashton. It seems only fitting, therefore, that my final pick is a man who could have achieved so much more were it not for a succession of injuries.

That said, Ruud van Nistelrooy still did enough to justify his tag as one of the most feared strikers in world football for a number of years.

After recovering from serious injuries during his time at PSV Eindhoven which limited him to 67 appearances in three years (during which time he notched a remarkable 62 goals), the Dutchman joined Manchester United in 2001 and never looked back.

The epitome of the old-fashioned number 9, van Nistelrooy used a combination of strength and guile to leave Old Trafford with four trophies and a record of nearly two goals every three games. Since moving to Real Madrid he has proved he still has the quality to perform at the top level, even if his fitness has held him back in the last couple of years.

Substitutes

There are so many more players I would have liked to include, and seven substitutes isn’t really enough, but here are the players who came closest to breaking into my starting XI:

Shay Given (Blackburn Rovers, Newcastle United, Manchester City), Gary Neville (Manchester United), John Terry (Chelsea), Roy Keane (Manchester United), Joe Cole (West Ham United, Chelsea), Wayne Rooney (Manchester United), Dennis Bergkamp (Arsenal)

So, there you go, that is my team of the decade. I’m sure you will disagree with some of my choices, but it’s a tough one to call.

Please get involved in the debate. Ciaran Jones and Joe Curtis have already done so – let me know why my team is better than theirs!





Capturing Cardiff – Ffosfforescence

10 12 2009

Last weekend, young and old alike gathered on Penarth’s seafront to witness Ffosfforescence, a light installation devised by Bristol-based artists David Boultbee and Ruth Essex.

With the help of artists and local residents, David and Ruth filled balloons with LEDs and displayed them in the sea in a project designed to use light to articulate hidden spaces and shadows of famous landmarks.

Ffosforescence was born after the duo were asked by Ffotogallery, a local art gallery based at Turner House, to come up with a large-scale installation to commemorate the 80th anniversary of Penarth Pavilion.

“One of the aims of the project was to demonstrate the might of the sea,” said Ruth,

“The length of time that the balloons stayed visible was determined by the tide, so the work we did shows how powerful it really is.”

And the balloons were not the only things fighting to survive.

Piering back into the past

Penarth Pavilion, one of the main focal points of the town, has been a major landmark ever since its grand opening in 1929.

But a series of setbacks, including a fire in 1931, have meant more than one generation of Penarth’s public has been unable to see the pavilion in all its glory.

Now, with lottery funding proving more than just a distant possibility, locals may be able to take in the delights of the building sooner rather than later.

The installation was visible from far away, and was able to draw in passers-by (Photo: David Drake)

The redevelopment project, which is set to include a cinema and a number of restaurants, will not be cheap.

As the appeal for lottery funding is only at an early stage it is difficult to estimate just how much things will eventually cost, but it is fair to say the town’s £400,000 annual budget would fail to accommodate such a large-scale development.

Councillor John Forbes Fraser, the mayor of Penarth, claims that the project is “essentially” the responsibility of the Vale of Glamorgan Council, but he has pledged his (and Penarth Town Council‘s) support towards all the work done towards the pavilion’s redevelopment.

“We are 200% behind the project,” said Coun Fraser.

“I would love to see it come off. One thing we can do as a council is lobby.”

Ffoto opportunities

The ‘save Penarth Pavilon’ project is being supported by two major art galleries in the centre of the town, Ffotogallery@Turner House on Plymouth Road and The Washington Gallery on Stanwell Road.

And many locals, including adults and children of all ages, flocked to Ffotogallery on Saturday where they filled balloons with LEDs under the guidance of experts from Dorkbot Bristol, a group who describe themselves as “People doing strange things with electricity in the West of England.”

After a few hours’ work, and a few mince pies put on by the gallery, the willing volunteers then helped take the light-filled balloons down to the sea-front where they would produce a visually stunning display.

Volunteers from Penarth (and further afield) help set up the display on the seafront (Photo: David Drake)

Anne Siegel, digital arts project manager at Ffotogallery, was very pleased with how things turned out on Saturday night.

“I have been so busy with the project over the last few days and weeks,” said Anne.

“And on Saturday night it was basically us against the tide, so it was good that people could stay out and see the installation until about 8.30 or 9.”

Map showing Ffotogallery and the surrounding area

The artists themselves showed their appreciation for the effort put in by the volunteers, and recognised how difficult the installation would have been to set up without the help of the townspeople and experts who devoted their time throughout Saturday.

“Loads of people came down to help out,” said David Boultbee.

“I was impressed by the number of families that came along, it seemed that a lot of the town was happy to get involved.”

“Also, I think the fact that you could see the lights from the top of the hill helped bring more people in. Maybe even people who were just passing by with no intention of coming to look at the installation.”

Looking to the future

It seems that all involved are pleased with the impact made by the Ffosfforescence installation. As well as demonstrating the artistic vision and capabilities of David and Ruth, it has the potential of achieving a more long-term goal.

If nothing else, the installation has made more people – across South Wales and beyond – aware of the campaign to save and redevelop Penarth Pier Pavilion.

And with the first barrier crossed in the journey towards lottery funding for the project, it is surely only a matter of time before the building is returned to its former glory.

To find out more about the Penarth Pavilion Project, visit www.letsmakeithappen.org.uk

If you want the audio of the above video clip, click below