English football has a winning problem

I write this as someone who understands the game of football, coaches sport (rugby union), is a parent and runs a business. I don’t have a big allegiance to one club or another, and I am dual national, so technically have two teams (Croatia and England), neither of whom were successful in the eyes of many in the recent European Championships.

But where does this lack of “success” come from, and what are we measuring it by?

As a kid, my sport was road cycling. I’d observe as team-mates played intricate tactics and even supported riders on other teams in order to hopefully benefit their own team or their own success down the road. I’d also observe how in times of hardship, riders from all teams would club together and refuse to race one another, all finishing stages with the same time to effectively nullify the stage.

As a teenager and young adult, I started to enjoy motorsport, and again observed that the team is the most important thing. If your team aren’t performing, whether its engineers, pit crew, management, and perhaps even the chefs feeding you, you aren’t going to win the race on the track.

But English football in particular has a problem with the idea of “team”, and from what I can tell, it starts right at the very beginning when kids start to play for local community clubs.

Don’t get me wrong, it’s great that kids have these clubs where they can spend time with friends and socialise with children from other schools and other walks of life. In fact, I wouldn’t be without them.

My son plays football in one of those community football clubs, and he also plays rugby union at a club where I’ve become head coach for his age group. I’m specifically not discussing rugby league here because I have no knowledge of it from a coaching perspective. Whilst I’m not a coach, I’ve been a parent on the sidelines and watched the coaching happen more or less every weekend and on training evenings during the week throughout his first U7 season.

What I observed has horrified me.

My son, admittedly, isn’t the strongest player in the team in his football club. And he’s been paired for the last year with some of the stronger players. You’d think he’d improve, right? Of course, if he’d been given an opportunity to. Every Saturday, there’s an hour of match play. On a 5-a-side team with 2 subs, you should expect each player to spend around 40 minutes playing. Most weeks my son was lucky to get 10, and some weeks he didn’t get to play at all.

In two tournaments at the end of the season, he didn’t start, and neither did he play in several of the 7-8 games that were played across the day. How can you expect a child of 7 to improve, let alone enjoy, the game that so many of this country claim to love? Now it does seem that England Football recommends equal playing time, but from talking to coaches from other clubs, they coach for the win too, and not for equal playing time.

This happened because (as the team manager put it), we’re here to win the tournament. My counter argument was that if they were there to win the tournament, why was my son, who is a weaker player as a result of what I can only describe as coaching neglect, even invited, and why was I asked to fork out admission for him and myself to the tournament? And winning is the mentality that’s been that of the coaches all season, so the kids haven’t learnt how to lose, and how to play together as a team, to find space on the pitch, instead relying heavily on the “bulldozers” (classed as the better players) to push through the opposition and score goals. The bulldozers who never pass, who go for their own glory, and celebrate in the image of their professional footballing heroes, without understanding the meaning of their gesticulations.

Rugby Union on the other hand instructs us coaches clearly to ensure equal playing time, and to mix teams up to ensure there are different ability players, as well as to implement rules to encourage passing amongst all the players, building team skills, camaraderie, and also understanding of each other’s space on the pitch. It follows a set of strict core values (at least at minis and juniors level) of Teamwork, Respect, Enjoyment, Discipline and Sportsmanship (TREDS). We drill it in to our coaches, our parents and our players all the time. I couldn’t find anything relating to core values for English football.

And this is where I believe it started and ended for the England football team. The Spanish football team can put any player in any position on the pitch and they will be able to perform pretty well there. That’s because they’re coached to. They understand every other player’s position and how that position plays out on the pitch. They clearly communicate well, but they also have what some might say is a sixth sense for their team-mates’ positions. I’d call it coached intuition.

The England team have a huge pool of talent, but they don’t understand each other, and right from a very early age appear to have been coached to go for the win, rather than to develop team skills even if that means defeat. It’s extremely short-termist, and it appears that grass roots football has created a culture that can’t result in a win except by some measure of luck. At 7 years old, you can bulldoze your way through, and if you then stream the bulldozers into the better coached teams you end up with the England football team. Rugby Union isn’t streamed until U12, precisely because you need to build that teamwork and develop pitch-wide skills.

That “we have to win” mentality even goes to the managers of teams. We put so much pressure on to win that when it doesn’t happen, it’s seen as a failure, and the manager is asked to step down or resigns out of embarrassment. Imagine in business if every time you didn’t get the deal, you resigned your job, or closed your business? It just doesn’t make sense! Sir Alex Ferguson took 4 years from taking over at Manchester United before he took the team to an FA Cup win, and it was another 3 years before they won it again. Today, we’d expect a win every year and if there wasn’t one, you’d be out of the back door, and a new manager brought in. But the reason Sir Alex was able to create so many wins was because when the team lost, they learnt, and he looked at the long term view. Build the right culture, change the game, start to win.

It would be remiss of me not to mention the wins that have come from women’s football in England. And it’s no wonder really, is it? Women are much better team players than men are as a whole. They are naturally predisposed to it. I say natural, but there’s probably a good deal of nurture there too socially.

So, if we want the England men’s football team to win at the World Cup, or the Euros, or any other high level, we should go back to grass roots and change the culture. It can’t always be about the win, or we end up with a bunch of very sore losers on a very regular basis.

Miscellaneous Politics

Cyclists are dying and we need to act, and fast

A few years ago, I posted about the dangers of various forms of transport, cycling included. We’re in the midsts of a cycling meltdown, and in the interim, I’ve had an accident and broken my leg (though not as a result of another vehicle).

I’m about to get back on my bike, while everyone around me fears for my safety, and is trying to persuade me otherwise. Just as I’m about to do so, we have death after death, and I’ve decided I need to voice myself and my opinion. You’re not reading this because you thought I’d just say a few things and bugger off, did you?

Firstly, the deaths appear to have been (and I wasn’t there, so I can’t be certain) caused as a result of large vehicles and their blind spots. So lets dissect that a little, and see where we end up.

Should the lorries have seen the cyclists? Possibly, it’s hard to tell. That said, lorries should all (and I think most do now) have large additional blindspot mirrors. I certainly notice them riding around London on my scooter. I don’t see so many on busses, but I may be mistaken there too. That will dramatically reduce the likelihood, as long as the driver bothers to look, of there being a cyclist.

Of the cyclists; my friends are probably tired of me repeating ad infinitum that cyclists:

  1. shouldn’t jump red lights
  2. shouldn’t ride on the inside of vehicles, particularly large ones
  3. should pay more attention to the intentions of other road users

Some cyclists are great, whilst others are a menace, and that goes for all road users. I won’t turn a corner on my scooter without physically looking to the side I’m turning in case another vehicle has decided it’s safe to overtake me. I’m sure that not all road users are as diligent. On both sides of this particular argument, I might add.

How do we fix it? Once again, I think anyone taking a test in a motor vehicle should have to spend time on two wheels to physically demonstrate how vulnerable those people are. It makes a huge difference to the way you drive having been in the position of having vehicles turn in on you, cut you up and various other almost disastrous manoeuvres.

On the flip side, cyclists need better educating. I’m repeating again, but don’t jump red lights and don’t undertake large vehicles at junctions. I’m finding it really hard to find a single source of blame here, and I think the Mayor of London is right to expect that all road users abide by the rules of the road. It’s there for a reason, and if it wasn’t, imagine how many cars would have piled up at that very roundabout otherwise.

I’ve been cycling on the road now for 20 years, have a cycling proficiency under my belt since I started, and now have a UK car licence and motorcycle licence to add to that. I’m hopefully soon to have a UK private pilots licence too, so you might call me a licence whore, but I truly believe that they’re there for our own good and our own safety, and they should be repeated over time.

So to anyone thinking about blaming one side of this debate, don’t. It’s everyone’s fault. If you’re a cyclist reading this, and you jump red lights, then shame on you. Even if you’re one of my closest friends. I’d rather you didn’t, and I’d rather you stayed alive. If you’re a car, van, bus or lorry driver, I strongly suggest you spend a day on the roads on your bike. See how you feel afterwards about drivers that don’t indicate or look before turning or changing lanes. You’ll see exactly what I mean. If you’re too scared, good. You bloody well should be.


A foray into the world of the invisible classes

22nd May 2012: I’m thrown into a new, until now undiscovered, by me at least, world. A broken femur leads to 3 days in hospital, a metal rod, three screws, and two crutches for (I’m told) between 2 and 4 months. And then I’m spat back out, to discover a world where two legs are most definitely better than four.

Let’s fast forward a bit to today. 27th Jun 2012. I’m still on two crutches. I have another month before my next X-Ray, which means at least another month on them, and I’ve learnt one hell of a lot about what it means to be on crutches, to become one of an invisible class of people – those with some kind of permanent, or as in my case, temporary, disability.

To be dependent on someone is one thing. To be unable to carry things in your hands, to need help with making your dinner because it takes forever to move a few steps across the kitchen with something from the fridge. To need someone to carry the rubbish downstairs, or to bring the shopping up. Even to do the shopping (I can only give thanks for online grocery shopping here). That’s all stuff that, for a fiercely independent person such as myself, is a bit of a pain in the backside. I can live with that though.

What I’m really struggling to come to terms with is the reaction of others around me. The bus driver this morning; he drove off before I’d sat down. I’m reliably told they have a motto “find a seat or I’ll find one for you”. That’s despicable. It’s my left leg that’s broken, and I did find the first seat on the right hand side of the bus so I could stretch in to the aisle. If that is genuinely what goes through a bus driver’s head, they don’t deserve their Olympic bonuses, let alone their normal salaries in my opinion. On the way to the tube station later on, it’s quite apparent that people almost walk closer to you when you have crutches, and don’t think to get out the way, leaving you to either bump into them, risking toppling over, or trying to side step, which believe it or not is nigh on impossible on two long sticks attached to your arms. My personal space invaded, and a complete lack of respect for the amount of space required to manoeuvre that I’ve never experienced before this accident. Don’t think this is a one-off either. This is normal day to day London.

The journey home this evening, and the debacle only gets worse. No one, I repeat no one, on the bus moved to let me sit down when I got on. No one moved when I asked to sit down. Still no one moved when I asked a second time, and when I demanded a seat the third time, one chap decided it was sufficient not to get up, but to apologise on behalf of the guy sitting in front of him with an empty seat next to him (which I couldn’t get at) saying he couldn’t speak English. SO WHY DIDN’T YOU GET THE FUCK UP INSTEAD, TWAT?!

Amazingly, it doesn’t end there. I get to the Overground station at Shepherds Bush, up the lift to the bridge, down the lift to the platform at the other side, and there’s a train at the platform. As I leave the lift, the driver looks at me, closes the doors and pulls the train out of the station. He looked at me, and chose to ignore that I was there.

I’m incensed enough by the way Londoners clearly treat each other to write this, in the hope that it eases my mind having written down my experiences. It’s atrocious that people can’t take a little time to look at what is going on around them and behave appropriately. I’ve had people barge straight into my leg without so much as an apology, or just stand on my feet, look at me and shrug their shoulders. If that happened and I was standing up, with no crutches, I’d have got an apology. Now? Nothing.

I hope someone senior at TFL reads this. I hope someone at each and every one of the bus companies that operate in London reads this. And I hope that those people that have behaved like rabid animals around myself, or around others with disabilities who need space and time to get around, read this. For everyone else, please take a moment to consider what you take for granted in this world, and what it would mean not to be able to do those things that you consider “normal”.


Customer service done right

I’ve been ranting a bit of the last few posts about my poor experience of customer service. Well it’s time to change the tone. on Friday, I had the best experience I think I’ve ever had, and just goes to show what you can do as a company if you put some effort into it.

First the lead-up; In making a cup of tea, one of the teabags splits. I don’t know if it was split before or after pouring water over it, but I noticed it when tea leaves started floating around the cup. I just thought I’d post a message to the Yorkshire Tea Facebook page and see what happened. I wasn’t really expecting anything, much less a whole swathe of other fans commenting on my message with words of wisdom. What I really wasn’t expecting though was a reply from Yorkshire Tea themselves within 45 minutes of me posting the message up, saying they were going to contact me directly through Facebook to try and resolve the issue.

Five minutes later, a message popped up in my inbox asking for an email address or phone number on which I could be contacted, so I replied and another ten minutes later I had an email from Taylor’s of Harrogate (the company who own the Yorkshire Tea brand) saying they’d like to replace the box of tea, and if I might have the details of the batch (I didn’t, but that didn’t seem to really be an issue). A couple of replies later and I am about to receive a new box of tea.

This all within the hour of posting a message on their Facebook wall. Now, for any company providing any level of customer service, that which I received from these guys has been exceptional. It also proves that if you put the whole infrastructure in place instead of trying to scrimp and save here and there on bits of the chain, it can really work wonders for you. I’ve told everyone about this episode, and they’re all as amazed as I am. But the word is spreading, and that makes Yorkshire Tea an ever stronger brand in the face of competition. I see that, because its the industry I work in, but I feel it’s fair play – they make a great product, and on top of that have astounding customer service when things do (and they do sometimes, for everyone) go wrong. It is far too easy, as can be seen by my previous posts, to think social media can be controlled without making sure that the rest of the company is aware of the consequences in this digital age of getting it wrong. It doesn’t work though so kudos has to be given to Taylor’s.

Update 09/02/2011: I’ve just had a package and an envelope through the post. The envelope had this in it:

On top of that, a box with a hand written note from the person who I dealt with at Taylors of Harrogate by email:

And of course a big box of Yorkshire Tea and the marmalade cake too:

I can’t explain how impressed I am with their customer service levels!


An open letter to Transport for London

Dear Sir/Madam,

This morning I arrived at Clapham Junction station expecting to get on the 09:39 to Willesden Junction from Platform 17, and get off some minutes later at Shepherds Bush. I did not expect to leave, and arrive back at Clapham Junction on the same train nearly 3 hours later without having first reached my destination and alighted said train. What transpired is what I can only describe as a comedy of errors. What I would like from you is an explanation detailing why your team was so incapable of providing communication to the several hundred stranded customers aboard the “service”.

So what happened to make me so irate as to write this open letter? I’ll start at the top:

About 5 minutes into our journey, the train came to a halt. It was at approximately 09:55 that we had our first intercom announcement, 6 minutes after should have been at Imperial Wharf, and around the same time as we should have been leaving West Brompton: “I apologise for the delay to your journey. The train has a power failure and we’re trying to fix it.” OK, but you’ve already been sat here a while knowing you had a power failure, and we now know there is a problem, but not what you’re doing to resolve it, and if you can’t, what you have to do to get someone else to resolve it.

In the next few minutes we heard how you still had a power failure, but your guard and driver knew how to fix it and we should be on the way shortly. After which we moved about 10 metres forward, and then about 15 back. Wonderful. We were on the way, but in the wrong direction. You can see the funny side to all of this, can’t you?

Some significant period of radio silence later and we were duly informed that the on-board staff had indeed not been able to resolve the power issue and that we were now waiting for an assistance train to arrive. It would turn up in about 15 minutes. So, when it turned up 35 minutes later, we were ecstatic. We were told “the assistance train is here now, so we should be on the way soon”. “Soon”, it seems, is relative according to TfL.

“This is your guard. The assistance train has broken down behind us.” That was another half an hour after it first turned up. This is now getting beyond the initial laugh and joke that it once was. An hour and a half into a 20 minute journey and we’d had 4 pieces of communication. You can imagine my indignation when, on passing through the train, the guard duly informed us that the driver had left with the other train which was now fixed. “So we don’t have a driver on this train, and we’re stuck somewhere between Clapham Junction and Imperial Wharf?”. “No.”. Great. Now what?

Well, now what is that it gets worse. We’re now about 2 hours in, and in 40 minutes we’ll be back in Clapham Junction, to start our respective journeys again. And so far we’ve had 6 official communications and one unofficial one that just upset us more than anything. One of which was “there is too much snow on the line”. Really? Sheffield has invisible tracks due to the volume of snow and still has an operational tram and train service. We have this. When we did get back to Clapham Junction, we were told not that there was excess snow on the line, but that the live rail had iced over. Oh, so what you tell your customers is a bunch of fibs too then? Amusing, I think not.

I did eventually get to my target destination 3 and a half hours later. Given that you charge me to use your service, I have a right mind to charge you for my time: £700 + VAT.

I’ll leave it to you to dig yourself out of the mess you have invariably got yourselves into through profit-mongering cost cutting measures, and thank you in advance for your prompt reply. Oh, one last thing: You’re running a train on “production ready” software with a version of 0.3.5. I’ll ask you to think that one through again.

Kind Regards,

Tom Simnett


It’s unlimited Sir, but only up to 500 meg

This truly is a rant. It’s one I have a deep issue with, and it’s probably one that will drive me to insanity. This is a story all about how advertising for broadband got turned upside down.

The world and dog is going on about “Unlimited Internet”. ISP’s are advertising the fact, and now the mobile operators have jumped on the bandwagon, now that people want high speed internet on their phones. There is a problem. It isn’t really unlimited at all. A large proportion of the ISPs will tell you that there is a fair usage policy that applies (it’s usually in the small print), but they will rarely tell you what that fair usage amounts to.

Orange and O2 are even cheekier. Unlimited Internet on the iPhone with O2 means a top limit of 500MB per month, after which they can charge you at normal rates if they so wish. Orange is 750MB. So… since when has the term “unlimited” meant “with limits” in any dictionary? Worse still, O2, whilst providing unlimited Internet to your iPhone, won’t let you tether that to use it as a modem on your laptop unless you pay them a minimum £15 per month for a paltry 3GB of usage. Again, how is that unlimited? Orange take you to the 750MB limit for free, and then bill you per MB at an extortionate rate.

Next question. Why not complain to the Advertising Standards Authority? Well that’s easy. People already have. Lots of them. And the ASA turned round and said the ISPs are within their rights to advertise their services as unlimited as they are providing more than your average Internet user is likely to consume. Except they aren’t. I’m your average Internet consumer. I watch the odd YouTube video. I read some blogs. I download some stuff to install, and I generally go about my Internet life much like many other people do. Facebook, Twitter. The usual. And I can quite happily consume far more than “unlimited” according to these ISPs.

My gripe is that the Compact Oxford English Dictionary defines “unlimited” as:

adjective not limited or restricted; infinite.

That spells it out really. When an ISP says it’s unlimited and they put a fair use policy on it which limits your usage, or just as bad gives you an out and out limit after which usage is chargeable, they’re lying. When will the ASA stand up to this and rectify the situation?! It’ll carry on as long as it isn’t publicised and the ASA aren’t forced to eat their words and chastise the ISPs about it.


Domains, suggestions, and puppy dogs tails

The first post. Here we are. Welcome to the crap that comes out of my head. I have to tell you a little story about this one.

I was trying to come up with a name for a blog on which I could ramble, muse and generally talk about some of the stuff I find interesting. It started off with some truly rubbish names, and three days ago I had almost decided that “Unending Rabbitholes” would be a good name. It took a couple of friends to point out that “grabbit” stood out just a little too much in the domain I was looking to buy.

Back to the drawing board. I can’t write the post about the banking problem (coming soon) because I still don’t have a blog name. Swings, roundabouts, catch 22… whatever. I went to have dinner with Dad yesterday and I was telling him about my blog naming dilemma. “It’s not going to be any particular subject. Some politics, some general musings, but really it’s just the crap that comes out of my head.” I told him.

“Well there you go. Call it that!”… “What, ‘crap that comes from my head’?”… “No, you’re changing it and it sounds worse now. The first one is great!”

And there you have it. That’s why the blog is called what it is. Well that, and the fact that this really is crap straight out of my head. So now you don’t need to ask me how I came up with the name. Or if you do, then I can point you right here.