Thoughts 4.31 to 4.42

Thought 4.42: 15 March 2021 - Remembering Murray Walker, The Voice of Formula 1

When the news broke on Saturday 13th March that the legendary Formula 1 and motorsport commentary Murray Walker had passed away, I was visibly upset. I wasn't alone, as many people sought to post their memories of how Murray had affected their lives watching the sport that they loved, whether it be Formula 1, the British Touring Car Championship, rallycross from Lydden Hill or Brands Hatch with the likes of Martin Schanche, or all sorts of action on two wheels as well as four. So many memories that everyone has, and yet so many different memories, all of which just brought home to me that real feeling of loss.

I had been dreading this day for some time: we all knew heart of hearts of course that at age 97, Murray was certainly in the final straight of a Grand Prix of so many iconic moments and little errors now and then, aka Murrayisms, that only someone with out and out enthusiasm for whichever event was being commentated on could ever possibly make. But nonetheless, the youthful enthusiasm and the passion shone through: as Martin Brundle had noted, the last conversation he had with Murray, Murray wasn't 100 per cent but still wanted to know what was going on in the paddock and with Formula 1 in general. You don't lose that passion overnight and you know full well that it was still burning brightly inside.

As a young child who wanted to enjoy seeing a good race, I'd often watch the Formula 1 with my father and then with my brother also, and in my teenage years the three of us would escape to my room to watch the Grand Prix events uninterrupted from my mother. It was, without any shadow of doubt, Murray Walker who got us all massively enthusiastic for the sport, with the trousers on fire style of commentary bringing you right there to the circuit to enjoy such moments as the last laps of the 1982 Monaco Grand Prix (to this date still my favourite F1 race of all time), the close calls for Nigel Mansell in 1986 and Mansell's superlative 1987 British Grand Prix win, shedding buckets of adrenaline in that car to pass Nelson Piquet close to the end. For all of those, Murray cemented himself into the stuff of legend, not just with British fans, but around the English speaking world who had the BBC commentary feeds.

No matter what event it was, Murray would have the same level of passiona and enjoyment: from saloon car an Formula 3 racing (featuring a certain James Hunt) at the old Crystal Palace circuit in the early 1970s, from the muddy banks and slip sliding gettng your line wrong at Lydden for rallycross, and the door to door battles of the British Touring Car Championship, mistaking John Cleland's infamous middle finger salute for wanting to be number 1 (or knowingly distracting the viewer from a bid of bad temper, your call.) The voice was unmistakble, the Richter scale knocked up to around 10, and all delivered standing up - no sitting down on comfortable chairs here, pure passion from the heart. It was testament to Murray that Martin Brundle never commentated sat down either - his view was that if standing was good enough for Murray, it was good enough for him.

Of course along with the great races and times, there were the dark days, and the deaths of Roland Ratzenberger and Ayrton Senna at Imola in 1994 have to be there amongst its darkest. Murray delivered with an authority of quiet but also a sense of assertiveness, and a feeling of sadness inside that he'd never see either driver race again. Any death in Formula 1 was awful and he had to commentate on others over the year, all were painful but all delivered with restraint and empathy. It was that empathy that led to him getting a lump in his throat when Damon Hill won the World Championship in 1996, because like Damon, Murray was the son of a motorsport icon (Murray's father Graeme won several motorcycling titles, and Graham Hill had been F1 champion also) and so they could relate, even starring in an advertisement for Pizza Hut together.

In fact that brings me nicely on to the fact that Murray's day job (when motorsport commentary was saved for weekends) was advertising. An only budgie is a lonely budgie encouraged owners to get a second budgie, so double the sales of Trill budgie food. Opal Fruits were made to make your mouth water by Murray being part of a team who did that slogan as well, so he knew his game well and was just as passionate in the day job. Contrary to urban myth, the Mars work rest and play one wasn't his, but it says a lot that people assume because of Murray's other class slogans that it was one.

When Murray retired from ITV during the far end of the 2001 season, the feeling of sadness when he retired was a sense of knowing it was the end of an era - and yet he would still do interviews, be seen in the paddocks of the F1 grid, and of course still have the razor-sharp knowledge and respect of all of the grid, and then some. When someone who commentates is argubaly more well known than a lot of the drivers, you know just what an impact Murray had on motorsport - a class act, and an icon who should have been knighted well before his passing for services to motorsport but also services to broadcasting. He will be missed as a yardstick by which all other motorsport commentators are judged against, but also as a person and a husband to his surviving wife Elizabeth. James Hunt is waiting for you up there to take the mic once again.

Thought 4.41: 14 June 2016 - Why the EFL Trophy and Premier League B Teams Is A Massive Mistake

Whilst attention during this time of year has been focussed on the Euro 2016 football tournament in France, back home in England a different sort of revolution (most likely not televised) is underfoot, and rather sneakily decided last Friday. What was formerly the Johnstone's Paint Trophy for League One and Two sides and an incentive to get to Wembley and win a trophy is now the EFL Trophy, and the proposal on the table for those football clubs concerned was whether to include Premier League "B" teams as part of an expanded competition. The vote was yes.

That vote alone is concerning. Yes, I am a Manchester City supporter and have been all my life. I am in the lucky position of seeing us come back from the days of struggling in would now be League One all the way to seeing Sergio Agüero scoring that goal in 2012. However, I also do care about the whole football family. I've supported Non-League Day and been to see different non-league teams. I went to see Salford City in the FA Cup back in 2009 way before the "Class of 92" got involved. I've also really enjoyed seeing AFC Wimbledon come back from the dead and rise to their now League One position where they'll now play Milton Keynes Dons - the irony on that isn't lost.

For me, the league pyramid system and the fairness of that system is what gives all football fans a chance to live the dream, a chance to be able to really get behind the team come rain, shine, snow and what other weather gets thrown at you. A chance to get up the league if the team plays well. And most of all, a chance of a trophy for the lower two league divisions also allows for a chance to dream about playing at Wembley and winning some silverware. I'm sure if you ask any Doncaster Rovers fan what that was like when they won I am sure it'll still remain of one of their happy memories of the recent era, along with that epic last minute goal following a penalty miss by the opposition at Brentford to be promoted, and as champions at that.

Whilst no sponsorship remains, the Football League went about the whole issue of including Premier League B Teams the wrong way. They didn't take into account the considerable opposition of the fans - not just from those clubs but from Premier League fans like me who want transparency, fairness, and a protection of the pyramid system, and a more level playing field for all. They also appear to have amended their own AGM agenda rules so that instead of a 90% majority vote, that percentage was lower to get it approved. Shocking stuff. Whether that be the pressure of the Premier League or the possible selfish attitude of some boards of the lower league teams, it beggars belief.

It is perhaps noteworthy to praise those clubs who clearly stood for what they believe in and voted against the proposal made last week. I'm sure if you are a fan of the likes of AFC Wimbledon, Accrington Stanley, Bristol Rovers, Fleetwood Town, Gillingham, Hartlepool United, Luton Town, Morecambe, Port Vale or Portsmouth those boards did the right thing and saw the fallacy of the proposal for what it was. It also shows that particularly in some of those cases where the fans are an integral part of the club that they listened to those fans and acted in the interests of them too.

What the revamped EFL Trophy will also do is actually add more fixtures than the previous format, not less. So the whole point of supposedly reducing fixture congestion is a fallacy, as long as it suits the Premier League teams involved to get their B sides in a competitive game. Also, here's a thing. It's called the EFL Trophy, right? And so shouldn't such a named trophy only involve teams who actually play in the English Football League (EFL) in those lower divisions? You'd think so.

And it's not as if those in youth academies in Premier League teams don't get the chance to play competitive football either. Those teams who qualify for the Champions League have their under 19 academy sides playing in the UEFA Youth League the same week as those fixtures. There's still the reserve team leagues that happen during the course of the season, rebranded now as the Under 21 and Under 18 Leagues 1 and 2 for those younger players. And of course let's not forget the FA Youth Cup either, and winners of that have gone to produce great players too, without the need for them to appear in other tournaments.

The greed of some Premier League clubs is one thing, but the meek surrender to those clubs by those in League One and League Two, especially those that backed the proposal, is just not on. If you're a fan of those clubs I am sure you are despairing at your clubs' board for not taking your views as the fans into consideration. I would also imagine that this whole "it's just for one season" thing doesn't wash either. For me, once it's been introduced and let in this way, it's a very hard thing to pull back and one certainly that will be noticeable to see what happens during the course of the season.

So, like many of you, I am saying No To B-Teams and will be backing those fans who will be serving the B-Team Boycott and staying away from those games. The integrity of the whole football pyramid structure and the fairness that brings needs to be kept that way, away from the interfering Premier League chairman who don't see the bigger picture, and the lack of action from the Football Association also needs to be brought into question at the same time - it's almost as if they have supported this through the back door without the need to say anything.

Thought 4.40: 24 March 2016: The Paywall of Death of F1 in the UK

It was announced earlier today that a new television deal had been struck for Formula 1 coverage in the UK, which meant that the broadcaster Sky would have exclusive rights to coverage from the 2019 season onward, ending the existing agreement of free to air broadcasters showing half the races live and the other half with extended highlights. Effectively, this means that to watch Formula 1 from then, it's pretty much behind a pay wall which means subscribing to Sky and paying a fair amount if you want to continue watching the sport. It also unsurprisingly appears to be money driven from those who run the sport, with a view to following similar deals in Spain and France where it is paid subscription viewers only.

Whilst it clearly is an endorsement of Sky's coverage of F1 since its deal several years ago, it is also a slap in the face for those who cannot afford the expensive fees of Sky and only have the option to have free to air coverage. The viewing figures alone should tell its own story: most of the live races shown on the BBC last year got many more times the figure than Sky did, and even the first race highlights on Channel 4 this season got very good figures all round. In the days before Sky, ITV and BBC's viewing figures were really good and it's noticeable since the lamentable lack of all races on free to air how even those figures have dropped a bit too.

Why do viewing figures matter? Well, it's simply this. The more viewers, the more chance there is of someone being inspired by watching their heroes and wanting to take up the sport themselves, therefore breeding the next batch of racing drivers. David Coulthard used to watch F1 on the BBC with Murray Walker and James Hunt's commentary, and that inspired him to be a top driver himself before becoming an accomplished presenter, pundit and co-commentator who is highly respected up and down the F1 paddock. Would he have necessarily followed that dream if he was told he could only watch the F1 if his family paid an expensive subscription? Possibly, but also possibly not.

Look at other sports shown on free to air and how it inspires, but also raises the profile of said sports. Would we have cared so much about Andy Murray inspiring others had we not been able to see him try and then succeed in winning Wimbledon, then inspiring a team around him to win the Davis Cup and be champions of the world for the first time since whenever? And even recently with the coverage of the Women's football World Cup, look how many girls now want to play football and look up to the current England players to be their new heroines.

There's also the issue of how it shuts out the fans and drives them away too - if you can't watch a sport anymore, will you still have the same level of passion and interest in it? Absolutely not. I'm sure that even with the half and half arrangement currently, that interest has waned a little - not necessarily because Mercedes have dominated a little and Red Bull before that, but it becomes harder to follow a sport when it's not shown live to the masses and generate that excitement, hype and buzz.

There are also several parties responsible for this. As much as the BBC in the 1980s and early 1990s generated mass interest for Formula 1 (although a fair chunk of that is also down to Murray Walker alone it has to be said), the BBC are also responsible for reneging on their full coverage deal and having to come to the arrangement of only showing half the races live, allowing Sky a considerable foothold during negotiations in mid-2011. It's not felt the same since then, and ironically, had the BBC done the decent thing and allowed Channel 4 to take over terrestrial rights at that point, we may not be in the mess we're in now.

Ultimately though it's the short sighted greed of Bernie Ecclestone, CVC and the other commercial rights holders to Formula 1 who should be more than culpable. If Formula 1 is to carry on its popularity, surely reaching more people with television coverage and bringing it home into the living rooms of the masses is a sensible thing to do, instead of only reinforcing the view that F1 is affordable only for the more well off and re-emphasising that whole image? The mind boggles.

Intriguingly, part of the Sky deal claims that the British Grand Prix will remain and live and "free to air" in 2019. It's like handing out a consolation prize of a coffee cream after all the other good chocolates have been taken from the box and although Sky have the likes of Pick TV in Freeview where they could facilitate this, the fact it won't be on a major Freeview channel means a lot of people won't find it, similar to the shambles that is the free to air BT Showcase channel. Granted I know where it is, but it doesn't always tell you in advance what is available either... Nonetheless though, such a concession is nothing more than a token gesture and in my view an insult to the fans as well.

Something has to change or be done. Maybe the Grand Prix Drivers Association, themselves currently fed up with the way that the sport is being run, could have some say and influence in being able to get the sport better covered and on free to air television. Unless there's a major turnaround though, Formula 1 in the UK will be behind a paywall of death from 2019, and that could effectively kill off any interest of the sport apart from the well off diehard.

Thought 4.39: 11 January 2016: The Starman Is Now Waiting In The Sky

Like many a music fan around the world today, the news of David Bowie's untimely death from cancer, just a mere three days after his new album "Blackstar" which was released on his 69th birthday, really has shellshocked me somewhat. It's hard to describe into words the depth of feeling not just from me, or my good friend who was a huge fan and grew up with his music (and his all time favourite artist as well) or my father who had introduced me into many of Bowie's classic albums of the 1970s as I was growing up as a small boy and looking for cultural and creative influences in music.

But it is the music I need to start with first. Always innovative, always wanting to reinvent himself, from the legendary androgynous Ziggy Stardust era, to the dark brooding Berlin Trilogy of albums, to the smooth slick 1980s era, and on to moving into territories such as Industrial (see "1: Outside" and "Earthling") and then to more avant-garde with his recent releases, everything was a great sense of adventure, trying something different, being out there, and surprising and amazing fans alike - perhaps none more so than his 2013 comeback single "Where Are We Now?" which deservedly won praise as well as a surprise.

The music and the fashion went together hand in hand - and it was no surprise to see that so many of the outfits he wore on stage were in themselves collectable items similar to those worn by film stars. The look was all his own creation, designed to be creative, challenge the supposed conformity of the norm, and to show that you were able to set your own agendas. It was little surprise to me that the exhibition of fashion and memorablia at the V&A, David Bowie Is, proved to be so popular. I went on my birthday and it was spellbinfdingly good, showing the real sights as well as the sounds in a marriage made in fashion heaven.

He was also an actor too, starring in the science fiction film The Man Who Fell To Earth, but perhaps for most of us as teenagers in the 1980s, it was perhaps in the fantasy film Labyrinth that a lot of us do remember him - as the imposing Jareth the Goblin King. The fact he had songs on the soundtrack as well to add to the drama showed the complete package - the flamboyancy of the costume, the dark mood of the actor and the musicality of the songs to fit the film. A real moment in many people's childhood and teenage years that was a special one to adore.

I think for me though it's those orange vinyl RCA records of the 1970s, a fair number of which I own, were the ones that somehow typified the era of David Bowie at the height that most people may choose to remember him. From the full length make up and costume of the inside gatefold of the Aladdin Sane cover, to the long dress and chaise longue look of The Man Who Sold The World, along with the Space Oddity re-release and iconic red hair on both sides of the cover, and then to the more darker mood of Station to Station. Playing some of those just evokes so many memories of the music and the legendary Top of the Pops appearances that were recently salvaged, showing the musicality of the live performance.

It's still difficult to put into words just what an influence that he had not only on the likes of my friend and myself, but many people around the world who enjoyed the music he wrote, stayed with him throughout his reinvention and beyond. The songs on his last album lyrically may have been a hint to him saying goodbye in his own artistic epitaph, but dealt with in such a mature way and crucially in his own way. He kept the private things private and it was only at his death that we had all found out how the cancer had taken him, but handled with privacy and dignity.

The starman is indeed now waiting in the sky, and we'd still all like to come and meet him. Everyone on Earth says Hi. And most of all, the legacy that he has left behind will live on, in the songs, the culture, the two classic BBC TV series with titles after songs (Life on Mars and Ashes to Ashes) and how the British Olympic Team at the 2012 London Olympics came out to Bowie's "Heroes". And just like the songs, they seized their moments, and they could be heroes (although possibly longer than just one day) - but it seemed perfect that a London boy had a song at a London games.

We'll miss you David, but we won't forget you.

Thought 4.38: 06 November 2015: Everyone Go Public? Only When You Make It Better, TFGM

You can't help but fail to notice a current campaign around Manchester heralded by Transport for Greater Manchester (herinafter referred to as TFGM) for "Go Public", an attempt to encourage people of the city to take public transport, particularly to the city centre, instead of driving. As a public transport user myself, I do get it and whilst I can see, ovbiously, that there's a potentially good idea behind all this, unfortunately there's plenty of reasons why TFGM's timing couldn't have been much worse than it is now.

The first main reason is that public transport in Manchester, as good as it is in some parts, is also not so good in others. The tram system Metrolink is notorious amongst Mancunians for the slightest incident meaning a major breakdown in services, delays and generally not running reliably. In fact some of the on-street junctions, notably for the Manchester Airport line, are so badly designed that it's often the case that traffic crossing here gets stuck and therefore grinds things to a halt. Even now with every tram being new and more modern, they have less seats and therefore less comfort. And at peak time, not enough trams to run doubles, never mind the lack of capcity on platforms to expand beyond that.

Then there's the bus lanes (or should I say, lack of). A fair number of roads out of Manchester aren't really wide enough to be able to necessarily have a bus lane and a car lane in each direction, so inevitably this means that the bus you're on is stuck behind cars. In fact on some roads out of the city, the council have actually narrowed the roads too for local parking for shops, but this means one lane in each direction, no bus lane, and again stuck in traffic. Not a good result really.

One other thing which still hasn't happened, and which has been a shambles throughout, is the lack of an Oyster-like smart card for effective pay as you go travel across the whole transport network. Whenever I am in London, Oyster is a doddle, and it actually works really well. Only now have they extended it to contactless debit cards (handy for visitors of course) but even then the last few times I've been, the majority use and trust Oyster really well. TFGM were supposed to introduce "Get Me There" but it's not got there. In fact the whole infrastructure contract fulfilment (or lack of) was a real waste of taxpayers' money and lessons need to be urgently learned from this.

Even with the supposed future implementation of Get Me There, there are numerous reasons for it being so flawed. Rather than for example have one flat bus fare, you would press the card against the machine, then tell the driver the destination and they debit the card. In rush hour, you can only imagine how slow that's actually going to make the journey at each stop, never mind in between. Even if the system went to be contactless cards only, there's still that hurdle which really needs to be crossed. Where for example is the incentive in using said card for it being at a discount from the cash fare, which is what converted people to Oyster for example, or indeed a similar zone based discount for Metrolink and trains?

Finally, the completely botched idea of a Manchester congestion charge, which was going to include the whole area inside the M60. That for me was such a wrong move, and why no one actually wanted to see it happen - it was too restrictive. As I've mentioned before, there is a city centre ring road bordered by the likes of Mancunian Way, Great Ancoats Street, Trinity Way etc which would have made for a perfect congestion border into the city itself - anthing beyond that would then be chargeable - and may even have had much less opposition overall. The opportunity was massively missed and it would be pointless to even attempt to revisit it now.

So what needs to happen to make it better and for TFGM's campaign to be taken seriously? Well, for a start, once the roads have been dug up and the Metrolink second city crossing is open, more needs to be done to enable cross-city journeys to work effectively. There are already a few buses doing this now (such as when First bought out Finglands and extended their 42 to North Manchester General Hospital and some 41s to Eccles, along with Stagecoach's 50 to Salford Quays) but there needs to be more for that to happen. Other cities have plenty of cross-city services.

There also needs to be a review of all the major arterial routes out of the city centre, and attempt as much as possible to incentivise it with bus lanes and fines for drivers in cars who use them being rigidly served. Park and ride sites, such as one recently opened in Hazel Grove, will only really work if the transport options from there actually aren't being stuck in the same traffic as cars are or "express" buses, such as the Stagecoach X92 from there, which don't stop at every stop.

One other concern is that one major arterial route, Oxford Road, is going to be buses and cycles only for around a mile of it along with Dutch style cycle lanes - which although sounds fine, means that some traffic who would have used that road are going to go on other already congested roads, and buses along those roads are then going to suffer as a result. Unless major improvements are made on those other routes first (and what has been put in place simply isn't good enough to be honest) that might also add to the problems currently.

The fact that what should be around a 15-20 minute bus journey took nearly 50 minutes the other night shows to me that being stuck in queues of cars on a bus isn't really what public transport should be about. Some fresh thinking is needed and TFGM collectively need to take responsibilities for failing to serve a wonderful city that Manchester is with a world class transport system that meets the needs of the many, not just the few. Would regulation a la London be a good first step? Quite possibly.

Thought 4.37: 05 February 2014: Why I'm Saying No To Hull Tigers

As I am a Manchester City supporter, you may be wondering just why I'm voicing my support for another team, namely Hull City AFC, at this time of year and indeed throughout a fair portion of this season. Well, the answer is simple: a victory for their fans in the fight to have their club renamed is not only a victory for common sense and for the good of football, but also a victory for those who wish to preserve tradition, history and heritage of any football club and avoid the American style franchising of any team. Allow me, if you will, to explain just why this fight is so important.

In the Summer of 2013 the Hull City AFC owner. Dr. Assem Allam, expressed his wish to change the club's name to Hull Tigers, purely as an exercise to pander to supposed international marketability of the club, and indeed because in his words, the name City was common. Any club who has City in its name I am sure would have been offended by that comment: it is after all representative of the city in which the club is based, and a proud sign that the city has a football team more than worthy of its name. The AFC bit is also important in Hull's case too: the city of Hull already had two rugby league teams, Hull FC and Hull Kingston Rovers, and association football as was known back then was struggling to make an impact. So when it did, the AFC (association football club) helped to distinguish, and it still does, between them and the rugby league sides.

The fans, quite clearly, wished to preserve their history and heritage and soon it became apparent that a considerably high number of their fan base felt the same, hence their campaign was born. Dr Allam's response, rather than respect the views of the fans and engage in dialogue with them, was to come out with irresponsible comments, claiming the fans (who chant "City Till I Die" in the stands), could, in his view, take the song literally and die whenever they wanted. This in my view wasn't the way to try and repair the relationship with supporters, opening dialogue would have been.

Their fans do appreciate the investment that Dr. Allam has put in to the club, meaning that it is competing in the Premier League with a fair chance of staying in the division and pushing on towards any future success that they may have. However, with that should also come a respect for the heritage and tradition, meaning that instead of trying to reinvent the club's identity and history, instead add to it and make that an exciting chapter for the club and its fans.

Dr Allam had alarmingly said that if he was the owner of Manchester City, he'd have changed my club's name to Manchester Hunter, which alone rankles with me. I'm just pleased and relieved that our current owners seem to have understood the history, heritage and passion within our club and meant that the last few years have written a new chapter in our own history, whilst respecting those who made their own history at the club - it's notable how much more welcome former players and managers have been made in the last few years for example.

The Football Association do need to realise that the mistake that they made allowing the ill-fated move of Wimbledon to Milton Keynes (and eventual rebranding of the club as Milton Keynes Dons) was a disaster for football, and suitable redress would be for such an incident never to happen again, so that the American style of franchising should not and must not be allowed to happen. If it did, there may be other owners of football clubs who would see the way forward for them to have American football style names and indeed franchises, moving the club at will to where they foresee the money is.

No one wants that to happen in football. The clubs are an integral part of their community, part of the town or city's history where they are based, and very much a sense of belonging exists between the club and the supporters, whether it be Aston Villa or Wycombe Wanderers. That sense can only exist if the club embrace the fans and vice versa, and any such name change or franchising of any club would at best disenchant the fans or indeed force them to seek their support elsewhere for another team, and that would never do whatsoever. Therefore, I'm fully backing the No To Hull Tigers campaign, as should every football fan who doesn't want to see the advent of franchising and other such pointless marketing exercises happen to their game of football.

Thought 4.36: 29 July 2011: The Wrong Formula, BBC!

As you may have heard in today's news, the BBC have re-negotiated their contract for Formula 1 rights for the UK - and it does not make very happy reading whatsoever. In a joint move with Sky Sports, the new deal now means that Sky Sports will get all the F1 races live and that the BBC will get to show half of the year's races including the British Grand Prix and Monaco, and with highlights of every race in the evening afterwards. On paper, that deal will have appeared to have saved the BBC a considerable amount of money and meant that they could at least show some of the races from next year onwards.

But wait! There's much more to it than that and in a lot of fans' views, the BBC have clearly been sold the wrong formula. The current BBC contract when they started re-broadcasting F1 in 2009 after twelve years on ITV was that it was a five year deal for all races to be covered by them on free-to-air television, ie: to the end of the 2013 season. As it was the BBC could have waited it out a fair bit longer, as the Concorde Agreement which controls things such as who does what in the sport and how it's commercially marketed was up for renewal from next year onwards, and this could have meant a further binding agreement to ensure that free to air was at a fair price given the current economic climate. Instead the BBC have literally cut and run which hasn't done anyone any favours.

Only showing half the races of a whole season is like telling half the story, especially considering last season's drama which went right to the final race and indeed this season so far, even with Sebastian Vettel leading by a fair distance has had plenty of stories to tell which may have been missed if it was one of the races not covered by this new agreement. So many fans stayed with the Canadian Grand Prix with large viewing figures despite the long wait for the rain to stop and when they did they were rewarded with a fabulous race with Jenson Button's epic win, but you could have missed all that if it was one of the races not shown on terrestrial television.

In an age where there's an increasing number of fans being turned on to the sport and who admire the skill and bravery of the drivers behind the wheel, as well as the award winning coverage that the BBC had to get behind the scenes, speak to the senior team bosses (just last week we had Martin Whitmarsh, Christian Horner and Stefano Domenicali for example) and manage to get plenty of information together to bring the fans closer to the sport and all its drama, the timing of the announcement is truly awful, especially consdering the current scandals involving one of Sky's related companies, News International. You'd think that right now the BBC would want to keep away from such a deal, or perhaps it was an opportunity to get a deal done on the cheap whilst stock was low.

Whichever way you look at it, it's a very sad day for Formula 1. The coverage of all the races over the years has only helped to increase the popularity of the sport and it's thanks to the likes of Murray Walker with the late great James Hunt and then Martin Brundle, James Allen etc that it's become a household sport to watch, particularly in the UK. Most of the teams are also based here in the UK too and I'm sure plenty of them are not best pleased that their hard work won't be getting the coverage it would have had previously.

And what part has Bernie Ecclestone, the Formula 1 rights holder had in this? Only a couple of months ago he said that selling any rights to a non-terrestrial broadcaster would be nothing but commercial suicide. He must have seen what happened when Sky had a hand in covering the ill-fated A1GP series. No one took interest in a series that was on during the F1 close season (when you'd think it would have had most coverage) because no one would watch it on a pay to view channel. And yet now he's turned his back on this and brokered this deal in some way. Not good enough.

I can only hope that the powers that be that form FOTA (the Formula One Teams Association) flex their muscles and express their severe distaste at this deal and do what they can to have it stopped. I'm sure from McLaren's point of view, seeing two British drivers not get their coverage they'd deserve would be a bad move for them, and similarly for Red Bull, particularly as Sebastian Vettel and Mark Webber have a good fan base here. But not just that - for them it's about the team owners getting as much coverage of the sport so that it's talked about, people want to come to races and the money keeps flowing in the sport. So to the likes of Martin Whitmarsh, Christian Horner, Stefano Domenicali, Ross Brawn et al, do what you can.

Thankfully it also seems like some of the BBC team are disgusted with the deal, particularly Martin Brundle. He's really taken the lead commentator role with gusto and really shown his knowledge to be second to none and gets you closer to the action. With him not under any contractual obligations, he could very well walk away from the BBC if he's only going to half the races live and doing the other half from a TV studio somewhere (admittedly Murray Walker used to do that in the early days of BBC coverage but you'd like to think things have moved on since) or even move to Sky. Either way, not pretty to be honest. It's a scandalous decision and the BBC's head of F1 coverage and director of sports coverage should do the decent thing and resign.

Thought 4.35: 27 June 2010: The Wake Up Call English Football Needs

It's been a couple of hours since England were humiliated by Germany in the 2010 World Cup second round stage game, and there are many questions that have to be answered. I just couldn't believe how poor the England team performed, and how gutless and spineless a lot of them seemed to be when they needed to show their skill, pride and passion at the highest level. I could effortlessly rant on about that but it was clear to me that the last few England games were a precursor to this sort of performance happening, and on the biggest stage at that.

It was clear to me that several of the England players believe that their ego and their club far outweighs any sort of pride that should automatically be there when playing for your country. There's too many egos, too many overpaid salaries and a hype and belief that they feel that they are world class players. Let's be perfectly honest about this: at least eight or nine of the England team out there today should in my view hang their head in shame and if they believe that the performance was any good, then they are absolutely kidding themselves.

It's almost a disease of epidemic proportions that there's no sense of reality, pride and passion within the team. Compared to Ghana's win against the USA, the Ghanains wanted to battle, wanted to get stuck in and wanted to wear the shirt with pride, and their efforts and skill were in my view rightly rewarded. Playing against Germany should mean that hardly any incentive is necessary to get out there and show some pride in the shirt. Yet some of them don't even seem it fit to sing the national anthem. I don't care if they have views on the monarchy and don't believe in them. It's the national anthem. You sing it with your heart. Yes, Wayne Rooney, that especially means you.

Compare the squad of overhyped talent to the 1990 squad and you'll see the difference: back in 1990 they weren't all world class players (apart from Gary Lineker and Paul Gascoigne at his prime), but what they had instilled was pride, passion, never say die attitude. Lineker's scoring record at World Cup finals is second to none. How many has Rooney scored? Exactly. Lineker even had a bandage on his arm when he got his hat trick against Poland in 1986, and he played through the pain barrier. Couldn't see many of today's squad doing that.

What really does upset me is that for many of them, it's okay to do it at club level and get the whacking great salaries, but all that the money does is demean what should be a higlight in anyone's career: playing at the World Cup. For England. Too many players felt that they could walk the games in the group and were given a rude awakening when players for the likes of Algeria showed that with real pride and passion, they could perform. And yet it was abject. The England players were then complaining and John Terry's outburst was ill-conceived and egotistic, and all it showed was that he thought that he was better than anyone. Not on today's performance he wasn't, he showed exactly why he shouldn't have just had the captaincy dropped from him after his cheating affairs of the heart.

It also showed that they didn't adhere well to discipline that the manager tried to instil into the players, and although many will question the tactics and man management of Fabio Capello, is sacking him the answer? Well, it may be, but it may also not be. If the players don't like a strict regime and don't understand what it means to play for England, then they shouldn't make themselves available for selection and shouldn't also wear the shirt either. Give it to someone who would dearly love to pull it on and give their all for their country. Someone who would love to score and show, just as Lineker always did, how much it means for you to play for your country. Even David Beckham understood what it meant.

Now is the perfect time, post World-Cup, to actually look at the national team and make fundamental changes. Germany have been doing so, and a fair number of their Euro 2009 winning Under-21 squad are in the national team, and it was most of them who outplayed England today. Rather than use the same players every time, it's now a time for development and change, and give some of them a go who are chomping at the bit to represent their country, and let's get behind them. I would seriously take a long hard look at the players who underperformed today and question whether they should play for England ever again. And no, it's not a knee-jerk reaction. Today is the wake up call that England as a national side need. We now need to start again, as Germany did, and look at ourselves long and hard and see how it goes from there.

One thing's for sure: if the likes of Wayne Rooney, John Terry and Frank Lampard can't be bothered to turn up every game and give their all, they should be dropped from the England team until they can prove that it actually means something to them to play for the national side and be able to do it on a consistent basis. Give the caps to the players who are hungry. Who want to win. And above all else have it instilled into them what it means to play for the national team. If it gives one of those overpaid primadonnas a harsh lesson in the realities of life and football then so be it. Look at what happened when Beckham was dropped, he fought his way back to the squad and showed he still had it, and that's exactly what might be needed right now.

All we've done for some time is paper over the cracks and now there lies a gaping chasm. We were tipped, maybe over realistically, to reach the semi finals. The truth of the matter is that until the players realise that you have to perform like a team instead of their own inflated ego, then in my view, they're not fit to wear the shirt, and we as England supporters (especially those who went out to South Africa) should make their feelings known at the highest level.

Thought 4.34: 16 December 2009: Why We Must Rage Against The X-Factor

As some of you may have seen in the UK at the moment, there is a concerted campaign to try and prevent the X-Factor's winning single (namely Joe McElderry's "The Climb") from gaining the Christmas Number One single. In a day and age where downloads count for a fair chunk of the singles market, and that no one knows who number one usually is because of the demise of shows like Top of the Pops on the TV, there's still some prestige about being Number One at Christmas, something only Simon Cowell and the mass media know too well, which is why for the last few years, it's always been their winner's single that's hit the top spot.

Last year, it was the Jeff Buckley version of "Hallelujah" which almost won out against Alexandra Burke's overproduced, sickly sweet make me want to throw up version due to an Internet campaign. The same campaigners are at work this time, only now they've chosen Rage Against The Machine's legendary anthem from 1992 "Killing in the Name" as their weapon of choice. Part of their reasoning is that as a bona fide rock classic of the modern era, those that like their rock and metal music will buy it, but also those that appreciate real meanings of songs will buy it too.

Let's compare notes: "The Climb" was originally a song by Miley Cyrus and as such performed in the Hannah Montana series of movies. As such that already makes it sickly sweet enough, and to take on a lame song in the first place in an even more lame way that the X-Factor has really does take the mickey - it's not even an original composition as some of them at least were in previous years. Compare that to "Killing in the Name", an anti-racist anthem that clearly explains some of the ills of the society that they had to put up with, and now you're under control, you'll do what you're told - hence the dose of anarchy and anger at the end with the immortal sixteen lines of "**** you, I won't do what you tell me" which grow more passionate and more laden with anger with each delivery.

There's no contest really. I remember listening to RATM's album in 1992, and let's be honest, it was one of the most important records of the 1990s. Its influence is still being felt today, and they put their money where their mouths are, battling against injustice and supporting those who seek it, as well as having one of the best-produced albums too - in fact some hi fi magazines still use the likes of "Take The Power Back" from that album as good system tests to make sure your kit is all working. It's also everything that X-Factor isn't, it's about real music played by real musicians with real instruments - and an innovative guitar player in Tom Morello as well too.

Simon Cowell has called the campaign "cynical" and that it'll hurt the X-Factor artist. Oh really? Well, maybe there's enough people out there who are sick of being force fed the trite that is the reality TV show and want to make their own minds up, for a change. Maybe people just would like some real music in the charts to counteract the endless tosh that comes out of the production studios of Syco Music. And maybe, just maybe, it's a case that the public themselves in enough numbers will realise that the over saturation of the UK market by tosh such as X-Factor is actually killing the UK music industry in the first place.

If you're an up and coming artist, and you want to get noticed, what chance do you have against the mass exposure that X-Factor gives you by being on the telly for almost four months? I'll tell you - none. In an age where it seems to be instant success or else you get dropped, the industry needs to wake up that we, the public, actually want to listen to proper music, where it's played properly and that when you go to see them live, it's no fancy stage trickery, it's just them doing what they do best, and playing to an audience who'll appreciate back. If only that could happen.

Well, let's make it happen people. Check the Rage Against The X-Factor website, its Facebook page, and use the download links to download the song and make it make a difference. Even if it doesn't make number one, the fact that there's so many people who want to really nark off the whole X-Factor thing, and what it represents, says a lot about the real music fans in this country. And the official campaign Facebook page is down right now - conspiracy by the powers that be or is Cowell himself worried that the campaign might actually succeed? Well that's just another reason to go download it. Now. And make a difference.

Thought 4.33: 02 March 2009: See The Person, Not The Disability

In the last few days, there has been considerable furore and fuss in the media, and it's all down to a presenter of BBC children's television channel CBeebies. Parents are up and down in wrath and rage in the country saying that the presenter will scare their children, and that they are boycotting the channel in protest. Now, all that would make you think that the BBC has employed someone with a track record of something a bit less savoury, but it's nothing of the sort. Oh no. They're kicking up a fuss because the presenter happens to be slightly different from everyone else.

The presenter, Cerrie Burnell, was born with one hand. Her other arm only goes so far - and that's it. She was born that way. She's managed to live her life to the full, graduating with an acting degree, appearing in many BBC Drama series along the way, before being one of the successful applicants to be one of the new presenters of CBeebies. I'm sure that for most women, achieving all that would be a goal to be proud of, and certainly it is the case here. She got the job on merit, because she's actually good with children (she works in a school with them and is a parent herself, as is her co-presenter Alex).

So why the parents need to feel ashamed or embarrassed, claiming that "Cerrie is scaring my children" is something that I just can't grasp, to be honest. Most children I am sure would just see her as her, and if she's able to get the children to play, sing and be happy, then it's job done. Or so you'd think. The kind of language and vitriol spouted forth on several sections of the Internet has shown it to be a witch hunt of modern day proportions, and from parents, whom quite frankly, should know better. So what if she's different? Aren't everyone individual in their own way? And if the children like her, and see her as a friendly, amiable person on the telly who they can see having fun and making them happy, then that's that really.

It's almost as if parents want to brush disability under the carpet and not expose their children to it. Why? Surely actually treating that person as just another person and allowing them to let their natural talent shine should be the way forward? If the child asks questions, then answer them honestly and truthfully and explain what happened, and say "but that hasn't stopped her from getting where she is today, and nor should it stop anyone" and be proud that Cerrie's not only overcome prejudice over the years, but been honest and open about herself and not hid herself from the cameras or the children.

I completely agree with an article written in the Guardian a few days ago, and I can add to that. What about the disabled children out there watching CBeebies? If they see someone make it into the world of television, that can only serve as an inspiration even more so, and that if the child then says "I want to be on telly like Cerrie!" then that might help break down more barriers. One of the recent campaigns about disability was to see the person, not their disability, and I couldn't agree more with that sentiment. I see Cerrie as she is, a bright, bubbly presnter with a big smile and a big heart, and who with Alex is going to be a great team for the little children out there. The more parents who come out and speak in support of Cerrie give me hope that we have moved on from the Dark Ages of how we treat disability.

Thought 4.32: 26 August 2008: One Hundred Years' Best Of Performance

I can't help but feel mighty proud to be British today. I've been looking back at the last two weeks of competition in the Olympic Games, and to say that any goals were surpassed was a bit of an understatement. No one expected the British to do so well, as the often misused phrase of "Team GB" was overdone by the BBC presenters, but it was almost as if every day brought about news of another medal and indeed another performance worthy of note. In an era when often some sports are all about money rather than actual glory, I don't know about anyone else but for me to see sportsmen and women compete and actually want to win for the pride of their country above all else was such a refreshing change to see.

Take, for example, the cycling team. They've set the standards for other British sports to follow now, surely? By basing all the cyclists at the world class facility that is the Velodrome in Manchester, it means that they all train and work together as a team and push each other on to new goals and even better performances and times, and that spirit and cameraderie between the team was plain to see. And did it pay dividends? Oh yes, on the track the cyclists were immense, easily winning the most gold medals of any nations and Chris Hoy landing three to boot, with heroic performances wherever you went. Indeed seeing two Brits against each other in the sprint finals was just poetry and showed just what can be achieved. If Chris doesn't get BBC Sports Personality of the Year, I'd like an inquest why.

Mind you, he'll have stiff competition. Rebecca Adlington's two golds in the pool were wonderful, she was expected to do well in the 800 metre freestyle, but no one expected her late surge in the 400 metres to snatch gold virtually in the last metre and with her team mate Jo Jackson in Bronze, that was a good start. And then she didn't just win the 800. Oh no. She only went and smashed the oldest swimming world record in the book and indeed one set when she was born, if that gives you any idea of the level of achievement. Her cheery personality with proper local accent (she's from Mansfield by the way) made for such enjoyable viewing, and her and Jo hugging BBC's Suzanne Dando is one of those moments to remember.

And staying with water, what of Ben Ainslie? Three golds in the last three games is a level of consistency only matched by Sir Steve Redgrave and Sir Matthew Pinsent really. Sailing might not be a majority sport, but the level of dedication with most of their team based close by to each other also paid dividends, and I'm sure that they'll all be training at Portland in Dorset between now and 2012 to make sure that they are ready for all conditions that will be thrown at them there. Not just Ben though: the three Yngling girls (Sarah Ayton, Pippa Wilson and Sarah Webb) did the business, as did Paul Goodison in the Laser and Iain Percy and Andrew Simpson in the Star. The togetherness there showed in their end of event party, a real sense of family.

And maybe that's what track and field athletics needs to take from the sailing and cycling - the will to be as a team and indeed perform that way. Would have certainly stopped the baton dropping antics and indeed underperformance from several athletes tipped for medals. Christine Ohorougu aside, who did superbly, as did Germaine Mason in the high jump, what else did we really have to cheer about in the track and field? We despartately need performances here - it's the most high profile of all the Olympic sports on offer and one we need to really push on in.

But let's not dwell on that too much - that's for the future. What was great to see was lots of young talent giving their all and being rewarded, Louis Smith's bronze in the pommel horse being a case in point. If we can keep these sort of talents nurtured and fit for 2012, then we will have a chance of doing just as well at home. And if performing in front of a home crowd to your best isn't enough incentive, I don't know what is. It's good to see that the British idea of concentrating on sports that we're good at and targeting medals there I'm sure is part one of making sure we do well in four years' time. The second part is now to push on and make sure of more glory.

To put things into perspective, the performance at the Olympics was the best Britain have done for one hundred years, and back in 1908, the nation won medals by default in some sports because it was the only nation competing. In terms of numbers of competitors and competiton out there, this is by far the best we've done as a nation. The dedication, devotion and determination of those who've achieved should be an inspiration to those who want to take up sport and indeed be as revered as the heroes and heroines are now after their arrival home. It feels like something special did happen out there and I am sure that Nicole Cooke's early gold in the road cycling would have served as perfect fodder for inspiration and got everyone feeling that spirit together.

Suffice to say that it's not often you can say that Britain has done so well, but it's something to be proud of. And if those who've performed can do so again, then there's a chance that the nation might have something to celebrate come 2012. Just ask the English athletes in Manchester what it meant at the Commonwealth Games to be in front of the home crowd, and they'll tell you exactly how it felt, and having that sort of buzz is just what we need. Bring it on, and let's bring home the medals!

Thought 4.31: 01 July 2008: The CD Single Is Dead, Long Live Seven Inches

Just a musing really but I couldn't help but notice that even some of the diehard record shops in the centre of Manchester are deeming it more and more fit to declare the single officially dead. Well, okay, not quite so true in terms of the seven inches of vinyl, as you can still pretty much get those and if anything, the stock of the ubiquitous vinyl has increased in stock locally over the last year or two. However, it seems to me that the CD single seems to be getting more and more difficult to find, get hold of and purchase, and indeed play.

Inevitably downloads have played their part, and the one silver lining is that there are at least enough people out there paying for single downloads now to at least give the record industry some much needed impetus and the major players far too much cash. When you consider that the overheads for a download single are inevitably much lower than the CD single (no shipping or packaging for one thing) you'd think that the consumer would pay less, and indeed be able in some cases to get some of the B-sides as well, except you can't. Which then means that the real diehard fans lose out anyway as they'll inevitably buy the single for those B-sides.

It's surprisingly the CD single that's taken the most knocks though. Lots of bands and artists along with their record companies seem more content to use the maximum three formats for a single to make it up with two seven inch singles and a mere one CD, rather than the opposite trend many years ago. And indeed most CD singles are just two track affairs now than three or four tracks as they used to be - meaning value for money also inevitably drops somewhat. But it also makes you somewhat wonder that the vinyl singles are being bought mainly by indie kid diehards who are keeping the format much more alive - and with some aplomb.

In this crazy world we live in, the consumer is really not impressed with the CD single as a format anymore because it doesn't give as much value as it used to (dance singles had 4 or 5 mixes on the same CD, and many of my favourite artists would make the CD single a 4 track affair) and for the price of the difference between the single and B-side, it's much more convenient for them to just download the track that they actually do want. But I can't help feeling that some record stores have accelerated this death because the profit margin on that is much lower than a CD album - which is where the real money seems to be these days.

So, the CD single seems dead, but the seven inch single seems to be staying alive rather nicely. As someone who still adores the latter format just as much, it's good to see that some music traditions are at least alive and not all the world is going completely digital obsessed, it's rather reassuring in an analogue kind of way.