Tuesday, 31 December 2013

Amsterdam Diary: Out with the old, in with the new!

The cats are holed up in the house, safe from the cracking and banging of fireworks outside. Zaandam has sounded like a far off war zone since 10am this morning. I'm looking forward to the fireworks display outside after midnight when we welcome in the new year.
 
The one benefit of being an Irishman in the Netherlands is that you get to celebrate the New Year on the double, once at midnight, and again at 1am with my far off friends and family in Ireland. It's a chance to restart 2014 if you mess it up first time around!
 
At times, 2013 has felt a little like it overstayed its welcome, and more than once this year I asked "is it over yet!" There was just a few too many bumps and challenges along the road for my liking! If I could sum up 2013, it would be an obstacle course of challenges and surprises, some more pleasant than others, and yet with every low, there was never a high too far down the road to lift the spirit and invigorate you for the next bump.
 
I'm a planner and something of a Mr. Predictability. 2013 was like Forest Gump's Box of Chocolates - you just never knew what you'd be biting into next. I published books this year I never imagined or conceived this time last year, and yet several books I was sure would see the light of day before the year's end, never got past the planning or editing stages - running a small business and everyday life always took precedence.
 
I crossed two continents and tread footsteps in four different countries during 2013. I couldn't have done it without the support and encouragement of family and good friends. 2013 was first and foremost about people, not places or material things, renewed acquaintances, closer friendships and new Dutch friends - thank you Esther, Bill and Amber.
 
We also bid a reluctant farewell to Koos, gone to play upon that big drumkit in the sky. We hope justice in 2014 will see that he is treated with a kinder hand than he was in the final months of his life.
 
Tonight, I won't do what I vowed I would do so many months ago, and slam the door shut on 2013. I'll close it respectfully, and be thankful that's all done with now.2014 is full of partnership, projects and new beginnings, and I'm looking forward to the journey, whatever it brings, maybe even abook or two into the mix!
 
Time to do what we do best...
 
Let's roll together.
 
Happy New Year to all.

Monday, 10 December 2012

Thoughts on Jacintha Saldanha Case and The Media

There is a well-thought out piece by Bel Mooney worth reading, below the main Daily Mail article on Jacintha Saldanha's death last week. Saldanha was the receptionist nurse who initially answered the prank call from Australian DJs Michael Christian and Melanie Greig, poorly impersonating Prince Philip and the Queen, and transferring them through to an on duty staff nurse at the King Edward VII Hospital. I won't link to the original Australian 2Day Radio clip. It can be easily found on YouTube. However, I would point out that the two DJs' interaction with Jacintha Saldanha lasts nothing more than about five seconds and the bulk of the prank call is conducted with the staff nurse in the ward where Kate Middleton was staying.

The consequences for everybody involved – from the distressed royal couple, to the shocked and hounded Australian DJs, and most of all to the tragic nurse Jacintha Saldanha and her family – are a reminder that every thoughtless prank has a victim and that nobody can predict how a vulnerable individual will react to what somebody else thinks of as ‘a bit of fun’.
 
Cheeky, high-spirited Australian DJ Michael Christian thought it a great wheeze to try to talk to the Duchess of Cambridge’s medical team on the telephone, even though he knew she had been taken into hospital suffering from acute morning sickness early in her pregnancy.
 
The first sign of unthinking cruelty comes right there. His female co-host Mel Greig thought this would be ‘awesome’. That, in turn, shows a very modern take on the word ‘awe’ – which correctly implies respect as well as wonder. Never mind the ethics or legality of the broadcast, there was no respect for anybody’s feelings in this sorry incident; no hint of decency or basic human compassion.

******

The Victorians paid to gawp at people with deformities and disabilities; in our day TV turned the freak show into an even more popular form of entertainment, taking cruelty and mockery right into people’s sitting rooms, whether through hidden camera shows that made the likes of Jeremy Beadle and Dom Joly into household names or in the routine humiliations meted out to (often mentally fragile) contestants on Big Brother or I’m A Celebrity.
 
That very familiarity means that broadcasters have felt the need to be ever more sensational, to court controversy, to ‘up the ante’ all the time, regardless of the potential consequences.


The human mind is a very fragile island and compassion and understanding for our fellow brothers and sisters should exist all the time, and not just surface after an awful and tragic event. I've heard a great deal of comparisons made to comedy programmes like Jeremy Beadle, Dom Jolly, Michael Barrymore and PhoneJacker, but we should not forget that these programmes were made for TV, often months in advance, leaving plenty of time for producers to seek permission and liability clearance from any unsuspecting victims involved. It should also be noted that the prank call segment of Christian and Greig's 2Day programme did not go out live and was pre-recorded. The two DJs did not have to think on their feet live on air and decide if they should proceed with a piece specifically devised and acknowledged as an attempt to be put through to Kate Middleton, a woman in the early stages of a pregnancy with complications in a private hospital--let alone a Duchess of the Royal British family.

I don't for a minute believe Christian and Greig are heartless and compassionless people, and they were clearly amazed their prank elicited direct and personal medical information from the nurse at the King Edward VII Hospital. Even had their radio producers decided to omit this detail during the second part of the prank--I fear the damage was already done. Saldanha's family described her as a devoted mother, a devout Catholic, and proud of her professional medical role. We may never know whether this prank call led wholly or partly to her suicide 48 hours later. Her family admitted that she was ashamed, upset and traumatised by the events of that early morning phonecall. Mooney, in his insightful Daily Mail piece, rightfully underlines what may have been a cataclysmic clash of cultures--a woman from Mangalore, India, whose first tongue was not English, against the cheeky brashness of two young, confident, high-energy DJs from Australia out for a skit at someone else's expense.

We've all been the subject of pranks, whether at school, in the workplace, with friends or family. Often the best part of the prank is the moment of exposure, quickly followed by the disclosure and the cries of; the look on your face, combined with the friendly bear hug from Jeremy as he pointed to the hidden camera and whispered consolingly; we're all in this together! You see, that is what Beadle's About and Candid Camera were wonderful at--the shared joke. We happily moved on to the next programme, safe in the knowledge that no one was hurt or died. The joke might have been on Saldanha and her colleagues at the King Edward VII Hospital, but it was the world's media and her employers who let her know later that the joke was on her. Certainly, the King Edward VII Hospital has a great deal of soul searching to do about procedures and protocols in light of all this.

No. This was no Beadle's About prank and none of the victims shared in the giggles and hilarity shared by Christain and Greig, and make no mistake about what you hear in the aftermath of all this. Both DJs regailed and basked in the attention during and after their programme of childish stupidity. Their social network accounts were only pulled after a torrent of abuse and the death of Jacintha Saldanha. They were whisked away into secrecy and obscurity and provided the most intense counselling and legal advice under the umbrella of a corporate media organisation--the kind of kid-glove treatment you can be assured has not been afforded to Jacintha Saldanha's family and friends.

In the big bad adult world--it seems--this was bullying and control and is only afforded to media organisations and their kindred souls, or as Sandy Kaye (spokeswoman and media trainer for the pair) states:

“We are concerned for the well-being of our talent. They are very distressed...Mel is very vulnerable. She has been very vulnerable in the past and is in a very fragile state. They are receiving counselling.”

“It is easy to blame us. It was supposed to be a harmless prank, not designed to humiliate.”

Greig has already engaged in the violin-playing of 'I ran away from home aged 15' in previous media expose in Australia since she was plucked as a model from obscurity after an inane reality TV show with her sister. No doubt we will soon hear of her years of childhood angst and anguish in further media and magazine exposes.

The radio station, 2Day FM. declared that the pair on Sunday were:

“negotiating the best way to reach out to the family”.

Well forgive me, but 'I'm sorry' is simply not an emotion, reduced to a gesture, for commercial or legal negotiation in such circumstances, and though tears, regret (for the prank) and remorse (for what subsequently happened) is in full flow throughout their first media interview (full transcript) since the death of Jacintha Saldanha, no direct apology of comfort or real value to the family and friends of Saldanha was forthcoming.

Greig: "It doesn’t seem real because you just couldn’t foresee something like that happening from a prank call. You know it was never meant to go that far. It was meant to be a silly little prank that so many people have done before. This wasn’t meant to happen."
Interview Transcript


Greig clearly needs considerable help. I'm no psychologist, but she is demonstrating the classic signs of someone in shock and desperate to deny or remove herself from a clear reality and her own assimilated actions in it. I really don't think counselling provided by a media organisation knee-deep in all this is the right kind of balanced, impartial care and support she needs. Michael Christian struck me as being a little more together despite being several years younger than Greig, and on a number of occasions took the lead in the interview when words appeared to fail them. Clearly, both have developed a deep bond in the relatively short time they have worked together on radio.

However, there is a worrying undertone throughout the interview. Like two misbehaving children caught after a prank has gone terribly wrong--they seek constant approval and validity for their actions from 'the team' and their producers and radio managers (as if speaking about childhood peers, and surrogate mammies and daddies). I'm not sure what is more disturbing--their naivety or their unprofessionalism. And maybe in all this, that is the greater question. Years ago, you would not be let near a live microphone or broadcasting network without a serious grounding and training in journalism and media. Now, some of our young broadcasters are plucked from the latest reality shows or whether they can balance ten pennies on end on the underside of their elbows and catch them in their hand. Our most successful entertainment seems to be underpinned by reality freak shows, contests and social commentary, not designed to celebrate our brightest and best talents and ideas, but, instead, to ridicule, marginalise, exploit or simply feast upon our most vulnerable and naive for the purpose of entertainment.

Mind you, our so-called veteran broadcasters and journalist have not steeped themselves in glory in recent years either. It's not too long ago we were discussing the Jonathan Ross and Russell Brand prank call to Andrew Sacks. The Leveson Enquiry is also a testament to some of the standards held dear by some of our media corporations.

Sometimes we treat the humanity we see and experience with the most casual responses. Compassion and empathy should be our greatest strengths, no matter what our goals are in life. The moment we lose sight of this is the moment our entertainment and pleasure becomes exclusive, without consequence.


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Saturday, 10 November 2012

The Truth is Out There, But How Bothered Are We Finding it?

Newsnight
Newsnight (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

There are some staggering details drip-dripping from the on-going BBC Newsnight controversy. Weeks ago I said categorically that George Entwistle's position as Director General of the BBC was untenable. Nothing since then has changed my opinion. If anything, the events since the airing of the Newsnight programme into claims by Steve Messham that he had been abused during the 1970’s and 1980’s, have only reinforced my view on Entwistle’s position.
In the last 48 hours we have learned that Entwistle, by his own admission in public statements, not only was not aware of the details of the Newsnight programme, that he did not watch it, nor that he was aware that Messham had privately (and wrongly) identified Lord McAlpine as his abuser. The mind goggles! This was the same Director General of the BBC brought in front of a political committee just three weeks ago to answer questions on what he knew about the BBC’s investigation of child abuse involving the late Jimmy Savile. One aspect of all this, and it should not be forgotten, is that Entwistle, as Director General of the BBC, is also Editor-in-Chief of all the BBC’s output, and not some politically appointed lord, doyen or public figurehead of the BBC.
Another aspect that should not be lost in all of this is the fact that Newsnight did not name McAlpine in the programme and actually came under fire by some within the Society of Professional Journalists for not naming McAlpine. Indeed, the subsequent chatter on social media sites, including Twitter, almost hinted at a growing momentum to bait and goad the BBC Newsnight team into revealing the name of the abuser in light of the BBC’s handling of the Savile scandal. While Newsnight ultimately held off naming the Messham’s abuser, it seems clear now that the editors of Newsnight didn’t once think it important to absolutely confirm the identity of the man Messham claimed had carried out the abuse. There is a troubling question behind all of this, and it is that how and why Lord Alpine’s name was introduced into the Newsnight investigation? In other words, did Messham solely identify Lord Alpine, or did the Newsnight investigative team introduce the name of the former Tory party member as part of a larger list of names to Messham in an effort to identify his abuser. Is this the same list ITV This Morning presenter Phillip Scofield so foolishly and clumsily waved in the face of David Cameron on live TV this week? Is it very same list which has been floating around the internet for several years and identifying up to a dozen or so Tory and Labour MP’s and ministers throughout the 1980’s and 1990’s. Is it the same list that lawyer and CEO of Online Publishing Company, Giovanni Di Stefano, has been drawing upon without any factual evidence and credible proof to back up for several years?
There was a short and interesting debate on SKY News last night, during its paper review section, and while I am no great fan of the editorial persuasion on this network, modern journalism and how claims and accusations made during reporting is now under serious question. In a world of open access to a multitude of information, both accurate and inaccurate, serious and scurrilous, some of the basic principles of journalism seem to have utterly gone out the window in an effort to deliver a story quickly at the expense of basic fact-checking. There is a new and growing band of journalism emerging, which seems to adopt the ‘shoot first, ask questions later’ policy, based on the projected view that we live in a world where we must fear and doubt everything placed in front of us. That means we are supposed to consider every terrorist act as an inside job or government conspiracy; suspend instinct and cast doubt on every judgement passed down on a criminal; suspect manipulation and agenda on every political decision made and every democratic vote passed; support and rejoice in personal achievement and success, while subsequently plotting and wishing the downfall and failure of those who rise to the top. Finding the truth in today’s world is no harder, no more difficult than it has ever been.
What we appear to have suspended most is common sense and paying attention to pretty basic detail. We’d rather have the truth delivered to us on a silver plate, labelled ‘TRUTH’, just so long as we don’t have to make too much effort ourselves to find it.             

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Thursday, 8 November 2012

Gabriel Byrne | Last Word Interview 2012

NEW YORK, NY - OCTOBER 17:  The Irish Repertor...
NEW YORK, NY - OCTOBER 17: The Irish Repertory Theater co-director Ciaran O'Reilly, actor Gabriel Byrne, and Irish Repertory Theater co-director Charlotte Moore attend the presentation of the 2011 Eugene O'Neill Lifetime Achievement Award at The Manhattan Club at Rosie O'Grady's on October 17, 2011 in New York City. (Image credit: Getty Images via @daylife)
Irish actor Gabriel Byrne was critical of year-long festival and cultural celebration, The Gathering 2013 on Matt Cooper's Last Word programme on Today FM. Sadly much of the media fuss surrounding Byrne's views on the event detracted from what was an exceptionally frank and thoughtful interview by Byrne on American politics, Storm Sandy, In Treatment, his daily life living in Manhattan, his latest projects, and economics and culture in America and Ireland. You can hear the whole interview here (starts about 43 mintes in). 
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Tuesday, 16 October 2012

We're Caught in a Trap - We Can't Go on Together | Trapattoni and Ireland

DUBLIN, IRELAND - NOVEMBER 15: Manager Giovann...
DUBLIN, IRELAND - NOVEMBER 15: Manager Giovanni Trapattoni of Republic of Ireland congratulates Robbie Keane after qualification during the EURO 2012 Qualifier Play Off Second Leg match between Republic of Ireland and Estonia at Aviva Stadium on November 15, 2011 in Dublin, Ireland. (Image credit: Getty Images via @daylife)

Win, lose or draw tonight, the FAI look like it has accepted that Ireland manager Giovanni Trapattoni is in his final days as boss of the senior soccer team. That may not be the position the FAI held in the aftermath of Friday's 1-6 drubbing by a classy German side, but the events of Saturday and Sunday have changed all that.
 
So far, and as usual, the FAI and John Delaney have made no formal comment to the media. Instead, Trapattoni has been left to get on with dealing with a growing disorganised and disillusioned Ireland squad. This came to a head late Saturday following a heated exchange between Stephen Kelly and Marco Tardelli, with the Irish senior player making it clear he wanted no further part of the ensuing shambles and was bailing for the door and leaving a vacant seat on the jet to Torshavn. Once again, Kelly, like several other senior players in the squad, felt he was being passed over and was simply making up the numbers. There is a growing feeling reported in media quarters, since the Euro 2012 debacle, that they no longer believe Trapattoni has the flexibility to adapt any new system. The players openly speak off the record about their distaste about Trapattoni's view of the Irish players' 'limitations' while insisting on deploying a system that encourages no leadership or freedom to play.

Tardelli and Trapattoni encouraged returning Robbie Keane to exert more of his influence on the squad and get Kelly back on board. It's notable in the recent two matches that Keane is becoming more vocal an instrument for the management team, yet evermore isolated from the rest of the senior squad. Maybe the veteran striker came a lot closer to hanging up his international boots over the summer than we think. Keane did his bit on Sunday and Kelly was safely on the plane, but don't expect to see him introduced during the match.
 
Darron Gibson informed Trapattoni after Euro 2012 that he was still hurting from the manner of Ireland's exit and did not wish to be considered for international selection for a period of time. Gibson was used to regularly missing out in the starting eleven at Manchester United and all the politics and arguments which occur at a high-pressure club between players and manager, ultimately choosing to move to Everton to attain regular competitive football. Maybe Gibson's international hibernation was a sign he knew more about where the Ireland international set-up was headed with the current wave of player dissatisfaction, gnashing of supporters' teeth and recriminations. He, unlike Shane Long, chose the quieter club life and let the international rabble get on with it and work the differences and changes out in the wash.
 
What is becoming clear to the FAI is that no matter what cycle and spin is programmed into the washer - the clothes are going to emerge still soiled every time. Leaving Trapattoni to soldier on in a Milan Mist of DVD's while pulling one of the most expensive international wage bills in Europe is a spent cause, and sooner or later, the FAI will have to act and extract themselves from this mess. Denis O’Brien’s money may have opened the door to hosting one of the biggest managerial names in club football over nearly three decades, but it may also be the key to cutting Trapattoni and his staff loose following the trip to Torshavn. Whatever the media might have reported, and the understandable kneejerk reaction of Ireland supporters to last Friday’s result against the Germans; the Trap was not for turning on an Irish tuppence and an exit before the trip to the Faroe Isles was never on the cards. Indeed, Trapattoni’s reticence has at least bought time and space behind closed doors for the FAI to privately group and take soundings within the association. There is no doubt FAI officials were impressed with the scouting abilities of Eoin Hand, Johnny Giles and Ray Houghton to produce and recommend an experienced hand like Trapattoni, but some officials did baulk at the salary and expressed reservations about the FAI funding an expensive and risky managerial project. With the financial backing of Denis O’Brien, like him or loathe him, John Delaney pulled off perhaps his greatest masterstroke in all his time at Abbotstown.
 
Indeed, Delaney has presided over the FAI during its time of greatest development and despite his ‘down the pub having a few beers with the fans’ persona, he is a shrewd and sturdy businessman, while remaining passionate about football. Had Delaney chosen the bigger football business across the water, I’m convinced he would have had equal success at the helm of a big British club. I met Delaney about a year and a half ago boarding a flight to Amsterdam from Dublin. There were no airs or graces about him and he sat happily chatting to fellow passengers for most of the flight. And, yet, in that one hour fifteen minutes, he exuded affability and shrewdness, while still playing his football cards—like a schoolboy in a schoolyard—close to his chest. John does like to be liked among supporters and football men. It was no surprise to read Richard Sadlier recounting an occasion—around the time of Delaney’s trip to Amsterdam—of Delaney happily showing Sadlier a text from Trapattoni supporting the then under pressure CEO. It’s nice to be liked and I’ve no doubt for a time the FAI believed all its Christmases had come at once with the capture of Trapattoni. The devil—even in the sweetest deals—is always in the detail.
 
The core requirement for Trapattoni was to qualify Ireland for a major tournament. Come Euro 2012—job done. The FAI committed to an expensive punt on Trapattoni, and I do believe they made the right choice at the time. The Italian instilled attitude and organisation in a side ripped apart by the schoolboy management of Steve Staunton. We returned to something of the old Charlton war cry of ‘we shall not be beaten’. Again, only the occasional loss blighted Trapattoni’s copybook, but in the melee of managers, from McCarthy, Kerr, Staunton, through to Trapattoni, we forgot what winning meant, and in modern football, qualification for a major tournament can send a team quite a way without ever chalking up a win of any real significance or meaning. Trapattoni seemed to grasp that reality—that with limited talent you could still go quite a way, and the Irish job suited his needs a lot better than it has proved to suit Irish international football needs. The blueprint for Trapattoni would be emulating Greece’s Euro 2004 exploits; winning one nil was as good as winning ten nil. Irish international football was at an all-time low and in a depressive haze we were all culpable in accepting results over performance; qualification over non-qualification; discipline over development; the ugly over the beautiful.
 
The truth is—man for man, woman for woman, supporter for supporter, pundit for pundit—we are all guilty of the laziness and greed levelled at Trapattoni’s door. At least Trapattoni can argue he got paid well for doing it. We forgot that there are quite a few steps to football heaven, and there is no guarantee you will past through the gates when you get there. Some might argue that Abramovich’s millions bought Chelsea’s fast track to Premiership and Champions league success. There is no fast track to success in international football. You play the hand you are dealt and strengthening your hand means years of investment in youth programmes, a sustainable domestic league, and a structure which allows the best players to flourish and develop through to the international teams—by whatever channel. While Ireland is not in a unique football position, our best players will always come from the English leagues, and even an Irish club qualifying for a UEFA or Champion’s League group place every other year is not going to change anything. Despite Brian Kerr’s football foundations, passion and belief in Irish domestic football, even he grew to understand that you need your best international players playing regularly and rubbing shoulders with fellow internationals week-in, week-out.
 
In November 2011, Trapattoni filled his brief as international boss. Remarkably, and some would argue with an extraordinary lump of Irish luck, he achieved it without a single competitive Irish victory over a top-ranked nation. Our biggest win came against Estonia in the first of two play-off matches. Like all supporters, we joined hands and prayed to God we would draw Estonia in the play-offs that Friday afternoon when Platini and company juggled balls in glass bowls. Deep down we all witnessed what the Russians did to us in the group. We witnessed the Slovaks fall apart in their last three qualifying matches. We knew Armenia had left it too late to surge in the group. Jesus, we knew deep down even Staunton would have had a decent go of getting us out of Group B. We believed we were blessed by the hands of the football gods and like a bent poker player at a casino hoped we wouldn’t get found out when the time ran out and the lights came on.
 
The lights did come on seven months later and we got found out. This time there were no results against Estonia, Macedonia or Armenia to hide behind. We got found out—badly—and it hurt more than if we had not made it to Euro 2012. This was like the mischievous schoolboy thinking he had just gotten away with another prank before the headmaster hauled him up in front of the school assembly at nine in the morning. A famous Norwegian commentator exclaimed many years ago, at the end of an England international: “Your boys got a hell of a beating.”
 
I’ve heard almost all of the pseudo excuses over the past few days in regards to the result and performance against Germany—that we were missing so many players; that Germany are so much better than us; that Ireland don’t have the players. It is—to coin the word, clap-Trap. Some people like to proffer arguments in isolation, adopting clich├ęd excuses they’ve heard used by someone else with a more perceived knowledge. Trapattoni selected almost all the players he wanted for Euro 2012, and played, bar one or two players carrying knocks, the starting eleven he wanted. The German side who played the Faroe Islands a few weeks ago (3-0) was the same side who beat Ireland 6-1. The difference is the German team knew the Faroe Islands would finish bottom of our group and as long as they left the field with three points—that’s all that mattered. It did matter to them how well they performed and how much they beat Ireland because Ireland could be in the final group shake-up. You can accept they don’t know believe that. When Sweden—who got out of jail last Friday against the Faroe Islands—play Germany tonight, you won’t see them capitulate 1-6.
 
The game is up. Delaney and the FAI know it whatever result Ireland carve out tonight. The senior players have also let the FAI know the game is up—some by their attitude and some by their continued absence or threatened absence. The supporters know it and the FAI know the supporters are one faction they cannot financially survive without. There has already been a degree of number-crunching carried out over the past few days if we are to believe the murmurings from behind closed doors at the FAI. The FAI has been silent on any official statement and that is understandable with a competitive fixture still to be played. You can bet Seniore Trapattoni will be asked to stay behind after class this week before he jets back to his Milan abode. One rumour briefly doing the rounds over the weekend was the possibility that Marco Tardelli would be asked to take full reign until next September—lessening the financial impact the FAI would suffer with a full departure of the current regime, but the events surrounding Stephen Kelly—a player much liked and respected within the FAI—and an assurance that Denis O’Brien is prepared to remain onboard for the future (if the FAI act swiftly), appears to have put pay to any gradual transition to a new management team in place by late next year.
 
For the coming hours a great deal of responsibility will rest on the shoulders of Robbie Keane (perhaps unfairly) to rally the team, keep the peace between management and players, and help secure three points that leaves Ireland’s head above water in the group. Only the foolish ever believed Ireland would be competing for top spot in this group after their Euro debacle of the summer, including the players, but they too must already be irked that after just two games, the management team have already conceded this psychological ground. The greatest hurt for them is that they are trapped (ahem) in a system and attitude which continues to limit what they are allowed do on the field of play. In essence, we have a manager asking players to believe—except the players now realise this belief is in a system and mentality and not in them as players. No matter how committed or passionate a player is when it comes to playing for his country—he must at least believe he is more than a peg in a hole.
 
The only thing that has changed in the past six months is that the players no longer believeTrapattoni, and the manager has made it clear that there is nothing they can do about it. However, tonight is one opportunity for the players to prove they are better than the system employed. If they really don’t care for Trapattoni anymore, then this is the time to show it and play their game and express themselves as players.
 
Win, lose or draw, this is one competitive fixture where the performance above the result will decide the future for several senior players, regardless of who is managing the side come Austria and Sweden next year.
 
For Trapattoni, his fate may have been sealed over the past few days. Again, referring to Richard Sadlier’s piece in the Irish Independent over the weekend; there is no football association anywhere—at least worth their football salts—that would have allowed their national manager run the team from a Milan apartment, relying on a pile of DVD’s and a few words of broken English. Truthfully, you’d be expected to do more running a Sunday football side. But then we too—as supporters—shared the dreams of Sunday footballers when the Trap picked up the phone all those years ago and asked us to believe.
 
Come to think of it, he never really did tell us what exactly it was we were supposed to be believe in…
 
We're caught in a trap
I can't walk out
Because I love you too much baby
 
Why can't you see
What you're doing to me
When you don't believe a word I say?
 
We can't go on together
With suspicious minds
And we can't build our dreams
On suspicious minds
 
ELVIS PRESLEY - SUSPICIOUS MINDS    

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Sunday, 11 December 2011

Amsterdam Diary - The Search For Narnia & Home

I haven't flown over every city in the world - just a few in several countries - USA, England, Wales, Scotland, Ireland, Spain, Portugal, France, Holland, Austria, Germany, Hungary, Albania, Montenegro, Serbia, Greece, Israel and Turkey. At night, they all look the same, no matter how hard you look out from the window of a plane. By day, you can pick out the contours of the Irish coast and the English coast, east and west, and I was sure I reconised the landmarks, wadi's and mountains when I passed over Israel on my way to Turkey. Holland is easy - I know the landmarks now, but I was amazed how many other countries had windmills you could see on a clear day from 30-38k feet up in the sky. I reckon Portugal has as many windmills as Holland, though I never did an accurate headcount!

I left Dublin last week flying out to Amsterdam (Schiphol) and admired how beautiful my city of birth looked with its orange lights against the blackness. The weather for the trip was poor, and for most of the way, the cloud cover hung low, so it wasn't until we approached our final descent that we broke through the cloud and saw the lights of Amsterdam for the final few minutes of the flight. It looked like Dublin again, only someone just rearranged some of the lights on the Christmas tree. All I know is that there is a lot more steep, right, rights into Schiphol, Amsterdam than there is with Dublin. Schiphol is a big airport and the pilot seems to have to do more a ring of the Amsterdam area as he approaches than the pilot who approaches Dublin who coming in off the North coast of Dublin over Howth/Portmarnock.

It's only when you get below a thousand feet of landing at Schiphol do you appreciate how much more developed the infrastructure of the city of Amsterdam is. From the Ajax Stadium to all the other places. I pointed out the Ajax Stadium to one person on a previous trip, and they corrected me by saying it was actually the stadium of a second of a second division team, and pointed out the real Arena and three other stadiums as we passed over the city to land. There's no way Richmond Park or Dalymount Park would stand out like the Aviva (Landsdown Road). I reckon had we headed back home, the Aviva lights would have been switched off anyway due to the recession. 

Structurally the Dutch transports system is laid out the way the Germans want everything to look and work. It looks and works perfectly as long as we operate in a perfect world. Most people don't live like the  Germans. Shit happens. And it did on Friday night when we got the train to Amsterdam Central. Looking for an onward train to Zaandam, like lemmings we scurried from platform to platform listening to the announcements alerting us to the problems on the local track into Zaandam. Dutch transport scares me because it changes by the minute. You can go to a platform and wait for a train, but then the Sprinter can get usurped by the lone International train, or a cat or leaf on the track and you are in a spin from one platform to another. The PA announcers know as little as your iPhone can tell you.

After 45 minutes on Friday evening, it was late, we were both tired, but still we dodged platforms. The PA announcers declared trains at platforms that didn't exist, and announced ghost trains at other platforms no one dared to get on. It became clear after 45 minutes that Zaandam was a city of the damned, and all of Holland had forsaken it. Municipal city clerks were probably already wiping all records the city ever existed and the people in it. Several platform clerks began to wheel out wooden wardrobes on wheels appealing to the 'Harry Potter' in all of us. I suggested we could consider Hogwarts as an alternative, but Erica was adamant that we were heading home one way or the other. It was only when the attendants said it wasn't Hogwards but Narnia that in desperation, I broke loose from the crowd  and charged toward the assembled wooden wardrobes lined up on the platform. As I went for it, I heard a voice scream, "It's a waste of time without the wand." That was it. I wasn't doing Potterland. I could deal with Narnia!

Eventually, we took a risk. We half believed what the PA announcer was saying, and stepped on another train with all the other passengers who hoped it would take them home. We were united on one platform for a while. Dutch people who did the journey every evening and who where lost, and casual travelers like me, who just crossed their fingers and hoped we were on the right train. We whispered as we got on, "Zandam?"

We got home. It scares me when you are in a foreign city, but no more than it scares me when I was at home in the centre of Dublin and someone decides that Narnia and Hogwarths should be in a different place for a change. Its like when you get stupidly drunk. Silly, almost childish, but somehow you get home. Someone takes your hand so you might learn the steps home.      

  
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