Wednesday, August 1, 2007

At home with Michael Vaughan and "friends" – Mimitig and Mouth of the Mersey

After the debacle of the World Cup, and the leaks from the England Dressing-Room, some snitch (who shall remain nameless) revealed just how your fearless correspondents had managed to get both audio and video tapes of what had been presumed to be private discussions between Captain Vaughan and his troops. As a result, security has been tightened to the extent that we are powerless to infiltrate the sanctum – a shame you’ll all agree. However, some desperate undercover work has enabled us to bring you details of an evening chez Michael following the hideously bad performance at Trent Bridge. Our thanks go to our anonymous helper, and we hope you all enjoy what is a revelatory meeting with some key players in the England side.

MV: Honey I’m home – how are the kids?

Mrs MV: Sssh – I’ve only just put them to bed with a few sweeties to keep them quiet.

MV: Oh my Christ – you’ve not raided the pot of jelly-beans for them, have you? You know those aren’t for kids – they are weapons of mass destruction in my secret war.

Mrs MV: No, no, don’t panic – I used the jelly-babies. You said you didn’t need them anymore.

MV: Thank fuck – anyway, I forgot to tell you a few of the lads are coming over tonight. We’ve got to work out what the bastard fuck went wrong against India – did you get the giant bag of Pick ‘n Mix I asked for?

Mrs MV: Yes, yes, darling, everything’s in place. I checked for bugs and I’ve drawn all the curtains too. You’re quite safe.

(sound of doorbell ringing)

MV: That’ll be Ali – I asked him to come early. The others should be here in the next 10 minutes. I’ll talk to him in the kitchen, show the rest into the lounge, then man the look-out, and if you see Peter Moores approaching, activate the escape route for the lads.

(Mrs MV opens door to Ali Cook, shows him into the kitchen where MV waits – a gentle look on his face, then she retreats to await more furtive arrivals)

MV (jovially): Ali, come in boy, come in. Tea, sweeties, a little tube of pastilles perhaps? (his face changes – almost Jekyll and Hyde-like). What the bloody fuck did you think you were doing, you arsehole? Christ Almighty – The Telegraph of all places. To go and tell the world that our next weapon is the pastille? You fool, you absolute fool. How do think I feel now? I’ve gotta think up a new plan, I’ve gotta explain to the lads who’s fucked it up. Why (MV drops head into his hands and begins to sob), why Ali? Are you working for Them? Just get the fuck into the lounge now, sit in the corner chair, and don’t fucking open your mouth unless I tell you too. OK (doorbell rings again). The lads are here. Keep that lip buttoned. And you can stop that fucking Bambi look right now – it works on the Npower girls but not on Michael Fucking Vaughan.

MV: Hi boys – come in, sit down – no not the corner chair Belly, there’s someone sitting there. Anyone want a drink? No, good – glad one lesson has been learned. So we’re here, on our own, and not all of us (thank fuck none of you blew the whistle and told Mooresey that we’re meeting tonight), just to have a captain’s man-to-men with some of you responsible for the disaster at Nottingham. You all know exactly what I mean and let’s get to the main items.

Number One: Sweeties. Now I don’t know for certain who stuffed AD’s trouser pockets with the damned things but someone owes him a tenner for the dry cleaning. Pounds not rands KP. And give him the money for Gods’ sake, he’s bullying Jimmy enough as it is

Number Two: Batting - Colly don’t look like that – get back to reading the Brearley book, you’ve a lot of work soon. Michael Vaughan was the only batsman who played well, Michael fucking Vaughan – and you all know what happens when Michael gets upset. And if you get all Geordie on me, I’ll just remind you what I did to Harmison – yeah?

Ah, fuck’s sake KP: if you must bring food, eat with your mouth closed – I can see the flavour from here. I think I speak for us all (well, Belly for sure) when I say that we need you to get back in the runs. And it would help if you didn’t speak in Afrikaans to AD – yes, we all know the story about the lion in the playground, but, fuck Kev – I thought we’d got over that in the Caribbean. Getting all exclusive with Al doesn’t build the Team.

Last tonight, before you go:

Bowling: well, Ryan – You’re a haircut away from a contract son, so go and do it – I read that fucking article “The Locks of Sidebottom”. Christ’s sake, do we need another prima donna in the side?

Monty – Just stop signing the photographs and for fuck’s sake when you have to, just scribble your initials – there’s no need for these long personal messages, they’ll have us all doing it. Good stuff, but there were times when you were quicker than Ryan, so slow it down. There’s a youtube clip of Tendulkar being bowled by a slow, flighted delivery at Trent Bridge on the last tour that shows you how it’s done.

Chris – Stop texting your dad for a moment please. For a 21 year old, you did well, really well. You’ve a lot of potential there. Speak up! You’re 26 next month? I can’t believe it. Okay, not a bad show but I’m still looking for a bit more pace – use your fucking height for Christ’s sake.

That’s it for tonight. I could get into keeping, but Matt, I haven’t the strength. You’re not the worst I’ve seen – fuck, I had to captain Jones – but you’re not the best and if you want to stay in white, bugger off to the nets.

The lads gather up their pads and pencils, start shuffling out, cautiously in case Mrs MV has slipped up and not alerted them to the presence of their esteemed coach, but all is well.

One player remains behind – he’s worried because MV hasn’t singled him out for censure.

Ian Bell: Michael, please sir, what am I to do? Why was I invited here tonight with the big boys?

MV: Ian: sorry kid, didn’t see you there. Just do your best, boy, do your best. Class is permanent, form is temporary. I believe in you, I love you, I really do.

In a moment, scarily reminiscent of The Godfather, little Belly-Boy gets down on one knee and kisses the heavy gold ring Michael has recently taken to wearing.

And our tapes, audio and video end as Ian exits – via the back garden.

Monday, July 30, 2007

When shareholders become scum - Allwell

Dave Allen is frustrated. Middle-aged and suited, with white hair smartly parted, he leans back in his chair and shakes his head at the TV cameras.

“You know, you can’t believe these people.”

Allen is chairman of Sheffield Wednesday Football Club. Together, he and fellow directors Geoff Hulley and Keith Addy own a controlling interest of 30% of the shares. Their latest attempt to sell those shares has failed. A bigger chunk of shares might be more attractive to a potential buyer. Allen knows where he might get some, maybe cheap.

Wednesdayite are the Sheffield Wednesday supporters’ trust. They run coaching courses for primary school children; their “smile” initiative buys match tickets from the club at full price and gives them to deserving people who would otherwise be unable to afford them; they donate money to local charities. Wednesdayite receive no funding from the club and no individual member can profit from their activities.

Allen works under no such limitations. Six years ago, he gave Wednesdayite a 10% shareholding saying, “The Sheffield Wednesday supporters are our greatest asset. They come to the matches, buy our shirts and do everything possible to support us. Their loyalty and commitment holds the key to our future. It is in recognition of this that myself, Mr Hulley and Mr Addy wish to make this gift.”

Now he wants it back. In return, he is offering to put £500,000 towards the acquisition and payment of players. The value of Wednesdayite’s shares is not clear, but is estimated to be in the region of £1.9m. Wednesdayite have declined.

Allen is displeased and has called a press conference.

“Ninety to 95 percent of fans of this football club are very happy with what’s going on, it’s just that lot that'll never be happy. You only want to come to the AGMs and listen to them…”


Cutlers’ Hall sits in the heart of Sheffield. A Monday night in November and people are gathering outside its extravagantly decorated main hall. They pause, blocked by the crowd. Squeezing through, they emerge into an aisle between two blocks of seating.

Above them a large chandelier dominates the elegantly corniced ceiling, while all around them giant formal portraits of past Master Cutlers are separated by marble-effect Corinthian columns. They scan the seats, 500 in total. All are taken. They return to the back of the hall and burrow in, standing wherever they can, facing a stage at the far end. There sit the directors.

This is the home of the trade guild of metal workers. Built in 1867 it is tonight the location of the Annual General Meeting of Sheffield Wednesday, a club formed in that same year and winners of four league championships and three FA Cups.

They have just sacked their manager, the ninth in as many years. They are £27m in debt. They are mid-table in the second tier of English football.


Dave Allen remembers: “By the way we were doing well.”


The meeting begins with the perfunctory execution of administrative tasks before questions are invited from shareholders.

Darryl Keys is the unpaid chairman of Wednesdayite. He was once a merchant bank director with responsibility for sports finance. Keys is concerned that, commercially, Wednesday are not as agile as they could be. He presents statistics illustrating how Wednesday’s revenue is significantly lower than comparable clubs at the same level. He provides examples of how those clubs maximise their income. He wonders whether Wednesday have room for improvement.

In reply, Wednesday’s finance director, Bob Grierson, rejects his advice, referring to the failure of Keys’ own business. He addresses none of the issues raised. Jeers rise up from the floor and a shout is directed towards the stage. “Shame on you.”


Dave Allen remembers: “These people who call themselves fans are nothing but a bunch of cretins, and I hope you’ve got that word right, cretins, cos that is what they are.”

A dark-haired woman walks, head down, to the front. Small and middle-aged, she tentatively approaches the microphone. Her eyes dart around the room, down to her hand-held notes, then around the room once more. She gives a small cough. Initially her voice is quiet and hoarse but soon she is speaking eloquently and passionately. Irma Kennedy has supported Wednesday for 40 years. She is not there to represent Wednesdayite. She talks as a supporter and as an individual shareholder.

“He (Allen) has told me I know nothing about football. While I do not profess to be an expert, I think I have earned the right to have an informed opinion and to have that opinion respected. It’s time you put aside your petty views and looked to rebuild your relationship with all fans.”

Her speech is reported in the Sheffield Star as “the most impassioned plea of the night”.

As she makes her back to her seat, applause fills the hall. Shouts merge together into an indistinct rumble of encouragement.

“You must stop insulting people like me,” she said.


Dave Allen remembers: “There was one woman stood up, the most venomous bitch I’ve ever come across in my life, she’d got three pages of diatribe to read out about me, it was just absolutely appalling.”

Allen again shakes his head and searches for the right word to describe his customers and fellow shareholders.


Dave Allen remains as chairman of Sheffield Wednesday.

Dave Allen’s comments can be seen in this news clip:

Sunday, July 29, 2007

Last day in Paris: end of the summer - mimitig

The peloton sweeps round the Place de la Concorde, under the watchful eye of the golden Maid of Orleans – iconic astride her horse, and a symbol of Paris to match the golden angel who looks down on Berlin, or our own Angel of the North.

It’s been a strange day, low-key, very little racing, no champagne roll-out at the start and I suppose that befits the ending of a Tour that promised so much when Ken, in a slightly crumpled white linen suit, waved the boys off in Whitehall three weeks ago. One hundred and forty-one men are riding to the finish line, actually one more than made it to Paris last year, although it seems that this year has seen the abandonnment of more than usual. But that’s because this year, we’ve lost two whole teams. Astana – forced out after Vinokourov’s positive doping sample, and the Cofidis team’s voluntary withdrawal when Moreni tested positive.

Once racing really started – two laps into the Champs Elysee, it was a bit of a race on. Team Barloworld (let’s not forget they were a wild-card entry but already with two Stage wins and likely to take King of the Mountains), worked like bastards to catch the breakaway. All on their own, it wasn’t going to work, but then Discovery came to the party and brought the ten-man break back.

With rain threatening – an unwanted weather intervention to make the cobbles of the final laps into a skating rink – Quickstep got themselves organised to chase the pack down and line up their man, Tom Boonen for a final sprint. It didn’t work, Lampre’s Daniel Bennati took the win, from Big Thor Hushovd and the old boy Eric Zabel.

don’t know what to think about this Tour overall. I don’t know that I believe in the Maillot Jaune. Classic commentators, and old Tour pros, Paul Sherwen and Phil Liggett seem sure that this has been a good Tour, that drug cheats are in the minority and catching the cheats is a good thing. David Millar – reformed character and outspoken in his views – reckons it’s been the cleanest Tour he’s ridden, maybe the cleanest ever. I guess we have to wait for the outcomes of the dope tests, look at the rest of the season, and see where we are come June/July next year. For me, I’ll follow the news, I am upset by what has happened this year, but I’ll watch Le Tour next summer and hope that by then we can believe in our heroes in lycra.

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