So the Rugby League World Cup is over and the trophy will be returning to Australia—its rightful place, many will suggest. Yesterday’s final at Old Trafford was probably not the spectacle that many of the neutrals would have been hoping for, but that’s partly because we were probably spoiled by the truly incredible semi-final between England and the Kiwis, but more relevantly, Australia were simply outstanding on the day.
Far more knowledgeable people than me will tell you that success in rugby league is built around defence. Well the Australians didn’t concede a single try after their opening group fixture against England—and I suppose it’s fair to allow a squad that hasn’t played competitively for a few weeks (and travelled halfway around the world) eighty minutes to acclimatise!
Such a statistic is remarkable and given the attacking flair the Kiwis possess, the fact that even they couldn’t breach the Australian defence tells you all you need to know about the fitness, skill, bravery and determination displayed by the seventeen men in Green and Gold.
Jonathan Thurston (pictured) was outstanding and would have been my man of the match, but it’s not unusual for someone wearing the 1, 6, 7 or 9 shirt to grab the headlines, and the Aussie pack not only laid the foundation for the playmakers to do their stuff, they also dominated the Kiwi forwards to the extent that their halves, hooker and the supremely gifted Sonny Bill Williams had very little influence. Perhaps the Kiwi’s bruising encounter with England was a factor, but in fairness, nothing should detract from the Australian performance. They were magnificent.
If there was a downside, it was the Old Trafford pitch—specifically the in-goal area. The stadium is so often dubbed the “Theatre of Dreams”—an expression I hate—but both Brett Morris and Manu Vatuvei were fortunate to escape serious injury when they colliding with the advertising hoardings that were situated right next to the ridiculously short in-goal area.
I know there was a massive crowd and a great atmosphere, but these are some of the finest athletes on the planet, playing one of the toughest sports. Yes they want to entertain, but they are also professionals trying to do a job and frankly it was an insult—and a potentially dangerous insult at that—to have rugby league’s highest profile game played in a sub-standard playing arena.
Overall though, I believe the competition has been a success. Australia has raised the bar very high indeed, and it’s now up to the likes of New Zealand and England/Great Britain to find a way of closing the gap. There were brilliant performances by some of the emerging nations: Italy, USA and, in particular Steve McCormack’s Scotland squad that did so wonderfully well to reach the quarter-finals.
Although the live television coverage was restricted to the England games (something with which I didn’t agree), the profile of the game will hopefully have been boosted by the sheer enthusiasm of those who commentated. Mark Chapman filled the Claire Balding role well—he comes across as a likeable bloke—and even though the likes of Brian Noble and Jonathan Davies aren’t perhaps the most polished behind a microphone, their knowledge and love of the game is hard to ignore. Jon Wilkin is always interesting to listen to, and I think big Eorl Crabtree may well have a career in the media after he hangs up his boots. His enthusiasm is infectious—and even if it wasn’t, you wouldn’t argue with him!
So there you have it, the World Cup is done and dusted. Congratulations to Australia—in fact, congratulations to every single player who represented their respective country. Saturday afternoons just won’t be the same…
It takes a special kind of bravery to face up to a cricket ball being propelled towards you in excess of ninety miles an hour. During my long, but consistently moderate club career, I probably didn’t come up against any bowler of quite that pace – although even with such a short reaction time, I reckon I would still have been nippy enough to scurry towards the square leg umpire.
But it takes far greater courage to admit to an invisible, yet potentially debilitating mental or stress-related condition - and that is exactly what England cricketer Jonathan Trott has done today.
Almost two years ago to the day, I suffered one of the worst moments of my life – with no prior warning and no obvious explanation. The events of that day, coupled with the tragic suicide of Wales football manager Gary Speed, gave me the strength to write about my own condition, illness, depression, call it what you will.
I didn’t post the article for sympathy – although I was incredibly grateful for the positive response - no, I wrote for myself, because I needed a release, but I also wanted to show others that they weren’t alone. The hardest thing to do is to accept something is wrong, and don’t be fooled into believing that just because you’re an international sportsman that you can’t be affected. Mental illness is unseen, unheard and makes no allowances for who or what you are.
Jonathan Trott’s situation is reminiscent of former England international cricketers Marcus Trescothick and Michael Yardy (and Marcus’ autobiography Coming Back to Me is an emotive, but compelling read). To hold up his hand and admit a problem means that the strain must have become unbearable. Jonathan may well have been suffering for quite some time, but the step he has taken is not only the biggest and most difficult, it’s also the first on the way to recovery.
I am trying desperately to steer away from the inane comments made by David Warner in relation to Trott’s performance in the first Ashes test, but I readily accept there will be a minority that will consider today’s news as confirmation of some perceived weakness. The reality couldn’t be further removed.
I can only hope that Jonathan and his family find a way to get through what will be very tough time. Whether or not you ever completely recover I honestly couldn’t say, but I know from personal experience that you can eventually find a way (or ways) to cope and things can, and often do, get better.
Jonathan, I salute your cricketing ability, but I have even greater respect for you as a man. I wish you well.
The fact that one programme can be broadcast simultaneously in ninety-four different countries tells you more than I ever could about the remarkable popularity of the series in question. Doctor Who celebrated its fiftieth birthday yesterday and fans right around the globe gathered in front of television sets and 3D cinema screens to watch the much-vaunted anniversary episode. But did it deliver?
Judging by the response from comments on social networking site and fans interviewed on BBC television and radio last night, the answer would appear to be an overwhelming “yes”, but in this little corner of north east England, one person is going to beg to differ - slightly.
The premise of this epic adventure was to unravel the oft-quoted and therefore accepted notion that the Doctor (through a newly-revealed War Doctor incarnation) had destroyed the Time Lords and the
Daleks to bring an end to the Time War – the notion ultimately being revealed as a myth that could be dispelled in little more than an hour.
Obviously, the effects were stunning and there were some superb dramatic performances from the main protagonists. The fact that you didn’t need a Master’s degree to understand the storyline was a bonus too, but it’s the storyline with which I have fundamental issues – more of that later.
The Day of the Doctor began perfectly with the Hartnell titles, a sign for the Totter’s Lane scrapyard and a scene in Coal Hill school (with one Ian Chesteron as Chairman of Governors!).
The plot developed quickly, but was still littered with some excellent comedy moments – Doctor no.11 proposing to what he thought was a Zygon in the guise of Queen Elizabeth I, then realising he was going to become King of England when a horse was revealed as the alien was classic David Tennant. Both he and Matt Smith worked very well together, with Tennant’s incarnation having to occasionally adopt the Peterwee role to balance Smith’s zany, but brilliant Troughtonesque character.
The three-hander with War Doctor John Hurt worked well too, with a good blend of levity (“timey-wimey references included) and more serious moments to reflect the gravity of the underlying theme. It was nice to see the return of Billie Piper as the hottest of all hot interfaces. A contrived part maybe, but this fine actress remains one of the main reasons behind the success of the new series.
I saw an interesting contrast between the Zygons being under the sheets that were supposedly concealing statues and the brilliant Cyberman cliff hanger in The Moonbase: “Did they search in here?” The Zygons’ appearance was neatly done, but if you want your reveals to be genuinely chilling, look no further than 1967 – in fact, apart from some impressive shape-shifting, I’m not entirely sure the Zygons really added greatly to the story as a whole.
The story progressed and by now you all know how it ended, certainly from a Gallifreyan point of view, but there was still time for a wonderful cameo from Tom Baker, as the gallery’s curator. Tom turns eighty in January, but his appearance certainly belies his age and his appearance was a lovely surprise.
All of which brings me back to the plot. What I am really struggling with is the fact that a thread that had been so evident over the past eight years could be so cynically altered. Yes I get the whole time thing, but for me this whole new version of events undermines so much of what has gone on before. Back in 2005, the episode simply entitled Dalek was much heralded, and pitted the final surviving Time Lord against the very last of Skaro’s finest. It was gripping stuff at the time but what is its relevance in light of what happened last night?
There will be those out there with far greater knowledge of the programme than I, but if I think the new twist is difficult to explain away, then I’m sure many other viewers will have felt the same. Without the Doctor and that sole Dalek, you’ve basically got a watchable piece of drama with Todd from Corrie in it – oh and Annalese from Holby.
What next, a new “Shower Doctor”- presumably played by Patrick Duffy – suddenly appearing to suggest that every single adventure from the past half a century had in fact been played out in a false parallel universe? I’m really sorry – and I’m probably going to get pilloried for this – but much as the episode had a lot to recommend it, there is an element of Moffat self-indulgence here that I simply don’t care for.
From BBC1 to BBC3 and the “live party” that had massive potential, but verged on the toe-curlingly embarrassing at times. It was incredible to see so many companions gathered together – someone really should write a book about trying to get a signed photo from all of them…
But Zöe Ball and some bloke called Rick Edwards contrived to make a real mess of proceedings. They started by calling the companions by their real names, Carole Ann Ford stating that the current show doesn’t “bear any resemblance at all to what we were doing – I enjoyed it [the anniversary episode] but I’m exhausted.” As the evening wore on, guests were lazily called by their character names, presumably down to lack of knowledge and/or research and if you thought they deserved better, these members of Doctor Who royalty were then herded over to the bar for some meaningless competition – during which poor Katy Manning was nearly squashed by a disrespectful Edwards (below).
For me the party was an opportunity missed, the anniversary episode had some great moments, but (for me) a flawed concept – so when I eventually look back on the fiftieth anniversary of Doctor Who, I will probably remember two things: the truly brilliant An Adventure in Time and Space, and the fact that nine lost Troughton episodes were found just in the nick of time.
All screen stills © BBC 2013
I purposely did not read anything in advance about last night’s BBC2 drama An Adventure in Time and Space, nor did I watch any trailers. I’ve deliberately avoided looking at any reviews as well, so what follows is essentially one person’s thoughts on ninety minutes of television without any preconceptions, or expectations - and hopefully the fact that those thoughts happen to be mine will not put you off!
As a standalone piece of work, I would think that this will be generally considered an eminently watchable drama, but for this particular Doctor Who devotee, I am struggling to remember a more compelling hour and a half’s entertainment in many a long year.
Perhaps it helped that I recognised most of the protagonists involved in the creation of what would become a television phenomenon, but maybe it didn’t matter all, as rounded characters were created seemingly effortlessly thanks to the quality of performers and script alike.
Much of the focus will understandably be on David Bradley’s portrayal of a very much “old before his time” William Hartnell. Writer Mark Gatiss successfully showed the various sides of Hartnell’s personality, from the irascible to almost playful: maybe Hartnell’s less endearing qualities were underplayed, but in any adaptation of real life events, it’s surely accepted that some allowances have to be made. That said, when the moments came for emotion to break through Hartnell’s tough exterior, Bradley’s performance was genuinely moving.
Some may disagree, but for me the acting honours would actually go to Jessica Raine, as the series’ producer Verity Lambert. Jessica is one of my favourite actresses (or do I have to say “actors” nowadays?), who seems to have a natural affinity with middle to latter half of the last century viz. Call the Midwife and the Doctor Who story Hide.
Her look, her clothes, her performance... all wonderful, allowing the audience a real insight into the Verity herself as well as the mood (and prejudices) of the time.
But the absolute highlights were the sets of the old studio (beginning with the brilliantly conceived scene involving a Tenth Planet Cyberman smoking a cigarette), the recreation of the original TARDIS set, and the re-enacted snippets from vintage episodes. Breathtaking television that I honestly believe the much-vaunted anniversary episode may struggle to match.
For those wanting to delve beneath the surface, I’m sure there will be some elements of morality to debate, or the high-profile demonstration of the oft-quoted fact "no one is irreplaceable", but I am far too shallow to get overly involved in such matters. Sometimes you just have to sit back as the end credits roll, take a deep breath and say “Wow...”
I’ve got slightly mixed feelings about the Rugby League World Cup, the semi-final line-up for which is now almost complete.
For me, the thirteen-man code is the most consistently exciting spectator sport bar none. Put two evenly matched sides up against each other and you’re pretty much guaranteed eighty minutes of attacking skill and intensely physical defence. If there is a perceived issue, it would be that any mismatch can be cruelly exposed and arguably for a sport that has this golden opportunity to attract new followers, one-sided hammerings are perhaps not the greatest advert. More of that later though….
I absolutely accept the argument that media coverage is based around a sport’s popularity – and the fact that despite years of international underachievement, domestic football still draws massive crowds, and much as I didn’t watch any of the game, there was clearly significant interest in England’s seemingly meaningless friendly against Chile, which was broadcast live on ITV.
Of the two rugby codes, I would again concede that Union has wider general appeal and the top-flight professional game has a greater geographical spread. That said, sit a novice down to watch a game of both Union and League and I know which they’ll understand better. Both sports demand incredible physical attributes, but the nuances of Rugby Union – especially when the ball regularly disappears underneath a pile of bodies – detract from the flow and excitement, both of which are essential if the profile of a sport is to be raised, or retained.
A World Cup – especially one hosted by the home nations – presents the perfect opportunity to showcase all that is great about the game, yet on a quarter-final Saturday, we are given England’s encounter with France at 8pm in the evening, after the BBC has already shown two full Rugby Union autumn internationals and extended highlights of the team whose live rights they evidently weren’t able to afford. Important games, I’m sure, but there’s no World Cup at stake.
The focus of the BBC’s Rugby League coverage has been solely on England, yet in Australia and New Zealand, we have two nations filled with the best talent the sport has to offer. Yes they’ve won all their fixtures, and won most of them convincingly, but much as I recognise that such one-sided games can be a negative, a gulf in class is arguably less relevant when you’re watching some of the best players on the planet.
As far as England is concerned, they’ve progressed to the semi-final and have been steady, if not spectacular. The test comes against New Zealand next weekend – England didn’t perform for a full eighty minutes in any of their group games, something they simply have to do if they want to challenge the reigning world champions.
Perhaps the biggest disappointment of the competition has been the relative lack of exposure given to the smaller nations, but in particular to Scotland, whose appearance in the quarter-finals was as unexpected as it was brilliant. The “Bravehearts” had progressed courtesy of wins over Tonga and the USA and a draw against Italy – who had come into the competition on the back of a shock warm-up victory over England. A heavy defeat against New Zealand was no disgrace and should not detract from their group performances.
I was absolutely delighted for the Scotland coach Steve McCormack (pictured above), who I know from his time in charge at Gateshead Thunder. Major shocks in Rugby League are relatively rare, and such courage and achievement really does need to be highlighted and celebrated.
For me, Australia look nailed on for the final and New Zealand probably has the edge in the other semi. The Kiwis are yet to be really challenged though and perhaps England’s defeat by Australia and the bruising first forty against Fiji will have a bearing on the outcome? Either way, I hope the games are given the build-up and coverage they deserve, but whoever eventually lifts the trophy, I sincerely hope that some headlines are reserved for the players who represented Scotland – offer me the Bravehearts at Derwent Park, or England’s footballers at Wembley and I’d choose Workington every time. Congratulations Steve - and to all your squad - on a fantastic job.
In amongst all the entertainment, the BBC’s annual Children in Need evening always highlights some amazing stories—and last night was no different. The appeal puts so many things into perspective—money worries, job security, the aches and pains we all have—but there was one family in amongst all the remarkable people whose experience was profoundly moving.
Not long after his birth, Chris and Steph Churchill’s baby son Harry was diagnosed with the skin condition epidermyelitis bullosa—and yes, I had to look it up. It’s extremely rare, but essentially the sufferer’s skin is incredibly fragile, so much so that the simple act of being picked up would probably cause the skin to shred.
Chris and Steph knew there was a risk that a second child might also inherit the condition—one in four apparently— but if the odds seemed favourable, the reality must have been a devastating blow as baby Cody was born with the tell-tale blisters under his finger nails.
The pair apparently became known as the “butterfly brothers” because of the facial marks caused by the condition. Harry and Cody’s life expectancy was short, but the boys shared a unique bond and clearly enjoyed each other’s company. The respite care they received must have been an enormous help to the boys’ devoted parents, but the cruellest twist of all came earlier this year when Harry and Cody contracted flu and passed away—within two days of each other.
Emotive, heart-breaking, whatever adjective you choose, it’s impossible to imagine how the past few years have been for the Churchill’s. I suppose you never really know how you’re going to react to any particularly difficult situation until you’re faced with it—the overwhelming majority are fortunate that they never have to find out. Chris and Steph are inspirational people and they were blessed with two equally special boys who, in the couple’s words, are now together again.
Three years ago, I sold the first version of Desperately Seeking Susan Foreman to raise funds for Children in Need. Writing a book and handing over a cheque for one hundred and something pounds frankly seems pathetic given the fundraising efforts of others, but I’ve started a new project for 2014 and hopefully it will raise a bit more—otherwise it’ll have to be the shaved head and bath of baked beans!
Here is the book’s Facebook page link—and I think I already know the two brave and remarkable kids to whom the book will be dedicated.
Yesterday was a first for me. I had been invited to attend “Who’s in the Library”, an event which was taking place at Mansfield Library and although it was a 250-mile round trip, I had never done a book signing before and on the basis that I might never get asked again...
Elaine made the trek down to Nottinghamshire too – just so that there would be one person in the building that had actually heard of me! The special guest at the Doctor Who-themed afternoon was Nick Briggs, who is currently the man behind the voice of the Daleks. We received a warm welcome and Joanne, who had organised the event, had arranged a table and lovely little display for me – as the photo shows.
I had no idea what to expect, but beforehand, I had told Elaine that selling ten books would be more than I could have hoped for. After twenty minutes, I would have settled for selling one book, because nobody seemed to notice my little stall. But then some interest, a bit of a chat, and a sale!
And then another, and another. Three books – that was the petrol cost covered. One more book and we could get a bite to eat too!
I would guess there were about one hundred and fifty people at the event, including a few dressed as various incarnations of the Doctor (which was a bit on an eye-opener!). Plenty of people came over for a chat, I was even asked to sign a few autographs – I did try and talk my way out of it, but they absolutely insisted. I also had a quick natter with Nick Briggs – he seems like a nice bloke. I gave him a copy of the book, so that’ll be the last I hear from him!
In all, I sold eleven books. Perhaps that’s nothing to an established author, but I was genuinely thrilled. I have no idea whether or not I’ll be asked to do anything like this again – obviously I hope so – but it was great to be invited to this event and I’m certainly looking forward to finding out what the good folk of Mansfield thought of my book!
Something approaching four years ago, I started writing to actresses that had played companions in Doctor Who. The result was a self-published book entitled Desperately Seeking Susan Foreman that raised a three-figure sum for Children in Need. Three years on, and the third, definitive, final version has been published by BearManor Media and on Sunday, I am going to Mansfield’s Central Library to do a brief talk and hopefully sell a book or two at an event being held to commemorate the series’ upcoming fiftieth anniversary.
I’m sure there are an awful lot of people who have achieved far greater things, but I’m actually proud that a professional company was willing to publish my book, and that someone thought I was worthy of being asked to attend an event – even though Mansfield is miles away from Middlesbrough!
All this because I wanted to try and raise a few pounds for a wonderful cause.
I am therefore using my ever popular (artistic licence) blog to announce that a new Desperately Seeking… project is underway and that the profits from the finished book will be donated to next year’s Children in Need appeal.
I’m a quick writer, but I’m not that bloody quick.
The book’s theme is music, and in particular my all-time top-ten records and the “seeking” bit will involve trying to track down singers or members from the bands in question. Somewhat fortuitously, all but one of the vocalists is still alive, but the bad news is I’ve got to try and find people in America and France as well as the UK, and some of the songs were recorded over thirty years ago (one nearly fifty years ago).
Well if it was easy, it wouldn’t be fun would it?! And even if I don’t quite find everybody, at least I know I can ramble and digress with the best of them! So here’s to another bout of “seeking” which hopefully won’t become too desperate, but will result in a book that some of you will want to read.